Carter reed 2, p.18
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       Carter Reed 2, p.18
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         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan

  The lump doubled in size, but I called back as if it weren’t there, “Thank you, Drake.”

  Michael. Peter. Drake. Carter. Me.

  That was all that was left.

  Carter returned in the morning, but he hadn’t found her. The next day was the same. Then the third day. The fourth. Fifth. The days blended into a week, then into the second week. All the same results. Nothing. They couldn’t find Andrea.

  The next few weeks felt like we were living in an alternate universe. There were no friends to spend time with. There were no paparazzi in hiding because we were in hiding. No one knew where we were. No wine nights. No gun range nights. No nights at the club. Even the guards—we all protected each other. Carter kept looking for Andrea, and as the weeks progressed, a routine started for us.

  Peter and Drake would go out during the day. Their job was to gather information, so they followed the Bartels like ghosts, wherever they went. They identified all the men who worked for them. They figured out all of their schedules for each day of the week.

  Each night when they returned, they’d meet with Carter and Michael. Sometimes I joined the meeting. Other times I couldn’t stomach more bad news. They never seemed to get any closer. Then, after the meeting, Carter would leave. Most times he went alone. Sometimes he took Michael with him, but every time he came back, he was covered in blood.

  When he came home, sometimes in the middle of the night and other times in the early morning, he walked past me in the bedroom, stripping off his clothes. He always left them in a pile and spent an hour in the shower.

  In the beginning, I got in with him. He’d stand there, letting the shower rain down on him with his head bent, his eyes closed, and his hands clenched as the blood ran off him. Even after I’d cleaned him, he would remain in there.

  Then I realized he was remembering everything he’d done. He was, in a way, washing away what he had done as he let that water rain down on him. So I began leaving him alone. As he showered, I gathered up his clothes and washed them. Carter never spoke of it. All he would say, later in the morning, was that he’d cleaned out another area the Bartel family controlled. That was all. No one asked, but we all knew.

  The Cold Killer had returned.

  Carter was killing men, and he was doing it alone. I could only assume he had Michael go with him if there was too much danger, if he needed backup for certain places.

  The news was on in the kitchen when my sister was declared missing. Carter had returned a couple of hours earlier, and Drake was making toast as we all sat down at the table for breakfast. Michael brewed the coffee, Peter had grabbed a newspaper, and I made the eggs.

  “Breaking news today. Andrea Nathans, daughter of prominent hotelier Edward Nathans and his wife, Cherise, has been declared missing. The police issued a statement not long ago that she was last seen in New York City where she went to reunite with a long lost sister. Andrea Nathans is twenty-six years old and described as slender, with brown hair and brown eyes. She is a known marathon runner. As more details are released, we’ll be updating you with the latest.”

  The anchor turned to her cohost, and they began chatting about my sister. Was there more information? Did the police know anything? Were they sharing that information with the public? When and where was she last seen? They kept discussing Andrea, but they had no more information than what they’d already shared.

  Then the pictures started.

  The first image showed her alone. She smiled at the camera with her hand reaching out to the photographer. A second was of her in a graduation gown, and a third with a group of friends. Their faces were blurred out, but she leaned over with them, drinks in their hands. In the fourth picture, she was standing with a couple. The other faces were again blurred, but she looked so happy.

  Those were her parents. I could tell.

  She looked loved. She was loved. I could see it in her eyes.

  Carter’s phone jarred me. Its ring was loud and harsh, but I realized I hadn’t heard it for a long time. As he answered it and headed to the back for privacy, I frowned. He must’ve been in contact with others, but he never talked about the life we’d all left behind to hide.

  When he came back, he looked at me for a moment. No words were shared, but I knew he was leaving again. He grimaced as he glanced at Michael. “That was Cole. He needs to meet.”

  Immediately, Michael and Peter reached for their guns and checked whether their clips were full. Drake did the same, but Carter stopped him. “No, Drake. You need to stay with Emma.”

  “You sure?”

  Carter nodded. “Yeah. This is just business. I’ve been watching the news, but nothing’s been leaked about the Bartel losses. I’m assuming Cole’s been getting in there to clean up after me.” He pointed at the television screen. “It’s about that. The police know Andrea was here to see Emma. They found the last restaurant she visited.” He gazed at me again. “There’s footage.”

  All eyes focused on me.

  “They’re looking for Emma now?” Drake asked.

  Carter nodded, up and down, like the weight of the world had just crashed down on his shoulders. “Yeah. I’m positive.”

  So my face would soon be up on that screen, too. I laughed, though I didn’t realize it until I heard the sound for myself. It sounded like someone else. Hysteria, anger, bitterness, and panic all mixed into my laughter. And it just kept coming. More and more until I laughed so hard I cried.

  No one said a word.

  They seemed to be waiting until I finished, but I didn’t. I couldn’t make it stop. I bent over. My stomach started to hurt, but I still couldn’t contain it. This, this whole thing—my sister had been kidnapped and now I was going to be “famous” once more. For being the reason she was gone. Me. It was all my fault.

  If she hadn’t come into my life, she’d still be with those people who loved her. She’d still be happy. She’d be with her parents.

  But nope. I came into her life, and look what happened. Instant travesty.

  That was me. That was my life. Everyone I loved went away. Everyone I let close ended up hurt. It didn’t matter by whose hands. They were still gone. AJ. Mallory. Andrea. Thomas.

  Carter was the only one who hadn’t—as that thought entered my mind, my laughter finally stopped. It choked me instead. My god, Carter. I couldn’t lose him.

  Then instead of laughing, I was crying. Uncontrollably. My cheeks felt wet and tears landed on my arms. I couldn’t do a thing. I could only stare at him.

  Nothing could happen to him. Not like Mallory and Andrea. Not like my brother. Nothing meant nothing.

  “Emma?” Carter approached me, his voice soft. He reached out.

  I backed away. It was my fault. All of this. “No,” I whispered.

  “Emma, whatever you’re thinking, stop. You’re not being rational right now.”

  I wasn’t. But who was? Everyone was dead. These four men were going to die, too. I felt it in my bones. I was going to be alone—alone and condemned.

  “Emma.” His hand touched my elbow.

  I tried to shake it off, but he gripped me harder. He pulled me to him and shielded me from the others. It didn’t matter. They knew I was losing it. I shook my head and lifted my hands to Carter’s chest. He was trying to protect me, but didn’t he see? He didn’t need to. I was the one who should’ve been protecting them. It was me, only me. I was the reason they were going to die.

  “Emma.” His voice dropped so he was barely speaking. I could hear him, though. His voice was right next to my ear, and he wrapped his arms around my body, hugging me to him. Suddenly, he dipped and scooped me up, cradling me against him.

  I should’ve stopped him. I should’ve kicked, maybe tried to leave. If I ran away, they’d live then? That made perfect sense, but I didn’t have the fight in me.

  Carter swept out of the room and took me to the bed. I knew he had to go. As he laid me down, I expected him to leave, but he didn’t. He scooted in behind me and held me. I
felt completely spent. No tears, no laughter.

  I was numb.

  “You’ve been busy.”

  Cole greeted me as I approached him in the warehouse a little later that morning. There were no men around. I’d called and asked if he would station them at a distance. He had hesitated before complying, and I knew his worry. A person asked for something like that when they didn’t trust the other one. But that wasn’t the case here, and I needed to make sure he knew.

  “The less people who know about what I’m doing, the better,” I explained.

  His head tilted back and he studied me a moment. “I see.”

  “It’s not that I don’t trust you.” I gestured to the emptiness around us. “It’s that I don’t trust your men.”

  “My men or the Mauricio soldiers?”

  “Your men.”

  His nostrils flared slightly. “You trust the Mauricio soldiers, though?”

  “You’re still fighting with the elders?”

  “More of them are willing to follow me. And it’s not just lip service, but I know there are still a few who won’t support me. I’m close to filtering them out.”

  Ah yes. With his surveillance of his own family members. He was still playing detective while I was out there taking lives. Yes. Mauricio politics didn’t seem as important anymore. I couldn’t hold back a disgusted sound. I was growing impatient with him.

  Cole narrowed his eyes. “You disapprove?”

  “Yes,” I said simply. “You should be fighting your enemy, not your family.”

  “I offered to help you—”

  “I don’t need backup when I go into one of their warehouses. What I do need is for you and the elders to get your sticks out of your asses and start hitting some of their businesses yourselves. Going from one building to another, then finding their new hideouts is exhausting. It’s taking time, and Emma’s sister may not still be alive.”

  “She is.” Cole looked down. His tone turned wary. “Whether you realize it or not, I am helping you. I’m holding down the fort while you’re creating a shitstorm. If you’d give me a heads up, I’d appreciate it. As it is now, I send my men out to try and find what places you’ve hit during the night. We’ve been able to get in there to clean everything up so that the police aren’t called. We’ve been able to keep this quiet, but you’re not making it easy. So far only the Bartels know they’re being annihilated. Carter, we’re going to miss a place that you hit. If you tell us—”


  “Why? Why won’t you trust me?”

  I opened my mouth to explain that no one could know, I couldn’t run the risk of anyone leaking the information, but he held up his hands.

  “I get it,” he said. “You’re being smart. Still. A clue would help, and you could only give it to me. I can have my men dispatched.” I shook my head, and he let out his own disgusted sound. “My god. I know, I know. You can’t trust anything. Well, you’re making them scramble. That’s for sure.” Cole sighed. “My men have been watching them too, and they move every night now. They can’t catch you, and they’ve been trying. Half the city is a ghost town because they’re out there, wondering which place you’re going to hit next.”

  “Do you know where they’re holding Andrea?”

  He didn’t answer, and that was my answer in itself.

  “Carter, I’m sorr—” he said.

  I cut him off, shaking my head. “Don’t. I’ll keep looking.”

  “If it’s any consolation, they’re not sure if it’s you or if it’s us. You haven’t left anyone alive to spread the word that the Cold Killer’s back.” He grinned.

  I did not.

  He sighed again. “Okay, yeah. I get it. I’ll make some moves on my end. I’ve no doubt that the Bartel elders are meeting every night. If we found one of their meetings, that’d help. They’d know where she’s being held. I’m sure of it.”

  “You said she’s alive. How do you know?”

  He barked out a short, harsh laugh. “Because they’re trying to ransom her to us. A new picture of her comes in the mail every other day. We’re trying to find out who’s delivering the pictures, but they come from all different angles. Different elders get them in their mailboxes. One was delivered to one of the kids in his backpack. His teacher found it and went into hysterics. We bought her silence. They haven’t demanded ransom yet, but I think they’re trying to scare you off through us.”

  “Is she intact?”

  “Yeah. She’s thin. It looks like they’re beating her, but she’s got all her parts.”

  I didn’t ask what else they were doing to her. I couldn’t think about that. If they did that to her, they would’ve been doing that to Emma. My blood turned cold, just imagining. I forced my mind away. “So you have been helping me.”

  “Yeah. I have. Or I’ve been trying. I’ll keep trying too, and I’m close to fortifying the elders. I promise. We’ll be much more effective once we’ve weeded out those who won’t support us. They might not turn on you, but they’ll turn on me.”

  “I know.” He didn’t need to keep explaining. “Have the police been in touch with you?”

  “Yes. You know that’s why I called.”

  I nodded. “What are they asking?”

  “They want you. They want to talk to Emma. They know she’s with you, but they don’t quite know why you’re gone. They don’t know about the killings yet. They’re still in the dark, and I think they’ve reached out to some of your colleagues, that other friend of yours. Everyone’s covering, saying they’ve talked to you and you’re busy. But, Carter, once they know the Bartels are losing people, they’re going to swoop in. They’ll come fast and hard.”

  “I know.”

  “They’re watching us, too. Every day we see a new cop following. It’s tense now. They know about the bombing. We covered everything up with the car attack, but they have to be wondering if a mob war is going on.”

  “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” I told him. And I would keep doing what I was doing. Nothing would get solved until I found Andrea, or—I couldn’t think about the alternative. After Emma’s breakdown, I don’t know if she could handle it.

  “We will. I needed to know what you wanted me to do about the cops, but we’ll keep covering for you.”

  “Thank you, Cole. And I’ll call you when I’m done with each spot.” I held my arm out, and he grasped it, linking our forearms. We held each other’s arms for a moment before letting go. We hadn’t done that since the early days of my training him, so long ago when he first went into hiding. I had started again with Michael, Peter, and Drake, and it felt good to have that stronghold back in my life once more.

  “Are you okay? With…what you’re doing?” Cole asked.

  No. It was cold out there. I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. I have to find Emma’s sister.”

  “And when you do or they—”

  My eyes flashed in warning, and he heeded it, not saying the words I didn’t want to think about, not yet.

  Revenge and rescue. Those had become my two missions over the last few weeks, but he was right. It was coming to an end. Either I would find Andrea, or they would kill her. I had to start thinking beyond what I was doing now. To me, the end was always with Emma and the Mauricio family, but now things were changing. I was tired of this life. I was tired of killing.

  I needed out. Emma needed out.

  “I don’t know.” That was all I said, for now.

  I heard her in the gym as soon as I stepped inside. Michael was washing dishes. There was no greeting. He knew where I was going, and he pointed down the hallway, even though I didn’t need to be told. I dumped a bag of weapons that I’d picked up from my old place on the table and headed past him.

  When I got to the gym doorway, I heard a small thump, thump as she hit the punching bag. Hunched over, her arms up next to her face, she looked fierce. But when her hand hit the bag, that ferocity left immediately. The bag didn’t move an inch.

re you using your whole body?” I asked.

  “Yes, and my whole body is laughing at me.” Her hands fell to her sides as her shoulders slumped. “I survived a bomb and a potential kidnapping, but my body is weak, and I hate it. If my body’s going to be weak, fine, but I have to be sharp up here.” She lifted a taped hand to her head. “I broke down, Carter. I can’t do that again.”

  “And you think hitting the bag will help you with that?”

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