Carter reed 2, p.21
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       Carter Reed 2, p.21

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  I held out my hand. “Your phone. I’d like to call Amanda.”

  He reached for his phone, but was slow bringing it out. “Because…”

  “Because.” I smiled at him. “You don’t think I’m stupid enough just to get in a car with you? There are a lot of people who know a lot about me. Anyone of them could spin a nice web for me to believe. Give me your phone. I will dial her myself, and then maybe I’ll get in a car with you.” He started to press a number on his phone. I stopped him. “No, no.” Taking it from him, I waved toward the desk. “I’ll call from over there. Thank you.”

  “Uh…”

  Taking the phone to the front, I called to make sure it was Amanda. At the sound of her voice, my knees gave out. I grasped the desk to keep from falling.

  “Emma?”

  My throat wasn’t working. “He—hey.” Damn, I had missed her. “You, uh, have a guy here on your behalf?”

  She laughed, sounding relieved. “Yes. That’s Brian. We were all going to wait, but he didn’t want us there. He said he didn’t want me waiting around a police lobby unless I had to, so when he found out which hospital your sister had been sent to, we came here—Theresa and Noah, too. We all wanted to rally around and support you guys. How are you? How’s Carter?”

  I sucked in a breath. The tears were coming. Just hearing Amanda’s voice had opened the floodgates. I tried fanning myself. I was tired of crying. “Uh, we’re okay, I think. Have you guys been able to see my sister?”

  “No.” She was moving somewhere, and suddenly her voice was clearer. “I’m in a closet now. I can hear you better this way.” She sighed. “No. They won’t even let us on her floor. Theresa snuck up, though. She said there were cops outside her door, but they caught her and escorted her back down here. Noah knows the hospital’s administrator, but even he couldn’t pull strings. We’re stuck. From what we’ve been able to overhear, though, her parents are flying in soon. She got quiet. “Emma, are those your parents?”

  “No. Andrea was adopted.”

  “Oh.”

  Yeah. My throat burned.

  “Okay.” She kept her voice at a whisper. “I saw one of Carter’s guys here, too. He walked through the lobby to the elevator. Theresa tried to slip into the elevator with him, but he didn’t let her. We don’t know if he went up to see your sister or if—”

  “No. Drake’s there. The medics took him and my sister to the hospital. I’m sure Peter is there for him.”

  She was quiet for a moment.

  “They’re the security guards you just mentioned,” I explained.

  “Oh. Gotcha. I didn’t know all their names.”

  I nodded to myself. It felt so good to hear her voice, hear her laughing again. A lump formed in my throat. “Okay,” I rasped. “I’m assuming your boyfriend is a safe driver.”

  “He’s a cop. He tends to speed sometimes, but yeah, I think he’s safe.” She laughed. “I’m glad everything’s okay. I’ve missed you, Ems.”

  The lump grew, and I whispered back, “I’ve missed you, too.” I had missed all of them, even Noah. “I’ll see you in a few then.”

  “Okay. See you.”

  It felt weird getting into a car with Amanda’s boyfriend—and no one else. For an entire year I had been surrounded by Carter and his men. Being with a stranger brought old memories to the surface, back when I traveled alone—before Carter came back into my life and I was living with Mallory. I realized if she had seen me with this guy, she would’ve wanted to date him. And Amanda would’ve hated it. I chuckled.

  “What’s that?” Brian asked, merging with the traffic.

  “Nothing. Just ‘another time, another place’ sort of thought.”

  “Oh yeah?”

  “Yeah.” Amanda’s boyfriend. I shook my head. “It’s nice to officially meet you.” I was going to make her leave him. If someone made me leave Carter—I would’ve left them instead. “You love her?”

  “I do.”

  I nodded. “Good. She’s a good friend.”

  “She’s a good person.”

  “Yes, she is.”

  He glanced at me before looking back to the road. “She cares about you a lot.”

  I cared about her, too. My gaze fell to my lap, remembering the bomb that night. I had chased after her so she didn’t end it with him. “She really loves you.”

  “I know,” he said. Then he cleared his throat. “Listen, uh. I’m not a fool. I know how tight you are with Amanda. I know about you, her, Mallory, and some guy she always describes as a pain in the ass.”

  I smiled. Amanda had hated Ben more than I had.

  “I know there’s history, and I know you’re in love with Carter Reed,” he continued. “I’m a cop, but I’m just trying to show you that I get the complexities of this situation.” He coughed again, shifting in his seat. “But, uh, I’m in it for the long haul. I don’t know how to say this. I guess, well, I never want Amanda to get hurt.” He held a hand out to emphasize his point. “So…you know… I—we can leave it at that. If you know what I mean.”

  I wasn’t sure, but I bobbed my head up and down. “Oh. Okay.”

  “I came to New York while she was there. She told me that woman on the news was your sister. Well, okay. That’s a lie. I saw the woman on the news, and I know who you are. You could be twins. Amanda kept quiet. I don’t know if she was going to tell me or not, but I came out because I wanted to support her any way I could.”

  I snuck a peek at him. He wasn’t looking at me. His head moved up and down like he was talking to the traffic as he drove. He tugged at the collar of his shirt and his hand would wave in the air from time to time as he spoke.

  He was nervous.

  For some reason, that settled the nerves in my stomach. He clearly loved Amanda. I could hear it in his voice and I saw it now, in the way he tried to appease me. As he kept talking, I stopped listening, but I was glad I hadn’t made Amanda break up with him

  “Carter said you were an honorable guy,” I told him.

  He stopped mid-sentence and looked at me for a moment. “Really?”

  I nodded and looked back to my lap, wrapping my hands around each other. “He did.”

  “Oh.”

  Before he said anything else, I murmured, “Treat her right. Always.”

  “Oh.” This ‘oh’ was much quieter than the first one. “Yeah. I’m hoping to. The always part, I mean.”

  “Yeah. I got it.”

  “Not that you should—” He lifted his hand in the air again.

  I cut him off. “She’ll say yes.”

  “Oh,” he said a third time, but this one was breathless. His hand dropped to his lap. “Wow. Okay, I mean. Yeah.” He nodded to himself and sat straighter in the seat. “All right. Thank you.”

  One more nod. My neck muscles were protesting from the continuous up and down motion. “Yep.” The sign for the hospital came up, and I pointed. “There’s our exit.”

  “Oh, yeah.” He swung to the right lane, and it wasn’t long before he pulled up to the entrance, and I got out.

  He held a hand up. “I won’t be long. She said they’re in the seventh floor lobby now.” Then he pulled away toward the parking ramp.

  The doors slid open as I approached and walked inside. Right away, I heard, “Oh my god, Emma!”

  Amanda and Theresa rushed for me. They threw their arms around me, and I was engulfed in the tightest group hug ever. Noah stood back and gave me a little wave.

  They were here. I still couldn’t believe it.

  “Emma.” Amanda cupped the back of my head, as if shielding me. “We’ve been so worried. Your sister—We can’t—”

  “Our daughter was brought in earlier.” A high-pitched voice spoke from behind us to someone at the reception desk.

  Amanda and Theresa went back to hugging me, but a nagging feeling tugged at me. That voice… I looked over to see a woman and a man, both wearing winter coats. The man had a hand to the woman’s back as they waited for the c
lerk to respond.

  “Your daughter’s name?”

  I knew. Before they said it, I knew. These were Andrea’s adoptive parents.

  I pulled away from Amanda and Theresa as the man answered the clerk, “Andrea Nathans.”

  Her name hushed conversations in the lobby.

  Everyone knew. The news flashed Andrea’s picture, already reporting that she’d been found. The clerk’s eyes widened, but she leaned forward and wrote the information down. Andrea’s mom and dad glanced over their shoulders.

  As they did, I saw the wrinkled lines in Andrea’s father’s forehead. He had bags under his eyes. He might’ve been in his late fifties, but he looked like he was in his seventies. I saw the sadness there, too—the way his hand lifted to hold onto his wife’s shoulder, the way he moved closer to her, as if he was worried more about her than himself.

  The clerk slid a piece of paper across the counter to them and pointed down the hallway to the elevator. As Andrea’s mom took the paper, the clerk lifted a remote and changed the television channel. A cooking show replaced Andrea’s photograph.

  “Thank you so much.” Andrea’s mom held the paper to her chest as they left for the elevators.

  “I…” I felt panic rising as my heart longed to follow them, but also to stay with my friends.

  Luckily, Amanda and Theresa understood. They stepped back. Amanda gestured after Andrea’s parents. “Go, Emma.”

  I didn’t waste any more time. I hurried after them, but I didn’t have to worry about them noticing my face. They kept their heads down and seemed to want attention about as much as I did. When the doors slid open and they got in, I entered and watched to see what floor they hit. Sixth floor. Then I scurried back out. Riding up with them, walking right behind them into her room—I didn’t think I could be that close.

  Because, after all, it was my fault. Their daughter had gone to find me. The guilt sat on my shoulders, weighing me down, so I took the next elevator.

  When the doors opened on the sixth floor, I heard them down the hallway. They were arguing about something.

  “Stop it, Gail,” Andrea’s father said. “We can ask those questions later. We have to make sure she’s healthy first.”

  I started for them, but that voice… I recognized that voice. His tone. His pitch. The softness with a hint of authority underneath. Everything about him was familiar, and I froze in the hallway. My feet had a mind of their own. I couldn’t move. I held a hand to my stomach as memories flooded through me, one after another. All of them came at me with lightning speed, and I shook my head. I couldn’t handle all of them at once. They weren’t making sense.

  In my mind he argued with my mother.

  He shouted at her, threatening to take both the girls. My mom shrieked back. Ally was hers. Andy was his.

  Wait. That didn’t make sense.

  Then another memory—I was hiding behind a door and knew AJ was coming to see me. I was so excited, hugging my knees with my backpack ready to go. He didn’t come, though. He was delayed, and when I had waited as long as I could bear, I went to the window to see if he was there. He was. He’d been there with this man. They were involved in a heated conversation, their arms waving in the air. AJ looked upset. The man looked tired. He was crying, and as AJ looked over at the window where I stood, I saw that he was crying, too.

  A third memory—I could hear AJ saying to this same man, “She’s my sister. You can’t take her from me.”

  The man said, “Neither girl is safe with Coralea. We both know that. I’m taking Andrea with me. Cora won’t fight me. She knows she’ll lose, but Ally. Ally’s her big sister.”

  “She’s my sister.”

  “You know what I mean. We shouldn’t separate the girls. They should live together.”

  “You just said Cora would fight you on that.”

  “Yes, but Aaron, we both know you have no rights to your sister. You’re not an adult. You have no guardianship over Ally.”

  “We have the same dad. Isn’t that enough?”

  “Not against her mother. If you fight Cora, Ally will go into the foster system.”

  “Whatever. She might be better off there than anywhere else.”

  “Let me fight for her. I have the money. I can petition the court to take both girls, not just my daughter.”

  “No. Ally’s my sister. She belongs with me.”

  “She’s not with you. She’s with Cora. We both know that’s a disaster waiting to happen. You can visit your sister. I’ll make sure she’s taken care of—”

  AJ yelled, “I said no! I know what you’re planning. You’re going to take her out of state and hope she doesn’t remember this place. You’re not going to take me with you, and I can’t afford to go myself. Any way you slice it, you’re taking my sister away from me. I’m not on board with that. Stop asking me to do it.”

  “Wait,” I spoke without realizing it.

  The man stiffened before turning to look at me. His wife turned with him, a confused frown on her face. But there was no confusion on his face. He knew me, just like I knew him.

  I pointed at him, and a deep swirl of emotion began twisting inside me. He—this guy—he knew AJ. He’d spoken to him. He was… I looked at him closely. He looked the same except his hair had twinges of silver in it now, combed to the side, and he’d put on a few pounds. He’d seemed so old to me then, but looking at him now, I realized he must’ve been in his thirties. He had been my age now.

  “You’re Andrea’s father.”

  His wife gasped. Her hand pressed against her mouth.

  They both looked middle class, but I remembered the headlines. He was a wealthy hotelier. “Andrea said she was adopted,” I said softly. That couldn’t be true, though.

  “Oh, dear.” His wife sounded stricken. She looked up at him. “Edward, she remembers you. You said she wouldn’t.”

  He touched her shoulder and squeezed it. “Because I didn’t think she would. That’s a good memory of yours,” he said to me.

  I was still filling in the pieces. But the more he spoke, the more memories came to light. They had started to fit into place.

  “I couldn’t remember Andrea because she didn’t grow up with me, did she?” I asked. “You took her early. When she was little.”

  “She was five. That’s when I stepped in. I had to. Cora was abusive, and I tried with you, but your brother wouldn’t allow it.”

  AJ. Relief crashed over me, but a surge of anger was on its tail. “You—she came to me declaring that AJ had kidnapped me. You knew better. You let her think that.”

  He shook his head.

  My voice rose. “Don’t lie to me. She took away his memory. He cared for me and loved me. He did the best he could. He should be honored, not disgraced, and you could’ve stopped all of it. You could’ve—you offered to take me. Why didn’t you bring him, too? Why did you keep all of us apart?”

  “I…” His voice cracked. “I couldn’t, Ally.”

  I hissed and stepped back at that name. I felt slapped across the face.

  He didn’t seem to notice. He was still shaking his head, a hand cupping the side of his face like he was in pain. “Aaron was in the system. He was a lot older than both of you girls. If he’d come with me, it would’ve been years before everything was approved. His dad—your dad too—he was long gone, and Cora had kicked Aaron out. She denied he was hers, though it was plain as day. All three of you—Aaron, Andy, and you—you all had the same dark eyes. They all came from her, but I couldn’t stay. If I’d waited too long with Andy, she would’ve changed her mind. Once I got the go-ahead, I fled. Aaron couldn’t come with us, and he wouldn’t let us take you without him… So we left you behind. We always wondered what had happened to you. Went back every year or so, but you were already gone.”

  “Andrea thinks you adopted her.”

  He lifted a shoulder. A defeated air hung over him. “It was easier to lie to her about the whole thing than admit the truth. She would’ve looked
at me like you’re doing now.”

  “And what was that lie, exactly?” A voice behind them spoke up.

  Andrea had gotten out of bed. She’d wrapped a blanket over her shoulders, and she clutched it in front of her.

  Her hair was still matted in blood. Her skin was pale, but she looked at her father with the same heated emotion that I had. The strength of that anger brought some color to her cheeks, though she swayed on her feet for a beat.

  The nurse stepped close to her, and at the same moment her
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