Carter reed 2, p.24
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       Carter Reed 2, p.24

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  “If I kill her, Carter will be out for blood. He’ll have no one else to turn to except his family. That’s who we are. We’re his family, and he’ll come back to lead us. She was the only thing keeping him out anyway.”

  He aimed the gun at my head. His arm was so steady.

  “He’ll want to, Cole, because the Bartels took everything from him,” Gene continued. “You…” He stepped close and the end of the gun touched my head. “And his woman.”

  Fight, Emma!

  No, that wasn’t just the voice in my head. Now I was the one screaming out loud.

  I launched myself off the chair. Gene hesitated for a second, stunned, and I flipped over the chair, slamming it against the side of his head. After that, it was chaos. Cole flung himself straight for the guards. They’d been running at us, but he slowed them down. Then he was on his feet and fighting all of them. He was landing blows, blocking theirs, kicking them.

  Gun, gun. Get the gun, Emma.

  Gene was winded, bent over. He almost fell to the ground, but caught himself. But I had stunned him, and the gun had fallen from his hand. That was enough. I saw it behind the desk. I started for it. I needed to grab it. My hand touched it, and then I was jerked backward.

  “No,” I whimpered. I was so close. I almost had it.

  Gene hauled me back and dragged me to my feet. He held me against his chest as he reached for the gun. I tried to kick it away, but his arm tightened over my windpipe. I gasped, feeling an explosion of pain in my chest. He picked up the gun and straightened back up. His arm loosened a bit, but I still gasped for breath. That pain wasn’t going away. It got worse. My vision blurred as I sagged in front of him.

  His arm hoisted me back against him, holding me upright.

  Smack!

  The sound of a body hitting the wall drew my waning consciousness across the room. Two of the men were down, and Cole still traded blows with the others.

  I felt the end of the gun press against my ear.

  “I’ll shoot her,” Gene warned.

  Those three words sent terror through me. They paralyzed Cole, too. He stopped fighting and lowered his arms. The guards didn’t waste any time. They grabbed him, and one slammed the back of his gun down on his head. Cole crumbled to the floor, unconscious.

  It was just me now. I tried to gather some energy, but there was nothing. I could barely lift my head. Gene’s arm pressed against my throat. It was the only thing keeping me from the floor.

  “Fuck,” he grunted against my ear. “I didn’t think this would be so damn hard.” He paused, held his breath.

  It was coming. I had to fight.

  I lifted my head and sank my teeth into his arm until I tasted blood. A surge of satisfaction flared through me, as he shoved me to the ground and howled in pain.

  “Fuck! Fuck! You bitch!” He kicked me in the side and I doubled over, blinking back tears.

  “Boss.” One of the guards stepped over. “We’ll do it.”

  “Yeah?”

  “Go get cleaned up. We’ll take the bodies to the car.”

  “Yeah. Okay.” Gene sounded exhausted. “Thanks, Mitchell.”

  I watched his feet move toward the door.

  The guard standing over me lifted his gun and aimed. Another guard stood over Cole. He took aim, too. I couldn’t look. I couldn’t not look.

  Then Gene opened the door—and froze. “Wha—”

  Bang!

  His body dropped to the floor to reveal Carter standing there, gun in hand.

  I’d heard him coming.

  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and when that traitor revealed himself, my gun was up. A look of shock and horror flashed over his face when he saw the 9mm in my hand. But it didn’t matter. He was dead the second he saw me.

  I still stood over his body and fired two more times as Peter and Michael rushed around me. Gene’s men didn’t stand a chance. In seconds they were all dead, their blood mixing with my mentor’s.

  “Carter!” Emma was up and running at me.

  I caught her halfway and lifted her in the air. This was the fourth time I’d thought I’d lost her. I was chilled to the bone. This had come too close. He’d had time. He could’ve put a bullet in her head. A shudder wracked through me. Never. I was never letting her go again. Burying my head in the crook of her shoulder, I whispered, my lips pressed against her neck, “Marry me.”

  She stiffened, then choked out a sob and whispered, “Yes.”

  Thank god. We held each other even tighter after that.

  “Carter.”

  Michael waited beside us as Peter rushed from the room. I knew what Michael wanted, but I was still reluctant. Shit. How many times did I have to get her back, hold her, and then release her right away? But I nodded at him and let go of Emma.

  “Carter?”

  She looked terrified and fierce at the same time. I didn’t think I could love this woman any more than I already did, but I felt a whole new level deepening in me—a level I never knew was there.

  Michael reached for her arm.

  She frowned at him. “Carter?”

  “You have to go with him,” I told her.

  Two more gunshots rang out from the back of the house. I had to go. A wall went up in me. It was time to kill, not love. I nodded to Michael. “Take her.”

  She jerked out of his hands. “What the hell are you doing? I’m not going anywhere.”

  “Emma, go with Michael. We need to sweep the house and see who else is here. Go with him. There’s a car outside. You’ll be safe there.”

  She opened her mouth. I knew she was going to keep arguing, so I cupped the side of her face. Her protests died down.

  “I can’t be distracted. Please. Go with him. So I know you’ll be safe,” I whispered, pressing my forehead to hers.

  “I’m scared for you,” she whispered back.

  “I know. But I’ll be fine.” I gave Michael a look. “Take her.”

  “Ca—” she began.

  But instead of grabbing her arm, he bent down and threw her over his shoulder. Then he was gone, and I knew he’d drive her to the house.

  She was safe. Emma was safe. I had to keep telling myself that as I looked down at Cole, still unconscious. Hearing another gunshot, I left the room. We’d come back and pick him up. Peter needed me now.

  “Where are you taking me?”

  I was pissed. Goddamn this crap—making me leave all the time. I got it. I couldn’t fight like them, but I was tired of being treated like I was helpless. I wanted to fight. No, it was more than that. I wanted to be there to protect my man. This wasn’t just about Carter protecting me. It went both ways now. We were an evolved couple, damn it.

  Michael had put me in a car waiting in the driveway and was behind the wheel and moving in an instant. There’d been a truck beside it, and I knew that was left for Carter and Peter. Cole—I remembered him and jerked upright in my seat. “We have to go back.”

  “No.” Michael kept driving.

  “Cole. We have to go back for him. We can take him to the hospital.”

  “Carter will take care of him.” His voice was gruff. “And Carter and Peter will be fine. They can handle themselves. It’s you we need to worry about.”

  “But—”

  “Emma, it’s not just Carter who cares about you.” His knuckles were white as they gripped the steering wheel. His jaw clenched. “It’s us, too. We care about you, and we’re like a family now. So…you’re going where you’ll be safe. Okay?”

  The fight left me. I knew they cared, but hearing it now—my eyes got misty. Goddamn, I wanted to go back so much, but hearing that, I couldn’t do a thing. I leaned back in my seat, folded my arms over my chest, and said, “Well, I care about you guys, too.”

  “We know.” He glanced out of the corner of his eye at me in the passenger seat. “We know.”

  I couldn’t talk. My throat felt swollen. I loved these guys, too. Family. He’d said that word, and he was right. I
looked down at my lap, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that. A year ago, I’d had Mallory, Amanda, and Ben. That was it. And even then, we hadn’t been the family I’d thought we were. We were always dysfunctional. But now, so many things had changed. A family closeness had formed among Amanda, Theresa, Noah, and me. Then there was my actual sister and now Peter, Drake, and Michael. A laugh slipped out. It wasn’t just Carter and me after all. We had all these people loving us, worrying about us.

  “What’s funny?”

  “Just…with all of this.” I gestured around the car, but I was indicating our life. “The people trying to hurt us, you guys, with everything that happened because of Mallory a year ago. I have family. That’s an amazing thing”

  And I was an idiot.

  “Take me to Noah’s building,” I told him.

  His hand tightened over the steering wheel. “No.”

  “Michael, please. I left them before. I have to make it right.”

  “You’re not safe there.”

  “Who’s going to go against Carter now? I heard what Gene said in there. He’s wounded the entire Bartel family, and now that Gene’s gone? There’s no one left. I’m safe. Please? I need to make it right with Amanda and Theresa.” I had to. I hoped he understood.

  He sighed. “Ten minutes. We go in and out. That’s all the time you have. Ten minutes.”

  Ten minutes was all I needed. A smile stretched over my face. “Thank you, Michael.” It stayed there until we walked down the hallway to Noah’s place. We’d slipped in the building through the back door, but in an instant Noah’s front door opened, and Brian stood there. When he realized it was me, he disappeared for a beat.

  Amanda and Theresa appeared at the door. They took one look at me and stood side by side. Amanda’s hands went to her hips. Theresa’s folded over her chest. They were like a scowling human wall, barricading me from further entry. Noah stood in the back, his gaze flickering from me to Theresa and Amanda and his frown deepening. But he seemed more wary of them than me.

  Michael stood behind me and remained quiet. Yep. This was all me.

  “You’re not going to make this easy, are you?” I asked them.

  Their faces remained unchanged, as if made of stone.

  Not the right thing to say. I cleared my throat to try again.

  “Right. Well. Okay. First off, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left, and I’m sorry I didn’t say good-bye or explain why I was leaving.” Oh, boy. “This guy told me I have ten minutes before I have to get somewhere safer, but I want you to know I made him bring me back. He’ll throw me over his shoulder if he has to, so I have to make this quick.”

  I let out a burst of air. How could I make things right in this short amount of time? I wrung my hands together. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I can’t be around you guys. My life with Carter is going to affect you, and to be honest, if I hadn’t been with my sister, I would’ve been with you guys that night she was taken. Something could’ve happened to you.”

  My chest felt so tight. “And Amanda, I can’t put you in the middle. You’re in love and happy, and there are going to be secrets. I can’t talk to you anymore because if I let the wrong thing slip, then it’s on you. You have to keep a secret from your guy, and what happens when you get married?”

  Her eyes got big. “What?”

  Brian’s head poked out from behind Theresa, and he made a slicing motion.

  Shit. “Uh…”

  “What did you say?”

  “I meant if you get married. What then? He’s your family. I’m not and—”

  “Whatever.” Theresa rolled her eyes and opened her arms. “Get your ass over here. We know why you left. We’re not dumb, but don’t do it again.”

  “What?”

  “Ever,” Amanda piped in.

  Were they serious? “It’s that easy? No pitchforks?”

  Theresa waved her arms, beckoning for me again. “Come on. We’re not complete assholes. We know why you left. Brian—cop. Carter—not. We get it. We even understand, but you’re family. Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out.”

  More misting in my eyes. I blew out a breath and tried to fan myself. No more tears. I was so tired of crying.

  “Emma,” Michael murmured behind me.

  It was time to go. Again.

  Theresa and Amanda didn’t argue. They understood his cue and came forward. All three of us stood there a moment, hugging each other.

  “I love you guys,” I told them as our heads bent together.

  Theresa sniffled. “I’m a blubbering idiot half the time I’ve been in New York. It’s your fault. I’m always worrying about you, and now crying because of this. I love you. We all love you.”

  “Yeah.” Amanda had tears on her face. “No more leaving like that. Go and get whatever you need to finished, and then come back home. Okay?”

  “We’ll make it work. Somehow,” I repeated.

  “Somehow.” Amanda affirmed, wiping my tears from my face. “We lost one sister. I don’t want to lose another.”

  I closed my eyes for a second and thought of Mallory. It was time to go. I could almost feel Michael’s insistence behind me. But I didn’t want to let them go.

  “Okay. Enough of this gooey, girly blubbering we’re doing,” Theresa huffed and pulled from the hug.

  But as Amanda stepped back, Theresa wrapped her arms around me again. “Go kick some ass, then come back,” she whispered in my ear. “We know you have to do what you have to do.”

  “I will,” I promised, giving her one more squeeze.

  “Be safe,” Amanda said.

  “I will,” I told her.

  As I pulled away, Michael had already started down the hallway. He held open the back stairwell door, and I gave the group a wave before darting after him. I didn’t look back over my shoulder, but when I heard their door click shut, I knew they’d gone back inside. I ducked under Michael’s arm holding the door and headed down the stairs with him right on my trail.

  As we moved to the bottom floor, we were silent, moving in sync. I wasn’t the same Emma I used to be. As we reached the back exit, I knew what to do. I stepped to the side, Michael handed me a gun, and I took it, ready for him.

  He opened the door and swept his gun around, making sure we were clear behind the door. I went right, my gun up and steady as I cleared the front of the door for us. With the pathway clear, we jogged for the car, side by side.

  The house was empty.

  As we checked the last room, Peter closed the door and grunted, “I just clipped that last guy, but Gene’s men are long gone by now.”

  “They were in the back, you said?”

  He nodded, looking grim as we returned to the library. “They were mounting another attack. There were three of them. But when I busted through the door and started shooting, they ran off. I’m sure they’re safe by now and have warned the others. The elders…” He trailed off as we stepped through the open door.

  Cole sat up, leaning against the couch. His eyes were closed, and he rubbed his forehead. He groaned without opening his eyes. “I’m going to have the motherload of headaches, aren’t I?”

  “That’s what you get for letting Gene get the jump on you,” I told him.

  He shot me a look. “Really?”

 
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