Carter reed 2, p.3
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       Carter Reed 2, p.3

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  Did you call Carter about the restaurant?”

  I hadn’t, but I’d called the restaurant myself. Spying a bottle of wine and two empty glasses beside it, I started to pour. “They’ll be taken care of.”

  “Oh, good.” She emerged and gave me a lopsided grin, brushing her arm over her forehead as some hair covered her eyes. “Hey, you look nice.”

  I glanced down. I’d swapped the sweatshirt and jeans I wore at the gun range for a sweater and pair of pants. It wasn’t much, but they were nicer quality than the clothes I would’ve been wearing a little over a year ago. “Thanks.” Handing her glass of wine, I asked, “So what’s the news?”

  “Oh, jeez. You get right to it, don’t you?”

  I nodded, taking a sip. “I’m waiting.”

  She groaned and finished her entire glass in one swallow.

  I lifted an eyebrow. That wasn’t typical Amanda. She was nervous…or excited. Yes. Her cheeks were pink, and her face flushed. She brushed her hair back. She was excited, which had me more intrigued.

  “I met a guy.”

  I felt my face light up. It was time. Amanda had been there during Mallory’s dating escapades and while I went to Carter. She’d turned someone down because of me, because of Carter’s mafia connections. So she deserved this.

  “Who? When? Where? Does Theresa know?” I asked in a rush.

  She shook her head, but she was bursting from happiness. Squealing, she motioned for more wine, and I made sure to fill her glass all the way to the top. Giving it back, I added, “Spill, woman. I want to know.”

  “He asked me to move in with him.”

  My eyes got huge. For Theresa to move in with Noah was big, but for Amanda…I fanned myself and joked, “About to pass out here. I need to know everything about this guy.”

  And that was when she grew quiet.

  Oh, no.

  My gut churned. Amanda had been giddy two seconds earlier, and now she looked in pain. My mind started backpedaling. I remembered the last time she’d spoken of a guy—back when she worked at the diner beside The Richmond, almost a year ago.

  “He’s a cop,” she’d said. She’d pushed off his advances because of me, because of Carter, because of what happened after Mallory… Amanda had been the one to tell me to kill Ben.

  “Make him pay. I don’t care if he was our friend. He killed her. You make him pay, Emma,” she’d said as she was dragged out of the apartment. I did what she said, but I didn’t have to. All the guilt was on me. I’d pulled the trigger. She hadn’t.

  “Oh.” I put my wine down. The celebratory mood was gone. “I see.”

  She hugged herself and turned away. “He kept coming back to the diner. I couldn’t…it was hard, Emma. But I’ve never said a word. I promise. I haven’t.”

  But she would. She was in love. I could see that much.

  I let out a sigh. “Amanda.”

  I didn’t know what to say. This was bad, really bad. If Carter found out…I didn’t want to go there. I couldn’t. Amanda was family. She was from my old life. I felt sliced through the stomach, gutted.

  She whispered, looking at me with begging eyes, “I love him, Emma.”

  “He’s a cop.” There was no way around it.

  She looked down, and said again, her voice hoarse, “I love him.”

  I couldn’t be there. I knew that much. I couldn’t be anywhere around her. Dumping my wine, I went to grab my purse. Amanda beat me there. She clamped a hand over it and said, “I won’t say anything to him. I promise.”

  I shook my head. She didn’t get it. “Amanda—” I started. I was dying, going to lose my last original family member. “He’s going to be it for you. You’re going to move in with him. He’s going to be your teammate. He’s going to be the other half, and eventually, it’s going to be only him. Your allegiance will be to him.”

  Like mine was to Carter.

  I loved her, but it was Carter first. Why couldn’t she see this? My hand curled over hers as it still held my purse. “He’s a cop,” I said again. He was the other side. “I’ve killed.”

  What was she thinking? She hadn’t been, but even as I thought that, a voice whispered in my head that I still would’ve gone to Carter—even if I hadn’t needed him. Sometimes the heart decides. I would’ve gone, and I still would’ve loved him, no matter what.

  “So have I,” she countered, breaking me out of my thoughts.

  “No.” I shook my head. “You didn’t pull the trigger. I did.”

  “You saved Mallory.”

  I nodded. The first time had been about saving her, saving me, but the second time… I couldn’t stretch the truth with Ben. I’d killed him because I wanted to. That was the truth. If I hadn’t done it, I knew Carter would. Either way, Ben was going to die. I pulled the trigger because I wanted to be the one.

  She saw the look on my face and shook her head. “Stop, Emma. Stop it. I told you to. I mean, Ben’s death is on me, too. I couldn’t ever…” A haunted look came over her.

  I felt it, too. It was Mallory. She was in the room with us.

  I closed my fingers over hers and held on to her. I loved her. Amanda was a sister to me, and this was my good-bye. But I wanted to not think about it. “I love you,” I broke out, as a tear slipped from my eye.

  “I love you, too.” She held my hand as tears fell down her face, too. “So much. I’ll never say anything.”

  She would. She was the only one not admitting it.

  My heart split in half. I tried to smile at her. “I know. We’re sisters.”

  She nodded. “We are. I wanted you to know. I couldn’t keep dating him and not tell anyone. I wanted to share this with you. You’re family.”

  I nodded. A surreal feeling came over me. She’d been living with Theresa for a year, but I understood what she meant. We had a bond. We were special. We both loved Mallory. I got it. I did. I couldn’t stop the tears anymore. “I shouldn’t know. I shouldn’t be the one you told. He’s a cop, Amanda.”

  She flinched as if I’d struck her and took her hand back. “I know.” Her head sank, almost pressing to the tops of her arms as she hugged herself.

  “I should go.”

  “Stay. Please.”

  “Amanda.”

  “Please.” She lifted her head. The plea in her eyes stopped me, and I sighed. She wanted to talk about him. She wanted to gush about him. I could see all of that in her gaze. She was a woman in love, and she just wanted to tell someone close to her.

  This was going to make it harder. I already knew that, but I heard myself saying, “For a little while.”

  Relief washed over her. Her eyes brightened, her cheeks pinked, and she bit down on her lip to keep from smiling too much. Her hand brushed away a tear as she said, “Thank you.”

  I nodded. It was wrong, but we went to the couch and she told me about him. His name was Brian. He wasn’t just a cop. He was a detective, and he’d kept going to the diner where she worked. He’d kept ordering the same bagel and coffee, and he’d made sure to go when she worked. She found out from a coworker that he was friends with the manager, so he knew her work hours. Their first date was an accident. She’d been closing the store when he came in. She’d been exhausted and hadn’t stopped him when he began helping her clean. He swept the floor while she counted the money.

  Their second date had been the same, except he walked her to her car. He wanted to make sure she was safe. It had escalated from there. By the third week of ‘dates,’ she would sit with him when they’d finished, both having a cup of coffee.

  He kissed her after the second month, and they went to dinner the next night. That was their first ‘official’ date.

  She now told me about the first time she’d spent the night at his place. It was a funny story, you see. They’d gotten caught in the rain. His place was closer, so they’d sprinted there, holding hands. She took a shower, and he made her hot chocolate. They’d cuddled on the couch, watched a movie, and ordered a pizza.

>   They made love that night. It was their first time.

  She was so giddy as she told me everything. She deserved to find love. She was an impeccable friend. The love emanated from her. She was so happy.

  But a cop. I pulled a blanket over my lap and tried hard not to rip it to shreds. He was a fucking cop.

  I couldn’t get around that. So I stopped listening to her as she kept going on about him. I could almost hear Carter’s voice. “Leave.” He wouldn’t have sat here, hearing all the details about Brian that made him human. He wouldn’t have listened to how his friend had fallen in love and started to feel happy for her. No. Carter would’ve walked out and dealt with it later.

  I had to go. There was no way around it. So I stood up.

  “Where are you going?” Amanda stopped mid-sentence in a story about when they’d gone to a carnival.

  Maybe he was a dirty cop? But even as I thought it, I knew Amanda wouldn’t fall in love with someone like that. He’d be honorable. He’d be genuine. He’d be an amazing person, and that would extend to his job. That was the kind of person she was, so that was the type of person she would love.

  “I have to go.”

  “But—” She stood with me, her hands twisting around each other. “Emma.”

  I put my glass of wine back onto the counter. It was still as full as when I poured it. I grabbed my purse and went to the door.

  “Emma, please.”

  I whipped around. “What do you want? You know who Carter is—”

  “He’s out.”

  “You know what I did!” Me. This was about me, too. “Ben. You know, Amanda.”

  The pink in her cheeks fled, and she turned pale, so pale. “I swear I’m not going to say anything to him. I can’t. I told you to kill him. Me. I did that. I told you, Emma.”

  “What are you going to say to Theresa?”

  Theresa had never been okay with Ben’s murder. We’d all been concerned about her loyalty, but Noah kept her in check. She hadn’t said a word, but with Amanda going to the legal side of the law…I wasn’t sure what Theresa would do.

  “Nothing. She has no idea. The few times I’ve slept at Brian’s have been when she was at Noah’s. I’ve always been back when she gets home. She doesn’t know.”

  “Amanda.” There’d be a night when Theresa would come home early and find Amanda gone, even if she did eventually agree to move in with Noah. She’d find out. “She’s going to know, at some point. You’re not going to keep it a secret. What then?” My voice cracked as I realized I couldn’t trust either of the two friends I still had in my life. “Do I worry about her encouraging you to come clean? About throwing me under the bus?”

  “What?” She sounded horrified. “No. My god, no, Emma. How could you—how could you think that of me?”

  Because that was where this road was going. How could I be the only one to see it? “It doesn’t matter. It’s done. You love him, and I can see that you really do. I…” had to go. Without saying another word, I took my purse and left.

  The hallway was so quiet. The building was quiet. It had never bothered me before, but I had never felt so alone as when I walked to the elevator and out the door. When I stepped outside, I remembered I hadn’t called ahead for the car.

  Thomas materialized at my side.

  It didn’t matter. They were already there anyway, and he opened the back door for me. I slid in, and when he started to get in beside me, I stopped him. “Please. Can I be alone?”

  He pulled back, a flicker of surprise in his eyes, but he nodded and shut the door. The front passenger door opened a moment later and I envisioned the three grown men squashed together on the other side of the barrier—the driver and the two guards together.

  Another time, I would’ve grinned at that image, but not tonight.

  I wasn’t paying attention to the drive, so when the car stopped and my door opened, I was surprised to find we weren’t in Carter’s basement garage. I stared at a private plane, the stairs already extended and waiting. I looked to Thomas. “What’s going on?”

  “Carter called. He’d like for you to join him in New York.”

  “Oh.” For a moment, I thought he might be coming down those stairs, and I’d be in his arms in a matter of seconds. Sweeping that disappointment aside, I nodded and started forward. “Okay. My clothes?”

  “He’ll have clothes there for you.”

  Of course. He provided for me. Everywhere. Always. I never needed to question that. I walked up the stairs, ducked inside the plane, and went to the back. As I curled into the bed, Thomas and another three guards took their seats. I didn’t question where the other guard had come from. They always appeared, but I had a feeling that Thomas had called Carter. He could tell I was upset. And instead of coming to me, Carter was having me flown to him.

  It didn’t matter, however it came to be. I lay in the bed and closed my eyes, knowing I’d soon be in his arms. That was where I needed to be.

  But I wasn’t going to tell him about Amanda. I couldn’t. I felt too scared of what he would do. Not yet. I promised myself that. Not yet. And as the plane started down the runway, I was able to sleep.

  When I woke, Carter was sliding his arms underneath me and picking me up. He cradled me against his chest as he carried me from the plane and into the back of another car. Burrowing my head to his shoulder, I let the sleep overtake me, and it wasn’t long until I woke once more in an elevator. Then we were in a room, and he slid into bed behind me.

  He pulled me once more to his chest.

  “I love you,” I murmured.

  He pressed a kiss to my forehead and said, “I love you, too. Sleep, Emma.”

  I did.

  When I woke, Carter was gone and the whole night felt like a strange dream—or nightmare. It was daylight now, and I had to figure out what to do. But first, coffee.

  Padding barefoot down the hallway, I let my nose lead me to a dining room large enough to fit a pool. It was grand. Carter had nice things, but this place was the definition of extravagance. I glanced through the floor-to-ceiling windows and decided this was an apartment, probably a penthouse. I also noticed we were in the heart of Manhattan and forgot the coffee for a moment. Going to the window, I stood and basked in the view. It was so much. I’d been to New York for work, but never like this.

  “Remarkable, isn’t it?”

  I turned and found myself staring at the second-most gorgeous man I’d ever seen in person. Carter was first, always first. This guy was almost his opposite in some ways. He had sleek dark hair, cut short, dark, almond eyes, and a lean face like Carter’s. He also had a model’s chiseled features and a physique Theresa would’ve pretended to faint over. He was similar in height to Carter—over six feet with broad shoulders and a lean waist. Actually, he was slightly leaner than Carter. As he moved toward me, I was surprised. He moved like Carter, like a ghost.

  I knew without a doubt that this man was why Carter had been in New York so much.

  “The view?” I remembered his question.

  He handed me a cup of coffee and backed away, leaning against the counter and folding his arms over his chest. I knew what he was doing—trying to diminish his presence so I wouldn’t be so intimidated. I grinned, but didn’t comment. He could think I was easily swayed by a simple body posture. Instead, I took a whiff of that coffee and almost climaxed. It was heaven.

  He laughed, tilting his head to the side. “Carter said you liked coffee. I didn’t realize how much.”

  I grunted. “I’d marry it if I could.”

  He barked out another laugh. “Well, I don’t think Carter would stand for that.”

  “He’d adjust.”

  Grinning, he looked down at the floor and shook his head. “Carter said you were quick-witted. I see he spoke the truth.”

  “Funny. He didn’t say anything about you.”

  His eyebrow went up and he unfolded so he wasn’t slouching anymore, which lent a feeling of authority to his presence. He
wasn’t as dangerous as Carter. I didn’t feel that from him, but he was someone, and he could be lethal.

  “Because until last week, I was no one.”

  “That’s hard to believe.”

  “Emma.” My name drifted in from the hallway. It came as a caress, and Carter approached me with a gentle smile. He was dressed the same as his friend, in dress pants and a button-down shirt. As he came to me and kissed my cheek, he tugged at his collar, unbuttoning the top two buttons. Lingering for a moment, his lips remained on my cheek, and he whispered, “Are you okay?”

 
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