Carter reed 2, p.6
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       Carter Reed 2, p.6

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  “Okay.”

  The two looked to me and then Carter nodded once, with authority and finality. “She’ll want to see you, but I don’t want you traveling back and forth. Noah has a place here. You can stay with them, and I will call in more guards to secure his building.”

  “What about you?”

  “I’ll come for the nights.”

  So I would still have him at night. Relief swept through me. I’d been scared for a moment that he would pull back, spend all his time with Cole, and I would be alone. “Okay. That’ll work. Theresa will want to spend the days together, anyway.”

  “I’m sure Noah is hoping to get work done at the New York Richmond.”

  “I’m sure.”

  “You will not go in with him.” His eyes flashed in warning.

  So I was officially hiding? It wasn’t just for this week. “Carter.” I moved closer, making my voice quiet. This question wasn’t for Cole to hear.

  Cole stood, giving me a polite smile, before he gestured to the door. “I think that’s my cue. It was nice having you here, Emma. I’d like for us to have dinner before you go back home.” He glanced at Carter, at me, and gave another smile. “The three of us.”

  I reached for Carter’s hand as Cole left. “Is the war already happening? Is that why I’m hiding?” Déjà vu washed over me. Like with Mallory, but this was worse. I saw the fear in Carter. It was shimmering just under the surface, and it had him on edge.

  “I…” He stopped, then drew me onto his lap. Pulling me so I was straddling him, he rested his hands on my hips and didn’t look me in the eyes for a moment. His gaze was downcast. He leaned forward, resting his head into my chest. A deep shuddering sigh left him, and I blinked back tears. I felt his fear then. It was in me, too. Closing my eyes, I wrapped my arms around him and held him. No matter what he said, this war was real. If it wasn’t full-blown now, it would be. Carter knew it, and I trusted him.

  “Carter,” I whispered.

  He tipped his head back, looking up at me.

  I framed his face with my hands and vowed, with every inch of me, “I will stay alive. No matter what happens, I will.”

  His Adam’s apple jerked up and down. I could tell he wanted to believe me, but that was the fear. “I can’t lose you.”

  “You won’t.”

  “They could come for you.”

  I shook my head. “You’re not in, right? You’re making money for them. Why would they want to hurt you?”

  His hands rested over mine. “Because it’s not about money. It’s about power. They didn’t kill you before. I handed them a solution on a silver platter, but Cole is back. His presence changes everything. They thought he was dead. It’s a matter of time before they find out I’m the one who saved him.”

  Carter was to blame. That’s what he thought. I frowned. “You think this war will be because of you?”

  He shook his head, slightly. “No. If the war happens, it’s because the Bartel family wants the Mauricio land and assets. That’s all, but this isn’t like last time. I didn’t have anyone to lose.” His hand touched the corner of my lip, resting there. “No one knew about you.”

  They did now. Now he had me to lose.

  Oh god. I started to feel a different form of terror. He had to think clearly. He had to be ruthless. He couldn’t hesitate. I knew that much. If you wanted to survive, you fought back.

  “If something happens, you don’t hesitate,” I told him fiercely. “For any reason. I will fight back. I will stay alive. I will, but so will you. Got that?”

  He gave me a half-grin. “When are Theresa and Noah coming?”

  “In three hours.”

  “Good.” He stood, holding me against his chest, and walked to our bedroom. “That gives us plenty of time.”

  I wrapped my arms around his neck, and my mouth found his. He laid me down on the bed and as he slid inside me moments later, I sighed from contentment. I loved this man. He was scared of losing me, but it went the other way, too. No one would take him away from me.

  I wouldn’t allow it.

  That’s how I had come to be sitting in a limousine outside of JFK, waiting for Theresa and Noah with my own bag packed in the trunk. The door to the limo opened, and I shifted down in my seat, unsure who all was coming with them. Theresa burst inside first. She looked haggard, though her hair was pulled to the top of her head in a bun and she had on a trendy black coat. She plopped down and let out a deep breath. “I hate traveling.”

  “I thought you came in a private plane?”

  “We did, and I’m thankful for that, but I’m still exhausted.” Pressing a hand to her stomach, her lips pressed together. “I feel a little nauseous.”

  Noah had been climbing inside as she said those words and, hearing them, he switched to the seat opposite from where she sat. “I’ll take this one. Thank you.” He grinned at me. “Hey, Emma. Is Carter around?”

  No. Carter was where he always spent his time during the day: in meetings with the elder board of a very powerful mafia family, but I couldn’t say that. I didn’t know what he’d shared with Noah, but I knew Theresa couldn’t know. So I just shrugged. “He’s got some business to handle. He’ll come tonight, though.”

  The car door was still open, and I waited, wondering if Amanda had come with them. But just as I was about to ask, the driver closed the door and returned to the front.

  “Amanda didn’t come,” Theresa said. “She couldn’t get off work, but she might fly out next weekend if we’re still here.”

  “You’re going to be here that long?” I asked Noah.

  He nodded. “It works. When Theresa mentioned coming to see you, I had something coming down the pipeline with The Richmond, so instead of coming here later, which I would’ve anyway, I pushed everything ahead.”

  Theresa beamed at me. “And I get to help you with your account.”

  “Really?”

  She nodded, and just like that, she’d slipped back into the professional Theresa I’d met first and worked with on the bourbon project. She touched Noah’s hand before her eyes widened and she retracted it. “He said you’re updating the records for a new launch, right?”

  “Yeah. I’ve worked through half the file.”

  “I’ll help with the rest. Once we’re done, Noah’s promised a full day of shopping.” She winked at him. “On him.”

  He stared at her like a stranger was talking. If he’d been one to show his emotions, I knew his mouth would’ve been hanging open. Instead, he only blinked at her, his face an impassive wall, but he couldn’t look away.

  Noticing this, Theresa rolled her eyes. “What? I might be snippy because of our personal life, but I’m still a damn good worker.”

  “No, I know. I didn’t—” He stopped himself. “I…you were very adamant about this being a week of vacation for you and Emma. The two of you were going to be shopping every day and to hell with your work ethic for one week. Your time, not my time. Right? Was that how it went?”

  She flushed, folding her arms over her chest. “I was mad. I said things I didn’t mean, but I’m a good worker. Emma and I can get it all done, and then we’ll have a fun day. Besides, I’ll be spending time with her. That’s why I came.” She turned to me again. “And we’ll have Amanda fly out, whether she wants to or not. A fun weekend in New York will be the ultimate girl’s trip.”

  Amanda and the secret boyfriend who could ruin Carter’s life, or mine. Yes, that would be lovely. “Just Amanda?”

  Theresa cocked her head to the side. “What do you mean?”

  She still didn’t know. That was the answer I needed. “Only the triad?” I teased. “Just making sure we’re enough for you.”

  Theresa just smiled.

  By the time we got to Noah’s home, I had shoved Amanda to the back of my mind. I followed Theresa inside and to the part of the house where Carter and I would sleep. We had our own entrance even. That’d be helpful for Carter and his need to slip in and out.

&n
bsp; Later, after the bags had been put away, Theresa poured wine for us and said, “I’m surprised Carter doesn’t have a place here.”

  “I am, too.”

  Noah came in and reached for The Richmond’s bourbon. “He does, but he said it’s under construction.”

  Theresa whirled to look at me. I hadn’t known. That was the realization she’d just come to. I lifted a shoulder to answer her silent question. Her lips pressed together, and she held her wine in front of her, seeming so casual. But her eyes were sharp and alert. “Really?” she asked.

  Noah poured himself some bourbon. He didn’t seem to notice Theresa’s hidden agenda. “Yeah. To be honest, I thought that was why he was here—so he could oversee it and you know…” He gestured with a hand in my direction, putting the bottle away. “That’s why he wanted Emma here, too. He asked for a few months off for her.”

  I straightened. This new information, coupled with Carter having his own place, had my stomach churning. A few months? He had his own place? Why wouldn’t he want us there? Was it because of Cole? I knew he wanted to keep an eye on Cole, but that didn’t feel right. Carter wouldn’t have had me there too, if that was the reason… No, it was more than that. He didn’t want me at his place—and then I got it.

  His place. The family knew it was his. I would bet money they didn’t know where Cole lived—not yet—and that meant the Bartel family didn’t know. But the Bartels might know where Carter lived…where I would’ve been. This was Noah’s place. I heard myself asking, “Your name is on the deed for this building?”

  Theresa turned to study me. She’d been watching Noah with narrowed eyes.

  He looked over too, a slight frown marring his face. “No, actually. This building belonged to a great aunt. I inherited it from her. How’d you know that?”

  I shrugged. “Lucky guess.”

  I was still in hiding. If Carter was willing to let me stay here, he didn’t think The Bartel family knew of this place.

  “You okay?” Theresa had migrated closer. She asked so Noah wouldn’t hear.

  I nodded, my head moving up and down in a jerky motion. This really was like last year, except it wasn’t by my hands. I wasn’t hiding because of what I had done, but because of Carter. Last time, I had pulled him in. This time, I was the one being pulled.

  Gene had called for a meeting at one of the warehouses the Mauricio family used for storage. Cole was back at his place, waiting. The initiation was set to happen in twenty-four hours. No matter what went down, Cole would take his place as the head of the Mauricio family. It’d been years since there had been one, but it was set to go. All the elders had been talked with. Their concerns were answered and managed. It was going to happen. But when Gene called for this meeting, I knew he wouldn’t be bringing good news.

  Too many loose ends right now. I wanted Cole back in so I could tend to the others. Emma had a sister and a man trying to get a hold of her. I’d sent my best to find answers, and I’d thought this last phone call would be him, not Gene.

  Now Noah and Theresa were here in the city. That was another loose end I wanted tied up. Even though Emma had been quiet, I knew Theresa was someone she worried about. I’d kept surveillance on her over the last year, listened to her calls. She never met with any press or anyone in the government. Only Noah knew she was being watched. He understood the concern and had agreed, but I knew he was growing tired of the secret. It was one of the reasons he wanted her to move in with him. He wanted to protect her from me, shield her as much as he could, but she was fighting him.

  When he’d first told me of their argument, I wanted to laugh. He looked distraught, but dumbstruck. He was in love. I understood. Hell, I grinned to myself now. I hadn’t given Emma a chance to think about it. I told her she had to move in, but I’d been worried that after everything was done she would want to get her own place. She hadn’t. She seemed content to remain with me, which I was continuously thankful for. But now this long-lost sister was a future concern of mine. Who was she? What was the real story? They’d found Emma because of me. It wasn’t a stretch to consider that they might be trying to use her to get to me, or that they were working for the government somehow…

  “He’s here.”

  I’d brought Michael with me, and his voice now alerted me to the headlights coming toward us. When the car drew to a halt and Gene got out, I nodded. Michael opened our door and led the way. Another guard came behind me, but when Gene motioned that he wanted privacy, I stopped both of them and kept going.

  After another ten feet, my mentor came to a stop and scanned the warehouses around us with a wary eye. He stroked his jaw before he said, “I don’t like this feeling.”

  I knew what he meant. “Until they make a move, we have to be cautious,” I said. The Bartels could strike again—against anyone, at any moment. We were all playing the waiting game.

  “And Cole?”

  “What about him?”

  “You’ve pushed for his place to be reinstated. If he makes the first move—”

  I narrowed my eyes. “Which he can. They killed two of his friends. He has the right.” And the power. That’s what everyone was reluctant to give up. They’d enjoyed having their power, but now it was mostly Cole’s. His decisions—unless overthrown by a majority vote—would be the fate of the Mauricio family now.

  “I know. We get it. We do, but everyone’s nervous.”

  This was why he’d called. “We’ve been talking this over for weeks,” I told him. “It’s time.” Too much more time and our family might be dead. “You’re moving too slow. Decisions have to be made in an instant. This is the right move.”

  “He’s been gone for too long.”

  “He’s been learning in those years.”

  “I don’t like it. No one does.”

  It was done. “The time to complain is over.”

  Gene shook his head. “They sent me to appeal to you one last time. Stop this, Carter. If anyone should lead, it should be you.”

  “No.” I’m out. “My job is done. Cole will take over tomorrow.”

  “You’re the go-between. No one trusts him. They trust you.”

  “I’m out, Gene.” My voice rose. This wasn’t a point of discussion. “Everyone knows this.”

  “And if they attack you?”

  “Well...” My voice lowered, and I’m sure my eyes grew cold. “Then things will change. But unless that happens, I’m out. For her.”

  He nodded. “I know, I know.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “People are antsy, that’s all. They’re concerned. What if he’s a bad leader? What if he makes the wrong decisions and gets all of us killed? We all have family—”

  “No one understands the value of family more than Cole.” Did I need to remind him? “His father was one week. His mother the next. Each of his three brothers. Then his eldest sister. His two little sisters. One after another, Gene. It would do the elders good to remember that their own brother was murdered.”

  “I know.” His voice was laden with regret. “I do. I loved William. He was my brother, too.”

  “And Cole’s your nephew.”

  “I know.” His shoulders rolled back as he continued to nod to himself. “I know. I forget. There are others in the family who are…” He hesitated. “They’re forgetting, like I am. He’s our blood.”

  I was the outsider, yet they treated me as if I were Cole. “He’s your blood.” Not me.

  Sensing the unspoken sentiment, Gene shook his head. “Don’t think that. You’re just as much blood as him, more even. This family would follow you anywhere, and we have, but you’re giving someone a lot of power, someone who’s been outside the family for five years.”

  “I know, but I trained Cole before I left him. It’s time for him to return to the fold.”

  “Yeah. Okay.”

  “Is this really why you wanted to meet tonight?”

  “Yeah. Well, I talked with Anthony. He’s concerned there’s another traitor in the family. I
know we caught the other one, but how’d they find Cole?”

  “No.” I was the only one who knew where Cole had been. “It wasn’t from the family. They found him another way.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes.” I didn’t want to think about another traitor. I’d almost lost Emma because of the last one. “But if there is one, he’ll die.” I would kill him myself.

  Gene grew silent. He turned to look around us again; the wariness had never left him. “This life, Carter, it gets to you.”

  I knew, maybe more than he thought. I understood. “I’ve been watching Cole.”

  “You have?”

  I nodded. “He’s ready.”

 
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