Carter reed 2, p.8
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       Carter Reed 2, p.8
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         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan

  I decided I would allow Emma to have a few more days while I got organized. The war was coming. We all felt it. And there were things I needed to do to prepare for it. When I was done, I would call for her, and she would go into hiding. Once she went, I had no idea how long it would be until I could be with her again.

  A few days. I would give her a few days.

  When I woke the next day, there was a message from Carter. He needed to fly home to take care of business. I didn’t like it. He’d kept his New York home from me, and now he wasn’t telling me what was going on. Cole had been initiated, so I knew that portion of business was done, but this was Carter. There was so much I still didn’t know, and sometimes, when I was honest with myself, I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn all of it.

  “Okay!” Theresa came into my room, clapping her hands. “I talked Amanda into flying here. Noah sent the jet for her, so she really didn’t have much of a choice.”

  “It’s Wednesday.”

  “And tomorrow is Thursday. She said she could do work on the plane and then take tomorrow off.” Theresa’s smile stretched from ear to ear. “We’re going to have the triad. I need you, ladies. And you know what this means?”

  “We’re going to the gun range?”

  “Oh.” She perked up. “No, but we should do that, too…after we go dancing. Noah told me Carter has a friend who owns a nightclub here, so guess where we’re going Thursday night?” She snapped her fingers twice in my face. “Turn that frown upside down and get your dancing face on, because that’s what we’re doing. Drinking. Dancing. And….being divas.” She laughed. “I had to think of another D word, but it fits.”

  “It fits you,” I told her.

  Theresa turned back for the door and waved at me over her shoulder. “I’ll take it. I already knew I was the diva in the group.”

  We were nearing our thirties, but we were going dancing, we were going to drink, and we were throwing the word diva around. As I lay back down in my bed, I couldn’t stop smiling. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  However, when Amanda arrived the next night, my smile had disappeared. I hadn’t been thinking about her since I got to New York. My thoughts had been focused on Carter, my sister, and the impending war. Since he’d gone, my thoughts had been only on Carter and his absence, but now Amanda was coming up the elevator, and I kept remembering she had a cop boyfriend.

  The elevator pinged its arrival, and Theresa squealed as she went to meet it in the private entrance. I stood and followed at a more sedate pace, as did Noah. Theresa waved her hands in the air in excitement. Noah and I shared a look. Only Theresa.

  Then the doors opened, and Amanda came inside pulling a piece of luggage beside her and carrying another large bag slung over her shoulder, along with her purse. Her eyes were wide as she took us all in. She choked out a laugh as Theresa flung herself forward, wrapping her arms around her in a tight hug.

  “You’re here. You’re in New York. The triad is together again.” Theresa kept holding her, rocking her back and forth.

  Amanda laughed again and stepped back. Frowning, she reached up to shake some of the snow from her hair. “I am, and it’s snowing outside. Are we really going dancing? It’s crazy out there.”

  “We are. Damn the snow, I say,” Theresa announced.

  She finally let Amanda loose so she could give Noah and me a hug. Things felt a little awkward with both of us, though Amanda made all the needed motions so the hugs seemed normal. She searched my face and gave me a small, tight grin before moving back. Theresa linked elbows with her and began pulling her to the bedroom she was going to use. As they went down the hallway, Theresa explained, “Going out is not a chore. You and Emma act the same way lately…”

  As her voice faded, Noah shook his head. “She doesn’t give a damn about dancing tonight. She’s just avoiding me.”

  I stiffened. My boss wasn’t one to share things with me. But I could see the pain Theresa was putting him through on his face. We had never discussed their relationship, but maybe now was the time. “She’s scared of losing you,” I said. “That’s all it’s about.”

  He cursed under his breath, raking a hand over his jaw. “I’m getting damn tired of it. If she doesn’t want to move in, she doesn’t have to. What does she think will happen? That I’ll die?”

  “Yes.”

  He looked taken aback. His eyebrow raised. “Are you serious?”

  I nodded. “She lost her family. She lost her fiancé.”

  Another soft curse came from him. “She told you about him? She doesn’t talk about him ever.”

  “She brought it up, but didn’t say much about him.”

  “He was a wanker. He died in a bar fight. That was the tragedy of it. He didn’t die from a car accident or cancer. He got pissed drunk and started the fight.”

  I frowned. “Does Theresa know he started it?”

  He nodded, turning to look in the direction she’d gone. “Yeah, but I get it. He died. Her family died. I get it.” He looked at me for a moment. “She’s terrified of losing you too, you know. Our association with Carter worries her. She doesn’t say anything anymore, and she knows Carter will protect us both, but I know it bothers her.”

  My eyes got big as I processed that. This made more sense. I patted Noah on the arm, heading for the bedrooms. “Just move her in one day. It’s the only way she’ll go, and she won’t leave. She’ll be panicked until it happens, but when it does, she’ll settle down.”

  He barked out a laugh. “My luck, she’ll quit her job and move to Bali if I do that.”

  I chuckled, moving down the hallway to where I could hear Theresa and Amanda talking. He was probably right. I could see Theresa doing that, but she’d come back. I had a feeling Theresa would always go back to Noah. He was her anchor.

  Knocking softly on the door, I pushed it open and met Amanda’s gaze in the mirror. Theresa held a dress up in front of her, and Amanda had one hand holding her hair up behind her neck. She faced the mirror, and in that moment, pain sliced through me. In a way, Amanda had been an anchor for me too, especially during the mess of what happened with Mallory.

  She bit her lip and looked away as Theresa twisted around to me. “What do you think?”

  The dress was black, form fitting, and would stop mid-thigh. I spoke the truth. “Sexy as hell, Amanda.”

  Her cheeks grew pink, and she let her hair fall back down. “Thanks. That’s what I go for, sexy as hell on a daily basis.”

  I perched on a chair in the corner. Theresa grabbed a different dress from the closet and held it in front of Amanda again. “This one?”

  It was pink and lacy. Amanda’s eyebrows shot up. She paled for a quick second before shaking her head and grabbing the black one instead. “I’ll wear this one. I’m good with it.”

  “Really? You’re sure?” Theresa frowned at the pink dress. “Maybe I’ll wear this one then?” She glanced at me. “Emma?”

  Cue my retreat. I stood. “Oh, no. I’ll find something in my room.” Making a hasty escape, I heard Amanda’s soft laugh, and I paused out in the hallway. A different pain filled my chest. I missed her.

  I would miss her.

  No. Squeezing my eyelids shut, I told myself I wouldn’t think like that. I couldn’t. We’d have to figure out the cop boyfriend, somehow. She was another sister to me. At that thought, a yearning washed through me. I wanted to talk to Amanda about Andrea, fill her in on everything, but that meant more questions and more answers that I couldn’t give her anymore.

  “You okay?”

  I looked up. Noah frowned at me, now dressed in a black sweater and jeans. I blinked a few times. Noah was my boss and Carter’s friend. He was big and usually grumbling in the background, especially with Theresa, but right now he looked like he’d stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine. I grinned at him. “Theresa is going to go nuts when she sees you.”

  “Why?” He cocked his head to the side.

  “In a good way. You look good, No
ah. She’s not going to be able to keep away from you tonight, especially if she has a few shots.”

  “Really?” He mulled that over. “Yeah. Okay. She likes my cologne. I’ll put some of that on, too.” Decision made, he gestured to me again. “You okay, though?”

  I looked at the closed door to Amanda’s bedroom. No, but I said, “Yeah. I’m fine.”

  “Carter’s coming back.”

  “What?” I looked at him again.

  “Carter. I know he took off this week, but he’s dealing with stuff. You know him. He’ll be back,” Noah reassured me. “Whatever it is, it must’ve been important.”

  Carter hadn’t called me since he left that message telling me where he was. There’d been a few text messages, but hearing those words, a floodgate opened. Blinking back sudden tears, I nodded quickly and turned away. “Yeah. I know.” But I missed him. I wanted him here. He was my anchor.

  “Emma?”

  I turned my back to Noah and closed the distance to my room. “I’m good. Promise.” Forcing a cheerful sound to my voice, I hurried inside. I knew I wasn’t convincing, but I didn’t care. Pressing back against the door, another tear slipped free, and I held my hands to my stomach. It was churning, doing somersaults inside.

  I couldn’t even think about Carter and what was going on. Noah had no clue. None of them did, and I realized something: Tonight might be the last night I got to spend with my friends. Carter would send for me. Whatever he was doing, he was doing it to make things safe, and then he would call for me. I’d go to him, and everything would be all right again.

  I could feel a raging headache starting. It rose from the base of my head, and I pinched at my temples, rubbing in a circling motion. Amanda’s cop boyfriend. My unknown sister. Carter. The impending war. Maybe drinking tonight would be a good time—my last hoorah. I laughed at that thought. Fuck it. I was going to forget everything for a night, just one night.

  I nodded to myself, feeling my stomach settle down with the decision. I would have fun. I would, or I would try.

  When we left for the club a little later, it felt like everyone had come to the same conclusion. Theresa was flirting with Noah—no surprise. Amanda and I shared an amused look as Theresa’s hand rested on Noah’s stomach.

  She murmured under her breath to me, “What’s the saying? She can’t keep her hands off her guy? Literally this time.”

  I nodded in agreement. Theresa was pressed to his side, and her hand rubbed his stomach. He leaned down, bending his head to hear when she murmured something, and locked them in a private moment.

  Amanda chuckled. “I have a feeling we won’t be seeing much of Theresa tonight.”

  I grinned. “Good for them, though.”

  She nodded. “Yeah. She really loves him.”

  “I can hear you two.” Theresa looked at us, pulling away from Noah just slightly. She sent us an accusing look. “We’re not deaf, you know.”

  Amanda waved her away as she teased, “Get back to canoodling with your man. Whisper sweet nothings to him.”

  Theresa laughed. Her cheeks were red and flushed, and her lips puckered together, as if she was holding herself back from kissing Noah right then and there. Her free hand came to rest on his arm as he turned sideways to face her, placing his own hand on the side of her hip.

  Amanda leaned closer to me. “Why do I get the feeling this is the image we’re going to be seeing all night?”

  I laughed. “Because they’re in love, and they’re happy.”

  “Finally.”

  “Finally.”

  We shared another grin. It felt right to be on the same page.

  “Again,” Theresa groaned. “Shut up, you two. I could do without your commentary.”

  “Then don’t canoodle in front of us.” Amanda gestured at the two of them. “Look at you. This is prime entertainment. How can we not watch? Our men aren’t here—” She bit off her words and looked at me, panicked. Her face paled.

  “Wait. What?” Theresa untangled herself from Noah. “Your men? As in both of you?”

  Amanda sent me a pleading look, biting down hard on her lip.

  “She meant Carter.” I leaned forward, blocking Amanda from their view and patting her arm. “She’s being nice, trying to distract us all by saying that. And see, it’s working.” I gestured to Theresa. “This would’ve lasted the whole drive to the club.” I turned back to Amanda. “You don’t have to distract me, though. Watching the lovesick couple isn’t making me miss Carter,” except that it was. I patted her hand again. “Thanks for trying to distract me, though.”

  “Oh.” Theresa frowned, her voice softening.

  Amanda closed her eyes and let out a silent breath of relief. She mouthed the words, thank you to me before shifting back in her seat and looking once again to Theresa and Noah. “Sorry. I didn’t mean for you two to stop cuddling. Keep going. Emma and I will keep up the commentary.” She whispered loudly to me, “Do you see that? His hand is shifting, and he’s going for the lay-up.”

  Noah froze.

  Theresa frowned.

  I laughed. “Two points if he makes the basket.”

  “Oh!” Amanda snapped her fingers. “He just got the rim. So close.”

  “What the fuck?” Noah rolled his eyes.

  Theresa relaxed and shook her head. “They’re making fun of us. Don’t worry. It’s not really a play-by-play of us having sex.”

  “What?” he asked again. “What the hell is going on here?”

  “So when’s the move-in date?” Amanda asked.

  I sucked in my breath. Theresa’s mouth fell open, and Noah’s forehead wrinkled into a scowl.

  “Damn, Amanda.” Theresa closed her mouth, shaking her head as if to clear her mind. “Way to just dig right in.”

  Amanda shrugged. “My question stands.”

  I shot her a sideways look. Where was this coming from? But I caught the swift rise and pause of her chest as she held her breath. I frowned. Was this still about distracting from her slip before? I had covered it. Theresa took the bait—hook, line, and sinker. We’d just been laughing, and now a sudden tension filled the car.

  No one said a word.

  Theresa shifted and looked out the side of the car. Noah glanced at her, his scowl deepening, then he sighed and leaned back in his own seat. He turned to look out the other side of the car, so now it was just Amanda watching them, and me wondering what the hell was going on.

  Those two had checked out, but the car was slowing to a stop, and it wasn’t long before the door was opened for us. Thomas and Michael stood outside. They waited as Noah let Theresa out first. He moved behind her, placing his hand at the small of her back. Amanda was next, and she held back for me. As I got out, I shot her a look. “What the hell was that about in there?”

  Her face was stony, and she jerked a shoulder up. “It was nothing.”

  “That wasn’t nothing. You seemed fine with them being like that. We were joking even.”

  “Leave it alone, Emma.” The wall slid away, and a haunted expression flickered across her face. The sides of her mouth curved down slightly, and she pressed a hand to the corner of her eye. Her eyelid had started to twitch. “I’m sorry. I—I’m sorry.” She started forward, ahead of me.

  “Miss Emma.”

  Thomas held his hand out, and I started forward. The car door shut behind me, and I was soon flanked by two guards, and Thomas and Michael behind me.

  Everyone else had gone ahead toward the front door of the club. A line had formed on both sides of the sidewalk with large bouncers keeping people back. There was no rope, but it was evident that people couldn’t enter freely. As Noah and Theresa walked through, a protest rose from the crowd.

  “Who are they?” yelled a voice. “What the hell, man?!”

  The bouncers ignored them.

  Amanda was allowed in next and then as I approached, I felt the wave of attention turning my way. I swallowed tightly. I could be recognized any moment, but I held my br
eath and hoped no one would notice me without Carter. As I walked past the front of the lines, I didn’t hear any other protests. Once inside, my shoulders dropped from relief.

  I hadn’t been recognized, and I’d never thought to look at the name of the club either.

  One shot.

  Two shots.

  Three shots.

 
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