Carter reed 2, p.11
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       Carter Reed 2, p.11

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
 
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  or on?”

  “On.” There was no question about it. Definitely on.

  “Okay.” She lay down and held my hand.

  I just hurt. That’s all I knew then. I might’ve slept, but I had no idea. I just hurt.

  Though every phone on the plane seemed to ring at once, it was Gene who told me about the bombing. I knew something was wrong, and when I picked up my phone I expected Thomas, but before I could speak into it, Gene thrust out his hand, an unspoken command to wait. So I did.

  When he hung up, he wasted no time. “There was a bombing at the Mauricio.”

  I knew then. The family’s nightclub. Theresa was in New York. The question about Emma was forefront, but I searched my mentor’s gaze. He hid nothing. He looked back at me, gazing steadily, and there were no shadows in his depths. I would’ve been able to see it if anything had happened to her. But still I asked, “She was hurt?”

  He didn’t answer. He couldn’t.

  My phone rang again, and I answered this time. “Is she hurt?”

  Cole hesitated the briefest of seconds. “From what I’ve been told, only a few sprains, and she had a cut in her mouth.”

  Okay.

  She was fine.

  The storm brewing inside me didn’t rage, but it was there. It simmered.

  I asked my second question. “Was she the target?”

  “God help us,” Gene muttered beside me.

  I ignored him, waiting for Cole’s answer

  “We don’t know. The bomb was left in a bag at the back of the club. She was outside talking with a friend. If she was the target, that was the closest they could get to her. If she wasn’t the target, it might’ve been left as a warning to us? They might’ve been hoping not to kill as many as they did.” He sounded wary. “We can’t know for sure.”

  “She was outside?”

  “In the alley.”

  I knew the layout. My men would’ve positioned themselves all around her, which meant some of those men were close to the blast. I didn’t say anything about them to Cole. He was family, but he wasn’t in that family. Those men were mine and Emma’s. They would be avenged. I didn’t need to think about that vow, I just breathed it.

  The storm kicked up to a low boil.

  “Where is she?”

  “At the friends’ that you told me about. I went and checked on her.”

  He’d made himself known to them. Noah, Theresa, and Amanda now knew about another player in my life. I gripped the phone tighter, but kept my voice even. No reaction. “She was fine?”

  “She was. Her friends were taking care of her.”

  I knew why Cole had gone. Emma was my life. She’d been left behind in his city. He felt an allegiance to me and needed to see for himself that she was fine. I understood it, but I wasn’t happy about it.

  “Cole,” I murmured.

  “Yes?”

  “Do not ever go near those friends again.”

  There was silence for a beat. “Carter?”

  “If my men are with her, she is fine.”

  “I went to see for my own eyes—”

  I cut him off, holding the phone so damn tightly now, “I know. That’s not needed.”

  He grew quiet. “I owe you my life. This is my city—”

  Another interruption. “You don’t owe me anything. You owe the family everything now. I am not your priority. They are.”

  I saw Gene turn his head to look at me. I’d cut Cole off, but what I said was true. His first priority was to the Mauricio family, not my family. It pained me to say this, but Emma wasn’t and shouldn’t have been his focus. He should’ve checked on her the next day.

  He was silent on his end of the phone, which was fine. I expected nothing else. “Am I right to assume the bomb came from the Bartel family?”

  “Carter.”

  He didn’t answer my question. “You need to make sure it was from the Bartel family.”

  “Carter.”

  “What?”

  “I will never apologize for checking on your woman, and I will do it again.”

  I closed my eyes. I shouldn’t have wanted to hear that, but I was proud of him anyway. “You need to plan your next move,” I told him.

  “I already have.” He paused a moment. “Was your trip home worthwhile?”

  “Yes.” I glanced to Gene, who didn’t hide that he’d been listening to the conversation. He lifted an eyebrow, and I said, “Very.”

  “Good. Now go home to your woman, Carter. She needs you. And no, this family does not.”

  Not yet.

  I heard the hesitation from Cole’s end, and felt a slight grin inside. Cole had been outside of the family before, when the Bartels first attacked. He was now back in the family, and they dropped a bomb in the nightclub. Whether Emma was the target or not, it had happened in a family business. I knew what Cole’s message was. I was still out. But despite what he wanted, it wouldn’t last. I knew this. Gene knew it. We’d gone home to take steps for when I was pulled in. Now I flew back. I had to take care of Emma now.

  “I’ll talk to you later.”

  Cole chuckled from the other end. “I’ll be seeing you. You’re a lucky man, Carter.”

  As I hung up, I turned to Gene. “Your nephew will be a good leader.”

  He laughed. “He put you in your place, that’s for sure.”

  We both wore a grin, but it wasn’t a laughing matter. Once our plane landed, Gene went to his family and I went to mine.

  When I entered Noah’s home, the lights were off, except for a few lamps in the corners, and I heard a murmur of conversation from the master bedroom. Noah and Theresa must’ve still been up. But I went straight to the bedroom Noah had told me he would put her in, and when I opened the door, there she was.

  My world righted itself once again.

  She lay a bit awkwardly on her back with her head turned to the side. She must have chosen her position based on her injuries. Her hand rested on top of the covers, her fingers entwined with Amanda’s, who lay next to her.

  I stood and watched. I wanted to pull her into my arms, take her from Amanda’s side, and protect her from the world. That’s where I should’ve been instead of leaving her. My jaw clenched, and the storm began inside me again.

  I should’ve been here.

  It should’ve been me holding her hand the entire time, not Amanda, though I was grateful for her presence.

  Then Amanda’s eyes opened. She didn’t start when she saw me, just smiled slowly and sat up. Untangling her hand, she whispered, “She’ll be okay. She’s just missing you.”

  I nodded. I didn’t trust myself to speak. I shouldn’t have gone away. “Thank you,” I finally managed.

  She slid out from the covers. Coming to me, she asked, “Can I talk to you? Outside?”

  No. Inside I raged against the idea of leaving Emma again, but I nodded and followed her back to the hallway. With the door shut, she said, “Do we need to be worried about her?”

  I didn’t ask what she meant. Amanda and Theresa were smart. They both knew something was going on. Instead, I nodded. “Yes.”

  She sucked in her breath. “I didn’t think you would admit it.”

  “Would you rather I lie? I can do that.” I didn’t bat an eye.

  “No, no.” She shook her head, folding her arms over her chest and hugging herself. “I…What are you going to do?”

  “Never leave her side.”

  She searched my eyes, but that was the truth. Emma was hurt. It was my fault.

  “Thank you for being here with her,” I said.

  She grimaced, looking pained. “Has she said anything to you about me? About my relationship?”

  Ah. So Emma knew. I shook my head. “No, but I wasn’t aware that she knew.”

  Her eyes got big. “You know?”

  “Brian Camden is a good cop. Yes, Amanda. I have taken extraordinary measures to protect Emma, and that includes watching you and whose bed you share.”

&nb
sp; She sucked in her breath, pressing a hand to the side of her face. “My god. Hearing you say it like that—I love him.”

  “I know.”

  She wiped her hand over her eyes. “I was going to break up with him tonight, but Emma stopped me. That’s why she was in the alley with me. She ran out there to stop me. I couldn’t go through with it. I love him too much. Do I…” She turned away, but I heard her anguish. “Are you…”

  “Am I going to kill him? Is that what you’re trying to ask?”

  She nodded, jerking her head up and down. She couldn’t say the words.

  The irony that a woman who had comforted my soul mate was asking if I was going to rip hers apart wasn’t lost on me. And I told the truth, “No.”

  Her shoulders had lifted, tensing, but they dropped at my answer.

  I added, “But I will if he starts investigating me or Emma. I won’t hesitate.”

  She didn’t answer. She couldn’t look at me, and I was sure she couldn’t respond to that. It wasn’t a threat. It was fact. I would have it done, if needed. Sometimes I was a cold bastard, but I wasn’t heartless, not unless I needed to be, and with that, I gentled my tone. “Thank you again, Amanda.”

  She looked at me now. I had no bags, and I still had my coat on. She glanced back to the main entrance and saw Thomas waiting. “You’re taking her with you, aren’t you? You’re leaving tonight.”

  All the men were downstairs, waiting in their cars. “Right now.”

  Thomas started forward, but I held a hand up. I would get her. I would carry her. That was my job. He nodded, stepping back, and I went back into the bedroom. I lifted her from the bed, bedcovers and all, and walked through the door as he held it open.

  I’d sent word to have her bags packed and ready, and Thomas had messaged me, even before our plane touched the ground, that everything was cleared to go. They had only been waiting for my arrival.

  Emma didn’t move. But once she was in my arms, I felt her body relax. She remained asleep during the car ride to my place, and when we arrived, I lifted her again and carried her into our room.

  Before I went to bed with her, I checked my entire home—every window. Every door. Every inch of my house. And my men checked the land around it. Then I went to my office and opened the back closet. A wall slid away, revealing an entire closet of guns and ammunition.

  I took out a 9mm and silencer, then pocketed two boxes of bullets and closed it all back up. Going to bed, I placed the gun onto the nightstand and turned to pull Emma into my side.

  I held her for the rest of the night.

  I knew he was there, even before I opened my eyes. It was his smell, the feel of his body beside me, the way his arm held me to him. I smiled, feeling a rush of excitement surge through me. He was home, and I turned, savoring what was next.

  There he was. Nestled next to me, his eyes closed and his breathing even, he was asleep. His hair was a little messed, flattened from the pillow, but he was adorable. That wasn’t a word I would usually use to describe Carter. He was gorgeous. He was stunning. He was lethal. But not adorable, and that’s why I relished this moment. His walls were gone, and it was just him, the real him at his most vulnerable.

  I let out a silent breath.

  I loved him so much. I wanted to wake him, but I also didn’t at the same time. He looked like a little boy, all his guardedness gone. His eyelids were soft, the lines around them a little smudgy from sleep. I knew all that would go away when he woke. He’d become alert and ready to take on the world. He would become a predator.

  But not yet. For now, he was just mine.

  Then, after a moment, his eyes opened, and my heart skipped a beat. It was cheesy, but it was real. And I laughed because of it.

  “Hey, you,” he murmured, lifting a hand to tuck some of my hair behind my ear. His hand lingered on my cheek, and his thumb brushed back and forth.

  It was such a loving gesture. I felt warmth fill my body, all the way to my toes. This. I loved this about him, along with so much else.

  “How are you feeling?”

  I shook my head. “Nope. I’m not answering that because I haven’t moved. If I don’t move, I won’t feel any pain, right? Then I can just stay here and look at you, and everything’s okay.”

  He laughed softly, then sighed as his hand fell away from my face. “I love you.”

  “I love you, too.” And I wasn’t going to cry. I’d done enough of that. “Where were you?”

  He sighed again. “I had things to do, but I’m back. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.”

  “Nope. We’re not talking about it. Not moving. Not talking about it. Just staying here in bed all day.” I sent him a blinding smile. I knew it was ridiculous. It wasn’t going to happen, but of all days to hide away from the world, this was the day. And he was finally back.

  “I really am sorry.” His voice deepened, and I heard the emotion there. “I had to get things ready, for this war.” He hesitated before adding, “For your sister.”

  My sister. My mouth fell open. Why hadn’t I considered that before? “I saw her.”

  “What?”

  “Outside the club last night. She was there. She saw me.” She’d been crying. “I think she felt bad. She was across the street, part of the crowd watching everything.”

  “What?” He sat up, staring down at me now. “She was there?”

  I nodded, and fuck—that hurt. “Yeah. Carter, she looks just like me. I thought it was me for a second. I was confused, but now—it was her. I know it.” I thought for a moment. “I might’ve been recognized when I went in. Maybe? It’s not that long of a trip from home. One hour on plane. Maybe…” But that felt odd. She was crying. I couldn’t get that out of my head. “Carter, she looks just like me.”

  I couldn’t get her out of my head.

  Then I noticed the wall—it was gray. The walls at Noah’s place were tan. I kept looking around. A closet. A fireplace across from our bed with a television mounted on the wall and a desk built in. There was a door that I assumed led to a bathroom or a closet, or both. I didn’t know, but I turned back to Carter. “Where are we?”

  “My place.”

  “Your place?” The one he’d kept a secret.

  He nodded, hesitating for a moment. “I brought you here to be safer.”

  “I wasn’t aware you had a place,” I lied.

  He grinned. “Yeah, you were. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before. I meant to, but I was renovating it. Better security measures.”

  “Better security measures?”

  He nodded.

  Someone knocked on the door. “You have a phone call, Mr. Reed.”

  “I have to go.”

  I rolled my eyes. “I thought we were going to have passionate mad sex here.”

 
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