Carter reed 2, p.4
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       Carter Reed 2, p.4

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
 
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  I was suddenly exhausted, so I shook my head. “I don’t know.” I spoke the truth.

  He pulled away enough to see my face and narrowed his eyes. His hand came to rest on my arm.

  Oh god. What had I just done with those three words? He would push me later, and even if I didn’t say anything, he would know I’d been with Amanda earlier. He would figure it out himself. That’s what he did.

  “If I ask you to leave it alone, would you?” I had to try.

  He turned from concerned to questioning. “As loving you, my job is to help with whatever’s wrong. I can’t do that.”

  My hands curled around my mug. Feeling the weight of his friend’s gaze behind us, I shrugged a shoulder and whispered, “I’ll tell you later. I just…can’t right now.”

  He nodded and moved to kiss my lips. Hovering over them, he murmured again, “I’m sorry I didn’t wake you and explain where we are. You shouldn’t have woken in a stranger’s home. That’s my fault.”

  He held the side of my face as he gave me the slightest of kisses, enough to make me yearn for an afternoon for just the two of us. I wanted to bury my head in his chest and feel his arms as I had when he’d carried me and held me hours earlier. I wanted to feel only his touch. Nothing else. No outside world interrupting us, leaving me cold and hurt.

  “I love you,” I whispered to him.

  “I love you.” Then he stepped back, his hand still touching the side of my face for a moment, before falling away. Regret flashed over his features for a split second before it vanished, and he became the Carter who spoke to the guards—or even Noah. This was a different side of him. He’d slipped back into his persona: business-like, professional, and with an air of power clinging to him. He gestured behind him, and his friend came forward. “Emma, this is Cole Mauricio.”

  Cole smiled. “Refill?”

  My cup was almost empty, so I nodded, handing it over.

  As Cole went to refill it, Carter continued, “Cole’s been away for the last few years—”

  “I’m back now.”

  “—and he’s returned to take over the Mauricio family holdings.” Carter’s tone dropped.

  A shiver wound its way up my spine. Carter was trying to tell me something. I shoved all emotion aside and checked back in. “Take over,” he’d said.

  Cole returned with my cup. He’d added a touch of creamer and sugar. How he knew I enjoyed it that way, I didn’t want to know, but I said, “Thank you,” as I took it and stirred it a few more times. I kept stirring, mulling over Carter’s words.

  Then it hit me.

  Cole Mauricio was the head of the family. He had come back. Whatever brought him back was the reason behind Carter’s words, a week ago: “I need to tell you what happened today, because it could affect us.” It was this guy.

  “Nice to formally meet you, Emma.” Cole gave me a half-grin.

  I saw it then. My gut had told me he was dangerous earlier, and I was right. Even now, he leaned back against the counter, but he leaned the way Carter did at times: his back to the wall, his arms open, always close to a weapon if it’s needed. And his eyes darted to the door—to an exit.

  I nodded again to him. “And you. Carter doesn’t introduce me to many people from the Mauricio family.”

  “Cole.” Carter stood.

  He excused us with that one word, and Cole nodded, giving him a grin. “I’ll be in my office.”

  Carter took the coffee from my hand. As Cole went down the hallway, Carter led me back to our bedroom. Once inside, he grasped my face and pulled me to him. An intensity took over, and he backed me to the wall. His lips were on mine, insistent, demanding.

  “I need you,” he whispered, his lips commanding. “You were hurting last night. I wasn’t there to stop it.”

  But he had. He had in so many ways he’d never know.

  I tried to shake my head, to reassure him, but his hand raised my shirt. My body plastered against his as my back arched, keeping my shoulders and hips against the door. I wanted to feel him cup my breasts, tease my nipples, but he opened his mouth to kiss me more deeply. I felt him wanting to claim me, getting as close as possible.

  I needed him, too. Right now. Right here. I needed the touch of my man. I needed to feel exposed to him, my soul displayed so we could connect on the deepest level. After last night’s feeling of impending doom, I needed to be reminded who I belonged to and whose soul belonged to me: Carter.

  My mind turned off. I would let him do anything he wanted, as long as he was with me, always with me.

  He held me, still pressed against the door, and my legs wound around his waist. My hands sank into his hair, and I gasped once for breath, then I kissed him again. I needed him. Opening my mouth, his tongue swept inside. It wasn’t enough. I needed even more. My hand fell to his pants, unbuckling them. He shifted so one of his hands was free and pulled down my pants. At the same time, my hand closed over him. He was hard and ready, and then he was at my entrance. He didn’t hold back. It was rough, hungry, and primal. I gasped, lifting my head for air as I closed my eyes. I wanted to savor this, the feeling of him inside me, but he didn’t let me. He pulled out and went right back in. He continued thrusting, holding me suspended against the door. His hips rolled against mine.

  His finger touched my chin, and I opened my eyes. He stared at me with earnestness in their depths. He yearned for me as much as I did for him. I saw the same desperation and holding his face in my hands, I used my hips to thrust down over him, matching his rhythm. As I did, he closed his eyes.

  “No!” I insisted.

  His eyes flew back open. I needed to see him. I needed to watch him. When I did, I knew what was going on inside him.

  He nodded slowly, thrusting harder, rougher, understanding what I needed.

  We neared the climax. I felt mine coming. Carter scooped me against him and went to the bed. As I lay beneath him, he pounded into me. I soared over the edge, but I kept my legs wound around his waist, urging him to go as hard and as deep as he wanted.

  He went deeper.

  He went harder.

  Then, as a guttural groan left him, I felt his release. He collapsed on top of me, his full weight bearing down on me, but he wasn’t heavy. He was mine.

  After we could breathe again, he shifted to the side and pulled me against his chest. “I’m sorry you woke up alone.”

  I nodded. He’d said it earlier. “I know. It’s fine.”

  He held me tighter to him. “Thomas called, but I couldn’t come to you. Then you were sleeping so soundly on the plane. He called again and offered to just bring you here, but I didn’t want anyone else to hold you. So I met the plane and brought you myself. We’re in Cole’s home. He owns this building, and it’s very private, but there are five other residents who live here.”

  “Why are you telling me this?”

  “You have to understand. While we’re here, you can’t leave Cole’s home. He lives on the top three floors of the building, but the other floors have people living there. If you go anywhere, you have to have the men with you.”

  “Of course.” He was so insistent. I frowned. What was really going on? “Like always.”

  “No, not like always. You usually have men with you and others trailing you, but this time, I want all of them surrounding you. I mean it, Emma. If I’m not with you, you don’t go anywhere. Cole won’t listen to me. I told him his home should be private and isolated, but he refuses. He won’t kick the other tenants out.”

  “It’s okay. I’ll be fine. But…” I bit my lip.

  “What?”

  “How long am I going to be here?”

  He shrugged. “As long as necessary.”

  “My job. I can’t stop going.”

  “I called Noah. He said there’s work you can do here for him. There’s an account you can take over and manage from home, if needed.”

  “Carter, you can’t keep interfering with my job.”

  “I will,” he barked, then immedi
ately softened his tone. “If I have to—if it means you’ll be safe. Any other time, I wouldn’t, but right now you have to be safe.”

  Something was happening. Something was changing. I knew, though Carter wouldn’t tell me the details. Whatever was going on, it was here, very present with us. Fear like I hadn’t felt in a long time began to well up in me, filling my body. Trust Carter. That’s what I had to do. But then I heard his next question, and the fear crept back up again.

  “What happened last night?”

  I shook my head. Not yet. “Who is Cole Mauricio?”

  “You’re not going to tell me?”

  “Are you?” I asked right back.

  He grinned, his eyes searching my face in a loving way. I felt sheltered and protected. “Cole was like a brother to me,” he said.

  I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t those words from him. He and my brother AJ had been like brothers. Hearing someone else referred to the same way, a twinge of jealousy pierced my chest, though it was unreasonable.

  “After AJ died and I went into the Mauricio family, Cole and I became close,” he continued. “His immediate family were the head of the entire organization. His dad. His brothers. Him. The rest are elders, like his uncles, or people like me who aren’t related by blood, but are still considered family. For a long time, with the Mauricios, the true leaders were only one family: his. All of that ended a few years ago. The Bartel family started a war and killed every single member in his family. His dad went one week. His mom was the next. Every week, they found another member of Cole’s family and executed them. They were hiding, but the Bartel family always found them. His three brothers. Then his older sister. Cole had two little sisters, twins, and both of them were murdered too, until he was the last one left.”

  I swallowed. Another nightmare had unfolded in someone else’s life.

  Carter grew quiet for a moment. Then said, “I was assigned to protect him. Cole’s a year younger, but with everything I had done, I felt like I was ten years his senior. He was like a little brother to me. They found us one night and almost killed us, but I got us out. I went against the family protocol. Instead of taking him to a Mauricio safe house, I took Cole away.”

  “Away?”

  He nodded, turning over to stare straight up at the ceiling. He was back there, back in his memories. “I cut off all communication with the family and took him away. I trained him, taught him how to be a killer, how to fight.”

  It began to click into place, why Cole moved like Carter.

  “He’d been off the radar for five years until two weeks ago. The Bartel family found him and tried to kill him. They killed two of his friends, but Cole got away. He killed them instead.”

  Carter had said something happened, something that would change things for us. My blood grew cold as I connected the dots. “The Bartel family moved against him?”

  Carter nodded, his eyes hooded.

  “And now he’s back?” What did that mean?

  “He’s resumed his place in the family.” Carter’s voice was somber with the gravity of what he said.

  “Why are you telling me all of this?” I asked.

  “Because you need to understand. It’s time you know more. You’re mine, Emma. My first allegiance is to you.” But Cole was family, too. He didn’t say the words, but I heard them anyway. Then he added, “Things are going to happen now, and I can’t control them. The Mauricio family has always followed me. I saved their leader. Even if Cole wasn’t with the family, he was still alive. His uncles and cousins have followed me and allowed me to do whatever I needed. They helped me save you.”

  Suddenly I realized—he was going back in. A tear formed in my eye, and I ignored it. This was what he was telling me. I swallowed over a lump. “What happens now?”

  He didn’t answer at first. Then he let out a soft breath of air and turned, his eyes pained. He said one word: “War.”

  Cole had slacked with his training over the years. I adjusted, leaning forward, and he didn’t catch the movement. Five years ago, he would’ve been alert and reacting the same instant. He’d grown soft.

  His eyes narrowed, and he twisted back on his leg, sweeping out with the other one.

  I dodged the kick, but saw his hit later than I would’ve liked. I evaded both, blocking his arm and knocking him back a step. I should’ve countered with a hit of my own, but I didn’t. Maybe I’d grown soft, too?

  No. I smirked at my own question. I wasn’t soft. Cole was.

  A wicked grin appeared on his face, and he shook his head, falling back a couple of steps and putting distance between us as we sparred.

  The room was dark. A single light bulb hung over our heads. Us—no weapons, no audience, and nothing to distract us. Hardcore training. We fought, and we got better. This was how I’d taught him so long ago. I called it night-style fighting. Most times an enemy doesn’t make their presence known. They use the darkness to conceal their approach, so a person needed to “feel” them coming before they arrived.

  It’s what gave my men the “ghost” feel Emma always talked about. It was true. Be a ghost. Fight like a ghost. Disappear like one. That was the best way to ensure you lived.

  “Like old times, huh?” Cole flashed a smile, but he watched my feet warily.

  I didn’t respond. I waited for his eyes to glance away, and when they did, I swept my leg out, tripping him so he fell to the mat. He recovered before he even touched down and shot his hand up. I dodged it, grabbing his wrist, and I fell to the floor as well, but rolled him over with me. I kicked at his hip and flipped him to the side, then wrapped my other arm around his neck. I had him in a paralyzing hold.

  Apply pressure and he’d fall asleep. That’s all I had to do, but Cole tapped out, so I let him go.

  “Shit,” he exclaimed, recoiling from me.

  I was the one to flash him a grin this time.

  As we stood, he shook his head. “I forgot how fast you are.”

  I shook my head. My quickness needed work. “I heard about the car accident. You thought fast on your feet there.” But he’d need to go more quickly. He knew it. I knew it. This training session was for both of us.

  He grimaced. “Well, when the car hit the tree, that was a good indicator that I needed to do something.” He looked away. “They murdered two of my friends.” Then he swung back to look at me, and I saw their memory in him. “You know me. I didn’t get to have a lot of friends where I was.”

  “Did you have others?”

  “One other.”

  “Do you need to bring them in?” Would the Bartel family find them and kill them?

  He shook his head as his hands closed into fists. “Nah. It was an old woman. No one special.”

  “You don’t get attached. If you make friends, be ready to say good-bye at a moment’s notice. You will get them killed.” That was one of the last things I’d said to him before I returned to the Mauricio family and told them Cole would remain hidden, from everyone.

  He’d been away for five years. Three friends in five years. I had no doubt that “old woman” was someone special, and for his sake, I hoped the Bartel family wouldn’t track her down.

  The Bartel family. Cole and I hadn’t discussed them yet. First priority had been bringing him back into the family. Then we’d finalize a plan of retaliation. There’d been a few hiccups, making the process of extracting him longer.

  Cole asked me now, as if following the same train of thought, “How’d the meeting go this morning with the elders?”

  I shrugged. “They’ll accept your leadership.”

  Cole gave a sharp laugh. “I saw a few of them, remember? Before you got here and carted me away. I know some of them aren’t happy I’m back. Have you been leading them?” Cole went to the wall and bent down to grab a towel and water bottle. He wiped the back of his neck, waiting for my answer.

  “No.”

  “But they’ll follow you?”

  I didn’t grab a towel. I didn
t grab a water bottle. I didn’t stretch. I stood there and waited for him to come back. Whether he realized it or not, our session wasn’t done. “It doesn’t matter what I say. You’re the official head of the family now. They’ll follow you whether they want to or not. That’s how it is. Your bloodline is the true leadership. You’ll do well for them.”

  “Really?”

  He was still a child there, needing approval, needing to be reassured that he hadn’t been forgotten. He was still a Mauricio. Even if he hadn’t been living as one for the last few years, he had been hunted down because he was. Cole wasn’t stupid. He knew his
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