Carter reed 2, p.1
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       Carter Reed 2, p.1
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         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  “There’s a man watching you.” Theresa nudged me with her elbow behind the table. As soon as the words left her, a hush fell over the group. We were at Joe’s for drinks after work with our coworkers, and all eyes turned my way.

  I didn’t want to look, so I didn’t. Picking up my beer instead, I shrugged. “It’s probably paparazzi—”

  “It’s not.”

  My words died in my throat. Theresa had become a good friend. She knew what I went through—the real story, not the story every media outlet was reporting—and in the beginning, she enjoyed the attention. Everywhere we went, the reporters were there. Carter Reed was their obsession. He was gorgeous with wolf-like blue eyes, chiseled cheekbones, and broad shoulders that tapered to a thin waist. Even though he was usually photographed in a business suit or a tuxedo on the way to formal events, I knew thousands of women’s mouths watered at the thought of what he looked like underneath those clothes. Carter was gorgeous, which made the reporters and their audience love him. But what really made them salivate for any shred of information about him was his association with the Mauricio family.

  In addition to being gorgeous, Carter was dangerous. He was known to be an assassin for a local mafia family, but what wasn’t known to anyone beyond a select few, was that he was out. He’d bought his way out, and he’d done it for me. He’d also bought my life back after I killed a member of a rival mafia family while trying to save my friend. Those were our secrets.

  Almost a year later, when my choices had seemed to be die or run for my life, I went to Carter: my brother’s best friend from childhood, the guy I knew because he’d slept on our couch for so many nights. This was still how I preferred to think of him, not as the man the city knew as the Cold Killer, Carter Reed. He was my soul mate.

  But when I heard the low warning tone of Theresa’s words, every part of me went on alert. My expression didn’t change, but I mentally ran through the possibilities of who this man could be and why he might be watching.

  A low buzz began around the table and then someone asked, “What do you need from us, Emma?”

  I looked toward the voice, confused.

  It was a secretary for one of the senior officers from The Richmond. Her eyebrows were fixed forward, bunched together, and her lips pressed in a flat line. I’d never talked to her before we sat together this evening. Six months ago, I would not have gotten this reception. People would’ve gossiped and judged. But now, as I surveyed the rest of the table, it seemed they wanted to help.

  Then I felt a presence at my elbow and looked up. It was Thomas, the security guard Carter had appointed as my personal bodyguard. I had three of them at all times: Thomas, Mike, and Peter. They all looked the same. Tall. Imposing. Built like professional athletes, but with the skills to disappear like ghosts or stand and fight the best of the best. Carter trained all his men himself. I knew they moved with the gracefulness of a cat, appearing and disappearing when they chose, but the abrupt arrival of one of my bodyguards could still cause my breath to catch in my throat. Once again, a hush fell over the group around the table. Half of the girls recoiled from the intimidating presence, while the other half were probably trying to figure out how to take Thomas home with them.

  “We should go, Miss Martins.”

  I shot him a look.

  The corner of his mouth lifted. “Emma.”

  “That’s better.”

  His hand came to my elbow and he said again, so politely and yet with authority, “We should be going, Miss Emma.”

  Ah. A compromise. I saw the flash of humor in his eyes and shook my head as a grin tugged at my lips. I slid off my stool and turned to Theresa. “Did you want a ride?”

  She started to shake her head, then grabbed at the table for balance. With a laugh, she replied, “Yeah, maybe. I think I drank that last pitcher all by myself.”

  A woman laughed from across the table. “You and me, Theresa. I think we shared it.”

  “Yeah. Probably.” Theresa gave her a slight smile, grabbing her purse and straightening her clothes as she stood. She moved close to me and gave a nod. “I’m ready to go.”

  Oh, yes. Theresa had forgotten to pay. Laughing softly, I reached into my purse and laid a hundred-dollar bill onto the table. It would cover the two pitchers we ordered and the pizza we shared with the rest. The group called good-bye behind us as we headed out the door, and I lifted a hand in response. Theresa bent her head forward and was already out the door, moving in front of me. When I felt the cold winter air, I grabbed the sides of my coat and pulled them tight around me, bunching my shoulders together. I mimicked the way Theresa crossed the sidewalk to the waiting car. Dashing in after her, as Thomas held the door, I heard that guy calling from farther down the sidewalk.

  “Miss Nathans!”

  Whoever that was, it wasn’t me. He had the wrong person. I relaxed a little bit. He wasn’t someone I needed to worry about. I climbed inside, and Thomas sat beside me, shutting the door.

  I glanced at him, surprised. He usually shut the door and went to the front seat, but not this time. Another guard was already seated inside the limo, across from us, and he avoided my gaze. He pressed his intercom. “We’re good to go.”

  The car moved into traffic.

  Theresa groaned, folding over to pinch her forehead with her hand. “That last pitcher was too much.” She lifted tormented eyes to me. “When am I going to remember I’m a wine girl? I’m getting old, Emma. Beer doesn’t sit well with me anymore.”

  I chuckled, letting go of my unease and forcing myself to relax. Patting her on the back, I asked, “Do you want us to take you to your place or Noah’s?”

  She groaned again. “Not Noah’s. He’ll just gripe at me.” Some fight returned to her tone. “He’s been on this kick lately that I shouldn’t go to Friday night happy hour. We had a big fight about it last week. He actually forbade me to go tonight. Can you believe that?” Her voice sharpened. “Forbade me? Like he could even do that, even if we were in a relationship. Forbade? Unreal. He started to tell me you shouldn’t even go, but he stopped himself. When I pushed him on that, he said it was none of his business if you went or not. I’m allowed to see you. That was his term. Allowed.” She barked a bitter laugh. “As if I’m some damn submissive wife. Hasn’t he learned anything over the years? Allowed. What a joke.”

  I frowned, keeping my thoughts to myself. Noah was CEO of The Richmond, an international chain of hotels. Theresa had grown up with him. She worked for him too, but the real status of their relationship remained complicated. Her parents had been close with his before they died, so she’d been taken in by his family. I knew Noah had good intentions when it came to Theresa, and the two bickered like an old married couple, but he was never one to be controlling.

  In fact, his initial concern about our friendship had faded as quickly as he had voiced it. He’d known Theresa wasn’t a fan of Carter, but as we all got to know each other, Noah and Theresa, along with Amanda—my last friend from my old life—had become like a small family to Carter and me. I owed them so much. They’d been there for me when my roommate, Mallory, was killed a year ago, and I’d been hunted by the Bartel family.

  But it seemed Noah might have some reason for his current concerns. Something was going on. A man had been watching me inside, then from the street, and I’d heard him calling me, even if it was by the wrong name. Add in Thomas’ change in the usual seating arrangements and that added up to…something.

  I turned to study Thomas’ profile, but whether he sensed my scrutiny or not, he didn’t react. He remained stoic and statuesque as we drove to Theresa’s building, but that wasn’t new. All the guards were like this. They preferred that I pretend they didn’t exist. Carter explained to me one night that this was how they’d bee
n taught—to guard and not interact. When I interacted with them, it distracted them from doing their jobs.

  When we pulled up to Theresa’s ritzy building, Thomas helped her inside. She had a doorman twenty-four-seven, so Thomas didn’t have to lead her far. He just took her to the elevator where a staff member of the building took over and pressed the button. Thomas returned to the car, and it wasn’t long before we’d arrived at Carter’s building.

  Carter’s building. He’d correct me, if he had heard my thoughts.

  “This is your home, too,” he’d told me many times, but it wasn’t. The car drove to the basement parking, the door was opened for me, and I took the elevator to the top floor. I don’t know why I did this. Carter had renovated the entire building so it was all one home, but he’d given me the top floor when I first came to live with him. I’d been scared, excited, and in a whole different element back then, hiding for my life.

  Sometimes I still enjoyed my private elevator entrance, even though I could take the stairs. I would slip into my bedroom and change my clothes before going downstairs to the kitchen and living room on the first floor. Carter’s room was the third floor. As I did this tonight, I held my slippers in one hand and tiptoed down the stairs.

  It was foolish to want to sneak up on Carter. He trained ghosts. He was one himself. When I’d gone through all the floors, I hadn’t found him on any of them. I checked the gym last. Still no Carter, so I went back out to the basement garage. Thomas had taken his perch outside the door, and I asked, “Where is he?”

  “He flew to New York today. He’s on his way home now, Miss Mar—”

  “I swear to god, if you utter that name one more time, I will steal your gun from you and shoot you in the leg.”

  “—Emma.” He flashed me a rueful grin.

  “Better. Remember it this time.”

  He nodded, and I went back inside. Well. I had no idea what to do now. Carter wasn’t in the Mauricio family anymore, but he still had business dealings with them, as well as with the Bartel family now. He owned shares in The Richmond, too. Carter also had other businesses, ones he hadn’t even told me about because there were too many to mention, but I’d gotten spoiled over the last year. He’d made a concerted effort to be home, flying and conducting his business during the hours when I was at work myself.

  Telling myself not to worry, as Carter was a big boy, I went back to the kitchen and poured a glass of wine. Unlike Theresa, I hadn’t joined in with the beer. I preferred to keep a clear head when outside the house. It was a survival tendency I’d picked up after being shot at a year ago.

  I was enjoying the wine and relaxing in the tub when the bathroom door opened.

  I felt him before I saw him. A small grin appeared automatically on my face, and I opened my eyes to see Carter standing there.

  It was always the same. A tingle started in the base of my stomach, and it would rise, spreading out through my body, warming me as it went, until I was almost salivating for him. When I saw him, I needed to touch him. It had been like this for a year, and I never wanted it to end. I always wanted to thirst for him.

  “Hi.”

  “Hi, yourself.” He was dressed in custom-tailored pants and a black button-down shirt, which was wrinkled and untucked with the top two buttons undone. The collar looked like he’d stretched it out, and damn, with his dark blond hair cut short, his wolf-like blue eyes, and his sharp cheekbones, Carter managed to look restless, on edge, and sophisticated all at once.

  He knelt at the edge of the tub. “Did you have a good night?”

  “You weren’t here when I came home.” I hadn’t meant it to sound like an accusation, but it slipped out that way.

  A smile crossed his lips, and he dipped a hand into the water, stirring it in a slow motion. “I got news today, and I had to go and see for myself.”

  My heart paused. Bad news? It didn’t sound good. “What kind of news?”

  “News that…” He hesitated, the smile slipping. “…might change a lot of things.”

  “There’s a man watching you.” Theresa’s words came back to me, along with the other shout. “Miss Nathans!” I bit down on my lip and asked, “Is it news I should know about?”

  A flicker of darker emotion crossed his features before he clamped it down. Lifting his hand to my leg, he moved his fingers in a slow caress, up and down. Just that slight touch and I began to have a hard time breathing. I glanced down, mesmerized by his fingers. Water slid down my skin from his hand. When it stopped, he dipped down and lifted the water once more to my leg. I had to pull my gaze from that vision and lift it back to his face.

  His eyes were tortured, but when my gaze caught his, that look vanished right away and he murmured, “You should, but I don’t know if I can tell you.” His eyebrows bunched, and he shook his head, becoming unreadable once again. Then he slid his hands underneath me in the tub. He stood, lifting me with him, out of the water. Instead of grabbing a towel, he walked me back into the bedroom and placed me onto the desk in one corner. I could see us in the mirror across the room.

  He leaned close, his head moving to the crook of my shoulder and neck, and he held me. His shirt stretched tight over his back, outlining his broad shoulders and tapered waistline. My arms had wrapped around his neck, and I slid one down the middle of his back. He sucked in his breath under my touch.

  He murmured against my skin, “Why is it that your presence can calm me? Your touch can make me alive, and one little sigh from you makes me want to sleep for days in your embrace?”

  I smiled, moving to press a kiss to his ear. “Because you love me.”

  He pulled back, his eyes meeting mine with only a few centimeters between us. His forehead rested on mine, then one of his hands cupped the side of my face. His thumb brushed over my cheek and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. “I need to tell you what happened today, because it could affect us.”

  He was torn. I could tell.

  He added, “But not yet.”

  Leaning back, I put my hands on his face and made sure he was looking right into my eyes. “Whatever it is, we’ll be fine,” I told him. And I believed that. “We’ve been through too goddamn much.”

  “I know.”

  I tilted my head. This wasn’t the Carter I knew. He took care of everything. He had declared war for me, and I knew he’d do it again. “Should I be worried?”

  That same tortured look came to his eyes, but he said, “No.” Pulling me back into his arms, he nudged my legs farther apart, moving closer, and pressed his lips to the underside of my jaw. He whispered, “Never.” Another kiss to the corner of my lips. “Ever.” A third kiss, his lips resting atop mine and he murmured, “I promise. Nothing will ever happen to you.”

  “To us.” My hands gripped his shoulders.

  “To us,” he said.

  Then his lips opened, and he took over, a command in his kiss. “Forget I said anything.”

  With those words, he leaned me backward against the wall and kissed his way down my throat, over my chest, and all the way to my waist as his hands gripped my hips, holding me firmly on the desk. There he paused, and I arched my back, already knowing where he was going.

  His tongue swept over me, and my hands went to his shoulders, holding on blindly. When he moved farther down, a deep, guttural groan came from within me.

  My god.

  I loved this man.

  When my phone buzzed, I wasn’t sleeping, only holding Emma as she did. She’d curled into me, still naked, and I looked over at my phone. I was tempted to ignore it. I knew who was on the other end.

  It was Gene, my old mentor from the Mauricio family. He’d been a pain in my ass then, and I knew he would be again. Unlike most of my men and the rest of the family, Gene didn’t adhere to my wishes for privacy. When he wanted to talk, he called. When he wanted a meeting, he demanded one. We had butted heads on more than one occasion, and I’d threatened him with bodily harm another time when he’d made his dislike for
Emma too known.

  He was calling now, and I didn’t want to hear whatever he had to say. I needed to protect Emma, no matter what happened, and I pulled her tighter into my arms as that damn phone beeped again.

  It would keep going. He wouldn’t stop calling.

  I let out a curse before I disentangled myself from her and slipped from the bed. Grabbing my phone, I pulled on some sweats and headed down to my office. Once I was there, I held the phone to my ear and went straight for the liquor cabinet.

  Pouring myself some bourbon, I answered. “Gene, you are interrupting.”

  He grunted from the other end. “No doubt. It took me six calls to get you on the phone.”

  I gripped the phone tighter for a slight second. “So you heard?”

  “Yeah, I heard. Everyone in the family has heard. Cole’s back?”

  “Yes, he’s back.”

  “Are you going to him?”

  “I already did.”

  “And?”

  “And nothing. He says I’m out.”

  “Fuck, Carter. You saved his life five years ago, and now he’s back. I know you. Yeah, he might say you’re out, but we both know you’re coming back in.”

  “Gene,” I started.

  “Don’t argue with me.”

  “I’m staying out.”

  He snorted again.

  “It’s not me anymore.”

 
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