Carter Reed

Page 21


“Oh, whoa.” Her eyes widened. “Was I that hard on you?”
“No.” A grin escaped me. “I’m sorry. Things have been pretty stressful for me lately.”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “I heard your vacation wasn’t planned.”
I had been reaching to pour a second glass, resolved that it was going to my last drink for the night, but I dropped my hand back to my lap at her words. “What do you mean?”
“Oh.” She shrugged as she sipped on her own beer. “Nothing, really. I heard that something bad happened and you had to leave town suddenly. A family crisis?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“I was in the office with Noah when he took the call. He called Mr. Hudson himself and told him that you were on vacation that whole week.”
Oh god. I wasn’t surprised, but I hadn’t realized it had gone down like that. I looked at my lap with my mind whirling. Noah Tomlinson himself had taken the call? I jerked back up. “When did he get that call?”
“Oh. Um, last Friday?” She frowned. “Why?”
So much didn’t make sense. I had not shown up at my job for four days. Didn’t they have questions about that, but no, not with that explanation coming down from the boss himself. And he took the explanation from one phone call? I shook my head. Carter was more than a sparring partner to Noah Tomlinson. Maybe he was even more than an investor.
“You okay, Emma?”
“Uh, yeah.” I tried to give her a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine. You’re right. It was a family emergency. I—uh—everything is better now.” I hoped everything would be better.
“Good.” Her smile stretched from ear to ear as she leaned closer, across the table. “I have to tell you that I’ve been itching to work with you on a project like this.”
“Really? Why?”
She laughed. “You’ve earned your way up the ladder. You’re quiet. You’re hard working, and you’ve lasted the longest as Mr. Hudson’s assistant. He’s so hard to work with. Anyone who’s lasted as long as you have and not gotten the punt by him says a lot about you. Plus,” she giggled, “if everything goes well with this new account, you and I both are going to be promoted.”
“Really?” My eyes went wide. “How do you know?”
She sat back, still trying to quench her smile, and shrugged. “I can’t tell you that, but I know it’s a definite possibility. They’ve had their eye on you for awhile.”
I sat back, dazed, as I heard her. I couldn’t believe it. That meant—this was from me. Carter couldn’t have helped me with this new account. If what she said was correct then I earned this new project and maybe a new promotion on my own, not because of him.
I wanted to celebrate. I was alive. I was going to stay alive and things were going to be okay.
I sat back in amazement as those realizations washed over me. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I could, but I couldn’t. I hadn’t thought about things at all in the last week, but here I was. I still had my job. I was going to get a better job, I hoped, and things were going to be alright. Mallory was getting help. Everything was going to be fine.
“You okay?” Theresa peered close to me.
“Yeah,” I gasped. “Everything’s great.” And I meant it. I reached for my second glass of beer as the pizza came to our table.
“Let’s cheer to that.” She raised her glass.
Three pitchers later, our table had been joined by the girls that usually accompanied me for drinks. All of them were eager to know Theresa better since she seemed out of our reach for friendship. When they learned what account I had been assigned to, a few gave me heated looks from jealousy or anger. Laura seemed happy for me, but she was the nice one of the group. She was happy for everyone.
I had long forgotten to check my phone so I wasn’t sure how late it was when a sudden hush came over the table.
I jerked my head up. “What?”
All of them were looking at me. No. All of them were looking behind me.
My eyes went wide and I knew. A knot formed in my gut as I took a deep breath before I turned, but then I relaxed. My shoulders dropped down and I let out my breath. It was only Mike, or Thomas. I wasn’t sure. They both looked the same.
“Miss Martins,” he spoke. So tall and goliath-like. I snickered at that thought. He could’ve been a gentle giant, but since he was security for Carter, I doubted it. He spoke again with a blank expression over his face, “Your ride is waiting for you outside.”
“Your ride?” one of the girls hooted. “Moving up in the world, Ems. Hot new project at work and hot new ride.”
Another girl laughed, “He’s like a butler, for rides.”
“Is he a chauffeur?”
Then someone whispered, “I think he’s a Chippendale dancer.”
The first girl hooted again as she slapped her hand on the table. “He’s going to whip off his pants any second…any second…wait for it…”
Mike never blinked. He never reacted. He just waited for me.
I sighed. The fun was done for the night. “I should go, you guys.”
“Oh, come on! Emma, don’t go. We’re just starting to have fun.”
I shook my head. “I have work tomorrow.” Theresa nodded beside me and I indicated her. “We have work tomorrow. We can’t slack off like normal.”
“Like we do, you mean!” The girl wasn’t offended.
I grinned. “See you all tomorrow?”
“Wait.” Theresa grabbed her purse and threw $50 on the table. “Can I get a ride with you? I can’t drive home like this.”
Oh, that was right. I started to dig into my purse to pay my bill, but Mike said in my ear, “It’s already been taken care of, Miss Martins.”
Oh. He paid my bill? But then I was distracted when I caught his quick glance at Theresa, who was waiting beside me. Comprehension flared and I glanced at him with the unspoken question. Could we give her a ride? Was that allowed? I was still fuzzy on Carter’s rules, or even if he had any rules? Then I frowned. Where had Mike come from? Had they been waiting outside all day and night? But they couldn’t have known I was at Joe’s with Theresa…could they?