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Dark Carousel (Dark #30)(11)

By:Christine Feehan

“Yes, quietly,” he assured, snapping the belt around him.
She gave a little sniff that sounded very suspiciously as if she didn’t believe him. “You own a nightclub.”
He frowned, genuinely puzzled. “I own several of them.”
“Women dress up in sexy, very skimpy club clothes looking for someone to hook up with for the night. You’re hot. You’re wealthy. You can carry on a conversation. The women are going to be throwing themselves at you every night. No way are you living quietly.”
He caught the underlying tone she had. She was striving for conversational and matter-of-fact, but he heard the little bite to her voice. She was far more interested than she was letting on. “Go left, out to the lake district.”
Maksim. Dragomir. Siv. Tell me you have the child safe. They were taking too long to secure the little girl. Charlotte’s little girl. If Fridrick managed to get his hands on the child, Charlie would be frantic. She would do anything to get her back, including handing herself over to the vampire without hesitation.
Not yet. Engaged at the moment. Maksim’s reply was clipped.
Tariq turned his head away from Charlie to look out the window. He’d hoped the three hunters would get there before Fridrick. Had Maksim gone alone, he would have run up against two master vampires, but Dragomir and Siv were with him. To engage all three ancient hunters, Fridrick had to be desperate. What had he said? Genevieve was for someone else. Charlotte was for Fridrick.
He went very still. Vadim Malinov had lured two women down into the tunnels beneath the city. One of those women, Blaze, was Maksim’s lifemate. The other was her best friend, Emeline. It had been Emeline Vadim was after, but they’d also tried to acquire Blaze. When the hunters had gone through the tunnels, they’d discovered that all kinds of experiments had been conducted. They’d also discovered the gruesome remains of several women in various stages of pregnancy. Was it possible this all centered around the vampires taking women for their own? Trying to produce families? The idea seemed so far-fetched, so completely impossible Tariq could barely fathom it. 
Vampire blood was acidic. It burned in one’s body, through one’s body. No baby would be able to stand that kind of pain. The Malinov brothers weren’t like any other vampires. They were brilliant men who had conceived a plan to overthrow the prince of the Carpathian people and then very deliberately turned undead. All five of them. Quickly they became master vampires, and their reputations for cruelty and cunning were legendary.
From the evidence in the tunnels below, trying to have children was exactly what Vadim was doing. So if Emeline was for Vadim and Blaze had been for Vadim’s brother Sergey, but they had rescued the women, that meant the undead would need two more women to take their places.
“Fridrick said Genevieve was taken, but that you were for him, didn’t he?” he murmured, turning back to Charlotte.
She nodded. “Yes. He implied that Genevieve was spoken for.” A little shudder went through her. “He was going to kidnap us, wasn’t he? And take Vi to someone equally as horrible as he is.”
“But Fridrick said you were for him,” he reiterated, trying to wrap his head around the fact that if Fridrick was involved, the vampires should need three women, not two. So who was the third woman? They’d rescued both Blaze and Emeline.
“What is it?” Charlie asked. “You’re worried. Grace hasn’t texted me that they’re out safely yet. Tell me what’s wrong.”
How could he explain? He couldn’t blurt out there were vampires in the city, not unless he wanted her to run screaming into the night. She would think he was insane, and by the time the truth came to light, it would be too late. There was no doubt in his mind that Fridrick would make another play for her.
“Fridrick runs with a couple of other really nasty men.” He didn’t know how else to explain it, and he didn’t want to tell her any more lies. She’d caught him out anyway. “If he was looking to acquire you with the idea that you would belong to them, there should have been a third woman targeted. As nasty and powerful as Fridrick is—and he is—the other two are far worse. Fridrick wouldn’t be in a position to call you his unless they had a woman for the other two first.”
There was silence in the car. Charlie drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “So you think they already have a woman? Is that what you’re saying? They’ve kidnapped someone and they’re holding her someplace?”
He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “That’s possible, but . . .” He trailed off. Vadim was on the run. Mataias had trailed him to the harbor. He was gone, and there hadn’t been time to kidnap another woman. There was no evidence showing they’d managed to get out with anyone else. He had taken Emeline and nearly gotten away with her. They’d been lucky that Val Zhestokly had been held prisoner and tortured. When Blaze had released him, he had managed to rush after Emeline, staying on the heels of Vadim so the vampire never had the chance to keep her. In order to save his own life, Vadim had to leave Emeline behind.
“‘Possible’ but what?” Charlie prompted.He sat up very straight, his heart slamming hard in his chest. He tasted fear in his mouth, and this time it wasn’t fear for his lifemate, but fear for a young woman who had already been through so much—too much. They’d brought Emeline out of the tunnels, bloody and eerily silent, in shock. Vadim hadn’t had much time with her, but he’d had time. He’d sent a small army to slow all of them down, delaying them precious minutes so that he could be alone with her. That he was alone with her.
“There is a young woman staying on my property. One of Fridrick’s friends had her briefly, but we managed to get her back,” he said, the disturbing insanity of his thoughts pushing everything else out of his mind. “If she counts as his woman, then it all makes sense.” It made sense, but it was horrifying.
None of them had talked to Emeline. She’d retreated into her little house and she’d refused to allow anyone to aid her—not even Blaze. Blaze went to see her daily, but she said that Emeline wouldn’t talk about what happened. She kept the rooms dark and quiet and didn’t want to talk even to a counselor. It had only been two weeks, so they all stepped back to give her time to come to terms with whatever Vadim had done to her.
They all knew that Vadim had exchanged blood with Emeline. That had been horrifying enough. It would allow Vadim to find her anywhere she was. He could whisper to her, command her, see through her eyes at any time. As long as she stayed on Tariq’s property, under the combined safeguards of all the hunters, Vadim couldn’t get to her, or steal her mind from her, but if she were to leave . . .
He shook his head, not wanting to entertain the idea that Emeline’s fate could be worse than that. She was a beautiful young woman, courageous and sweet. She’d gone in the tunnels to save children—strangers to her—all the while knowing what would happen to her. She’d seen her fate in dreams and yet she’d still gone, determined to keep the children out of the hands of an extremely cruel vampire.
“Tariq,” Charlie said softly. “You’ve gone a long way away. What’s wrong? You helped us out, let us help you.”
He looked around. The road leading to his estate was just up ahead of them. “On your left. That leads to my property. Maksim’s property borders mine.” Do you have the child? He didn’t know what he’d say to Charlie if Maksim, Siv and Dragomir weren’t able to rescue Lourdes and Grace.
She’s safe. They both are. Siv has Lourdes, and I am with the woman while she packs. She did not like the separation but she had no choice. Siv is not one for conversation. He walked in behind me while I was giving her the code, took the little girl right out of her bed and was gone before Grace could say a single word. He does not have a civilized bone in his body. Dragomir has gone after Fridrick and his brother. 
Tariq wanted to smile at that. Siv had never been civilized. After centuries of battles, he was probably even less so. Val was more than likely the same way. Like Val, Siv and Dragomir had been tortured over a long period of time, not by Vadim, but in other, even worse circumstances. Tariq had been spared that fate.
“Lourdes is safe,” he announced in a low tone.
“How do you know?” Charlie snatched up her cell phone. “Genevieve, contact Grace. Make certain they’re both safe.”
“You could say I have a couple of psychic abilities myself,” Tariq said, giving them both a small grin. The relief of knowing the child was safe was tremendous coming on the heels of what he feared the vampires were doing. His smile faded. He needed to talk to Emeline. More, they all needed to protect her, make certain she didn’t leave the property and the protection of the safeguards.
“They’re out,” Genevieve confirmed, “but Grace isn’t happy that they’re separated. She’s driving her truck and coming here with Maksim. She says Maksim’s friend is a first-class jerk.”
“Thank God,” Charlie said. “Not about your friend who helped us being a jerk, but that Lourdes and Grace are safe.” She stole another look at him. “You’re still worried.”