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Dark Carousel (Dark #30)(12)

By:Christine Feehan

“It is just strange that both of you were in Paris and so was Emeline, the woman Vadim took prisoner down in the tunnels. Emeline went for psychic testing here in the States with Blaze, Maksim’s girlfriend, and her father. You two did the same thing in Paris. Emeline must have been there at the same time. She recently returned when Blaze’s father was murdered.”
Charlie drove right up to the tall double gates and shifted in her seat so she could look over her shoulder at Genevieve. “Emeline is an unusual name. We met a girl named Emeline. She wasn’t going by that, but someone called that name out and she turned. It was clear that was her name. She confessed to us that she had a stalker and was hiding out, using another name. We hung out with her for several days, and then one morning she was gone. I think this is all becoming one giant coincidence—far too much of one.”
Tariq thought so as well. Was Paris the connection between the three women and Vadim? The psychic center? He knew that under the Malinov reign, the psychic center’s computers had been hacked and all the data on psychic women had been stolen.
The double gates opened inward toward the property. Charlie put the car in drive and rolled through slowly.
“I think you’re right,” Tariq agreed, “but I have no idea what it all means. Did you meet Emeline before or after the psychic testing?”
“After,” Genevieve said. “About three days after. It was before Grand-mère was murdered. Our lives went crazy after that. We could barely leave our homes between the creepy guys following us around and a serial killer going after people we loved. I honestly forgot about Emeline, and I shouldn’t have because she was in trouble. Do you think this is the same Emeline?”
“If I were a betting man,” Tariq said, “I’d be willing to place a very large amount on that as fact.”
A subtle breeze came off the lake and stroked over her face, touching her with cool fingers and rifling her hair. Charlotte held herself very still, her arms wrapped around her middle, afraid her legs would give out on her. Now that the danger had passed for the moment, her body went into a kind of shock. She didn’t want Tariq to notice, so she kept her face averted as she studied her surroundings.The moment Tariq had told her and then Grace had confirmed that Lourdes was safe, she’d gone limp with relief. She hadn’t realized how much she’d been holding herself together, terrified for the child and knowing she could never get to her fast enough. Tariq stood close to her, close enough that she felt his body heat, close enough that she worried she would slump to the ground at his feet. She’d never fainted in her life, but she suddenly felt terribly weak, her arms and legs like lead.
Charlotte glanced at Genevieve, and saw she was still seated in the car. The passenger door was open and she stared out at the lake, but she looked pale and just as weak as Charlotte.
Tariq’s arm circled her waist, pulling her body into his, tucking her to his side. “Forgive me, Charlotte, but you look as if you might end up on the ground. You have been through a lot tonight, and you still need to talk to the police. I do not want you to fall and injure yourself.”
She shouldn’t cling. She really shouldn’t. She told herself over and over to be strong, that she was strong, but confronting her brother’s killer—that sophisticated, smiling murderer—she hadn’t realized just how afraid she’d really been. Fridrick set her teeth on edge. There at the end, she could almost believe in vampires. His smiling oily good looks had suddenly disappeared. He’d looked so different, his eyes almost glowing and his teeth . . . She shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. Vampires. She was overtired and scared to even be considering such a thing.
Then there was Tariq Asenguard. It was definitely the wrong time to be attracted to a man, but for the first time in her life she had a real interest in someone—she was attracted both physically and intellectually. Tariq had put his life on the line for Genevieve and her. He was courageous, and the last thing she wanted to do was appear weak in front of him.
“I’m not going to fall down,” she denied, but she wasn’t certain if it was a lie or not. She couldn’t stop the body tremors.
“No, you’re not,” he agreed in his soft, way-too-mesmerizing voice. “Because I’ve got my arm around you. See over there, by the lake? The little house?” He waited for her to nod her head before continuing. “It used to be the boathouse, but I have a very nice couple living there. Donald and Mary Walton. Good people. You will like them. I met them one evening coming out of the club. I had taken a walk after the club closed because I couldn’t sleep. They had been sleeping in their car and woke when a couple of thieves, bent on robbing them at gunpoint, trying to take what little they had, pounded on the roof of the car. I heard the noise and went to their assistance. They were a very nice couple, just down on their luck.” 
She stared up at his face, a little shocked that the very elegant Mr. Asenguard, owner of several nightclubs, could talk about saving a couple so casually, as if it hadn’t mattered at all, just that they were a delightful couple. “And you invited them to live on your property?” She couldn’t keep the astonishment from her voice. Why would he do that? She didn’t know a single person who would do something like that.
“Yes. They needed a home. They are good people, Charlie.”
She wasn’t certain if there was a hint of censure in his voice, as if he didn’t get that her astonishment was because people just didn’t do that kind of thing as a rule—take in complete strangers. He acted as if anyone would do it.
“Donald has a job now. He’s a damned good accountant, but his old firm got rid of him because he was getting older and has a few health issues. He helps with my books and has been a huge help to my accountant but doesn’t have to work full-time and can take off when his illness flares up. Now he earns enough for them to pay for a few extras, and they help look after the children.”
“Children?” she echoed faintly.
His property was beautiful and very, very expensive. Every detail was perfect. The landscaping, the mansion rising three stories into the air with gables and balconies. It was Victorian architecture at its most stunning. The house had wings and bays running in various directions as well as generous amounts of gingerbread. A large octagonal tower with a steep, pointed roof rose up from the third story, forming one corner of the ornate house. A large wraparound covered porch with ornamental brackets and spindles provided a tremendous view of the lake. The other homes were some distance from the main house, but all were smaller replicas of the larger mansion.
“I have four orphans living on the property.” Tariq turned to indicate the house that would have been the guardhouse. Or a home for bodyguards or servants. “A boy and three girls. They were living on the streets as well.”
“Children?” Genevieve repeated, sliding out of the car to stand beside them. “Shouldn’t they be in some form of government care? Why would they be living here?”
“I am their official guardian, or will be in a few days when the paperwork goes through. They have someone very dangerous after them. The men Fridrick runs with killed their parents, although there is not any proof of that. Vadim and Fridrick kidnapped the girls. By the time we were able to rescue them, one of the girls had been severely injured and the baby was traumatized. Thankfully I have enough money to provide the best care possible for them. I also can keep them safe.”
This time there was no mistake. Tariq’s voice did hold more than a note of censure, as if he thought perhaps the two of them were criticizing him for taking in children and a homeless couple.
“I think that’s wonderful of you,” Charlotte said immediately, because it was the strict truth—she did think he was wonderful. Almost too good to be true. Were there still men in the world who looked out for others, were gorgeous, courtly and courageous? She couldn’t believe how attracted she was to the man. It was so unlike her, but everything about him appealed to her.
Tariq looked puzzled, as if she wasn’t making sense. “They are children. All of them are traumatized, although Danny would never admit that he is. He is fifteen and already thinks of himself as a man. I have to go carefully with him so as not to step on that protective trait of his or his pride. Amelia is fourteen, Liv is ten and Bella is three. She is the right age to hopefully become friends with your little Lourdes.”More and more she was prepared to accept his offer of staying and working on his carousel horses. She couldn’t protect Lourdes indefinitely, not from Fridrick. And there was still the puzzle of the three men who were following them. She gasped, pressing her fingers to her mouth, biting down on the pad of her index finger as she thought of the memories she’d pulled from Daniel Forester’s mind.
“What is it, sielamet?” He shackled her wrist with deceptive gentleness, tugging until she let him remove her fingers from her lips. He pulled her hand to his chest, resting her palm over his heart, covering her hand with his own and pressing it there. “You thought of something disturbing.”
Charlotte had no idea what he’d called her, but the way he said it, soft and low, his voice a caress, had her stomach doing a slow roll in spite of her agitation.