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Dark Carousel (Dark #30)(13)

By:Christine Feehan

“The three men following us. I know this sounds crazy, but they’re killers as well. Genevieve and I were going to try to find out more about them. We went to the club with the idea of luring them out into the open.”
“You did what?”
He interrupted her, and the air was suddenly thick with heat. Oppressive heat. Uh-oh. Her gorgeous man had a temper after all. His eyes, a deep blue, had gone turbulent, a sea storm out of control. He suddenly looked much larger. Although he retained that sophisticated air, it looked more a veneer when he was very predatory.
Charlotte moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. His gaze dropped to that small, nervous gesture, and she wished that she’d been more careful. She’d parked the car a distance from the house because she’d wanted to get out and see his property. The high fence had scared her a little and she hadn’t wanted to jump into any commitment, but she definitely needed a safe haven for Lourdes. For the first time, she was really uneasy.
“We needed to draw them out into the open,” Charlotte said.
“We’re sick of being afraid all the time,” Genevieve added, her voice trembling.
That told Charlotte that Genevieve saw the predator in Tariq as well. She tried to step back, to put distance between them, but Tariq pulled her closer to him, bending his head until his eyes stared directly into hers. The irises were dark, wide, and she could see flames burning there. Up that close, he was still gorgeous, maybe even more so, but he was also mesmerizing, a strong, angry male, trapping her in his stormy, turbulent gaze.
She drew in her breath sharply. Moistened her dry lips with the tip of her tongue. Tried to find her voice, even though her throat seemed to be closed. “Tariq.” His name. Not his last name. Just his name. An intimacy she hadn’t expected or wanted, but she’d put it out there in a low, trembling voice she hadn’t meant to use. 
Just that. Another language, one she didn’t understand, but the way he said it, so softly, so intimately, she felt the name like a caress moving over her skin.
“Why are you angry?” She had to understand. That was important. Extremely important. She rarely thought it was prudent to run, but his anger was a tangible, living entity, so oppressive, the air around them thickened.
“You put yourself in danger.” An accusation. Plain. Stark. Raw.
She glanced at Genevieve, because she needed to look away from that unblinking, focused stare. He reminded her of a large wolf watching prey. Waiting for an opportunity to leap. But he was right. She had put herself in danger. She’d put Genevieve in danger as well. They hadn’t known whether the three men following them were involved in the murders of their friends and family, but they’d known what they were doing was dangerous.
She nodded. “Yes. That’s true. I did that, but we weren’t safe. Lourdes wasn’t safe. We had to know what we were dealing with, and we didn’t know about Fridrick. We hadn’t realized there were two threats, not one. So good came out of it.”
His fingers tightened around her wrist and he pressed her hand tighter against his chest. So tightly she felt the steady beat of his heart. Strangely, her heart reacted, slowly picking up the same rhythm so that she thought the two hearts drummed one beat at a time together. It was such a strange phenomenon that she paused, her brain still scrambling for a defense, when her mind and body was totally tuned to him.
“Good came out of it?” he repeated slowly, each word enunciated tersely. “Fridrick could have taken both of you. Do you realize how dangerous he is? You wouldn’t have been able to stop him or his men from taking you and believe me, life would have become a living hell for you.”
She didn’t doubt that for a moment. She knew he had saved them. He hadn’t put it in so many words, but she knew without a shadow of a doubt in her mind that if Tariq and his intimidating friends hadn’t come along, she and Genevieve, and most likely Lourdes, would have been in deep trouble. On that thought came another much more disturbing one.
Charlotte pressed her fingertips against Tariq’s broad chest, feeling the muscles beneath his immaculate shirt ripple in response to her touch. “How did he know where Lourdes was?” She tipped her head up so she could meet Tariq’s eyes again. The jolt was hard to take. It felt as if their souls connected and he could see right into her. “How could he have known?”
“She is safe and will be here soon,” Tariq reminded, very gentle again. He stroked a caress along the back of her hand. “Breathe, sielamet; you have forgotten to take a breath. If you do not, I will have to do it for you.”
His gaze dropped to her mouth, and her entire body wanted to convulse with heat. How did he do that? She didn’t respond to men, not with a terrible, almost brutal need that seemed to sweep through her with just his voice or the smallest of touches. It was crazy to be so completely attracted to a man when danger surrounded her and every move she made could be putting her niece and friend in even more peril. Deliberately she took a breath, feeling the rise and fall of his chest beneath the palm of her hand. Her breath followed his in the same way her heartbeat followed his.
“Thank you. If I didn’t say that before, I’m saying it now, with tremendous gratitude. I was already terrified of that hideous man and afraid we might not be able to get away from him, but I had no clue he wasn’t alone. He was afraid of you.” She made the last a statement, wanting an explanation. If Fridrick was a serial killer, able to tear out throats and drain bodies of blood—which was too theatrical for words—and he was afraid of Tariq, what did that make Tariq Asenguard?“We knew each other a long time ago. I’ve hunted him before. He’s cunning and cruel and willing to sacrifice his friends in order to save his own hide. He respects me, but fear? I do not know if Fridrick is capable of feeling true fear. He wants to live, and he will retreat if he believes the odds are not in his favor. I had enough of my friends near, and when they showed up that tipped the scales against him. He wasn’t willing to accept those odds or there might have been a bloodbath.”
Fridrick had been afraid of Tariq no matter what spin Tariq put on it. That meant . . . Tariq was extremely dangerous, as every instinct she had screamed at her. She wasn’t certain whether that was because he was dangerous to her heart, maybe even to her soul, certainly to her body—he could own her. She was certain if she ever gave in to the craving she was feeling for him, he would own her body and soul.
Charlotte looked around her at the high fence and the several houses. “Emeline is here?” Somehow knowing the woman she’d met in Paris was living on the property as well as the couple and children he’d taken in made her feel safer.
“Yes. She’s staying in that little house over there.” He indicated a two-story Victorian that looked beautiful even in the night. There were no lights on, but then it was three in the morning.
“You do not have to stay, Charlie,” he said softly. “I am not holding you hostage, only offering you sanctuary until this is over. There is another house for Genevieve, you and Lourdes if you wish to take it. Tonight, the three of you are welcome to stay in the main house . . .” He turned and gestured toward the mansion. “As you can see there is plenty of room. In the morning, you can decide if you wish to stay longer and I can show you the other house. Maksim’s property borders mine, and he guards as well. My friends are close and they will help to look after the safety of all the children as well as the two of you and Emeline.”
He dropped her hand and stepped back, giving her space. Instantly she felt cold. Alone. Her body trembled as fear swept through her. He’d been holding all that at bay. She glanced at Genevieve, one eyebrow arched in inquiry. “What do you think, Vi?”
“I want to stay, Charlie,” Genevieve admitted. “I’m so sick of being afraid all the time. It’s beautiful here, and if we stay, I can’t imagine Fridrick or those other three getting their hands on Lourdes or us.”
Charlotte turned back to Tariq. “Then we thank you once again for this. We’d love to accept your offer of a place to stay.” She wasn’t going to commit to working for him, but she had to admit, the carousel horses were part of the draw. Mostly, it was Tariq. Still, staying close to him would be a danger in itself. 
“It’s settled then. Come with me, ladies. I’ll show you the house, you can pick your rooms and then I can ask the police to come if you wish to speak to them tonight. I know a detective and I trust him. He would come immediately if I called.” He stepped back to allow them to precede him.
“I should tell you those other three men may have followed us here, and they’re just as dangerous as Fridrick. They’ve killed, too. I saw them drive a stake through the heart of a man and he was alive.” Charlotte felt compelled to confess. “You have to know that if you allow us to stay here, those men might go after you. I don’t know what they want or why they followed us from Paris, but I know they did.”
Tariq’s face was devoid of all expression. Lines were etched deep. He looked rugged and tough, but still as sophisticated as ever. Charlotte had to wonder how that was even possible. God, but he was gorgeous.