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Dark Carousel (Dark #30)(5)

By:Christine Feehan

“Sweat,” Maksim said with a wry smile.
Tariq had no sense of humor. For him, there was no riot of color as he looked down on the men and women dancing. He saw only a dull gray. He felt . . . nothing. He lived to hunt. To kill. Even in the doing of that, he felt . . . nothing. He inhaled again, and once more, it was there. That scent. Calling to him. Making his heart pound. Pumping hot blood through his veins. He leaned out farther over the rail.
“It’s elusive. Faint. Barely there.”
The smile faded from Maksim’s rugged face. “What scent, Tariq? Vampire? There’s been no hint of activity since we discovered the underground lair. We’ve been patrolling . . .”
Tariq shook his head. “No. Orange blossoms and vanilla and something else. It is faint but it is there. You can’t smell that? Somewhere . . .” He broke off again, searching each individual floor for the source of that extraordinary fragrance. He inhaled again and caught the elusive scent, drawing it into his lungs. Instantly his body reacted of its own accord, something that had never happened. A stirring. His blood hot. Thick. Beginning to pool low and wicked.
He stilled as only a predator could, letting the wonder of feeling wash over him. Absorbing the shock of it. He didn’t feel. He couldn’t. He was ancient and long ago had lost all ability to feel anything. His body didn’t react to a scent. To anything at all. And yet . . .
Maksim inhaled deeply. He nodded slowly. “I can’t tell which floor she’s on. A woman.” He narrowed his eyes, his gaze sharp on his partner. “Interesting that the scent intrigues you when there are so many. Why focus on just that one?”
Tariq knew the answer, but he was afraid to voice it aloud after hunting for hundreds of years. His lifemate. The woman. His personal miracle. The fragrance wouldn’t leave him alone. He had exceptional hunting skills, well proven over the centuries, yet the woman, a human, time and time again managed to escape him. More than once in these last few weeks, he’d felt her close, a ripple in the universe, the ground moving beneath his feet, or the air around him suddenly coming alive with electricity, yet she had managed to slip away. Not this time, woman. I have you now. 
He inhaled again . . . and knew for certain. That scent . . . Orange blossoms and vanilla continued to slip past his guard, until his blood thundered in his ears and rushed hotly through his veins. Until he felt obsessed with finding its owner. He didn’t feel emotions like obsession. He didn’t feel. It was impossible for an ancient Carpathian male to experience emotion unless he found his lifemate. Until he heard her voice.
“She’s here. In this club. Right now. I know she is. My lifemate.” He whispered it aloud. In awe. Knowing it was the truth. She was there, in the building somewhere. There was no other explanation. He had to be hearing a whisper of her voice. A thread among all the others. She was there. That close. The one woman he’d searched centuries for. The one woman who would restore color to his life, ending his gray world. She would return his lost emotions after his centuries of feeling nothing. He had searched the long, endless years, every continent, but she had remained elusive. At last he was close to her, feeling her, his soul, his lifemate, his other half.
His fingers gripped the thick, hand-carved banister, the enormous pressure leaving indentations in the hard wood. He leaned down to survey the dancers pressed so closely together on the various floors. His patience was growing thin. She was defying him. He knew she felt his calls. How could she not? He whispered to her night after night, soft words to draw her to him. He allowed the beat of the music to pulse into the air, sending a web of notes to lead her back to him, yet she eluded his every net.
“She has to be close, Tariq,” Maksim said, joining him at the railing. He gripped the wood as well, leaning down to listen, as if he could find her in the mass of bodies as they danced, drank and had numerous conversations.
There was the clink of glasses. The sound of laughter. Of arguments. Of flirtations. The whisper of lovers coming together in the dark. Both men tried to hear that one voice. The voice that would restore color and emotion back into Tariq’s life. He’d waited centuries for her, and still she eluded him.
She could be on any floor and they would hear that whisper. She could be in the underground “cave” club. They could hear the conversations from there as well. They’d designed the club to make the occupants feel safe. Secure. The underground club had separate entrances and exits. The music loud, the place dark with deep blues and purples shadowing the dungeonlike décor.
Tariq would never stop until he had her in his hands. She didn’t understand that about him. He was as relentless and as merciless as the raging sea. There was no stopping him once he had his prey in sight. He was Carpathian, hunter of the vampire, and he had survived when most of his kind had long ago succumbed to the lure of power. He had done his duty to his prince and people, keeping his assigned regions clean and safe from the stench of evil.
After all the long centuries, he knew she was close, yet she remained elusive, just out of his reach. He had turned his hunting instincts, honed by centuries of strategy, to finding her. He turned away from the blaring music and the scent of so much blood running hot in veins calling to him. It was a heady temptation he fought continually. Irritated at his inability to find her when she was so close, he wanted to roar his frustration to the night sky. He needed air, needed to go outside and breathe.Tariq cursed softly in his own language, moving back from the railing into deeper shadows. Just the fact that he could feel frustration meant she was very, very close, and he could hear her voice, although he couldn’t recognize it among all the other voices. He knew she was somewhere in the building, just out of reach, by the way his emotions, long ago gone, slipped in unexpectedly to disrupt his calm, logical thinking. She had to have a strong mind to thwart his many scans of the city in search of her. She was very strong to be able to defy his commands.
He was a powerful being, one very used to getting his way with a minimal amount of effort. He had survived centuries of battles, centuries of no emotions, no color. Always the insidious whispers of the call to evil, to power tempted him, yet he had endured for one reason. A woman. The one woman. His lifemate. Other half to his soul. Only she could restore his world, his life as it was meant to be. He had long ago resigned himself to his fate, endurance in a bleak, harsh world until the temptation of power was too strong. Yet now, when he was so near the end, he sensed her presence, that ripple of hope in a world of emptiness.
“Mataias tracked Vadim Malinov to the harbor,” Maksim reported. “Vadim was always intelligent, even in his younger years. Now, as a master vampire with the splinter from Xavier, one of the most powerful mages ever born, in him, Vadim is proving to be a dangerous adversary. I do not like that he went to the harbor.”
“That would suggest he went out to sea?” Tariq made it a question. His mind should have been on the hunt for the master vampire. Vadim was, without doubt, the greatest threat to the Carpathian and human world since Xavier, the mage. Tariq was too distracted by that fragrance. Now that he’d caught the scent, he knew he had to turn his attention to finding the owner. “She has to be somewhere in the building.”
It was a big building. Enormous. Five stories plus the basement, four of them used for the various clubs and the fifth floor for his personal space. The basement was the underground club, so really, five clubs. Four bars on each of the club floors. Four dance floors on each floor with tables surrounding the inner balconies. Each floor was packed nearly to capacity. Still, he was Carpathian. He could cover a lot of ground fast.
“Go,” Maksim said. “You’re not going to be any good to me until you find that woman. Lojos and Mataias are patrolling tonight and if there is any indication that Vadim’s army is working in our hometown, they’ll find the evidence. It’s been very quiet these last couple of weeks.”
Vadim Malinov, a unique and gifted master vampire, was putting together an army of vampires. He was using the latest technology and even managing to recruit humans to do his bidding. It was unprecedented to do what Vadim had done. He’d fled the Carpathian Mountains, away from the prince of the Carpathian people and the ancient hunters there, to travel to the United States, where he clearly was amassing an army against both Carpathians and humans. He had to be stopped. 
Tariq didn’t wait for further conversation. He cloaked himself and floated down from his personal space to the fourth-floor club. Salsa music pounded through the air. Hard-hitting. A driving beat. This club catered to Latin dancing and the atmosphere reflected that. It was upscale, trendy and extremely popular. Bodies ground against one another. The dance floors were always filled with every level of dancer, from beginner to competition expert.
He wound his way through the tables and then the dancers, inhaling. Searching. Being meticulous. It occurred to him that if his woman were on this floor she would be dancing hip to hip with another male. Why would the predator in him become more pronounced at the idea of his lifemate’s body rubbing against another man’s body if she weren’t close? If he hadn’t heard her voice—that magical voice that would change his world? She had to be there, the sound drifting to him through all the conversations registering as noise he tuned out on a nightly basis.