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Dark Carousel (Dark #30)(7)

By:Christine Feehan

“Ladies.” The voice was cultured. The man smiled, revealing white teeth, the merest hint of sharp points, just a little like fangs, flashing. He beckoned to the women with a curl of his fingers.
Tariq’s heart jerked hard in his chest before he took a deep calming breath and forced all feeling away so that only ice ran in his veins. He emerged from the shadows just as the dark-haired woman stepped toward the car.
The shorter woman, Charlie—his Charlie—caught her friend’s arm. “Wait, Genevieve,” she ordered softly and took a step to put herself in front of the other woman. It was subtle. It was protective, but there was no doubt what she was doing, and in spite of the fact that he couldn’t afford any emotion, he felt pride in her. He could feel her fear, but she still put herself in front of someone she obviously cared about.
“That’s our car,” she said, halting a short distance from the man.
She thought she was safe. Out of reach. Tariq knew better. He knew the monster she faced. The man looked just that, a man, but he wasn’t human. He was one of the most evasive vampires Tariq had chased through the centuries. He was cunning and fast and he ran with the Malinov brothers, twisted, highly intelligent siblings who very early on decided to give up their souls, turn vampire and seek to destroy the prince and all Carpathian hunters.
Tariq was surprised to see his old childhood friend, now an elusive foe. He had taken the name Fridrick Astor, although Tariq had no way of knowing if he was still using the name. Names meant little to the Carpathian people or those who had chosen to give up their souls for the rush killing while feeding gave them—becoming the undead. Fridrick had to know Tariq and Maksim resided there, and it was highly unusual to have a vampire hunt when Carpathian males were so openly living in the area. 
The vampire straightened casually and widened his smile. “Ladies. So sorry.” His German accent was perfect, although he’d been born and raised in the Carpathian Mountains. He raised an eyebrow. “You’re looking beautiful tonight.”
His voice held a compulsion. It rang compelling and soft. Persuasive. He was wholly focused on the two women. Tariq knew Fridrick had utter confidence in his ability to destroy any human who might come to the rescue of the two women. In the distance, Tariq could hear the sound of various voices as people left the dance club and returned to their cars to go home. He knew Fridrick had to hear them as well, although the vampire didn’t take his gaze from the women.
Charlie stepped backward, forcing Genevieve to step back as well. She kept her body firmly placed between her friend and the stranger. “I’ve seen you before.” She made it a statement. “In Paris. You were in Paris.”
Tariq could hear her heart accelerating. He moved slowly, not wanting to draw Fridrick’s attention. The air was still in the garage and it wasn’t easy to allow himself to drift between Charlie and the vampire. For the first time in his entire existence that he could remember he tasted fear. Actually tasted it. It was on his tongue. Crawling down his throat to settle in tight knots in his belly. Fear permeated his skin, sank deep into his pores and into his bones. He knew he would always remember this moment. The way the parking garage smelled of oil and gas, and the scent of orange blossoms and vanilla mixing with the odor of his fear for his lifemate.
For a moment he was paralyzed, terrified that he might move too fast and give his presence away to the undead. Doubts flooded in. Would he be too slow to stop Fridrick before the vampire could kill her? He’d always had complete confidence in himself as a hunter, a renowned fighter, but this time, it wasn’t his life at stake—it was hers. His miracle. The woman born with the other half of his soul. He had no choice but to close himself off to all emotion. He dimmed the vibrancy of the colors around him and allowed himself to find that center without feeling that allowed him to function.
Fridrick smirked at Charlie. The vampire heard her heart rate rising fast as well. “Paris was beautiful and very . . . productive.” He beckoned with his fingers again, his voice dropping another octave. “Come here to me.” There was sure power in his voice now, a compulsion not to be denied.
Genevieve slammed her hands over her ears and shook her head. Charlie regarded the vampire with trepidation, but she didn’t move toward him, as he’d commanded; instead she moved another step back, her body colliding with that of her friend, forcing Genevieve to step backward as well.
Tariq drifted closer, nothing but molecules. The air around them was very still and he didn’t dare tip the vampire off to his presence.
“You were the one trying to get into our home. I saw you for a moment. And then again, right outside the museum where I was working.” Charlie’s voice was very soft. It trembled just a little bit, but she disregarded the compulsion in Fridrick’s voice. More, it was almost as though she was immune to it.
Genevieve knew the compulsion was there, and she combated it by trying to drown it out. Charlie didn’t even blink or shake her head to clear it. Instead, there was a belligerent note added to her accusation.
“That is true. You proved to be very resistant. Your friend was . . . so easy. Unlike you, he didn’t put up much resistance.”
“You killed Ricard Beaudet.” She stated it as a fact.
“Ah yes, your mentor. He was such a little whiner. And that ridiculous little mustache he was so proud of. Weren’t you just a little tired of his arrogance? He thought so much of himself.”Tariq recognized the name, Ricard Beaudet. It should have shocked him to know that he’d written to the man and that at that time his lifemate was working for Beaudet. Ricard Beaudet was considered the foremost master of restoring carousel horses in the world, and Tariq collected them. Somehow he wasn’t surprised that Charlotte had already been connected to him. Their souls called to each other’s.
Charlie’s face paled as she watched Fridrick closely, drawing in a deep breath. “Did you kill my brother, too?” When he nodded slowly, still smiling, she went very still. “Why? You were in Paris. Why would you come all the way to the States and kill my brother? What did I do to you that you would want to kill everyone I care about?”
“Not everyone, my dear.” Fridrick shook his head. “I left you the child. I knew you would come here to protect the child.”
“You killed my brother so we would come to the States?” Clearly his admission was the last thing she expected.
Genevieve caught at the loop in Charlie’s jeans and pulled her a step back when it looked as if Tariq’s woman might launch herself at Fridrick. Just the way she leaned toward Fridrick instead of away from him told Tariq much about his lifemate. She had a temper. She had courage. She would be a fighter, not one to flee.
“What do you want with us?” Genevieve asked.
Fridrick straightened from the lazy pose he had, shifting his weight to the balls of his feet, his handsome, easygoing demeanor changing subtly.
Instantly Tariq solidified, as if he’d come out of the shadows, angling his body so that he was between the women, but slightly facing them as well as Fridrick. He flashed a smile at all of them. “Good evening. How is everyone doing tonight?” He kept his voice friendly and open, the owner of the nightclub greeting his patrons. “Ladies.” He bowed slightly toward them, an old-world, courtly gesture, before turning his attention on the undead. “Fridrick. How . . . unexpected to see you here.” His tone said the vampire wasn’t welcome and had made a very big mistake.
Fridrick smirked, seemingly not in the least bit intimidated. Tariq immediately scanned his surroundings. Fridrick would never, under any circumstances, willingly go into battle with him unless he had no other choice—or the odds were on his side.
“Mr. Asenguard,” Charlotte murmured.
Of course she knew his name; everyone did. He was in magazines and, as owner of the club, was often photographed for charity events, but still—Tariq liked that she knew who he was. She put a hand on his arm. Lightly. He felt her touch burning right through the material of his jacket and shirt. Through skin and sinew straight to his bone. Her fingers curled. Exerted subtle pressure. She urged him away from Fridrick. At first he was unsure what she was trying to do, and then it occurred to him that she was trying to protect him. 
“Not so unexpected seeing you, Tariq,” Fridrick responded, confirming Tariq’s fears that Fridrick believed he was in a position to win in an actual battle.
Fridrick had known Tariq was close and it hadn’t fazed him a bit. Tariq needed to figure out what he was missing very fast. Making a mistake could be the difference between life and death for his lifemate.
He used the telepathic path he’d forged with his partner. Something is not right here, Maksim. My lifemate and her friend, another potential lifemate, are being threatened. Send out the call for anyone close to come quickly. I do not want to tip him off I have reinforcements in the area. Fridrick is a master vampire and I am certain he has brought others to aid him. Unlike with the undead, there was never ego with hunters. Destroying the vampire was merely a job, something they did in any way possible.
Fridrick’s smile faltered as his gaze dropped to Charlie’s fingers curled around Tariq’s forearm. “It will do you no good to cling to Tariq as if he is your savior, Charlotte. Yes, I know your name.” His gaze traveled over Genevieve, his stare insolent. “You are for someone else, so touch the soft little playboy all you want, but, Charlotte, you need to let go of him and come here to me.”