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Dark Carousel (Dark #30)(8)

By:Christine Feehan

“Fridrick, you would not be threatening either of these women, would you?” Tariq kept his tone mild. Even amused. All the while he reached with all his senses to find the true threat. It wasn’t Fridrick. In a fair fight, the odds would be somewhat even, a scenario Fridrick would never accept. “Ladies, Fridrick sometimes forgets himself. He likes to think he is capable of far more than he really is.”
Charlie’s fingers started to slip from his arm. She looked very alarmed. In that moment he realized she would choose to save him and her friend by obeying Fridrick’s command. He turned his hand to catch her wrist, slid his palm down until he could thread his fingers through hers. The need to comfort her was a compulsion he couldn’t possibly ignore. He drew her closer to him. Fit her under his shoulder. He needed room to fight, but she needed care first.
He arched one eyebrow at Fridrick, allowing a slight smile of amusement to curve his lips. It was important to send the right message. Fridrick got what he was silently saying because his cocky smirk faltered for just a moment and his gaze shifted first right and then left as if to assure himself he wasn’t alone. Of course he wasn’t alone. Fridrick was a master vampire. He’d been around for centuries and was skilled in battle, but he would never face a hunter of Tariq’s skill without aid.
Tariq caught Charlie’s arm and brought it around his waist. To his astonishment, she didn’t stiffen or fight him. Her attention was on Fridrick. She didn’t seem to notice that she was clinging to Tariq, and he didn’t mind in the least. Nothing in his life had ever felt as right as the way her small body tucked so tightly against his did. Her skin burned through his clothes, sank through his pores to scorch her right onto his bones. He’d never felt better in his life or more alive. Perhaps that was the last thing he needed when going into battle with multiple vampires, but he allowed himself that brief moment to feel. To take it in.
Charlotte’s stomach did a slow somersault. She knew Tariq Asenguard by sight. How could she not? He was considered one of the most eligible bachelors in town. His picture was in magazines and there were numerous articles written about him. He was gorgeous. Rugged, all muscle, wide shoulders, elegant even with his long hair tied back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. It curled in a long tube of rich, thick chestnut down his back. He wore black trousers and a matching jacket over a blue shirt. His eyes were a vibrant blue, right now so dark they looked nearly black, and his lashes were long.She knew she shouldn’t be noticing the owner of the club when danger was right in front of him—she should be warning him. But what was she supposed to say without looking like a lunatic? The man they faced had ripped out throats and drunk blood? That he’d killed Genevieve’s grandmother and boyfriend in Paris? That he’d killed her own mentor there as well? Then he’d drawn them to the States by murdering her brother? She couldn’t imagine that the suave, sophisticated owner of the nightclub would believe her. He looked far too elegant to have a clue about serial killers.
She also recognized his name from the letter Ricard Beaudet had read aloud to her. This man collected carousel horses. Maybe that was why she’d chosen to go to his club. She’d subconsciously picked it, not because it was the hottest spot in the city, but because she’d hoped to run into him and maneuver a look at the coveted painted horses. Now she’d endangered him. And she knew he was in real danger. Fridrick was utterly focused on him—not on either of the two women.
Fridrick’s features changed subtly—and not for the better. His eyes looked red, bloodshot. even. His teeth didn’t seem so white, and there was the faintest hint of sharpness when he stretched his mouth obscenely in a smile. His skin looked different, much paler, and even his fingernails looked longer.
“Vi,” she whispered softly, “back out of here.” At least she could get Genevieve out alive. She was going to stay and do her best to help Tariq Asenguard survive—although she had no idea how. She’d gone to Asenguard’s club and she’d drawn the serial killer to her. This was her responsibility, not Tariq’s. She wanted to run from Fridrick, telling herself she had Lourdes, but something compelled her to protect Tariq. She needed to protect him.
“No, Genevieve,” Tariq said unexpectedly, but his voice was a command. “You stay close to me.”
Genevieve halted her backward movement instantly.
“Such a good idea, little pet,” Fridrick sneered. “Learn to obey a master, although Tariq is hardly that. Both of you come away from him. You really do not have a choice.”
Tariq inhaled and knew he’d been right all along. Fridrick was not alone. Even as the master vampire spoke, the others emerged from the shadows. Seven of them. Three of the seven were clearly vampire and not underlings, not pawns to be sacrificed. He recognized all three of them. One was Fridrick’s brother Georg. The other two were cousins of the Malinov brothers, Dorin and Cornel Malinov. Each vampire had the reputation of being extremely cruel. 
The other four were a mystery to Tariq. They appeared human to him—but more. Enhanced somehow, yet not puppets. He knew Vadim had recruited humans—dregs of society that preyed on others. Humans willing to take money, knowing they were feeding the vampires and killing their enemies for them. These men were different. Human—yet not. He needed to find out exactly what they were and what use they had for Vadim. More, he needed to know why he hadn’t been able to detect a shadow of the vampires on them.
Experiments had been conducted beneath the city. There had been an entire labyrinth, another city below the one aboveground where Vadim and his brother, Sergey, plotted to gain power. Carpathian hunters had run them off, but they hadn’t had time to examine all the sophisticated equipment left behind. They’d been concerned with following the two master vampires in an effort to destroy them, but now, he realized, whatever experiments had been taking place below the city had yielded results. The four men facing him were an altogether new experience. He didn’t like having an unknown element in the mix when the lives of two women—one his lifemate—were in the battle zone.
He straightened to his full height, rolling his shoulders slightly, calm settling over him. It was war then. Right here. Right now. Already his brain was planning, working out what to do first. Fridrick was the most dangerous, but he wouldn’t commit to the battle. He wouldn’t want a scratch on him. He’d go after the women, but if he’d wanted them dead, he would have killed them long before Tariq had come on the scene.
“Stay behind me,” Tariq cautioned Charlotte in a low voice. He was well aware Fridrick could hear. All four vampires would have heard his soft command, but no one would move until Fridrick gave the order. He wanted Charlie away from him, where Fridrick could hopefully keep her from the others. In the heat of battle, he couldn’t imagine that one or more of the undead would lose control and their need to kill, for that ultimate high would override all orders from their master.
Charlotte took a step behind him, but both women immediately opened their small clutches and pulled something out. Weapons? He couldn’t see.
“Mr. Asenguard.”
Charlotte’s voice was perfectly calm. A shock to him. He hadn’t expected her to remain so cool when she had to realize they were in trouble, even if she had no idea what Fridrick was. Just the way her hand dropped to his arm and applied pressure—a warning—he knew she was aware.
“You may not remember, but you sent a letter to the man I trained under in Paris. Ricard Beaudet was a master at restoring art, particularly the oldest carousel horses found in Europe.”
Her tone was purely conversational and it did exactly what she hoped—she’d thrown Fridrick off-balance. Good girl, he whispered in his mind. Stalling was good. Maksim would come, as would others. He had sent out a call for available hunters to come to San Diego when he and Maksim had discovered Vadim’s lair. Those nearby would be on their way and coming fast. Tariq just needed a little more time. His woman was cool under fire and maybe, just maybe, she would provide that time.
“Of course I remember Beaudet. I asked him to come to the States and restore some horses I recently acquired.” He played along, keeping his tone conversational, low, so that Fridrick and the others had to really listen to hear. “We corresponded back and forth and I sent him pictures of my collection and eventually an airplane ticket, but he never arrived.”
Charlotte’s gaze shifted from Tariq to Fridrick and then back again. “Ricard died, in Paris. Was murdered. The police have no idea who did it. There was a serial killer on the loose. He would drain the bodies of most of the blood and tear out the throats of his victims.”Tariq heard affection for the man in her voice. Sorrow for his death. Knowledge that Fridrick was responsible. His instinct was to hold her. Comfort her. He couldn’t do either, because he needed to step farther away from her to give himself fighting room as well as to keep her out of the battle line when the others attacked.
The air grew heavy with tension. Fridrick straightened subtly, an almost imperceptible motion, but Tariq saw it and glided a few steps toward him, more to put distance between Charlotte and himself than to begin the battle. Charlie moved with him, mirroring his steps, staying close to him.