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Dark Carousel (Dark #30)(9)

By:Christine Feehan

He hissed a warning at her, his gaze sliding over her briefly before returning to Fridrick. The woman was going to get herself hurt if she kept it up.
“Get away from him, Charlotte,” Fridrick commanded. The compulsion in his voice was so strong, Genevieve clapped both hands over her ears, yet still took a step back from Tariq. “Now.”
Charlotte laughed softly. “Fridrick. All these months you’ve had time to study me. You certainly stalked me long enough to know I am not the kind of woman to respond well to orders, especially not from a man I suspect of killing my brother. Why in the world would you think I would do a single thing you ordered me to do? Your voice? I don’t hear it the way Genevieve hears it. To me it sounds grating, not in the least compelling. If you wanted me to come with you, perhaps you shouldn’t have been bragging about Paris and what you did there, or about how you killed my brother and left my niece alive so I would return to the States.”
Vampires were pale creatures, yet Fridrick flushed. As if he had feelings. As if Charlotte’s soft declaration not only angered him but embarrassed him. Tariq tried to understand how that could happen. Why it could happen. Something much more than any Carpathian had ever considered was going on, and he knew he and the other hunters had to figure it out quickly if their species was going to survive. Clearly they were under a well-thought-out and brilliantly planned attack. He had to get into the tunnels and discover exactly what Vadim, his brother, Sergey, and Fridrick had been up to.
“Fridrick.” Tariq said his name softly, drawing the vampire’s attention away from Charlotte. She didn’t realize she was poking a stick at a hornet’s nest.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Fridrick’s small army had become restless, eager to get on with it. That gave Tariq insight into Fridrick’s mind. Fridrick didn’t have nearly as much control over his men as he thought he did. And that told Tariq that Fridrick’s attention was centered on Charlotte, and not on the battle. 
“Did you actually admit to committing murder?”
Fridrick scowled and once more searched the large parking garage as if that would give him a clue to whatever trap Tariq might be leading him into. His gaze shifted back to Charlotte, his appearance still as handsome, but his complexion was flushed and he looked agitated instead of coolly in control. He waved a hand, dismissing the subject.
“Charlie, I am offering you one last chance to cooperate with me. If you don’t, you will regret your decision.” Fridrick’s voice was no longer beguiling. It was hard and angry, betraying the tension boiling beneath the vampire’s cool demeanor.
Before Charlotte could reply, Maksim arrived. On his heels were all three of the triplets, Mataias and his brothers Lojos and Tomas. Tariq raised his eyebrow when he saw Tomas, and quickly scanned him for wounds. He had been injured in the last battle and had been put in the earth to heal. Just two weeks had passed, and that wasn’t enough time given the severity of the injuries to the Carpathian hunter.
Tomas sent him a cocky grin, the four hunters spreading out behind him, facing Fridrick’s men. Another hunter emerged from the shadows. Tariq hadn’t seen Dragomir Kozul since they had battled together in Russia. The centuries hadn’t been so kind to him. Few Carpathians scarred, but Dragomir looked like a road map of scars. His face and neck bore tattoos that had been carved into his skin, rather than inked. His eyes were pure gold. Unusual, almost antiqued gold. A giant of a man, taller and more muscular than most Carpathian males, he looked fit, yet each natural line was carved deep, as if he was so world-weary, he had forgotten how to express any emotion, even when among humans.
Two more hunters moved into position on either side of them. One Tariq recognized as Afanasiv Balan, a hunter who, like Maksim, had been a good friend to Tariq over the years. Siv was extremely dangerous, a powerful man with unusual eyes that looked as if they swirled blue and green, both colors vibrant. His hair, rather than black, as most Carpathians’ was, was long and thick and very blond. It was a rarity in the Carpathian world and it set him apart. Like Dragomir, he rarely spoke, but he was quick to take action. Tariq was grateful he was there.
The other hunter was one Tariq had very little knowledge of. He had been born a few years before Tariq had left with his father and mother, when he was still in his thirties, to go into the Russian territories. They’d shared a childhood, but Tariq only knew him by reputation now. He looked worn and grim, his eyes gray, his hair black and woven with long leather cords into a thick braid. He had one scar that was curved right over his left temple to the corner of his left eye. He was slender in comparison to hunters such as Dragomir or Siv, without an ounce of fat. His muscles were sleek and powerful, and he moved with the fluid glide of a predator. His name was Nicu Dalca. He moved like lightning, so fast when he fought that one could see only a blur of movement.
Tariq nodded to him, welcoming him to the coming battle. He hoped there wouldn’t be a fight right there, not with his lifemate and her friend so close, but now, the odds were stacked in their favor.
Fridrick hissed, his sharp teeth showing as he scowled at Charlotte, focusing his attention on her. “You should have come to me while I gave you the chance,” he snarled, his voice low. “You will rue this night. You will learn to feel what being alone is truly like before I am finished with you. You will learn what it is to suffer . . .”
“Enough,” Tariq snapped, his tone commanding. Still, beside him, Charlie had stiffened in alarm. She had a niece. He remembered that from the earlier conversation. Fridrick had killed her brother but left the niece alive to lure Charlie back to the States.Charlotte took a step toward Fridrick, the color leeching from her face. Tariq caught her arm and actually had to shackle her wrist to keep her from moving toward the vampire. Fridrick had found her weakness. The vampire smiled, looking truly evil as he waved his hand at his companions. All of them faded into the shadows. Several of the hunters glided after them, silent and deadly with purpose no one could possibly mistake.
“Your niece.” Tariq pulled Charlotte in front of him, needing to touch her, but also to distract her so she wouldn’t pay attention to the hunters following their prey. Mostly he needed to get the information immediately because Fridrick was going to retaliate. For the first time, Tariq noted the disparity in their heights. She stood so straight that he hadn’t really noticed how short she was. “I need to know where she is right now.”
Charlie hesitated, and he couldn’t blame her. She didn’t know him. He gave her a little shake. “Look at me. Right now. Look at me.”
Her gaze jumped to his. Clung there. He refused to relinquish control once he had her trapped. “You know who I am. You know my reputation.” And it wasn’t that good. Most people thought he was either a playboy or connected to organized crime. “I can keep you safe from him, but he is going after your niece. My people have to get there first. Where is she?” She hadn’t been susceptible to Fridrick’s compulsion, so he doubted if he could take her memories without a fight, and he wanted her to trust him.
Her eyes searched his for what seemed an eternity. He was aware of every passing second. Her every heartbeat. The two men behind him were waiting patiently, still as statues. She had the letter to her mentor in Paris to cling to as proof that he was a businessman and he’d made it more than clear that Fridrick and he were enemies.
He knew the exact moment when she decided to trust him. “Lorell Lane. On the ranch there. It’s a dirt road and it only leads to one property. She’s with a friend, Grace Parducci, her nanny. Grace isn’t going to let anyone take her unless they say, ‘The carousel spins in a continuous circle.’ Lame, but that was all we could come up with. Her name is Lourdes, and she’s only three.”
Maksim, Dragomir and Siv had remained with Tariq when the others drifted out, after Fridrick and his crew. Fridrick knew the hunters wouldn’t attack them as long as they remained in the vicinity of the club—there were too many witnesses. He had ordered the four human puppets and one vampire master to remain behind, showing themselves, keeping the hunters busy safeguarding the humans in the club. With the hunters watching those near the humans, Fridrick and one of the Malinov cousins could hunt for Charlie’s niece. 
Maksim moved fast, disappearing into the shadows before taking to the air, streaking toward the ranch in the form of molecules, a fast-moving comet determined to outrace Fridrick. Dragomir followed him, a silent, terrible, brutal specter, more savage than man. He was a throwback to the ancient Carpathians, the ones never touching society, humans or civilization. They existed to hunt. Most were long gone from the world; some had isolated themselves in a monastery high up in the Carpathian Mountains. It was impossible to tell if Dragomir was one of the monks, but if so, he was every bit as dangerous as he looked—and then some.
Siv followed, silent and deadly as he usually was, as determined as the other two hunters to keep Grace and Lourdes safe from Fridrick. In doing so, they were helping to save Tariq’s lifemate, a sacred duty held by all Carpathian males.
“They’ll get your niece,” Tariq told Charlie with absolute confidence. Reluctantly he let go of her arm. She was warm and soft and it was amazing to touch her skin. He’d allowed the feeling to sink deep before he was even aware of it. “How did you get involved with Fridrick? He is a very dangerous man.”