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Dark Carousel (Dark #30)
Author: Christine Feehan

1

Charlotte Vintage pushed the stray tendrils of dark auburn hair curling around her face back behind her shoulders and leaned toward her best friend, Genevieve Marten. Icy fingers of unease continually crept down her spine. There was no relaxing, not even with a drink in front of her and the pounding beat of the music calling.

   “We know they followed us here, Genevieve,” she whispered behind her hand. Whispering in the dance club with the music drumming out a wild rhythm wasn’t easy, but she managed. They had accomplished what they set out to do, but now that they had drawn their three stalkers out into the open, what were they going to do?

   “We must have been crazy thinking we could do this, Genevieve. Because we have no business exposing ourselves to this kind of danger.” Mostly, Charlotte didn’t think she should have exposed Genevieve to the danger. At least not when they were together. Not when they had a three-year-old to consider.

   She took a slow perusal of the club, trying to take in every detail. The Palace was the hottest dance club in the city. Everyone who was anyone went there. In spite of the fact that it was four stories tall, every single floor was packed with bodies, as was the basement underground club. Men tried to catch her eye continually. She wasn’t going to pretend she didn’t know Genevieve was beautiful, or that she wasn’t so hard on the eyes, either. The pair of them together drew attention everywhere they went—which was a bad thing.

   “We’re acting like normal women for a change,” Genevieve said a little defiantly. “I’m tired of hiding. We needed to get out of the house. You needed to get out of the house. You work all the time. Honestly, Charlie, we’re going to grow old hiding away. What good has it done us? We’re not any closer to finding out who is doing this to us.”

   “I can’t afford to be bait,” Charlotte pointed out. “And I don’t like you being bait, either. Certainly not both of us together when we have to look after Lourdes. She can’t lose everyone in her life. It goes against everything in me to hide away, but I’ve got to consider what would happen to her if I was killed. They already murdered her father. She has no mother. I’m all she’s got.” When Genevieve sent her a look, she hastily amended, “We’re all she’s got.”

   Charlotte wasn’t the hide-from-an-enemy type any more than Genevieve was. They’d met in France, both studying art. Genevieve painted, and she was good. More than good. Already her landscapes and portraits were beginning to be noticed, sought after by collectors. Charlotte restored old paintings as well as old carvings. Her specialty and greatest passion was restoring old carousels.

   Genevieve was French. She was tall, with long, glossy dark hair and large green eyes. Not just green, but deep forest green. Startling green. She had the figure of a model and in fact had had several major agencies try to convince her to sign with them. She was independently wealthy, having received inheritances from her parents and both sets of grandparents.

   Genevieve’s maternal grandmother had raised her. A few months earlier, that grandmother, her last living relative, had been brutally murdered. A few weeks later a man Genevieve had been dating was murdered in the same way. His blood had been drained from his body, and his throat had been torn out. Charlotte’s mentor, the man she was apprenticing under, was murdered a week after that.

   Twice, when they were together, the two women had become aware of someone trying to enter their house late at night. They’d locked all the windows and doors, but whoever was after them had been persistent, rattling the glass, shaking the heavy doors, terrorizing them. The police had been called. Two officers were found dead in the courtyard, both with their blood drained and their throats torn out.

   Charlotte received word a couple of weeks later that her only sibling, her brother, had been found dead, murdered in the same way. He was in California. In the United States. Far from France. Far from her. He left behind his business and his daughter, three-year-old Lourdes. Lourdes’s mother had died in childbirth, leaving Charlotte’s brother to raise her. Now it was up to Charlotte. Genevieve had decided to come with Charlotte to California. Whoever was after the two of them was in the States and Genevieve wanted to find them.

   Genevieve laid her hand over Charlotte’s. “I know Lourdes is your first priority. She’s mine as well. She’s a beautiful little girl and obviously traumatized by what she saw. Her nightmares wake me up and I’m not even in the same house.”

   Charlotte knew Genevieve wasn’t exaggerating. Genevieve always knew whenever Lourdes had nightmares, even if she wasn’t staying with them. At those times, she always called to make certain the child was all right. Lourdes had been present when her father was murdered. The killer had left the child alive and sitting beside her slain father. She’d been alone in the house with his body for several hours before she was found by her nanny, Grace Parducci, a woman who had gone to school with Charlotte.

   “The police aren’t any closer to solving the murders, Charlie. Not here and not in France. Lourdes is in danger just as much as we are. Maybe more.” Genevieve leaned her chin on the heel of her hand as she hitched her chair closer to Charlotte’s in order to be heard above the music. “I’ve been thinking a lot about this and how it all got started. What we did to draw some crazy person’s attention.”

   Charlotte nodded. She’d been thinking about it as well. What else could she think about? Both of them had lost every family member with the exception of little Lourdes. Charlotte didn’t want to lose her, and lately, in spite of taking every precaution, she hadn’t felt safe. At. All. Grace had reported being followed and feeling as though someone was watching her as well.

   Charlotte knew there was a part of her that had come with Genevieve to the nightclub in an effort to try to draw the murderer out. She’d certainly come prepared. She had weapons on her. Several. Most were unconventional, but she had them. She honestly didn’t know if the people stalking them were the same ones who had murdered her brother, but it seemed likely.

   Charlotte wasn’t the type of woman to run from her enemies and it upset her to think her brother’s murderer was going free—that he or she was trying to terrorize them. Not trying—she was terrified for Lourdes. She had no idea why the little girl had been left alive, but she wasn’t taking any chances with her. Coming to the nightclub without her was a chance to draw the killer out without endangering her.

   “That stupid psychic center we went to together for testing,” Charlotte murmured. “It gave me the creeps.”

   Genevieve nodded. “Exactly. The Morrison Center. We went for a lark, but it wasn’t the least bit fun. They got interested in us way too fast and kept asking very personal questions. When we left, I thought we were followed.”

   Charlotte had thought so as well. The testing site had been a little hole-in-the-wall, but in a high-traffic area, so neither had thought anything of it. They both often said they were psychic, and thought it would be so much fun to go in and test it, just like having their palms read. Something fun to do. It hadn’t turned out to be very fun.

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