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~DARK CAROUSEL: CHAPTER ONE~
Last Updated: July 25, 2016 01:38:49

Dark Promises by Christine Feehan

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, even with a drink in front of her and the pounding beat of the music calling to her.

"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 included exposing Genevieve to the danger. At least not both of them 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 high, every single story was packed with bodies as well as 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 Lourdes 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 several major agencies try to convince her to sign with them. She was independently wealthy, having inherited 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 someone had tried to enter their house late at night. They'd locked all 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' 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 had been 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 he was found by the child's nanny, Grace Parducci, a woman who had gone to school with Charlotte and had known her brother and his wife.

"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 onto 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 unconventional, but she had them. She honestly didn't know if the men stalking them were the same ones that 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 Lourdes.

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

Genevieve nodded. "Exactly. The Morrison Center. We went for a lark and it wasn't in 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 thought anything of it. They both often said they were 'psychic' and thought it would be so much fun to go in and test, just like having their palms read. Something fun to do. It hadn't turned out to be so fun.

Charlotte looked into Genevieve's green eyes and saw the same pain she was feeling reflected there. Who knew that something they'd done on a whim would have such horrific consequences? It was like that with them. They both thought along the same lines, knew what the other was thinking.

"Ever since going there, I feel like we're being watched," Genevieve said. "And not in a good way. When we were still in France, before Grandmere was murdered, a couple of men asked me out and I got this really creepy vibe from them. When they talked I just kept having the image of the testing center crop up in my mind and I couldn't help associating them with it."

Charlotte nodded her understanding. The same thing had happened to her more than once. And then the murders happened. Since then, they'd been much more careful. No dates. No fun. No strangers in their lives. Charlotte ran her brother's cabinet making business, and she did a little art restoration on the side, but she hadn't really been working at her own business for months. Not since she'd returned to the United States.

"What are we going to do, Charlie," Genevieve asked. "I can't live like this for much longer. I know I should be grateful I'm alive, that we're alive, and I don't want to do anything that might endanger Lourdes, but I feel like I'm suffocating."

Charlotte knew how she felt. "We've taken the first step by coming here. We weren't all that quiet about it either, Vieve. We've attracted a lot of attention. Those men, the ones that have kept asking us to dance, they give off that creepy testing vibe to me. What about to you? And do they look familiar to you? I swear I've seen them before. I think in France."

Genevieve followed Charlotte's gaze to the three men who had continuously asked them to dance and sent drinks to their table. They winked and flirted and stayed close all night. They were good dancers. They'd asked other women and Charlotte had watched them. All three knew what they were doing on a dance floor. All three were exceptionally good looking. They seemed like men who frequented the dance club and picked up their share of women there. Still, there was something off about them.

"Same here. The one named Vince, Vince Tidwell, touches me with one finger every time he gets close enough. He just runs it over my skin. Instead of giving me any kind of cool shiver, I get the creeps and the image of the testing center is right there in my mind. I keep telling myself we tested in France so would they really follow us here, but I'm fairly certain they did."

"So maybe we should leave and then wait for them outside and try to follow them," Charlotte suggested. "Lourdes is safe for tonight. I've called half a dozen times and Grace assures me all is quiet on the home front. We could track them tonight and find out where they're staying and who they really are. Maybe we'll find out what they want from us."

Genevieve's vivid green eyes lit up. "Absolutely. I need to do something to make me feel like I'm not sitting on my thumbs just waiting for someone to murder me. I have to do something positive to help myself."

Charlotte nodded. She knew better. She had Lourdes. Responsibilities. One huge responsibility. She'd always been adventuresome. She pursued her dreams with wide open arms, rushing headlong where others were afraid to go. She hadn't stayed home with her brother. She worked hard from the time she was very young so she could finance her trip to France where she'd always wanted to go. She learned French early, and worked at it hard until she could speak like a native. She'd left behind her brother and only came back to help him when his wife died. And then she left again.

"Selfish," she murmured aloud. "I've always been selfish, doing the things I wanted to do. I want to go after them too, Vieve. I swear I do." She had to put her mouth close to Genevieve's ear to be heard over the music. She wasn't the type of woman to hide in a house with the covers over her head, but what was the right thing to do? She honestly didn't know.

"Lourdes would be a lot safer if we figured this out, Charlie," Genevieve pointed out.

She wasn't saying anything Charlotte hadn't already told herself, but she still didn't know if she was making excuses to jump into action because she wanted to justify taking the fight and shoving it right down the throat of their enemy.

Charlotte made up her mind. She couldn't just keep hiding. It wasn't in her character and Genevieve was so right—Lourdes needed to settle into a normal life. They couldn't keep moving and trying to cover their tracks. "Let's do it then, Vieve. We can follow them and see if we can find out what they're up to. You can't look like you though. You draw way too much attention."

Charlotte risked another quick look at the three men. The one named Daniel Forester appeared to be the leader. His two friends definitely deferred to him. He was tall and good-looking and he knew it. He was staring at her even as he danced with another woman. The woman looked up at him with absolute worship and he was ignoring her to look at Charlie.

She raised an eyebrow at him to let him know she thought he was being rude. He grinned at her as if they shared a secret. "He is an arrogant prick," she hissed.

"So are his friends. Players. All three of them," Genevieve said. "They know they look good and they use their looks to pick up women."

Charlotte couldn't help it, she laughed softly, breaking the stare with Danny to look at her best friend. Genevieve was in full make-up and looked like a runway model. "Seriously? We're really getting bad here, Vieve. We both know we look good and we came here hoping for a little fun."

"I don't' know what you're talking about, Charlie," Genevieve protested, all haughty. "I look like this all the time. Waking up, I look like this."

Charlotte blew her a kiss. "Truthfully, you do look like that when you wake up. It makes me sick."

"Uh oh, here they come. They're bringing drinks. Vince and his friend Bruce at your nine o'clock. They're carrying one for their friend Danny as well," Genevieve lowered her voice until Charlotte could barely make out what she was saying over the music.

Both women plastered on smiles as the two men toed chairs around and sat at their table without asking.

"I know you must have missed us," Bruce Van Hues said. "So we came bearing gifts." He put the drinks down in front of them, flashing them smiles as if that would convince them he was merely joking.

"Pined away," Charlotte said. "Could hardly breathe without you."

Vince laughed, nudging Genevieve playfully with his shoulder before pulling his chair very close to hers and sitting down, making a show of claiming her. Charlotte saw Genevieve's eyes darken from her normal vivid, emerald green to a much deeper forest green, like moss after a rain. That was always, always a bad sign with her best friend. Genevieve had a bit of a temper. She flashed hot and wild, but it never lasted long. Charlotte could hold a mean grudge. She wasn't happy about it, but if she was honest, she could. For a long time.

Charlotte knew Vince was genuinely attracted to Genevieve. Most men were. She was gorgeous. But she was fairly certain the three men had followed them to the club. They hadn't just picked them out of the crowd of women. Four stories worth of women. Many were beautiful, most were hungry looking to take someone home. Genevieve and Charlotte had made it clear several times to the trio of men that they weren't there for a casual hook-up. That hadn't deterred them in the least.

Danny sauntered over, pulled out the chair beside Charlotte's and dropped into it. "I think I've done my duty for the night." He picked up the drink in front of Charlotte, grinned at her and took a sip. "You haven't done yours, though, woman. You've hardly danced at all. Think of all the disappointment that's caused so many men."

Charlotte shook her head, flashing a small smile at him. He really thought he was charming. He pushed the drink toward her and deliberately she wrapped her fingers around the glass, her fingers automatically finding the exact spots where his fingers had touched as she lifted it to her mouth and tipped some of the contents down her throat. The jolt hit her like it always did when she opened herself up to a psychic connection. Her mind tunneled and she found herself in the void, looking at the fresh memories of the men who had touched the glass before her.

The bartender first. His touch was imprinted there. He was worried about his mother and didn't like his father. He wanted a raise and was very tired of drunken women coming onto him. He wished he could come out openly and declare he preferred men, but his father had made it clear if he did so, it would ruin his family and he would be disowned. The bartender wished he had the guts to tell his father to go to hell and just walk away from his family instead of living a lie.

Charlotte felt bad for the man and risked a quick look in the direction of the bar. There were too many bodies dancing to the music to see the actual bar and she knew she was putting off the inevitable—allowing herself to 'read' Danny's memories. Quick flashes of horror movies pushed at her vision. A stake driven into a man's chest. Blood erupting, spraying like a fountain. The victim's eyes wide open, revealing shock and terrible suffering. Danny swinging a hammer to drive the stake deep. Voices urging him on. Distaste for the task but determination.

Charlotte gasped and let go of the glass, leaping up, knocking her chair over in the process as she backed away from the table. Not a horror movie. Reality. She couldn't breathe for a moment, couldn't catch a breath. There was no air in the room. He had done that. Killed a human being by driving a stake through the man's heart. Vince had been there. So had Bruce. She recognized their voices.

She was aware of the men standing, of Genevieve grasping her arm. Danny's fingers settled around her neck, pushing her head down, afraid she would faint. His touch only made matters worse. She didn't get anything off human beings, only objects, but she imagined she was right there, watching him hammer a stake through a man's heart. Torturing him while he was conscious. The idea of it made bile rise and she pushed one hand over her mouth.

"I'm going to be sick," she whispered.

Genevieve caught her around the waist and began moving her away from Danny and the others, toward the restrooms. "What is it, Charlie?" She whispered. "What did you see?"

"He killed a man," Charlotte choked the words out. "Tonight. Before they came here. He drove a stake through his heart while the man was alive. Awake. The other two were with him. And then they came here, drinking. Dancing. Laughing."

Genevieve stopped right outside the lady's room and glanced over her shoulder. "They're watching us, Charlie. Let's get inside out of sight."

Charlotte nodded. She had to pull herself together. "It was just a shock. They killed a man and then came here to dance." She let Genevieve lead her into the lady's room. "Or pick up women."

"Specifically us," Genevieve pointed out. "I get the vibe off of them that they're totally targeting us. Not any woman. They certainly had their choice. Several women made it clear they'd be willing to go home tonight with them, but they keep coming back to us." She glanced around the crowded lady's room and lowered her voice even more. "Do you think they could possibly be the ones who murdered your brother and my grandmother?"

Charlotte frowned and forced herself to quit leaning on Genevieve. Her stomach still churned, but she had it under control now. "I'm sorry, Vieve, it was just so shocking. I let go before I could get any more. I shouldn't have, although the murder was so fresh that it probably would have covered everything else." She rubbed the frown off her mouth and sent Genevieve a wry half-hearted smile. "I panicked. I've never done that before in my life. It just goes to show what happens when you have a child. You get soft."

"What are we going to do, Charlie?"

Charlotte took a deep breath and then squared her shoulders. "We're going to get as much information as possible in as little time as possible and then we'll leave. See if they follow us. If I can figure out the location of the body, I can call in an anonymous tip to the cops and name them as the murderers."

"You want to go back to the table and sit with them?" Genevieve asked, her eyes wide with shock.

Charlotte nodded. "We can't let on that we're on to them. We have to just play it off like I was suddenly sick or something. I'll think of an explanation."

Genevieve took a breath and then slowly nodded. "Okay. I can do that if you can. But let's leave as soon as possible."

"Agreed. We'll have to get out in front of them and then find a way to watch to see if they try to follow us out. Turning the tables on them is going to be dangerous, Vieve. If they're following us, then they want something. Murdering that man has to be connected."

Genevieve swallowed hard. "Did you recognize him? Was it someone we know?"

Charlotte tried to focus on the murdered man. He'd been about forty. Dark hair. His face had been twisted with pain. His eyes alive with terror and excruciating agony. She would see those eyes in her sleep. She shook her head, trying to still the shudder that ran through her body. "I don't' know. He looks vaguely familiar. It's possible he was on Matt's crew. My brother had a lot of employees. When I sold the company, some of them were laid off and they were angry. I got a lot of threats." She ran her hand through her thick hair. "I just can't place him. He looked...terrified. In so much pain. I don't understand what they were doing to him."

"They drove a stake through his heart? You mean like they do to vampires in movies?" Genevieve asked. "Because when grandmere and your brother were murdered, the blood was drained from their bodies and their throats were torn. Someone might interpret that as being killed by a vampire."

Charlotte's eyebrow shot up. "Now we're really getting outside the realm of possibility and into the realm of complete fantasy."

"I didn't say there are vampires, only that someone nutty might think that there are." Genevieve sighed. "Okay, I'll admit, when I saw grandmere, for a moment I entertained the idea that there were such things."

Charlotte put her arm around her friend in an effort to comfort her. "I'm sorry, honey. I know that was horrible for you. Anyone would have thought that after seeing her like that. Let's hope there isn't any such thing out there like a real vampire because the way our luck has gone, it would be after us." She tried for a little levity, although with the bile still forming a knot in her throat, she didn't feel in the least like laughing.

Danny, Vince and Bruce, the three handsome men who had spent the evening flirting with every woman in the place and with Genevieve and her in particular, were vicious, cold monsters. She took a step toward the door.

Genevieve caught her arm. "Wait. Wait just a minute, Charlie, and let me rethink this. I know I was the one pushing for us to get out of hiding and to try to find whoever murdered your brother and my grandmother, but maybe I was wrong to make us a target. These men clearly are murderers and if you don't think they're the same ones who killed our families, then we shouldn't draw their attention any more than we already have."

They were staying in the restroom far too long. "We don't run. That's what we promised each other," Charlotte reminded. "We're never going to be free if we don't find out who murdered the ones we love. Lourdes won't ever be free. You were right, Genevieve. I was the one trying to hide. Being responsible for a child threw me, but we're strong. We've stuck together through everything so far and we can do this."

"They aren't going to get away with it, are they?" Genevieve said, trying to pour steel into her voice. "We'll find out who took our families and we'll do it together."

Charlotte looked up at her friend's beautiful face. There was determination there. Fear, but courage. She nodded. "Damn right we will. Let's get out there and take back the control. They think they have it, but we're good at what we do."

Genevieve glanced at herself in the mirror. "Charlie?" She hesitated. Long lashes veiled her eyes. "What if there is such a thing as a vampire? What if these men are killing them?"

Charlotte opened her mouth and then closed it. Genevieve didn't deserve a derisive response. She needed to think about what she said carefully. Logically. "First, honey, if there were vampires, after all this time, wouldn't the world know about them? And secondly, the man they killed was no vampire. I saw his death. I saw him. I felt him. He was just as human as the two of us. Maybe they believe they're killing vampires, but I don't see how. And driving a stake through someone's heart, vampire or human, while they're alive and conscious, is just plain sadistic. We can't take any chances with these men. We have to find out what they want, and we need to be very careful. If they've targeted us, we need to know why."

Genevieve took a deep breath and then nodded. She'd been the one to insist they come out of hiding and act like they were alive again, but it was Charlotte that was more the warrior woman. When it came down to facing danger, it was Charlotte that stood in front of her.

The two of them made their way back to the table, threading through the crowd. All three men waited for them, eyes examining them carefully as they approached.

"Why is there always a line in the lady's room and not the men's?" Charlotte asked and threw herself into the chair beside Danny. "Every time. It's crazy and makes me tempted to march into the men's room and do a take-over with a bunch of other like-minded women."

"What happened to you?" Danny asked. He sounded charming. Solicitous. Worried even. He couldn't hide the cold alertness in his eyes. The suspicion.

She had to touch that glass again without a reaction. Charlotte flashed an embarrassed smile. Deliberately she inched her fingers toward the glass he'd drank from. "I'm violently allergic to something they put in some of the alcohols. I should have been more careful." She wrapped her palm around the glass right where she thought his prints were and began to slowly push it away from her, making a show out of it.

Much more prepared this time, when the jolt came, she rode it out, seeking to go deeper into the tunnel to find more memories. To see if these men had murdered her brother. She caught images of Danny following Genevieve and Grace from a store. That was how he found their home. The three men had changed places frequently while following the two women so that no one car had been close to her at any time, which explained how Genevieve, always so careful, hadn't spotted a tail. It also explained how they had come to follow Grace.

There, in the tunnel, Charlotte found that there were two older murders, both committed by driving a stake through a man's heart. All three men were present. She didn't feel anything but a grim hatred emanating from them. Her brother wasn't one of the victims. Still, one of the murders took place in France. She recognized the gardens where Daniel had staked his victim.

The three men were serial killers. The bodies couldn't have been found or the murders would be splashed across every news station imaginable. She knew she couldn't keep her hand around the glass much longer and maintain her embarrassed smile. Genevieve looked so anxious, her face pale, her gaze studiously avoiding the three men, but centered on Charlotte as if her life depended on it.

As if she knew the men would see her desperate fear, Genevieve leaned toward Charlotte. "Are you certain we shouldn't leave? The last time you drank anything that affected you so adversely, I had to take you to the hospital."

Charlotte was very proud of her. Genevieve might by terrified, but she was thinking all the time. She'd said the perfect thing to reinforce Charlotte's explanation. Slowly, she let go of the glass, having pushed it halfway across the table.

"I'm all right, Vieve. I just took a little sip and knew instantly something was wrong." She shrugged. "I should have spit it out, but I didn't want Danny to think I was spitting all over him."

The men laughed, although she could tell it was forced. She wasn't certain they were buying her little charade. She leaned back in her seat. It was time to change the subject and do a little digging. "Vieve and I met in France and have been best friends ever since. Where did the three of you meet? You obviously have been friends for a long time."

"School," Vince answered immediately, turning his attention to Genevieve. He ran his finger from her bare shoulder to her wrist. "Grammar school. I love that sexy little French accent you have."

Bruce nodded and leaned toward Genevieve. "How long have you been in the States?"

Charlotte was grateful for Genevieve's French accent. It always managed to be a conversation changer. As a distraction, it worked very well.

"We met while working on art projects in Paris," Genevieve supplied, deliberately taking the attention away from Charlotte. "Charlie was interning, learning art restoration from some of the greatest in the world and I was painting. We became great friends."

Charlotte casually reached for the napkin in front of Danny, the one he'd been resting his hand on. She crumpled it up slowly, finger by finger, dragging it into her palm as if doing so absently, smiling and nodding to indicate the introduction in France was a good moment for them both.

It was difficult to keep her smile in place and she welcomed the opportunity to change her attention from Danny to Genevieve, because even with the object being new and fresh rather than older, as her talent preferred, she was getting enough images to know that Danny and his friends had been stalking Genevieve and her for a long while. And they'd definitely been in France.

Her heart pounded hard. She saw flashes of the building where she'd gone to test her psychic abilities. Genevieve and she had gone in laughing, determined to have fun. It never occurred to either of them that they might be in danger or that the danger would follow them and possibly hurt others they loved.

Danny and Vince had followed them back to the little studio they were renting together. She didn't see them anywhere near where Genevieve's grandmother lived, nor were there even the faintest memories of standing over the body after or during the time of the murder. She didn't see them near her brother or his home either.

Taking a deep breath she let go of the napkin. The three men had been in France, followed them from the Morrison Psychic Testing Center where they'd done the psychic testing and now had followed the two women to the United States. They were Americans, but from where she wasn't certain. She was frustrated with the fact that she didn't get clear, detailed information like she did on older objects.

Vince continued his conversation with Genevieve, all about her painting and what she liked to paint, volunteering to be her next male model if she was looking for one. Danny and Bruce seemed to be concentrating on her and Charlotte was afraid for a moment that they might have asked her something while she was trying to gather information.

"You restore art?" Danny asked, hitching closer to her, extending his arm along the back of her chair, fingers gliding along her bare skin, tracing the spaghetti straps on her blouse.

She forced herself not to pull away, instead flashing him a small smile. "Yes. I specialize in restoring very old carousel horses, the wooden chariot and entire carousels. I can restore American carousels, but the ones I'm most interested in are from Europe. There isn't a lot of call for that sort of thing outside of museums or private collectors, and even fewer here in the States, but it's my first love."

Danny looked puzzled as most people did. She couldn't explain to them why she liked touching the old wood and feeling every groove in it, every carving. She loved knowing everything there was to know about the carver, long gone from the world, but so familiar to her once she'd touched their art piece.

She laughed softly at his expression. "I can see you don't get it. The horses are unique, each one carved differently, some more than three hundred years ago. How cool is that? I was able to work on one that was carved during medieval times. To prepare for the jousting competitions for young knights, a rotating platform was used with legless wooden horses so they could practice their skills." She couldn't help the enthusiasm pouring into her voice in spite of the situation. She loved the fact that the carousel could be traced back all the way to the twelfth century when the Arabs and Turks played a game on horseback with a scented ball. Italians and Spanish had observed the competition and referred to the game as 'little war' or carosella, or garosello.

"Keep talking," Danny said gruffly. "I thought it was kind of silly, but it's actually interesting."

"Right?" She nodded her head, which helped to avoid looking straight at him. She didn't want to see the image of him driving a stake through a man's heart. "A Frenchman got the idea to build a device with chariots and carved horses suspended by chains attached on arms attached to a center pole. It was used to train noblemen on the art of ring spearing. Ladies and children loved the device almost as much or more than the noblemen." She glanced at Genevieve. The strain was beginning to show on her friend's face. Charlotte gave a little exaggerated sigh. "We should be going. We have to get up early tomorrow."

She stood up before the three men could protest. She needed to get Genevieve out of there as quickly as possible before she gave away the fact that she was terrified. Charlotte was afraid of them as well, but she was determined to find out what was going on. The fact that the three men had followed them from France, found where they were staying, and followed them to the club, that meant Lourdes wasn't safe anyway. They had to change tactics. They needed to quit burying their heads in the sand and find out what threatened them and why.

"Thanks for the drinks. We'll see you around sometime," Genevieve said, flashing her million-dollar smile. She stood up as well, taking a step back as Vince climbed to his feet. Genevieve was tall, but he still towered over her.

"Give me your cell. Let me program my number in," he said, all charm. Genevieve's gaze shifted to Charlotte's and Charlotte's nod was nearly imperceptible. The last thing she wanted was for sharp-eyed Danny to realize they were on to them. They'd been discouraging at first because they weren't looking to pick up a man, so they had that going in their favor. The three men were very good-looking and clearly used to easy conquests. Twice Charlotte had indicated to Danny she wasn't looking to hook up with anyone and he should move on to a sure thing. She had hoped, in the beginning, that he was interested in her only because she presented a challenge. Now she knew better.

Genevieve reluctantly took out her phone, but instead of handing it over, she programed Vince's number in herself. Charlotte caught her arm as she passed her, already on her way out the door. She lifted a hand at the three men as Danny protested, pulling out his phone.

"Seriously?" Charlotte smiled at him and waved. "You have an entire smorgasbord of hot women fawning all over you." They had to move and they had to move fast. She knew the men would follow them and that meant disappearing before they got outside. They'd have to get to their car, get out of the parking garage and find a place to hide and then wait for the men to come out.

"I didn't spend all evening sitting with them," Danny protested.

"Maybe we'll see you next time," Charlotte said and deliberately hurried into the crowd, heading for the door. "Come on, Genevieve. We have to get the car and fast. We don't have much time."

Genevieve nodded, already fishing for her keys in her purse.




CHRISTINE FEEHAN, #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

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Shadow Series Special Formats Coming Soon Single Titles Christmas Stories Leopard Series Drake Sisters Ghostwalkers Dark Series