Bethany raised a hand. "Hi."
Jean-Luc bowed. "I am honored to meet you, Bezanie."
She tugged on her mother's pajamas and whispered, "He talks funny."
"He's from France. Like Belle," Heather whispered back, aware of the wry look he was giving her.
"And the Beast?" Bethany asked.
Heather returned his wry look. "Exactly."
"Is he my guardian angel, too?" Bethany asked.
"No. Emma is yours." Heather glanced around, but Emma was apparently still on the front porch.
"I will be guarding your mother," Jean-Luc explained.
"Oh." Bethany nodded. "Then you get to sleep in my mama's room."
Heather coughed. "That's not going to happen."
"I will abide by your mother's wishes." Jean-Luc's eyes gleamed as his gaze raked over her. "It is my most fervent desire to see her well...pleased."
Heather's skin prickled with goose bumps. Good Lord, he was visually undressing her right in front of her daughter. He was a beast. Her cheeks grew hot.
He merely smiled.
A sound at the front door distracted her, and she saw Emma slipping inside.
"I checked the grounds after Angus left." Emma locked the front door. "It's clear."
Bethany wrapped an arm around Heather's leg. "Is that my angel?"
"Yes. Emma, this is Bethany. I wanted her to meet you since you'll be in her room tonight."
"Of course." Emma approached them, smiling at Bethany. "Good heavens, you're as pretty as a princess."
Bethany giggled and let go of her mother's leg. "I was a princess for Halloween. Mama made my costume."
"I'm sure it was lovely."
Bethany looked up at her mom. "She talks funny, too. Is she from France?"
Emma chuckled, casting an amused glance at Jean-Luc. "I'm from Scotland. I live in a castle."
Bethany wandered toward her. "I have a castle in my room. It's pink."
Emma leaned over. "Super. I'd love to see it."
Bethany glanced back at her mom. "Can I show it to her?"
"Of course." Heather held out her arms for a hug. "Let me kiss you good night."
As Bethany lunged into her arms, Heather continued, "Don't stay up too late."
"Okay." Bethany turned back to her new friend. "I have a dollhouse, too."
"I saw that." Emma took Bethany's hand to lead her upstairs. "It's so big."
"There's a family living inside," Bethany announced as she took the stairs one at a time. "There's a mommy and a little girl."
"I see," Emma murmured.
"There was a daddy," Bethany added, "but the mommy made him leave."
"He's okay," Bethany continued as they reached the top of the stairs. "He lives in the closet now."
Heather covered her mouth to stifle a groan.
"The closet is too good for him," Jean-Luc whispered.
She spun about to find him standing right behind her. Heat burned her cheeks. She'd finally resigned herself to accepting his protection, but she wasn't comfortable with him learning so much about her personal life. "Maybe now you understand why I refused to stay at your place. Bethany's been through too much lately."
"How long ago were you divorced?"
"It's been over a year since it was legal, but we moved here almost two years ago." Heather sighed as she wandered toward the couch. "My mother had just died and left me the house. Thank God we had a place to go." She sat on the couch. "Not all women are so lucky."
"You were not so lucky with your marriage." He crossed the room, then took a seat in the wingback chair.
"Cody's a jerk, all right, but I can't regret it." She dragged the chenille pillow into her lap. "I have Bethany."
Tears crowded her eyes, and she blinked them away to keep from getting too emotional in front of this guy she hardly knew. But never a day had passed that she didn't thank God over and over for her daughter.
Because of her daughter, she'd kept fighting when the situation seemed impossible. She'd refrained from wallowing in despair or self-pity, even when she wanted to, because she refused to look weak or insecure in front of Bethany.
Jean-Luc leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. "You're a good mother. She's fortunate to have you."
What a wonderful thing to say. It would be so easy to fall for a guy like this, but she still knew very little about him. That was why she was here on the couch after midnight even though she was exhausted. She needed to find out more about this sword-wielding, mystery man in a tuxedo who insisted on protecting her.
She took a deep breath. "How long has Louie been killing your girlfriends?"
"A long time." Frowning, he tugged at his black tie till it unraveled. "But I assure you, I will not let him harm you or your daughter. His reign of terror has ended."
His frown suddenly transformed into a look of relief and hope. "The Death card. Of course. It meant his death."
He motioned to the stack of tarot cards. "I looked at the last card. It was Death. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to alarm you."
Heather laughed. "The Death card wouldn't scare me. I've drawn it myself many times over the last two years. It doesn't actually refer to death, but rebirth. Like the death of my marriage allowing me a new beginning."
"Ah." He nodded. "That sounds much better. I hope to have a new beginning, too."
"Really?" That seemed odd. Wasn't he already rich and successful? But then wealth and success didn't always equal happiness. What had the cards said about him? The poor man was lonely. That made sense if he avoided relationships because of Louie. "If you can...get rid of Louie, then you could have your life back. You could have your new beginning."
He sat forward. "I haven't planned that far ahead. I regret that you're now in danger, and my main concern is keeping you safe."
"But it could be a good thing that he's come back. You can resolve this mess once and for all and be free to enjoy your life." And stop being lonely.
"You describe an enticing future for me, but still, I would give it up gladly if I could remove Lui's threats against you."
Heather swallowed hard. What an unselfish, honorable man. He seemed too good to be true. What had the Moon card indicated - deception? She'd been fooled before by men, so she needed to be careful. But the card could also mean something supernatural. The immortal theory simmered in the back of her mind. Gorgeous immortal men trying to chop each other's heads off. Then would Louie be immortal, too? It would certainly explain those old names that Jean-Luc had called him.
"You are an unusual woman," he said quietly.
She sure had an unusual imagination. "I'm fairly normal, I think."
"No. I sense that you're...irritated with me for invading your home, but you don't seem angry that I've put you in danger. Most women would be furious about that."
"But you're not doing it. Louie is."
"Most women would still blame me." Jean-Luc rubbed his brow. "And they would make me feel even more guilty than I already do. But you, you take it in stride, and you remain so positive. And courageous."
His lovely compliments warmed her heart, although it was hard to completely accept them. Cody had done a good job of making her feel inferior. "Actually, I've been a coward most of my life."
"I saw you tonight, attacking Lui. You were very brave."
"I've been trying to improve. After my mother's death, I realized how much I had let fear control my life. It stole my dream. It killed my parents. So I've declared war on fear."
His eyes gleamed with what she could only interpret as admiration. "You're a fighter. I like that."
She grinned. She could really get accustomed to this. Cody had always put her down to make himself feel better. But Jean-Luc was different. There was a quiet, self-assured strength that emanated from him, and it was so attractive. Of course he was attractive, she realized wryly. He made her feel good about herself.
"You said fear killed your parents. How can that be?"
Her grin faded. "It's a long story." And a painful one. But if she confided in Jean-Luc, maybe he would tell her about himself. Or maybe it would put him to sleep.