He gazed about the living room and realized how truly lonely he'd been over the centuries. Heather appealed to him in many ways, but her family, Bethany and Fidelia, were touching his heart, too. How different his life could be if he had true companionship and love filling each night. Such a life made all his previous centuries seem empty and meaningless.
But could they accept him as he was? Could Heather love him?
"I'm so sorry you had to witness that scene with my ex," Heather said as she entered the room.
He turned to face her. Zut, he'd been so deep in thought, he hadn't realized that Emma had left and Heather had returned. He needed to stay more vigilant than that. "I didn't mind."
Heather sighed. "I don't know what got into Cody."
"Is Bethany all right?"
"Yes. Thank goodness." Heather flopped down on the couch. "She was watching a DVD with the volume turned up, so she didn't hear anything."
"That's good." Jean-Luc sat beside her. Instantly, he heard her heartbeat speed up. A good sign.
She glanced shyly at him. "Where did Fidelia go?"
"To the kitchen for a beer."
"I wish she wouldn't drink and handle those guns at the same time."
He extended an arm along the back of the couch. "The guns have trigger locks."
"You bet. It was the one requirement I made before she could move in here."
"You've lived in this area all your life, correct?"
She sighed. "Yes. I always wanted to travel, but it never happened."
He made a mental note that he needed to take her to all the places she wanted to see. "Can you think of anyplace that matches Fidelia's description? A place on the outskirts of town. Most probably abandoned."
"With a stone cellar?" She tilted her head, considering. "The state park has an old stone building built during the Depression."
"I'll check it out." He could leave Emma here with the women and take Robby with him.
"I'll come with you."
He blinked. "No. Absolutely not. It's too dangerous."
"I'm already in danger. I fought Louie before and I did well. And I know where the park is."
"I can look up the park's location on the Internet."
Her chin lifted. "I'm going. I'm not cowering here in fear. I'm at war with fear, remember?"
"There's a difference between courage and bad judg - " He paused when his superior hearing detected a sound outside. "Someone is approaching your front porch."
He jumped silently to his feet and grabbed his sword.
Heather stood and whispered, "Should I get my shotgun?"
"No." He hoped Lui was outside. He would destroy the bastard and...But what if he made a fatal error and lost? Lui would simply walk into the house and slaughter Heather. "Yes, get your gun. Tell Emma, and wait inside. If he comes in, aim for his chest."
"If he comes in, then you would be..." She squeezed his arm. "Be careful."
The concern in her eyes was genuine. Mon Dieu, she did care for him.
He touched her cheek. "Go."
Her eyes glazed over with a dreamy look, then she blinked. "Right." She ran to the stairs. The carpet muffled the sounds of her sandals as she dashed up the steps.
"What's up?" Fidelia sauntered from the kitchen, holding a half-empty beer bottle. She glanced at Heather's disappearing form. "You chased her off again?"
Jean-Luc lifted a finger to his lips, then pointed outside.
Fidelia's brown eyes widened. "I left my German muchacho in the kitchen. I'll be right back."
"I don't want you outside. It could be dangerous." Jean-Luc groaned when Fidelia scurried into the kitchen. He'd better act fast before the women in the house charged to the rescue. He smiled to himself. No wonder he liked them so much.
Silently he unlocked the door, then yanked it open.
Jean-Luc leaped onto the front porch, aiming his foil at the trespasser.
A blond woman yelped and stumbled back. Her stiletto heel caught between two wooden planks, and she crashed onto the porch. "Shit!"
She looked familiar. "Who are you?" he demanded. She was mortal, but that didn't mean she was safe. Lui enjoyed using vampire mind control to coerce mortals into performing his assassinations.
"Damn." The woman rubbed her bony ankle. "I'd better be able to walk a runway." She glared at him. "You crazy imbecile! You scared me to death with that sword!"
He recognized her now. Sasha Saladine, the model Alberto had hired. Obviously she had no idea who he was.
Still sprawled on the porch, she pulled off her shoes and examined the rhinestone-studded heels. "I swear, if my shoes are damaged, I'm suing your ass. These were four hundred bucks, you know. I only buy the best."
Already he missed Heather. When she challenged him, he liked it. She was witty and fun. This woman was simply annoying. While she continued to berate him with her shrill voice, he scanned the yard for any sign of movement.
"You gonna stand there all night like an idiot or help me up?" She looked around the porch. "This is Heather's house, isn't it? This is where she lived in high school."
She glanced over her shoulder at his car. "Shit. She told me she didn't have a boyfriend." She gave him a wary look. "What are you doing with a freakin' sword?"
"You prefer a gun?" Fidelia shoved past Jean-Luc, holding a beer in one hand and her Glock in the other.
"Oh my God!" Sasha jumped to her feet and raised her hands. "Don't shoot. I thought this was Heather's house."
"Fidelia, be careful!" Heather rushed out onto the porch, her shotgun in her hands.
Sasha gasped. "And I thought New York was dangerous."
Jean-Luc groaned inwardly. "Heather, didn't I tell you to stay inside?"
Heather ignored him and turned to the blond model. "Sasha? What are you doing here?"
"I'm about to get shot or skewered, I don't know which."
"Well, make up your mind. I don't have all night." Fidelia set her beer on the porch and removed a set of keys from her skirt pocket. She fumbled with the key, trying to release the trigger lock on her pistol.
"Don't do that," Heather warned her. "You've had too much to drink."
Fidelia snorted. "I'm not drunk. I'm in complete control." She tore off the trigger lock.
Bang! The gun fired, ripping into a nearby oak tree.
The women screamed. Jean-Luc winced.
A squirrel plummeted from the tree and landed in the yard with a thud.
Fidelia shrugged. "I meant to do that. Damned rodent's been gnawing on the house. And stealing all the nuts from our pecan tree."
Heather planted her hands on her hips. "Haven't I told you a million times to keep the locks on?"
Fidelia hung her head, looking properly remorseful. "I'll be more careful." She switched on the safety, then shot Jean-Luc a pointed look. "I know how to deal with a scumbag with nuts."
His mouth twitched. "I'll take that under advisement."
At that moment, Emma burst onto the porch, a stake in her hand. "Is he here?"
"No," Jean-Luc answered. "False alarm."
Emma looked around. "But I heard a gunshot."
"Yes." Jean-Luc motioned toward the front yard. "We suffered a casualty."
Emma's eyes widened. "We were attacked by a squirrel?"
"Damned right," Fidelia said. "And I took care of it."
"Oh my God, Heather," Sasha whispered. "You're dealing drugs?"
"What?" Heather turned to her. "No!"
"Oh." Sasha looked disappointed. "Then what's the deal with all the weapons?"
Heather sighed. "I can explain. Later."
"Since everything's fine, I'll go back to my post." Emma slanted Jean-Luc an amused glance as she headed back into the foyer. "And you thought you'd be bored in Texas."
He nodded. Life had become much more interesting lately.
"I've had enough excitement for one day," Fidelia announced and waddled after Emma. "I'm taking a long hot bath and going to bed."
"Good night." Heather set her shotgun down on the porch. "Great. Now I get to deal with the squirrel."
"There is nothing to deal with," Jean-Luc assured her. "The squirrel is dead."