"I can't leave it lying there. Bethany will see it, and she thinks it's SpongeBob's friend Sandy."
Jean-Luc had no idea what she was talking about. "I could bury it. Even say the Last Rites." He knew them by heart after hearing Roman perform them more than a hundred times for their fallen comrades during the Great Vampire War.
Heather's pretty mouth tilted up at the corners. "I didn't realize our squirrel was Catholic."
Was she laughing at him? "If you rather I didn't - "
"No, please. I want you to." She gifted him with a brilliant smile. "I think you're very sweet."
His heart expanded. Mon Dieu, a man could grow addicted to this feeling. "You have a shovel?"
"Yes, in the garage." She motioned to her left.
He hurried down the porch steps and took a left turn toward the driveway. He kept his sword with him, just in case Lui was hiding in the shadows. Or the garage.
Sasha Saladine watched him as he passed by, then hissed at Heather. "You big liar! You told me you didn't have a boyfriend."
"He's not my boyfriend," Heather whispered.
Jean-Luc continued to pick up their conversation as he strode toward the detached garage.
"Where on earth did you find him?" Sasha whispered.
"I met him last night at the grand opening."
"You're kidding! That handsome hunk was there? Damn, I screwed the wrong guy."
"Have you slept with him yet?"
"Of course not," Heather huffed. "I just met him yesterday."
Her indignation made Jean-Luc smile. He paused at the garage's side door to hear more.
"If you don't want him, I'll take him," Sasha continued. "Alberto was kinda disappointing. But he did promise me more turns on the runway. So, what do you say?"
"No, I'm talking about the hunky guy with the sword. Can I make a move on him or not? Do you want him?"
He strained to hear a response.
"Jean!" Heather called. "Is the door locked?"
He twisted the doorknob, and the door creaked open. "It's fine!" He slipped inside, but left the door ajar so he could hear. He glanced around. The garage was empty.
"John?" Sasha asked. "John who?"
"Jean Echarpe," Heather replied. "He's Jean-Luc Echarpe's son."
Sasha gasped. "You're kidding! Oh, crap! I really did screw the wrong guy."
Jean-Luc shook his head. As if he could possibly desire that vain shrew. Now Heather was another story. He'd love to see her green eyes grow dazed with pleasure when he palmed her breast or stroked her between her sweet thighs. He'd like to see her cheeks flush with heat, her mouth open with a throaty groan. He'd...
He'd better stop before his eyes started glowing. He grabbed the shovel and left the garage. The women were still talking, but he was no longer the subject.
"Where's your rental car?" Heather asked. "How did you get here?"
Sasha was lounging on the porch swing, pushing it with a bare foot on the porch. "Alberto dropped me off. We just had dinner, and he thought I'd drunk too much to drive. But I swear I only had two margaritas."
"Did you eat anything?"
"Sure. But I didn't keep it, if you know what I mean." Sasha pointed an index finger into her mouth.
Jean-Luc grimaced. She was bulimic. This was precisely why he used Simone and Inga as his main models. They were Vamps, so they never had to damage themselves to stay thin. Unfortunately, the media was beginning to question why they never aged, either.
"You shouldn't joke about bulimia," Heather grumbled. "It's a disease."
"It's desperation. I'm twenty-six years old, trying to compete with babies." Sasha noticed Jean-Luc passing by and scrambled to her feet. "Oh, Mr. Echarpe, it's such a pleasure to meet you. I hope you weren't offended by anything I said." Her gaze wandered to the sword, still in his right hand. "Heather said you were here to protect her. I think that's so noble of you."
She was buttering him up. Jean-Luc was used to that. It had nothing to do with him. He'd realized many years ago that some models would jump the Hunch-back of Notre Dame if it could further their careers.
"I am honored to meet you." He shifted his gaze to Heather. "Where would you like the burial site?"
She looked around the front yard. "How about under the oak tree? That was his home, so I think he'd like that."
"As you wish." Jean-Luc sauntered toward the tree. He spotted a blank space between two patches of flowers and started to dig. If only the women would go inside, he could use vampire speed and finish the task in a few seconds.
The porch swing creaked when Sasha sat once again. "People talk about how friendly small towns are, but it's so not true. Old Mrs. Herman threw me out of her bed-and-breakfast. Can you believe it?"
"That's odd," Heather answered. "She's a widow. I would have thought she'd need the money."
"She's an old prude. I invited Alberto over last night, and when she saw him leave this morning, she got all huffy and told me she wasn't running a bordello. Then Alberto and I tried to go back there after dinner, and she wouldn't let us in. I swear, she's just a frigid old bat!"
"She was our Sunday school teacher," Heather murmured. "Do you have a place to stay?"
"Well, I really don't want to stay with my psycho mom in her dinky trailer, so I thought I'd crash here," Sasha mumbled. "What do you think?"
"Where's your luggage?"
"Don't need it. I sleep in the nude."
"Great," Heather muttered.
"I'll get my stuff and my rental car in the morning. I can't wait to get out of this town. I'm going to the Spa d'Elegance in San Antonio tomorrow. You want to come?"
"I need to stay here."
"How can you?" Sasha's voice turned shrill. "I can't stand it anymore. There are no shopping malls, no nightclubs. I ordered an orange frappaccino at the diner, and they looked at me like I was some kind of alien."
Heather sighed. "You lived here for eighteen years. You know how it is."
"Believe me, I made sure I forgot everything about this godforsaken cesspool."
Heather's voice was low and tense. "I still live here."
Jean-Luc paused in his shoveling to look at the women on the porch. He could see the pink tint of Heather's cheeks, and the green flash of anger in her eyes.
Sasha shrugged. "Well, that's your loss."
He considered digging a bigger grave.
"Since you have no car and nowhere else to go," Heather continued, "I'm going to ignore your insulting comments and show you to the guest room."
Jean-Luc's mouth tilted with a slight smile. In spite of her recent divorce, Heather still had a forgiving and compassionate nature. But would she be so understanding if she knew the truth about him? His smile faded as he recalled her description last night of a vampire. Creepy monster. How could she ever accept him?
"Geez, Heather." Sasha's thin shoulders drooped. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. You're the only real friend I have. Everyone else just wants to use me. Well, I use them, too. But you're the only one I can really talk to."
Heather's face softened, and she gave the model a hug. "Okay." She opened the front door. "Let's get you to bed."
As the door shut, Jean-Luc surveyed the house once more. It was more than a home; it was a shelter for those in need. Heather had opened it to Fidelia, and now Sasha. With her generous, loving heart, Heather would always have friends and family.
A picture flashed through his head. A family picture - Roman and Shanna Draganesti and their little son, Constantine. Jean-Luc fisted his hands around the wooden shovel handle. He'd never had a family. He never would.
He rammed the shovel into the ground. With his vampire strength, the blade sliced into the ground all the way past the hilt, neatly chopping through a tree root. The grave was big enough now for the squirrel, so he walked toward the dead animal. After two steps, he halted.
A white police car rolled to a stop in front of Heather's house. Along the side of the car, fluorescent letters spelled the words County Sheriff. Merde. Like most Vamps, Jean-Luc was wary of law enforcement. A Vamp could never allow himself to be interrogated in one of those rooms with one-way reflective glass, not when their bodies didn't reflect.