He glanced at his sword where it rested, propped against the tree. He strode back and slid the sword under some thick bushes at the base of the tree.
Meanwhile, the officer had exited the squad car. He marched toward the house, looking very official in his neatly pressed khaki uniform complete with belt and gun holster. He watched Jean-Luc with narrowed eyes and rolled a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.
"Step away from the tree. Raise your hands where I can see them," he ordered.
Jean-Luc took one step to the side and opened his hands, palms forward. "Is there a problem, Sheriff?"
The young officer halted and chewed on his toothpick. "Who the hell are you?"
"I am Jean Echarpe."
"Johnny Sharp, huh? Where you from, Mr. Sharp?"
Jean-Luc figured it was best to leave the misunderstanding alone. "I'm from Paris."
The sheriff nodded knowingly. "Up north of Dallas. I've been there."
Jean-Luc was taken aback for a few seconds. "There is a Paris in Texas?"
"Yep. But you talk too weird, even for someone from up north. Guess you're one of those Frogs."
Jean-Luc gritted his teeth. "I am from France."
"That's too bad." The sheriff's gaze focused on the recently dug grave. He plucked the toothpick from his mouth and tossed it on the ground. "I got a report from one of the neighbors that a gun was fired here. And now I catch you in the act of digging a grave."
Jean-Luc motioned to the hole. "As you can see, it is a very small grave."
"Well, maybe you like cutting up your victims and burying them in parts." The sheriff rested a hand on his gun holster.
Jean-Luc glared at him. "I have not murdered anyone." Yet. He pointed to the side. "The victim is lying there."
"Shit." The sheriff strode toward the dead squirrel, then glowered at Jean-Luc. "Look, Mr. Sharp, I don't appreciate foreigners coming here and shootin' our squirrels."
"I didn't shoot it."
The sheriff snorted. "Right, it was a suicide." He held up a hand as Jean-Luc approached. "Stay back. This is a crime scene, and I don't want you mucking it up."
Jean-Luc sighed. Obviously, not much happened in this town. "I told Heather I would bury the squirrel for her."
The sheriff's eyes narrowed. "You know Heather?"
"Of course." Jean-Luc lifted his chin. "This is her house, in case you didn't know."
"I knew that." The sheriff widened his stance and crossed his arms. "I dated her for two years in high school. How long have you known her?"
So this was the guy Heather's mother had decided was too dangerous. If she hadn't interfered, would Heather have married this big lummox instead? An angry, snakelike sensation coiled in Jean-Luc's belly. With a jolt he recognized it. Jealousy. Merde. He hadn't felt that in more than two hundred years.
"Billy!" Heather yelled from the porch. "What are you doing here?" She shut the door and descended the steps.
"Hey, Heather." The sheriff raised a hand in greeting. "Thelma called about a gun going off." He gave Jean-Luc a suspicious look. "And I found this Frog digging up your yard. Probably looking for snails to eat." He snickered at his own joke.
Heather frowned at him. "Jean is my guest. And he's kind enough to help me with this poor dead squirrel."
She was defending him. Again. Jean-Luc loved it. But he could tell Billy was not impressed. Billy looked downright pissed.
"You gonna ask some foreigner to bury your squirrel? That's a job for a real man." Billy grabbed the dead squirrel and strode toward the grave.
Jean-Luc glanced at Heather to see if she was swayed by Neanderthal tactics. Thankfully, she was not regarding Billy with hero worship in her eyes. She looked really annoyed.
"That's not necessary, Billy. Jean has everything under control."
Billy dumped the squirrel in the grave. "You should have called me, Heather. I told you before if you needed anything to call me." He grabbed the shovel, but it was stuck fast. He yanked it hard, but it didn't budge.
"Shall I?" Jean-Luc strode toward the grave.
"Stay back." Billy widened his stance and grasped the shovel with both hands. He strained. A low growl reverberated in his throat. Sweat popped out on his brow.
The shovel didn't move.
He glared at Jean-Luc. "What did you do to this damned thing?"
"Let me see." Jean-Luc curled one hand around the handle and jerked the shovel out of the ground. "Ah, you were correct. The job required a real man."
Heather covered her mouth to hide her grin.
Billy glowered uncertainly as if he wasn't sure if he'd been insulted. Before he had time to figure it out, his walkie-talkie crackled and a voice came on. He punched a button. "Sheriff here. What's up?"
"Someone called about a public disturbance behind Schmitty's Bar," a woman's voice reported.
"Cathy, use the proper code number," Billy growled.
"There ain't no number for a guy acting like a cockroach!" the woman yelled. "He climbed into their Dumpster and he's wallowing in the trash."
Cockroach? Jean-Luc glanced at Heather. It had to be her ex-husband. She frowned, but remained silent.
"Damned drunkard," Billy muttered into his mike. "I'll be right there." He scowled at Jean-Luc. "I'll be watching you, Mr. Sharp." He strode toward his squad car.
Jean-Luc used the shovel to scoop dirt onto the squirrel.
"I think my ex has gone crazy," Heather whispered.
"He was crazy to let you go." Jean-Luc used the flat end of the blade to tamp down the mound of dirt.
"That's kind of you, but I'm worried about leaving my daughter with him."
"It is hard to find people you can trust."
"You can say that again." She frowned at the squad car as it drove away.
Jean-Luc retrieved his sword from under the bushes and used the tip to etch a cross in the loose dirt on top of the grave. "You don't trust the sheriff?" When she shook her head, he continued, "I thought not. You didn't tell him about Lui."
She gave him a quizzical look. "You didn't, either."
He started toward the garage to put up the shovel. "I am accustomed to taking care of my own problems."
She walked beside him. "And I'm one of your problems."
He stopped. "No, not at all. I am enjoying my time with you. It is my greatest regret that you and your daughter are in danger."
She gave him a calculated look. "Then you admit I'm in danger because of you."
Where was this going? "Yes." He resumed his walk to the garage.
"Then you will agree to let me come with you to look for Louie."
He stopped again. "I did not agree."
"But you will. You understand I'm at war with fear."
"Yes, I do, but I don't want to endanger you more than - " He stopped when she moved close and rested a hand on his chest. The way she was looking at him, with such beseeching eyes, he was hard-pressed not to drop his shovel and sword and pull her into his arms. "Ms. Westfield, are you trying to sway me with your feminine wiles?"
She jerked her hand off his chest. Then she smiled and placed her hand back on him. "Do you think I could?"
"Perhaps. How...persuasive can you be?"
She curled her hand around the lapel of his black coat. "I've been bossed around so much of my life. I need to take charge."
"Then you plan to seduce me?"
"No. I just want to go with you. I need to take an active role in this."
She huffed. "That I want to determine my own destiny?"
"No, that I'm not being seduced. I think I'd like a strong, self-determining woman to seduce me."
She laughed, then gave him a flirtatious look. "The night is still young."
He smiled. "Yes, it is."
"Then we have an agreement," she announced. "I'm coming with you."
Merde. His smile faded. When had he lost all control in this relationship? Heather Westfield was wrapping him around her little finger. And God help him, he liked it.
"The entrance is a few miles down this road," Heather said, glancing at Jean-Luc as he drove.
"All right." His hands rested lightly on the BMW's steering wheel as if he was accustomed to doing ninety-five mph.