White had never been a good color for her. She was too fair and freckly. No, she would do it in midnight-blue. Instead of cutting the neckline to the navel, she'd back it up to the top of her br**sts. And she'd put a back on the dress. And sleeves. The ideas were coming faster than she could think them through. She opened her purse and found a pencil and pad of paper that the folks at Schnitzelberg Hardware had given her at their last gardening sale.
Jean-Luc Echarpe could take his multithousand-dollar price tags and toss them off the Eiffel Tower. She might be one of Les Miserables, but she didn't have to look like it.
"To Jean-Luc and the opening of his fifth store in America." Roman Draganesti lifted a champagne flute filled with Bubbly Blood.
"To Jean-Luc," the others toasted, and clinked their glasses together.
Jean-Luc took a sip, then set his glass aside. The mixture of synthetic blood and champagne did little to boost his spirits. "Thank you for coming, mes amis. It makes this exile easier to bear."
"Don't think of it that way, bro." Gregori patted him on the back. "This is a great business opportunity."
Jean-Luc gave Roman's vice president of marketing an annoyed look. "This is an exile."
"No, no, it's called expanding your market. There are a lot of people here in Texas, and we can safely assume they all wear clothes. Or most of them. I heard about this lake near Austin where - "
"Why Texas?" Roman interrupted. "Shanna and I were hoping you would stay in New York, close to us."
Jean-Luc sighed. Paris was the center of the universe, as far as he was concerned, and any place would be dreary in comparison. But New York City would have been his second choice. "I wish I could, mon ami, but the media in New York knows me too well. The same in Los Angeles."
"Aye," Angus MacKay agreed. "Neither of those places would work. Jean-Luc has to - "
"I swear, Angus," Jean-Luc interrupted him. "If you say I told you so, I'll ram one of your claymores down your throat."
Angus simply arched an eyebrow that dared him to try it. "I did warn ye to leave ten years ago. And again five years ago."
"I was busy building my business," Jean-Luc protested. He'd started off in 1922, designing evening wear just for vampires, but in 1933, he'd expanded his business to include the Hollywood elite. After realizing how much mortals liked his designs, he made his big move in 1975. He started creating all sorts of clothes and marketing them to the general public. Soon, he had become a celebrity in the mortal world. The last thirty years had sped by in a whirlwind of success. When you were a vampire more than five hundred years old, the years passed by in the blink of an eye.
Angus MacKay had warned him. Angus had started his investigation and security business in 1927 and was now posing as the grandson of the original founder.
Jean-Luc picked up a copy of Le Monde from his desk. "Have you seen the latest?"
"Let me see." Robby MacKay grabbed the Parisian newspaper and scanned the article. A descendant of Angus, Robby worked for Angus's security company. For the last ten years, Robby had been in charge of security for Jean-Luc.
"What does it say?" Gregori peeked over Robby's shoulder.
Robby frowned as he translated. "Everyone in Paris is wondering why Jean-Luc hasna aged in over thirty years. Some say he's had cosmetic surgery half a dozen times, and others say he's found the fountain of youth. He's run away, but no one knows where. Some believe he's hiding in a mental institution, recovering from a nervous breakdown, while others say he's undergoing yet another facelift."
Jean-Luc groaned as he collapsed in the chair behind his desk.
"I warned ye this would happen." Angus dodged to the right when Jean-Luc threw a ruler at him.
Roman chuckled. "Don't worry about it, Jean-Luc. Mortals have very short attention spans. If you stay hidden for a while, they'll forget about you."
"And forget to buy my merchandise," Jean-Luc grumbled. "I am ruined."
"Ye're no' ruined," Angus argued. "Ye now have five stores in America."
"Stores selling clothes from a designer who has disappeared," Jean-Luc growled. "It's easy for you, Angus. Your company exists in secrecy. But when I vanish, all interest in my clothing line may vanish along with me."
"We could make a statement to the press that ye did have cosmetic surgery," Robby offered. "It might put an end to the speculation."
"Non." Jean-Luc glared at him.
Gregori grinned. "Or we could tell them you're locked up in a psycho ward, completely loony. Everyone would believe that."
Jean-Luc arched a brow at him. "Or I could tell them I'm in prison for murdering an obnoxious marketing vice president."
"I vote for that one," Angus said.
"Hey." Gregori adjusted his tie. "I was just joking."
"I wasn't," Jean-Luc muttered.
Angus laughed. "Whatever ye do, Jean-Luc, doona let anyone take a photo of you. Ye must remain hidden for at least twenty-five years. Then ye can return to Paris, posing as yer son."
Jean-Luc lounged back in his chair, staring mournfully at the ceiling. "Exiled to a land of barbarians for twenty-five years. Just kill me now."
Roman chuckled. "Texas is not a land of barbarians."
Jean-Luc shook his head. "I've seen the movies. Gun-fights, Indians, someplace they keep fighting for called the Alamo."
Gregori snorted. "Dude, you are so behind the times."
"You think so? Have you seen the people down there?" Jean-Luc rose to his feet and strode to his office window that overlooked the store on the ground floor. "The men are wearing strings around their necks."
"Those are ties." Gregori gazed through the one-way window. "Sheesh, you're definitely in Texas. There's a guy wearing a tuxedo jacket with blue jeans. And boots."
"They must be barbarians. They're wearing their hats indoors." Jean-Luc frowned. "They remind me of the bicorne Napoleon used to wear, but they're wearing them sideways."
"Those are cowboy hats, bro. But what do you care? Look, they're spending money. Lots of money."
Jean-Luc leaned his forehead against the cool glass. After the charity show in two weeks, Simone, Inga, and Alberto would return to Paris. Then Jean-Luc would close the store under the pretense that it had failed miserably. His other Le Chique Echarpe stores in Paris, New York, South Beach, Chicago, and Hollywood would hopefully flourish, but this building in Texas would be empty and forgotten. From here, he would continue to design clothes and oversee the business, but he could never show his face in public for twenty-five long years. "Just kill me now."
"Nay," Angus said. "Ye're the best swordsman we have, and Casimir is still in hiding while he grows his evil army."
"Right." Jean-Luc gave his old friend a wry look. "Such a waste for me to die here when I could do it so well in battle."
Angus' mouth twitched. "Aye, exactly."
The buzzer on the office door sounded.
"'Tis yer wife, Angus," Robby announced as he opened the door.
Angus turned to greet his wife with a smile.
Zut. Jean-Luc looked away. First Roman, and now Angus. Both married and madly in love. It was embarrassing. Two of the most powerful coven masters in the vampire world reduced to doting husbands. Jean-Luc wanted to pity them, but the sad truth was, he was jealous. Damned jealous. That sort of happiness could never happen to him.
"Hi, guys!" Emma MacKay strode into the room and straight into her husband's arms. "Guess what? I bought the cutest little handbag. Alberto's wrapping it up for me."
"Another handbag?" Angus asked. "Ye doona have a dozen already?"
Jean-Luc peered through the window and noted which purse Alberto was wrapping. "Good news, Angus. It's one of my lower-priced handbags."
"Och, good." Angus hugged his wife.
Jean-Luc smiled. "Oui, it's only eight hundred dollars."
Angus stepped back, his eyes wide with shock. "Forget the bloody army. I'll skewer ye now."
Roman laughed. "You can afford it, Angus."
"So can you." Jean-Luc smirked at his old friend. "Have you seen what your wife is buying?"
Roman hurried to the window and looked for his wife in the store below. "God's blood," he whispered.