It was a clear night with the stars and a half-full moon shining overhead. Heather's purse rested on the floorboard with Fidelia's Glock inside. She felt the comforting weight of the pistol against her leg. Robby MacKay was in the backseat with his claymore and Jean-Luc's lighter weight foil. Jean-Luc had insisted on picking up the Scotsman on the way.
Robby had objected to her accompanying them, but Jean-Luc had defended her decision. That was a good sign. He wasn't such a control freak after all. He could honor her decisions even when he disagreed with her.
There was still a lot she didn't know about Jean-Luc, but she really liked everything she'd learned so far. She slanted a look at him as he drove. He had a lean face, beautifully accented with a strong jaw and high cheekbones. Last night he'd been clean shaven and all neat and tidy in his elegant tuxedo like a sexy James Bond. Tonight he looked even sexier. Black stubble shaded his jaw, and black curls tumbled carelessly over his head as if he'd been in too much of a hurry to shave or comb his hair. His black slacks and T-shirt looked worn and comfortable, and his long black coat lent him an air of danger.
No wonder Billy had regarded him with suspicion. Jean-Luc looked mysterious. And wild. He was strong enough to pull the shovel from the ground with one hand. He was imaginative and creative with the clothes he designed for women, and yet he hunted down assassins like Louie. She'd never met such an intriguing, complex man. He definitely harbored secrets. But good Lord, what a sexy man he was.
Did he really hope she'd seduce him? From the way he talked and looked at her, Heather suspected he was the one doing the seducing. Her mind raced, imagining all sorts of possible scenarios. If she jumped him, he wouldn't stop her. She was certain of that from the way he looked at her.
His gaze would focus on her face with a hot intensity that curled her toes, then it roamed down her body, lingering here and there. Just thinking about it made her tingle all over. She was so aware of him. The air between them seemed to hum with some kind of magnetic current that sought to pull them together.
"Are you all right?" He glanced at her.
"Yes." She looked away. He must have felt her gaze. He was aware of her, too. "There's the entrance." She pointed at a dimly lit sign on the right.
Jean-Luc slowed and turned onto the narrow road.
"'Tis verra isolated here," Robby observed. "A good hiding place."
"The campers are down there." Heather gestured at a dirt road that veered off to the left.
"Campers?" Jean-Luc glanced back at Robby with a worried look.
"Bugger," Robby muttered.
A chill crept over Heather's bare arms. "You think the campers could be in danger?"
"If Lui has been here, yes." Jean-Luc eased down the road, glancing right and left. "He might need money and...food. Is that the place?" He pointed ahead.
Heather squinted and could barely make out the stone structure ahead. "Yes. You can park over there by the playground."
The slides and swing sets gleamed stark and gray under the overhead lamp. A corona of light circled the lamp, filled with buzzing insects. The swings dangled perfectly still in the warm, humid air.
Heather exited the parked car, then removed the flashlight from her purse and clicked it on. In just a few seconds, she was flanked by Jean-Luc and Robby. Both carried their swords.
She slung her purse over her shoulder. "Ready?"
Jean-Luc rested his fingertips lightly on her elbow. "Stay close to me."
Robby moved ahead to enter the stone shelter first. She climbed the steps with Jean-Luc at her side.
Large, open windows lined all four sides of the shelter to let breezes drift through on hot summer days. Leaves lay scattered across the cool cement floor, and the fluttering of bird wings echoed high in the rafters. A series of wooden picnic tables cut across the middle of the room.
Robby marched around the perimeter, apparently able to see without a flashlight. "There's no cellar door here."
"It's outside." Heather lit the way down the steps. "To the right."
Robby strode ahead while Jean-Luc remained glued to her side.
The warm air felt thick and moist against her bare skin. A mosquito buzzed by her ear, and she brushed it away. "Damned bloodsucker."
"Where?" Jean-Luc raised his sword, pivoting to look around.
Heather laughed. "You're going after a mosquito with a sword? Good luck with that."
He gave her a sheepish look. "I thought you meant something a little bigger."
"Like what? A bat? I don't think we have any vampire bats in Texas."
"You never know," he muttered, then motioned toward Robby. "He's found the cellar."
Heather heard the rattle of chains. She pointed her flashlight toward the noise and spotted Robby leaning over the cellar door. "Don't tell me they locked it. The cellar's supposed to be a tornado shelter for the campers."
Robby pulled the chains away from the looped door handles. "The lock was broken." He exchanged a look with Jean-Luc.
Heather wondered if the Scotsman was being entirely honest. He must be. He couldn't be strong enough to rip open a padlock.
"Let me help." Jean-Luc heaved open one of the doors while Robby opened the other.
Heather pointed her flashlight into the gaping dark hole. Sheesh, what had possessed her to come here? "So, who wants to go into the black pit of doom first?"
"I will." Robby started down the steps, holding his claymore ready.
"Don't you need the flashlight?" Heather asked.
"I can see," Robby muttered.
She kept the light aimed into the hole. "You were right," she whispered to Jean-Luc. "I shouldn't have come."
"What about being master of your own destiny?"
"I still believe that, and I believe I can protect myself. I'm just afraid you'll be more concerned with protecting me than catching Louie."
"You are correct. That's why I brought Robby."
"I don't want to hold you back. Or endanger you."
"I'll be fine." He moved to her right with his foil in his right hand. "Stay close behind me." He started down the stairs.
She took a deep breath. You're at war with fear. She followed him down, resting a hand on his shoulder.
When he reached the bottom, he took her hand to escort her toward the center of the room. She pivoted, shooting a beam of light in a circle around the dark cellar. It fit Fidelia's description. Dark. No windows. Stone walls. A thick layer of dust on the stone floor made her nose itch. Dirt and debris were swept into small mounds along the walls.
"Check the ceiling," Jean-Luc said quietly.
The ceiling? She aimed her flashlight up. Did they really expect Louie to hang around the ceiling? That was weird.
"It's clear," Jean-Luc announced.
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Great. No homicidal maniacs here."
"Nay. 'Tis safe enough." Robby circled the room. As he approached a dark corner, little scurrying feet pattered away from him.
"A rat!" Heather grabbed Jean-Luc's arm and pressed close. Her flashlight waved about wildly.
He took the flashlight and located the creature. "Don't worry. It's just a mouse."
"Are you kidding? That thing is huge!"
"It's a harmless little field mouse."
"Haven't you heard? Everything is big in Texas."
"Our rats in France would laugh at your mouse." Jean-Luc looped an arm around her shoulders. "You haven't lived until you've seen the rats of Paris."
"Oh, that's so romantic...not."
"Ah, now there's a big one with giant claws and sharp teeth." He laughed when she flung her arms around his neck. "Not."
"What?" She realized her face was pressed close to his.
"I was kidding." His arms wrapped around her. "But I can't apologize. I'm quite happy with the results."
"You rascal. You scared me." She should have swatted him, or at least pulled away from him, but it felt so good to have his strong arms around her and the solid warmth of his chest pressed against her.
He rubbed his chin against her brow. The soft scrape of whiskers was both masculine and comforting.
"I doona believe Lui was ever here," Robby announced. "As dusty as the floor is, there would be footprints."
"I agree." Jean-Luc kept his arms around Heather.