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The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake 4) - Page 21


Robby muttered something under his breath. "Shall I leave ye two alone?"

Jean-Luc chuckled. "We're coming." He released Heather and handed her the flashlight. "We've done enough for tonight."

Enough searching for Louie or enough hugging? She would have enjoyed a few more minutes of hugging. Or an hour or two. She followed them to the staircase and took Jean-Luc's hand to ascend the steps. The night air smelled fresh compared to the musty, dank air of the cellar.

"We'll try again tomorrow," Jean-Luc announced as he and Robby shut the cellar doors.

Tomorrow? That was Sunday. "I have other plans, but we can go somewhere afterward."

"What plans?" Jean-Luc escorted her back to his car. "I cannot leave you unprotected."

"I already volunteered to help out at the fair. The church is trying to raise money for some playground equipment. I have to be there early to set up chairs and stuff. Fidelia and Bethany will be there, too."

Jean-Luc frowned. "A public place could be dangerous. Robby and I will have to come."

Robby groaned.

Heather grinned. "Great! It starts at seven. At Riverside Park."

"Fine." Jean-Luc pressed his keypad to unlock his car, then opened the door for her. "And afterward, we will continue our hunt for Lui. If you can, think of more places that fit Fidelia's description."

"Okay." She climbed into the car, and he shut the door.

She could hear Jean-Luc and Robby discussing something quietly. Probably the best strategy for keeping her and Bethany alive. She slipped her flashlight into her purse, next to the Glock. With the arrival of Jean-Luc Echarpe, her life had become much more exciting. She was not going to let Louie take her life away.

But she might just lose her heart to Jean-Luc.

The next evening, Heather was setting up chairs at Riverside Park. It had been another uneventful day with no sign of Louie. They'd gone to church in the morning, then they'd goofed off the rest of the day. Jean-Luc had promised to come soon after sunset. She'd found herself eagerly wishing for the day to pass by so she could see him again.

"Need some help with that?"

She cringed at the sound of the booming voice and prayed it was not directed at her. She glanced up. Nope, Coach Gunter was swaggering toward her. The football coach at Guadalupe High had been trying to score for more than six months. The fact that Heather hadn't let him get a first down did not deter him.

"No thank you." She turned her back to him as she unfolded a metal chair. She still had the last row to set up in front of the gazebo where the children would sing.

Coach Gunter circled in front of her so she couldn't help but see him and assumed his usual Superman pose - feet spread, hands on hips, chest thrust out. He also wore his usual attire - a sleeveless T-shirt to show off his bulging biceps, and shorts to show off his muscular calves.

Heather considered him a miniature caveman - short in stature and shorter on brains. There were eligible women in town who collected miniatures. He really should try his luck with them. Some women did ogle his manly physique, and Coach knew it. Heather could tell he expected her to stop her work and admire him, but she continued to unfold chairs and line them up. Bethany was her assistant, sitting in each chair to make sure it worked properly.

"How do you like my swim trunks?" Coach swiveled, no doubt to showcase his buns of steel.

"They're okay." Heather dragged another folding chair off the nearby stack.

"I'm doing the dunking booth," Coach continued. "You should come by later and see me all wet." He winked.

Heather made a noncommittal, grunting sound as she snapped another chair open and placed it in line. She smiled at her daughter. "How does this one work?"

Bethany wiggled onto the chair. "It's fine, Mama." She glanced up at the coach. "I'm gonna sing tonight."

"Yeah, whatever." Coach gave her a dubious look, then his face brightened. "Hey, how'd you like to go out with your mom and me for some ice cream later tonight?"

Bethany squirmed on her chair, grinning. "I love ice cream!" She looked at her mom expectantly.

Oh, foul play. Heather had just picked up another metal chair, and she contemplated whacking the coach on the head with it. But would he feel it? With her luck, he'd consider it some kind of Neanderthal foreplay.

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She jerked the chair open and gave her daughter a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, sweetie, but Coach should have asked me first." She straightened, glaring at the coach. "We already have plans for tonight."

He jutted out his chin. "So the rumors are true? You have a new boyfriend?"

Sometimes this town was a little too small. Heather glanced at the sun skimming along the tops of the trees. In less than an hour, Jean-Luc would arrive. "I have some friends coming later."

"Yeah, right," Coach muttered. "You don't know what you're missing." He stalked away.

With a sigh, Heather grabbed another chair. Only three more to set up. The fair started in five minutes. There was already a line of people at the ticket booth.

"Don't you like him, Mama?" Bethany asked quietly.

"Coach?" Heather positioned the chair next to her daughter. "He never did help me with the chairs, did he?"

"I'm helping you." Bethany climbed onto the one she'd just set up.

"Yep, you're doing quality control. And doing a great job." Heather retrieved another chair from the stack.

Bethany scrunched up her little nose as if in deep thought. "He thinks he's pretty."

The coach? Heather laughed as she opened the chair. "I think you're right. You're a smart cookie."

Bethany shrugged like it was a given. "I like Emma."

"So do I." Heather picked up the last chair.

"Will she see me sing?"

"I believe so." Heather opened the last chair and sat next to her daughter.

"I like the man who talks funny, too."

Heather's heart did a little flip. "Mr. Echarpe?" She'd tried hard not to think about him all day, but he'd still crept into her thoughts a dozen times. Per hour.

Bethany crossed her little legs, mimicking an adult, then folded her arms and rested her chin on one palm. She tapped her chin with a finger. It was her serious thinking pose. Heather considered it adorable, and it always made her want to drag her daughter into her arms for a big hug. She refrained, however, since she knew she should encourage her daughter to think for herself. She glanced at the sun once more, trying to estimate how long it would take to set. And how long before she'd see Jean-Luc.

"Mr. Sharp doesn't know he's pretty," Bethany announced. "But he is."

Heather's mouth dropped open. Good Lord, she'd given birth to a genius. "I think you're brilliant."

"I'm hungry. Can I have some cotton candy? I want the pink one."

"We can do that. After supper." Heather glanced at the gazebo. "Look. Miss Cindy wants you up there."

Bethany squirmed off her chair and ran toward the gazebo where all the preschoolers were gathering. One of the teachers, Miss Cindy, proceeded to arrange them into two rows, the taller children in the back.

Heather rubbed her neck. The physical labor, Texas heat, and lack of sleep were catching up with her. At least once the sun set, the temperature would fall a few degrees. Jean-Luc was smart to wait.

There he was again, in her thoughts. She'd tossed and turned for an hour last night before sleep had finally overtaken her. She'd been tempted to go downstairs and keep him company all night. God knew there was still a lot she needed to learn about him. She'd shared her life story with him, but he'd shared very little with her.

What was he doing in Schnitzelberg, Texas, when the fashion world was centered in Paris? What was the real story behind Louie? Was she really in as much danger as Jean-Luc claimed? In spite of all her questions, she was drawn to him. Her heart raced whenever she looked into his sky-blue eyes. And she wanted his arms around her again.

But she'd known him only two nights. It was dangerous to fall for a man so fast. It should be dangerous, but it felt wonderful and exciting. Even more reason for her to keep her guard up. She'd survived too much upheaval in her life to screw it up now. Her first priority should be to maintain a calm, loving environment for her daughter.

Fidelia plopped down beside her and set her purse in her lap. In honor of the festive occasion, she'd worn her bright red skirt with gold spangles. "Those silly old church ladies. I offered to do a fortune-telling booth, but they turned up their snooty noses and said it was too pagan for a church function."

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