The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake 4) - Page 23

"No. Allow me." He whipped a five-dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to the vendor.

"Thank you." Heather frowned as she took the stick of spun sugar. She wasn't sure she wanted him paying.

Jean-Luc waved away the change the vendor attempted to give him and smiled at her. "It's for playground equipment, non?"

"Right." She smiled back. He was being generous for the preschool. She shouldn't read more into it than that.

"Is that your friend, Heather?" Coach's voice roared.

Heather winced. "Ignore him."

Jean-Luc glanced at the coach. "Who is that man? What is that machine?"

"It's a dunking booth."

"Ah, I understand." Jean-Luc nodded. "If he does not drown, then he is a witch."

"No, he's just a creep. It's a game." A witch? That sounded medieval. Score another point for the immortal theory. Heather motioned toward the bench where her daughter and Fidelia were sitting. "They're waiting."

"Hey, Mrs. W.," the senior quarterback greeted her.

"Hi, Tyler." She grabbed Jean-Luc's arm, but he didn't budge.

"Wow." Tyler's girlfriend looked at Jean-Luc and gave Heather a thumbs-up. "Way to go, Mrs. Westfield."

"Thank you," Heather muttered, tugging on Jean-Luc's arm. This town was way too small.

Jean-Luc leaned close. "You know all these people?"

"They're students. I'm their history teacher. And everybody knows everyone in this town."

"Heather!" Coach roared. "Where'd you find that sissified city boy?"

Jean-Luc stiffened. "Is he referring to me?"

"Ignore him," Heather begged. "I do. Constantly."

Jean-Luc studied the coach, then turned to Heather with a wary look. "Every man in this town wants you."

She laughed. "Yeah, right. The old guys from the nursing home go into cardiac arrest whenever I walk by."

His gaze drifted over her. "I can believe that."

Was he crazy? She was wearing worn-out blue jean shorts, and the afternoon heat had left her skin almost as pink as her tank top. Her hair was escaping its ponytail to curl around her forehead and neck. She was a mess, and Jean-Luc was looking at her like she was as sweet as the pink cotton candy she was holding.

"Hey, you! City boy!" Coach shouted. "I bet you can't dunk me."

Jean-Luc turned toward the booth, his eyes narrowing.

"Why don't you get some balls, huh?" Coach yelled.

The kids snickered.

"Dude, you got burned," Tyler muttered.

Jean-Luc's jaw shifted.

Heather yanked on his arm. "Let's go."

"He has insulted my honor," Jean-Luc announced. "I should challenge him to a duel."

"What?" Heather wondered if he was serious. Did they still duel in France? "You mean pistols at dawn?"

"I always preferred swords." Jean-Luc marched toward the dunking booth.

"Wait!" Heather followed him. "You can't be serious."

He stopped, and a corner of his mouth tilted up. "Don't worry, chérie. I no longer duel."

"Oh. Well, that's good." No longer?

"But the man has clearly challenged me, and I must defend my honor in some way."

"That's easy." Heather motioned to the stack of balls on the counter. "You just buy some balls and dunk him."

Jean-Luc glanced at the counter. "That would be simpler than killing him."

"Yes, it would." She couldn't believe she was having this conversation.

Jean-Luc smiled slowly, his eyes twinkling. Good Lord, was he just teasing her? Her cheeks grew warm.

"I shall dunk him forthwith." Jean-Luc slapped a ten-dollar bill on the counter and was given two balls.

"Oh, so you finally got some balls, huh?" Coach goaded him. He pulled off his tank top and tossed it aside. "Look, Heather. I'm still dry." He flexed his arms to show off his bulging biceps.

Thwack. Jean-Luc's first ball slammed into the target, knocking it back a foot. Coach's perch gave way, dumping him into the vat of water.

The students cheered. Coach splashed and sputtered in the water. The water was only five feet deep, but for Coach's height, it was practically the deep end.

"Righteous." Tyler patted Jean-Luc on the back.

"I know, right?" another jock agreed.

"Dude, it's like...karma, you know," Tyler said. "Coach is always making me run till I puke."

Coach scrambled up the ladder. His burr haircut was flattened on his square head, and his swimsuit was dripping. "Big deal, candy ass! So you had one lucky shot." He pushed on the stool to make sure it had locked back into place, then settled onto it. "You'll never do it ag - "

Thwack. Coach plummeted back into the water.

The students went wild, bouncing up and down. Two cheerleaders performed some leaps.

"Dude, you are awesome!" Tyler held up his hand for a high five.

Jean-Luc raised a hand and looked a little surprised when it was slapped.

"We've been trying to dunk Coach forever," Tyler's girlfriend shouted over the noise. "But it's so expensive, we ran out of money."

"I understand." Jean-Luc handed Tyler a wad of twenty-dollar bills. "You should all continue to play."

"Dude, you are totally righteous!" Tyler turned toward the other jocks, waving the money. "Balls for everyone! Thanks to Mrs. W.'s new boyfriend!"

Heather winced. Now the whole town would think that was true.

The students cheered, calling Jean-Luc the coolest dude in town. They all lined up to buy balls.

Coach glared at Jean-Luc as he settled back onto his perch. "You bastard!"

Jean-Luc smiled. "I believe my work here is done." He took Heather's arm in his.

She led him toward her daughter and Fidelia. "You realize you're a hero now?"

He nodded, still smiling. "Is that the maypole?"

Heather followed his gaze. "No, it's a flagpole."

"Ah. That's right. This is August. Is it always this hot in Texas?"

"In the summer, yes. And the summer goes on about eight months." Heather groaned inwardly when she spotted Billy headed their way. He was in full uniform, with the usual toothpick in his mouth.

He stopped in front of her and gave Jean-Luc a dismissive glance. "Heather, I want to talk to you alone."

"Why? I haven't done anything wrong."

Billy frowned. "You want to talk about your ex-husband in front of this foreigner?"

Heather winced, remembering her ex's strange behavior the night before. "What did Cody do?"

"I had to lock him up last night. He was babbling like an idiot, claiming to be a cockroach. This morning he was fine, so we let him go. He says he doesn't remember anything."

Heather nodded, her heart sinking. How could she leave Bethany alone with him? "Thanks for letting me know."

Billy tossed his toothpick to the ground. "I guess being married to you drove him crazy."

Ouch. Heather barely had time to register the hurt before she realized there could be a more serious problem. Jean-Luc had stepped in front of her, his hands fisted around his cane.

His voice was soft, but deadly. "Do not insult this woman's honor."

Billy hooked his thumbs in his belt, close to his gun holster. "Are you threatening an officer of the law?"

"That's enough." Heather eased around Jean-Luc and glared at Billy. "Did you know Sasha was in town? She was at my house last night. What a shame you missed her."

Billy's face went pale. "She's here? Sasha came back?"

Heather wanted to kick his teeth in. "She went to San Antonio this afternoon. But she'll be back. She's starring in the charity show at Jean's store in two weeks."

Billy nodded. "Great. I'll be there."

"Excuse us." Heather tugged on Jean-Luc's arm to get away. She headed for the bench where Fidelia and Bethany were waiting. Emma had joined them, and Bethany was talking to her nonstop.

"You're upset with the sheriff, and not just because of his insult," Jean-Luc whispered.

"It's a long story," Heather grumbled.

Jean-Luc stopped. "I like your stories."

She gazed at his sky-blue eyes, and her anger dwindled away. "It's an old wound. I shouldn't let it bother me."