"You said it yourself. Emotional wounds take the longest to heal."
He actually remembered things she said. Amazing. "My mother wanted me to break up with Billy since he was going into law enforcement. When I did, he said he'd only been hanging around me so he could be close to Sasha."
"The bastard." Jean-Luc turned to glare at Billy's retreating figure. "Still, I suspect he cares for you more than you think. He's clearly angry when he sees you in my company."
"Maybe, but I'm just second choice. If he thinks Sasha is available, he forgets all about me." Heather led Jean-Luc toward her daughter.
Bethany was in the middle of explaining how she'd acquired her new bear. "This is a baby bear, but I really wanted the great big yellow bear. Aunt Fee said it was fixed so that no one can get the big yellow bear."
"That's right, honey." Fidelia nodded. "Your mother tried her best."
With a sigh, Heather handed the cotton candy to her daughter. "Here, sweetie."
"Yummy!" Bethany grinned as she started stuffing pink fluff in her mouth.
Heather figured she was forgiven for her giant bear failure. "Thank you for coming, Emma."
"I'm happy to help." She glanced at Jean-Luc. "Was there a problem with the sheriff?"
Jean-Luc shifted his weight. "There's a...bug problem."
Emma's brows lifted. "The cockroach?"
"I'm so worried about it." Heather motioned with her head toward Bethany. "I don't know if it's safe for her to be with him now."
"I'm sure it'll be fine." Emma gave Jean-Luc a pointed look. "Perhaps you could give some reassurance?"
Did he know something? Heather looked back and forth from Emma to Jean-Luc. There was something unsaid going on between the two of them.
Jean-Luc rubbed his brow. "Heather, if I could speak to you alone - "
"Great idea!" Fidelia pointed toward the river. "Why don't you two take a walk? We'll be fine here." She winked at Heather.
Heather glowered back. Could Fidelia be any more obvious? "I have to get Bethany back to the gazebo in ten minutes for the show."
"We have it covered," Emma declared. "You two go on."
It was a conspiracy. Jean-Luc took her by the elbow and led her toward the dark end of the park. Without the crowd of people and park lights, the air felt a bit cooler. The noise of the crowd gave way to the drone of locusts.
She tucked some wayward curls behind her ear. "There's a bench at the end of this path, overlooking the river."
"I can see it. It's occupied."
"It is?" Heather squinted, but couldn't make out the bench yet. Maybe she needed to get her eyes checked. "You have really good eyesight."
"Yes." He escorted her off the path to stroll between two rows of pecan trees. "I understand you are concerned about your daughter's safety with her father."
"I am. It's so unlike Cody. He's always been so...normal, I mean in the totally predictable, boring sense. The guy has a ten-step plan for everything and never veers off the set routine."
"Ten steps?" Jean-Luc sounded amused. "What if something can be done in nine steps?"
"Then the world will come to an end." Heather laughed. "Seriously, he has ten steps to polish his shoes, ten steps to gut a fish, ten steps to do the yard. The only exception is making love." Oops. She winced. That shouldn't have slipped out. Jean-Luc was way too easy to talk to.
"But of course. That would require much more than ten steps."
She winced again. Better to keep her mouth shut.
"How many steps did it take?"
She looked around, even though she couldn't see much of anything. "Looks like we're going to have a good crop of pecans this year."
He stopped. His hand tightened around her elbow, making her stop, too. "How many steps to make love?"
She exhaled. "Three. And I'd rather not discuss it."
"Three? How can that be possible?"
She gritted her teeth. "I did divorce him, you know."
"That is not making love." Jean-Luc's voice deepened with anger. "That is...an abomination."
She stepped back. "It's over. Don't let it bother you."
"But he clearly had no desire to give you pleasure, and that is the main purpose for making love. A man cannot be satisfied if his woman is not."
Heather fluffed her hair off the back of her neck. The temperature must have risen about ten degrees.
"Making love should take hundreds of steps," Jean-Luc announced. "Even a kiss would take at least ten steps."
Heather snorted. "I don't think so. Lips meet, lips part. That's only two steps."
"Oh, right. You're French. Okay, lips meet, insert tongue, lips part. Three steps."
He sighed. "You have not been properly kissed."
"Excuse me. I've been kissing for twelve years."
"I have been kissing much longer."
She crossed her arms. "Yeah, I kinda figured that."
He stepped toward her. "Ten steps for a proper kiss."
"And an improper one?" She groaned inwardly. Smart aleck. Now she was asking for trouble.
His teeth flashed white when he grinned. "There's only one way to find out." He dropped his cane on the ground and moved closer. "We shall have to put it to the test."
Jean-Luc was delighted with the turn of the conversation. The minute he'd spotted Heather this evening, he'd wanted to touch her. Her long bare legs tormented him. Her pink skin, flushed with blood, made his vampire nerve cells hum with energy.
Mon Dieu, but it seemed that every man in town wanted her. How could they not? Her shorts hugged the sweetest derriere. Her T-shirt clung to full br**sts, then dipped at her waist. He wanted to rip her clothes off with his teeth.
But for now, he'd settle for a kiss.
Emma had scolded him telepathically for making Heather worry, and she'd insisted he explain about Cody. He'd intended to, but he had no idea how to explain the hypnotic trance he'd cast on her ex-husband without opening himself to a lot of unwanted questions. But kissing - this kind of reassurance he could handle. And ten steps would be easy.
He touched one of her curls and rubbed the silken strands between his thumb and forefinger. "Step one is the birth of the idea."
She shrugged. "That's obvious."
"But essential. I find this first step very exciting." He touched her neck, resting his fingertips against her carotid artery. It pulsed strong and quick. In spite of her nonchalant demeanor, she was as excited as he.
"Our lips would not meet purely by accident." He studied her mouth. "I would wonder how your lips feel, how they taste. And my desire would increase until it overwhelmed me. My every thought, my every breath would be focused on my need to kiss you."
Her mouth was slightly open, her breath coming faster. "That's...a good start."
He smiled. "Step two is awareness. You are now aware of my desire."
"Okay." She licked her lips.
"Ah, you have moved to step three."
Her eyes widened. "I did?"
"Yes. Step three is your response. You have acknowledged my desire and issued an invitation."
She tilted her head, frowning. "I don't think so."
"You said yes when you licked your lips."
"I did not. You shouldn't make such broad assumptions." She licked her lips again, then grimaced. "Ignore that. It was an involuntary lick."
"I think not. Your body is reacting to me." He stepped closer. "Your body is screaming, Yes, take me."
"In your dreams." She stepped back, folding her arms across her chest. "I'm in complete control of myself."
"For the time being."
She eyed him warily. "Which step are we on?"
"Three. Your body issued an invitation. Step four, my body responds."
"So we're entirely brainless at this point?"
He laughed. "Normally, this would all happen in a matter of seconds, and I wouldn't give you time to challenge everything I say. But for some strange reason, I actually enjoy your challenges."
"Oh." Her mouth twitched. "That's very kind of you."
"You're welcome. Step four, I respond to your invitation. I move in for the kiss." He stepped close and slipped his hand around the back of her neck.