"Trust me." He pointed to his BMW. "Wait in the car. It's not locked. I'll be there shortly."
"What about my truck? My purse was inside."
"I have the keys. Robby will bring it to the studio later."
"Okay." She walked over to Bethany and gave her a hug. While she talked to Fidelia, Jean-Luc sent out a psychic message to Robby, Ian, Phineas, and Phil.
Meet me by Heather's truck. If you see Phil, bring him, too. He wasn't sure how adept the mortal guard was at picking up psychic messages.
Robby was the first to show up. Jean-Luc handed him the keys to Heather's truck with instructions to drive it to the studio. Ian, Phineas, and Phil joined them.
"No sign of Lui?" Jean-Luc asked.
"Nay," Ian answered. "It would help if we knew what he looks like."
"I've never seen him look the same way twice. I recognize his voice, though. And his eyes. They're black with an odd gleam. You can feel the hatred, but there's something more, something...unhinged."
"So the dude's a psycho," Phineas observed.
"And verra dangerous," Robby added. He gestured toward the crowd. "These people are mortal. Ye can smell the difference."
Phil chuckled. "Are you saying we stink?"
Robby grinned. "Some might say so, but no' me. I think mortals smell...sweet."
Phil shook his head. "I'm so not flattered."
Phineas sniffed and gave the mortal a curious look. "You smell kinda different, bro."
Phil's smile faded, and he exchanged a wary look with Robby. Jean-Luc frowned, sensing an undercurrent he wasn't privy to, but this wasn't the time to discuss it. He asked Phil to join him on the shopping trip, then explained the undercover mission to the three Vamps. "Can you do it?"
"Aye, 'tis a piece of cake," Robby answered. "We'll see ye later."
Jean-Luc was relieved to see Heather and her family sitting in the backseat of the BMW. He climbed into the driver's seat.
Phil settled in the passenger seat, then turned to face the females. "I'm Phil Jones. I'll be guarding you in the daytime."
"Nice to meet you," Heather murmured.
"Hola, Felipe," Fidelia said in a husky voice.
Phil quickly faced front.
At the discount store, Phil was told to accompany Fidelia, while Jean-Luc watched Heather and Bethany.
In the young girls' department, Heather selected a few little T-shirts and shorts from the fifty-percent-off rack. The more she tried to save him money, the more irritated Jean-Luc became. He spotted the best dress the store had to offer and tossed it into the cart.
"She has nice dresses at home," Heather protested.
"You said you wouldn't argue."
She snorted. "That was for times of extreme danger."
"Which could be now. Lui could be lurking in the toy aisle as we speak."
"We'll see about that." She pushed the cart to the toys. One of the wheels made an annoying squeak with every rotation.
Jean-Luc walked behind her, his cane clicking on the linoleum floor, his eyes ever watchful. The store seemed mostly deserted.
Bethany skipped alongside her mother, hugging her yellow bear. She stopped suddenly, her eyes wide. "Look, Mama. That Barbie comes with a crocodile."
Heather turned away and selected a few coloring books. "You have plenty of Barbies at home."
"But not a crocodile-hunting one." Jean-Luc tossed it into the cart.
"Yeah!" Bethany jumped up and down.
Heather whirled around to glare at him. "That was my decision to make."
She was right, but it surprised Jean-Luc how much he enjoyed making the little girl dance with joy. He shifted his weight, frowning. "I will try to restrain myself."
Heather's mouth twitched. "Is it that hard? I swear, if you have any children, they'll be spoiled rotten."
His heart froze for a second, then plummeted to his stomach. He couldn't have children. In that moment between death and transformation, a vampire's sperm died. At sunset each night, his heart jolted back to life, his blood resumed its race through his veins, and his mind snapped back to consciousness. But the sperm remained dead.
Roman, being a brilliant scientist, had found a way around it. He'd taken live human sperm, then erased the donor's DNA and inserted his own. Shanna was already pregnant when Roman had discovered a problem. A Vamp's DNA was not quite the same as a mortal's. Roman had lived in fear with what he'd done to Shanna, but after nine months she'd delivered a healthy baby boy with no fangs and an appetite for his mother's milk.
Jean-Luc realized with a jolt that he could have children. With Roman's procedure, he could actually be a father. His gaze settled on Heather, and he imagined her swelling with his child.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No. Everything's fine." But it wasn't. Now that the seed was planted in his mind, he couldn't ignore it. He'd envied Roman for his loving wife and adorable son. It had never occurred to Jean-Luc that he could have a family, too. Lui had always been in the way, lurking in the shadows as a hidden threat. But the assassin's recent emergence could be a blessing in disguise. Finally Jean-Luc would have the chance to be rid of him. And that opened all sorts of new possibilities.
"You had a strange look on your face." Heather dropped a box of crayons into the cart. "I thought you might be angry."
"I am angry at Lui and determined to be rid of him."
Heather rolled the cart toward the women's department. "I'll be so glad when things are back to normal."
Normal? Was that what she wanted? His vision of the future wavered. How could he convince Heather to marry a vampire and give birth to a child with mutated DNA? It wasn't exactly the American dream.
And was it truly what he wanted? He was very attracted to Heather, but were his feelings true or merely a reaction to the danger they were in? Could he have the kind of love for her that would last through the years? Could he handle marriage to her? Could he handle marriage to any mortal?
Was it fair for Heather to be stuck with a man who was dead during the day? It gave new meaning to the term deadbeat dad. He could be very supportive financially, but he would be inaccessible every day of his family's life.
Still, Roman and Shanna seemed very happy. Jean-Luc wanted that for himself. Was Heather the one?
He frowned while he watched her select the cheapest items from the women's department. Well, he certainly didn't have to worry about her putting him in debt. But she deserved so much more. He would make his own selections for her when they returned to the studio.
"Do I need to dress up for work?" she asked.
"No. You'll be alone during the day, except for Alberto and the guards."
She gave him a curious look. "When do you work?"
"At night. Jet lag. I haven't adjusted yet." He cringed inwardly at his lies. "I feel more creative at night." That much was true. He couldn't even create a heartbeat during the day.
She frowned, apparently confused by the work schedule or lack thereof. "How many hours do you want me to work each week?"
He shrugged. "Let's not worry about it. In fact, if you don't want to work at all, I completely understand. You can take off a week to rest if you like."
"That's very kind, but I think I'd rather stay busy."
He nodded. "Our first priority is your safety. The second one is to stop Lui. The fashion world can survive without us for a little while."
"I understand." When she turned to examine a rack of jeans, he picked up the cheap bra she'd dropped in the cart and quickly checked the size. C cup. That brought a smile to his face.
Bethany's giggle gave him away, and Heather turned to see him holding her bra.
Her eyebrows raised. "Is there a problem?"
He dropped the bra. "Non. It is a lovely size."
A blush invaded her cheeks. "I need to lose ten pounds. Well, twenty actually."
"Heather - "
"I couldn't lose the last ten pounds of baby fat - "
"Heather, I think - "
"And then I gained ten more with too much chocolate therapy during my divorce."
"Heather, I think you are perfect the way you are."
Her blush deepened. "You're just saying that."
"Because I believe it, yes."
"But you design for skinny models."
He shrugged. "People expect to see them on the runway. It doesn't mean I prefer them that way. I like you, Heather. I thought I made that clear earlier tonight."