She tossed a pair of jeans into the cart and turned away. He realized it was hard for her to accept a compliment. "You don't say my name right. Or Bethany's."
He smiled. Was this a challenge? "You don't say my name right, either."
"I do, too." She dropped a plain green T-shirt into the cart. "But I like Jean-Luc better than Jean. Jean is so plain, but Jean-Luc is powerful and sexy and...captainish."
He liked the powerful and sexy part. "What is captainish?"
"Like a starship captain. You're Captain Jean-Luc." She gave him a wry smile. "You're used to giving orders."
"You say it like John-Luke."
"Well, duh. That's your name."
"Not in French. You should say it as the French do."
"Oh, really?" She planted a hand on one hip and shifted her weight to one foot. "Enlighten me."
"As you wish." He stepped closer. "First, we do not pronounce the n in Jean."
"How lazy of you."
He lifted a brow. "The n signifies a nasal a. Jean. Try it."
She wrinkled up her nose and produced the most nasal-sounding a he'd ever heard. "Was that French enough for you?" She smiled sweetly.
He stifled a grin. "Not yet. There's the matter of Luc."
"Non. Luc with the French u."
"Was that a vowel, or did you just suck a lemon?"
He laughed. "Come now, give it a try."
"I wouldn't know how to produce such a strange sound."
He stepped closer. "It is easy, chérie." He raised her chin with one bent finger. "Pucker your lips."
Her cheeks flushed pink. "I'm not puckering up in the middle of a store. Or in front of my daughter."
"What are you afraid of?" He grazed her lips with his thumb. "I thought you trusted me."
Bethany giggled. "Go ahead, Mama!"
With a huff, she stepped back. "It's a conspiracy."
Jean-Luc winked at her daughter. "Bethany is a very clever girl."
"I am!" She bounced around, grinning.
Heather glared at him. "You're still not saying our names correctly."
He knew his th sounds came out wrong. It was a typical problem since the sound didn't exist in French. Still, he couldn't resist goading her, so he repeated her earlier words. "Enlighten me."
"It's quite simple really. Watch how I do it. See how the tongue goes against the top teeth?" She demonstrated.
He moved close and leaned over to study her mouth. "I see."
"Now you try. Tongue against the top teeth."
He stuck out his tongue and with a quick movement, he pulled her against him and touched his tongue to her teeth.
"Aagh!" She pulled back. "Your teeth, not mine!"
Bethany erupted in giggles.
Jean-Luc stepped back with an innocent look. "I must have misunderstood."
"Yeah, right." She glowered at him, but then her mouth twitched. She looked away, grinning. "You are impossible."
He smiled. "But you still like me?"
She slanted him an annoyed look. "Yes. I must be out of my mind."
Bethany hugged her yellow bear. "I like you, too."
A soothing warmth settled in Jean-Luc's chest. Here, in this godforsaken discount store far away from the glamorous world of high fashion, he was experiencing one of the most beautiful nights of his long existence.
It looked more like a museum than a store, Heather thought as she stood outside her new temporary home. Greek columns, made of stone, stretched to the high gabled roof. Close to the front porch was a sign with Le Chique Echarpe painted in a pretty cursive script.
"It's big," Bethany whispered.
"And expensive," Fidelia added. "Juan must be very rich."
"It's Jean - " Heather winced as she recalled the way Jean-Luc had practiced his pronunciation.
He was at the front door of his store, his cane gripped in his right hand as he talked to Phil and another man dressed just like Phil. Apparently khaki pants and a navy polo shirt were the official guard uniform. The two guards disappeared into the building with the bags of newly purchased stuff from the discount store.
Jean-Luc descended the steps to where Heather waited on the circular driveway. "Phil and Pierre are taking the bags to your room." He glanced around the grounds. "You'll be safer inside with the alarm system on."
"I'll show you safe." Fidelia plopped her purse on the hood of the BMW and pulled out her Glock. "If Louie shows up, I'll be ready for him. Now where's the key to this damned trigger lock?" She rummaged through the purse.
"Pierre is the other guard?" Heather had never been good at remembering names, and she'd a met a lot of new people in the last two days.
"Oui. A daytime guard." Jean-Luc tapped his cane impatiently on the brick driveway. "We should go in now."
"I heard we have company," a voice said from the front door.
Heather turned and recognized the speaker. He was the one Sasha had "talked" to on Friday night. Alberto Alberghini. He was sandwiched between the two beautiful models Sasha had gossiped about. Heather couldn't recall their names, but she remembered there were rumors about them and Jean-Luc. At least they were clinging to Alberto and not Jean-Luc. Still, when the young Italian man escorted them down the steps, she wished they would trip over their long evening gowns.
Jealousy, she chided herself. What an ugly emotion. It would be easier to bear if the two women weren't so damned flawless. Perfectly pale complexions, perfectly applied makeup, perfectly proportioned bodies. Together they were even more striking because they were opposites.
One had long black hair and dark, almond-shaped eyes. She wore an elegant black gown of satin that gleamed in the moonlight just like her perfect curtain of black, silky hair. The other model's hair cascaded down her back with curls of the palest blond. Her eyes were a translucent, icy blue. Her skin was as pale as her white, shimmering gown.
"Is she a princess?" Bethany whispered.
The two models glanced at the little girl, but no expression registered on their perfect faces. Their gazes passed over her and Fidelia, then rested on Jean-Luc.
Heather knew she'd been dismissed.
Jean-Luc motioned toward the one in black. "This is Simone." His hand moved to the one in white. "And Inga."
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Heather Westfield, and this is my daughter, Bethany."
"Aha!" Fidelia extracted a key ring from her purse. She did a double-take at Inga. "Santa Maria, girl, eat some tacos. And get some sun. You look like a skinny ghost."
The blonde gave her a bland look, then turned away.
Simone glared at Jean-Luc, her dark eyes simmering with anger. "They are beneath you."
Jean-Luc said nothing but stared back, his eyes intense.
Heather wondered how long the staring contest would continue. Bethany yawned. Fidelia cursed softly in Spanish as she worked on the trigger lock.
Finally Simone lowered her gaze. She bowed slightly as if acknowledging surrender. When she straightened, she directed a look at Heather, a look so full of hatred, it made Heather flinch.
Inga's cold eyes drifted past Heather like a chill wind, then focused on Jean-Luc. "It is not like you to have such poor taste." She pivoted and went up the stairs alongside Simone, Alberto scrambling after them.
Heather hunched her shoulders as she slid her hands into the pockets of her jean cutoffs. "That was one hell of a welcome wagon."
Jean-Luc's mouth thinned. "They are not accustomed to being around - "
"Commoners?" Heather interrupted.
"Got it!" Fidelia removed the Glock's trigger lock, then swiveled toward the front door. "Damn, I'm too late. I wanted to do some princess hunting. Mount one of their freaking tiaras over my fireplace."
"Don't let them upset you," Jean-Luc said. "They're only here because of the charity show in two weeks. After that, they'll be gone. Alberto, too. They're all going back to Paris."
He looked so sad about it, Heather couldn't help but wonder why he was here. "Why did you leave Paris?"
"It's a long story."
She bet it was. She also wondered just how close he was to the models from hell. "You've known Simone and Inga for a long time?"
"Yes." He started up the steps, motioning for them to follow. "Come. It's safer inside." He waited by the front door, surveying the grounds with narrowed eyes.