"Thank you. Please call me Heather."
"Verra well. I'm Ian, and this is Phineas."
"What's shakin'?" The black man was wearing the uniform of khaki pants and navy polo shirt.
"We'll be going now." Ian motioned for Phineas to follow. "See ye tomorrow night."
"Good night." She noticed the sword strapped to Ian's back as he passed by. They clambered down the stairs. How odd that the one who looked fifteen acted like he had seniority. "Isn't he a bit young to be a guard?"
"He's older than he looks." Jean-Luc opened the door that Ian and Phineas had just exited. "This is your room."
Bethany ran inside and squealed.
"What?" Heather rushed inside and halted, stunned.
Fidelia ran inside and bumped into her. "Ay, caramba," she whispered, looking around the room.
"My toys!" Bethany dropped the yellow bear on the floor and knelt in front of her dollhouse.
Heather blinked, speechless. Parked next to the dollhouse was Bethany's doll carriage.
She noticed her makeup case on the dresser. "How did you do this? There was a deputy guarding the door."
"My guards are excellent," Jean-Luc said.
They had to be good if they'd managed to sneak all this stuff out of the house.
Fidelia dropped her purse on one of the queen-sized beds and sat. "How did they do it?"
"It is done." He looked worried. "I thought it would make you happy."
"I'm happy!" Bethany announced.
I'm suspicious. Heather looked slowly around the room. The walls were painted a soft green. The two beds were covered with blue damask comforters. A beautiful stained glass lamp rested on a bedside table between the two beds. There was no mirror above the dresser, but a lovely painting by Monet. Against the wall rested the bags of stuff they'd bought at the discount store.
"Heather?" Jean-Luc approached her. "Will this be all right?"
"Yes." She avoided eye contact. "Thank you." He'd obviously tried to make her happy, but the opposite had happened. She didn't know what to think.
"I'll be in my office down the hall for the next hour or so if you need me. Robby will be here soon with your truck."
"Okay." That seemed odd to Heather. Hadn't they used her truck to bring Bethany's toys here?
"I noticed a few boarded-up buildings in town," Jean-Luc continued.
"Yeah, the discount store made them go out of business."
"Robby and I will check them later tonight."
"You mean...?" They thought Louie might be hiding in one of them? "Do you want me to come with you?"
"No," he answered quickly. "You've been through enough tonight. Your daughter, too."
That much was true. Heather didn't think she could handle any more excitement right now. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow evening, yes. Phil and Pierre will watch over you during the day."
And where will you be? She met his eyes. There was still too much mystery surrounding him.
"Good night, chérie." He took her hand and raised it to his mouth. His lips were soft, sensuous.
Heather's face flooded with heat when delicious memories swept over her. His kiss had been glorious. She'd felt so safe and wonderful in his arms. She wished that feeling could come back, but it was gone. Instead she suffered from a nagging sensation that something was seriously wrong.
"Sleep well." He left the room, closing the door behind him.
"Juan is very romantic," Fidelia observed. "Muy macho."
"Muy something," Heather muttered. "Let's get Bethany to bed." And then we can talk. The words dangled at the end of the sentence, unsaid.
Thirty minutes later, Bethany was sound asleep in the bed she would share with her mom. Fidelia and Heather took turns washing up.
Heather exited the bathroom and waved a hand toward the dollhouse. "How do you think they managed this?"
"I don't know." Fidelia fluffed the pillows up against the headboard of her bed, then slipped beneath the comforter. "They must have sneaked past the deputy."
Heather rested a hand on one hip. "I don't think Billy and his deputies could be that incompetent."
Fidelia chuckled. "You never know. At least we have the smart ones on our side."
"Smart or just...sneaky? There's something very odd going on around here."
Fidelia nodded. "Juan seemed to be listening to someone. He may be psychic."
"I got that impression, too." Heather perched on the end of Fidelia's bed. "Could you hear anything?"
"No, but I'm sensing strange...energy. Maybe I'll dream something tonight that'll help."
Heather nodded. She wasn't quite ready to voice her earlier suspicion that Jean-Luc could be immortal. It still seemed too bizarre.
"This is the only bedroom upstairs," Fidelia continued. "And Juan said there are none on the first floor."
"That seemed strange to me, too," Heather conceded.
"Where are all the people in this house sleeping?" Fidelia asked.
Heather winced, remembering the locked cellar doors. "I guess they're in the cellar."
"That's strange," Fidelia muttered. "And what was that with Alberto? I think those bitches scratched him. Or cut him. There was blood on his fingers."
"I saw that. And Jean-Luc kept telling us to stay away from the cellar. Of course, that could be a good warning with those psycho women living down there."
Fidelia made a clucking noise. "Why were you late to hear Bethany sing? That is not like you."
A blush warmed Heather's cheeks. "I was...distracted."
"By Juan? Did he make a pass at you?"
Her blush grew hotter. "I was willing. Far too willing. I...I thought I was falling for him."
"I don't know. I'm attracted to him. He's gorgeous and sexy - "
Heather gave her an annoyed look. "That's not what matters to me. Cody had plenty of money, and it sure didn't make me happy."
"Then what do you like about Juan?"
"I think he's an honorable, intelligent, kind man. It was very sweet the way he got that bear for Bethany. And he likes me the way I am. He treats me with respect. He actually listens to me and cares about my feelings."
Fidelia nodded. "He is a good man. I am fairly certain of that."
Fidelia shrugged. "Appearances can be deceiving. I sense something...wrong."
Heather snorted. "You don't have to be psychic to know that. There are secrets in this place. Secrets that Jean-Luc wants to hide from me."
"Then how can I trust him?"
Fidelia lounged back against her pillows, frowning. "You must be very careful."
Heather's eyes burned as unwanted tears threatened. She'd so wanted to believe in Jean-Luc. He'd seemed so perfect. But she had no choice. She needed to keep a distance between them. She couldn't let herself fall for Jean-Luc Echarpe.
Jean-Luc paced in his office. He'd made a stupid mistake. He'd thought the sight of her daughter's toys would cheer her up. It had certainly cheered up Bethany. But Heather - he'd only succeeded in making her suspicious. She was clever. He couldn't underestimate her again. And she was fiercely independent, not as easily impressed by gifts or grand gestures as women he'd known in the past. She didn't seem to need gifts at all. She needed honesty - the one thing he didn't dare give.
Seeing her in proximity to Simone and Inga had confirmed his strong feelings for her. The models were perfection in death, beauty frozen for all time, like statues of goddesses. Heather was life - imperfect and unpredictable. In one evening, she'd melted in his arms, kissing him with passion. And she'd watched him, wary with suspicion. She was volatile, full of emotion. Exciting.
She was also sweet, loyal, and loving. He enjoyed watching her interact with her daughter and Fidelia. They formed such a strong family union, and more and more, he wanted to be part of it.
The thought of losing her made his legs drag with heaviness. He came to a stop by the window overlooking the showroom. His merchandise was there, still on display although the store was closed.
What was it all for? Thirty years ago, he'd enjoyed building a fashion empire, and he'd reveled in his financial success. But somewhere along the line, he'd lost the need to prove himself. It was simply work to fill in the time.