She scoured the shelves along the walls, searching for just the right material. There were so many exceptional fabrics, she soon had the table stacked with ten bolts.
Under the spiral staircase, she found shelves filled with office supplies. She selected a large sketching pad and several Prismacolor pencils. She sketched for a few hours, then went back to the kitchen for lunch.
Phil and Pierre joined them for hot dogs. Pierre made them laugh by insisting they call his lunch le hot-dog. Alberto finally made an appearance. He must have stayed up late and slept in. He looked askance at their meal.
Heather noticed how his turtleneck sweater hid the marks on his neck. She exchanged a look with Fidelia.
She grinned. "You'll burn up in that sweater, muchacho. It'll be ninety-six degrees today."
"Do you want some lunch?" Heather asked.
He shuddered. "I'll go to town to eat. There's a German bakery on Main Street that's rather good."
"Oh, yeah." Heather knew the one he was talking about, since it was the only German bakery on Main Street. "Finkel's makes the best apple strudel in Texas."
"Vraiment?" Pierre handed Alberto the car keys and a twenty-dollar bill. "You must bring back strudel for all of us, d'accord?"
"I'm not an errand boy," Alberto grumbled. "But all right. Ciao." He grabbed the keys and money and left.
"Thank you." Heather smiled at Pierre.
He shrugged. "I am a bit homesick. In Paris, we have the patisseries everywhere. The most delicious bread and pastries. I miss them."
"Sounds wonderful." Heather sighed. "I've always wanted to see Paris. I hear the rats are really special."
Pierre sputtered with a horrified look. "Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. I will tell Jean-Luc to bring you. My mother will cook you the best coq au vin you have ever tasted."
"I'm all for that." She went back to work, her spirits lifted. After an hour of sketching, she heard Alberto enter the studio.
"The strudel's in the kitchen." He eyed the fabric on her worktable. "You like colors."
He circled her table, examining her work. "I'm more into black and neutrals. More sophisticated."
"Ah." That must mean she was less sophisticated.
He wrinkled his nose at the dress form she'd enlarged to a size twelve. "This is much too big for haute couture."
"I don't really aspire to be that...fancy. I want to make something that would look good on someone like me."
His eyes widened. "Why?"
"Why not? I wear clothes, too."
"Well, yes." His gaze drifted painfully over her T-shirt and jeans. "But surely you understand there is a huge difference between mere clothes and fashion."
"I know that. I want to bring fashion to women like me. I want them to enjoy their clothes and take pride in how they look."
He looked like she was speaking an alien tongue. "Take pride in being a size twelve? Does Jean-Luc know what you're doing?"
"Yes. He asked me to do this."
Alberto's brows shot higher. "You must be joking."
She gritted her teeth. "No. I'm very serious. Fashion should be accessible to everyone."
He snorted. "This must be some strange American idea of equality."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"It is a fantasy. The world of fashion belongs to the beautiful people." Alberto looked her over. "Jean-Luc is humoring you. It is clear what he wants."
Heat flooded her face. "You've not only insulted me, you've insulted Jean-Luc. He has enough business savvy to realize he's missing out on a huge market. A lot of women could never wear some of the bizarre things that come down the runways these days. Jean-Luc has the courage and vision to give women clothes they can actually wear."
Alberto's smile was smug. "I can see he is your hero. I wonder how long that will last. Especially once you know more about him." He sauntered toward the door. "I have work to do in my office. Real fashion to create."
Heather tried to get back to work, but found it hard to concentrate. Was Jean-Luc just humoring her because he was attracted to her? She looked over her sketches. They looked good to her, but drawing a good picture didn't guarantee a beautiful gown. And what did Alberto mean with that crack about her and Jean-Luc? Was she supposed to like Jean-Luc less the more she got to know him?
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She wouldn't do this to herself. She wouldn't let fear and self-doubt overwhelm her. She was at war with fear.
God knew she had plenty to be afraid of. A new career, a new relationship with Jean-Luc, a psycho killer who wanted her dead. Failure was not an option.
She could do the career. It would be difficult, but nothing worthwhile was ever easy. And the relationship with Jean-Luc was looking better than ever. He'd been so sweet that morning. And sexy. Her heart raced every time she thought about his kisses and the way he'd massaged her back and fondled her breast. Her skin prickled with goose bumps, eager to feel his touch once more.
He'd said he wanted her, and she knew that was the truth. The bulge in his pants had pressed against her rear, and God help her, she had wanted to touch him. She'd wanted to have sex with a man she'd met just a few days ago. Thank goodness she'd fallen asleep when she had.
What was happening to her? Love, a small inner voice answered. No, it couldn't be. But then why was he constantly in her thoughts? Why did she keep wishing the time away till she could see him again?
Unable to concentrate, she left her sketches on the worktable and returned to the kitchen. Fidelia was watching television while Bethany played in the kitchen. The stuffed crocodile was chasing Barbie around the kitchen table while the doll did her best to guard the box of strudel from reptilian attack. Heather helped herself to a piece of strudel, then played with her daughter. Soon they heard Fidelia snoring in the recliner, a sound that always made Bethany giggle.
Heather was making supper when Fidelia jerked awake with a cry. "What is it?" She stepped close to the older woman so Bethany wouldn't hear.
"I had the dream again," Fidelia whispered. "Red eyes, glowing in the dark. Danger."
Heather grimaced. "They still haven't found Louie."
Fidelia rubbed her forehead. "I saw something else. An oil painting. I think I've seen it before."
After supper, Heather took Bethany upstairs for her bath. They came back to the kitchen about eight P.M., so Bethany could have a bedtime snack. Heather wondered if Jean-Luc was back from his business trip.
Fidelia was loading the dishwasher. "I remembered where I saw that painting. I called and talked to the curator, Mrs. Bolton." She handed Heather a piece of paper.
Heather's eyes widened as she read the information. "I've heard of this place. It's a museum now?"
"Sí. Mrs. Bolton said she'd keep it open for you till nine o'clock tonight."
"Okay." Heather folded the paper and slipped it into her jeans pocket. What a strange place to take Jean-Luc. She wondered again if he was back. She glanced up at the newly installed surveillance camera with its red, blinking light.
"I know," Fidelia muttered. "I don't like being watched."
Who was watching? Heather wondered. Whoever it was, she hoped they enjoyed the ongoing saga of Barbie versus the crocodile. The kitchen door swung open, and Robby marched in, wearing his usual green and blue plaid kilt.
He smiled. "Good evening. Jean-Luc is in the design studio, and he'd like to see you."
Heather's heart beat faster. She hugged her daughter. "I have to go. Duty calls." Duty and hopeless attraction.
"Jean-Luc, we need to talk."
He glanced up from one of Heather's sketches to see Alberto coming into the studio. "Is there a problem in Paris?"
"No. The problem is here." Alberto waved at Heather's work. "This - this is a disaster."
Jean-Luc laid the sketch down. "This was my decision, Alberto. I do not need to defend it."
He lowered his gaze. "I don't mean to upset you, Jean-Luc, but you taught me yourself that your designs are only for a privileged few."
Jean-Luc's anger was tempered by the desperation on Alberto's face. Clearly the man believed Heather's project was a mistake. "I know this idea is unorthodox, but I want to try it."