"Because you're a princess. This house didn't have a princess till you came."
Heather's heart expanded. What a sweet thing to say.
"I know!" Bethany sounded excited. "Let's pretend I'm the princess, and the crocodile is a frog."
"Ribbit," Jean-Luc croaked.
Bethany burst into giggles. Heather smiled to herself.
"And then the princess kisses the frog." Bethany made a loud smacking noise. "And he turns into a prince. And now, they're in love forever."
There was a pause, and Heather waited to hear what Jean-Luc would say next.
His voice sounded low and tense. "Can the fair maiden love him when he's...an ugly creature?"
Heather almost yelled yes. But surely Jean-Luc wasn't referring to himself? He wasn't a creature. He was gorgeous and sweet. The most perfect man she'd ever met. There was no point in denying it any longer. She was falling in love with him.
"I think so," Bethany answered seriously. "Princess Fiona fell in love with Shrek, and he's a green ogre."
Heather beamed with pride over her brilliant daughter.
"I haven't heard of this Shrek," Jean-Luc said.
"You don't know Shrek?" Bethany sounded amazed. "I have it at home. You can watch it with me."
"I would like that," Jean-Luc replied.
Heather closed the door with a thud. "Hello?" She walked through the sitting area and spotted them at the kitchen table.
"Mama!" Bethany leaped toward her. "I woke up and you weren't in bed with me."
"I'm sorry." She knelt to hug her daughter. "I was working late."
Jean-Luc stood. "I gave her some milk and cookies. I hope you don't mind."
"No." She smiled at him. "You're a sweetheart."
The corner of his mouth lifted, and his eyes glimmered with emotion. And yet he seemed to be at a loss for words. Heather's heart filled with love and longing.
The door opened behind them, and Robby spoke, "The sheriff is back. He wants to interview us each separately."
"I'll go first." Jean-Luc headed for the door.
"Come, sweetie." Heather ushered her daughter to the door, too. "Let's get you back in bed."
She led Bethany to their bedroom and read a book to her until she fell asleep. Heather glanced at the clock. A little after three A.M. Good Lord, this night was endless. Yawning, she descended the stairs and found Billy waiting for her. After thirty minutes of questioning, he was done, and Robby escorted him from the building.
With a sigh, Heather headed back to the stairs. Finally, she'd get some sleep.
She heard music and stopped to listen. Classical music. She eased toward the cellar door and pressed her ear against it. A piano and harpsichord.
"Can I help you?" Robby sauntered toward her.
"I was just going to bed. Good night." She dashed up the backstairs to her bedroom.
Why were so many people in the cellar, when she and her family were locked out? What was Jean-Luc hiding? A spurt of anger gripped her. She was trusting him with her life and with the lives of Bethany and Fidelia. Why couldn't he trust her?
She knew she was falling in love with him. If they were going to have a successful relationship, there couldn't be secrets between them. And if he wasn't going to divulge his secrets, she would discover them on her own.
Nothing would stop her. Especially not fear.
Red glowing eyes, danger, the flash of white, gnashing teeth. Mrs. Bolton's dead body sprawled on the floor. Heather jerked awake.
"Mama, are you all right?" Bethany stood by the bed, her eyes wide with worry.
Heather took a deep breath. It was just a bad dream. Fidelia's warning about red glowing eyes had seeped into her own dreams and memories.
"You okay?" Fidelia sat on her bed, tying her shoelaces. She and Bethany were already dressed.
"I'm fine." Heather glanced at the bedside clock. Ten minutes after ten. "I overslept." Not surprising since she'd been up most the night. "Have you had any more dreams?" she asked Fidelia quietly.
The older woman frowned and mouthed the word fire.
Fire? Heather raised her eyebrows. She wanted to know more, but didn't want to discuss it in front of Bethany.
The little girl ran to the door. "I'm hungry."
"Let's get some breakfast." Fidelia ushered her out.
"Was it bad?" Heather asked just as Fidelia was closing the door. "The fire?" she whispered.
Fidelia winced. "Infierno." She shut the door.
Hell? Heather shuddered. Was that Louie's plan? To set this house on fire and kill them all? She showered, dressed, and went to the kitchen for a quick breakfast.
Afterward, she asked Pierre to let her into the design studio. "I could let myself in if I knew the combination."
Pierre propped the doors open. "I'll ask Robby. No one can know the combination without his permission."
"I see." She hated the locked doors as much as all the surveillance cameras that were being installed, but it couldn't be helped. She strolled into the room and halted in front of her worktable. For a second, she couldn't believe her eyes. She blinked. No, it was real.
There on the table, her sketches were ripped in two. The royal-blue silk chiffon that she'd cut so carefully the night before was slashed and mutilated. She cried out.
"Madame?" Pierre dashed into the room. "Are you all right?"
She pointed at the destruction. "My work."
"What's wrong?" Phil ran into the room.
"My work is destroyed." Heather groaned. "There are so many guards in this house, and so many damned cameras. Why didn't anyone see this?"
"There are no cameras in here," Phil explained. "We're installing them today."
"Who would do something so mean?" Pierre picked up two halves of a sketch.
Phil frowned. "Whoever has the most to gain from it."
Heather sucked in a deep breath. Alberto. He didn't want her designing for Jean-Luc. "I need to talk to Alberto."
"You think he did it?" Pierre asked. "I've known Alberto for years. I don't think he would. But don't worry. We'll investigate the matter thoroughly."
"It won't happen again," Phil assured her.
Phil and Pierre left, and she stood there, looking at the destruction. Could Alberto really do something this mean? At least there was plenty of silk chiffon still on the bolt. She would have to cut the dress again. If she started now, she could be sewing by noon.
She smoothed the royal-blue material across the second worktable, then arranged her pattern pieces on top.
"Buon giorno." Alberto strolled into the room. "Pierre said you wanted to see me?"
Heather took a deep breath to remain calm. "What do you know about this?" She motioned to the table behind her.
"Oh my God! What happened?" He rushed over for a closer look.
"I was hoping you would tell me."
He picked up a piece of slashed fabric. "This is terrible!"
She glared at him. "It sure is."
His eyes widened suddenly, and the material slipped from his fingers. "You think I...?" He huffed with indignation. "I have no need to resort to this. Your line of clothing will fail miserably on its own."
Heather hesitated. He seemed genuinely affronted. But if Alberto hadn't done this, then who did? "Oh, of course. It was the models. Simone and...Helga."
"Inga." Alberto rubbed at the red scrape on his neck. "They do not control their anger well."
"You can say that again. What is their problem?"
Alberto winced. "Please. Don't tell Jean-Luc. He's already angry at them. He'll fire them for sure."
"They deserve to be fired."
"No! Please. It would destroy them."
Heather snorted. "They're top fashion models. They could work anywhere."
"No, they cannot. Jean-Luc is the only one who would hire them. He - he understands their...problem. They have a, uh, disability."
"Right. I recognized that right off the bat."
His eyes widened. "You did?"
"Oh yeah. It's called psycho bitch."
"No! They - they cannot go out into the sun at all. Most designers would never tolerate that."
"You mean they're allergic to the sun?"
Alberto shrugged. "You could say that. Imagine - no photo shoots on the beach. No other designer would hire them. They'll be completely ruined if Jean-Luc fires them."