The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake 4) - Page 43

He opened his eyes. "How is Heather doing?"

"She kept asking why none of you were there," Phil replied. "I said you were all away on business, but she looked suspicious. She insisted I call the fire department and sheriff. After the fire was put out, the sheriff insisted she go with him, but she refused."

Thank God. Jean-Luc took a deep breath. Hopefully, this meant she still trusted him. Or maybe she was trusting in Fidelia's guns. He stood and moved to the window overlooking the showroom. "I'm sick of people dying because of me."

"Lui does the killing, no' you," Robby grumbled. "I'll call Pierre's mother and - "

"No," Jean-Luc said. "I'll do it." And he would make sure Pierre's family never lacked for anything. "Why are we here? We should be guarding Heather."

"She's fine," Robby said. "Phineas is watching her. And you know if Lui teleports into the building, he'll trigger an alarm. We would be all over him."

Jean-Luc paced across the room. "We need a plan. We need more guards."

"I've asked for more," Robby assured him. "Unfortunately, Angus is using every spare man in the hunt for Casimir."

"I'm alone now during the day." Phil sat forward and braced his elbows on his knees. "Unless you count Fidelia and her guns."

"I can help with that." Ian retrieved a vial from his sporran. "Roman gave me a bunch of these. 'Tis the formula that keeps a Vamp awake during the day."

Robby moved closer to look at the greenish liquid. "I thought Roman banned that stuff."

"I thought so, too," Jean-Luc said. "For every day he used it, he aged an entire year."

"Aye, he did." Ian lifted his chin. "But I volunteered to test it for him."

Jean-Luc frowned. "I appreciate you wanting to look older, but I don't want you experimenting with yourself."

"I doona need a guardian, Jean-Luc." Ian dropped the vial back into his sporran. "I'm four hundred and eighty years old. I can make a bloody decision for myself."

Jean-Luc sighed. He couldn't forbid Ian's use of this drug, but he still didn't like it. "Were there any side effects?"

"Roman's hair turned gray at the temples, that's all," Ian muttered. "I'm doing it. Ye canna stop me."

"All right." Jean-Luc sat on the corner of his desk. "We have to lock the place down completely."

"I agree." Robby resumed his pacing. "We should always keep them together. They'll be easier to guard that way."

Jean-Luc nodded. "We'll cancel the charity show." He knew that would upset Alberto and Heather, but better safe than sorry. "Lui would definitely make a move then."

Robby stopped. "Perhaps we should let him."

Jean-Luc shook his head. "I don't want to use Heather as bait."

"We'll keep her surrounded and safe," Robby insisted. "Do ye prefer the alternative? That we stay locked up here like a flock of frightened sheep?"

"We'll keep looking for him," Jean-Luc said. "Fidelia figured out he was hiding at the Chicken Ranch. Maybe she can find him again."

"She tried that earlier," Phil said. "Before you guys woke up. She was so upset about Pierre, she swore she would find Lui herself and fill him with bullets. I gave her his sword and cane."

"What did she see?" Jean-Luc asked.

"Nothing." Phil shrugged. "She said he was gone. He was too far away for her to reach."

Jean-Luc paced across the floor, digesting this information. Could Lui really be gone? Was killing the museum curator and Pierre enough to satisfy his need for vengeance? But Lui had threatened Heather and him. In fact, Lui had claimed that Casimir would pay him a small fortune to kill Jean-Luc. "He can't be gone. He's not finished."

"I agree." Robby sat, frowning. "He might retreat for a few days, but only to lull us into a false sense of security."

Jean-Luc nodded. "He'll be back. Just like the message he wrote in blood. He'll meet us at a time of his own choosing."

"We should stay here," Phil suggested. "That would force him to come here."

"And we would be ready for him." Ian's eyes narrowed. "I bet he'll come the night of the runway show."

"We don't even know what he looks like," Jean-Luc reminded them. "And he could use mind control on anyone involved with the show or even attending the show. Anyone there could be an assassin."

"Then we'll limit the attendance to just a few," Ian suggested.

Jean-Luc paced across the room. The only way to be rid of Lui was to confront him. He could keep Heather safe. He'd never leave her side. "All right. We'll plan to kill him on the night of the runway show."

Heather lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. Her eyes burned with exhaustion, but she didn't want to shut them. Every time she did, her mind flashed the same horrible picture - her truck ablaze with Pierre inside.

She wished she could erase the image from her memory. Or turn back time, so Pierre could still be alive. Or turn it back further, so Mrs. Bolton could be alive. How different everything would be if last Friday, she had done as Jean-Luc had asked and run away. But she had tried to be brave and rescue Jean-Luc. Now she had no choice but to be brave. The bomb had been intended for her.

She had to make sure no one else died. She needed to be brave, cautious, and smart. Why should she rely solely on Jean-Luc and his guards to keep her and Bethany safe? Obviously they were not infallible.

Fidelia had her guns, and she was prepared to use them. Heather needed to be just as tough. She would arm herself with knowledge. That's what professionals did when they were at war. They gathered intelligence.

She sat up in bed. It was time to uncover some of the secrets in this place. After all, it was her life on the line. They had no right to keep her in the dark. Fourteen eighty-five. Would those numbers get her into the cellar?

She checked the bedside clock. Three twenty-three A.M. She slipped out of bed and wondered if she should change clothes. No, it would take too long, and the noise might wake Fidelia or Bethany. She'd stay in her blue and yellow Tweety Bird pajamas from the discount store.

She peeked into the hallway. It was empty. Earlier in the evening, Phineas had stayed outside their door, and she'd heard traffic coming and going from Jean-Luc's office. Now everything was quiet.

She noted the camera over the office door. If she went past it to the backstairs, the guards might see her. They'd stop her before she could venture close to the cellar.

She squeezed through the door and tiptoed in the opposite direction. Her bare feet were silent on the thick carpet. The hallway took a sharp turn to the right, where it opened onto the catwalk across the back of the showroom.

Moonlight filtered through the tall back windows, casting long gray shadows across the showroom's marble floor. The mannequins posed, their bare arms gleaming white and stark. There were two cameras high on the walls, but they were aimed at the room below. The catwalk was bracketed on each side with a waist-high wall.

She crouched down so she wouldn't be seen and dashed across the catwalk. It ended by the back door to the design studio. She punched fourteen eighty-five on the keypad and felt a small rush when the door opened. She slipped inside.

The studio was dark except for the slashes of moonlight spilling through the French doors. She carefully descended the spiral staircase. The metal steps were icy cold against her bare feet. She crept across the studio, hugging the dark shadows along the walls and hoping she didn't show up on the cameras.

She cracked open the door and peered into the hallway. The cellar door was at the end of the hall. And at the other end, close to the showroom, there was a camera.

Damn. There was no way to avoid it. But she'd come too far to give up now. If she ran, she could be at the cellar door in six seconds.

She took a deep breath and charged. With trembling fingers, she punched in fourteen eighty-five. The door opened. Her heart lurched.

She stepped inside, shut the door, and leaned against it. A dim light overhead illuminated a plain stairwell. Bare walls, a cement landing, a metal railing in front of her. The faint sound of music echoed eerily. She breathed deeply to calm her pounding heart.

So far, so good. No bogeyman was here, brandishing his Texan chainsaw. She moved forward to the railing and saw the stairs going down. Each step was lit by a red light. She descended the cement steps to a landing, then turned to go down another short flight of stairs. The concrete was cold and gritty beneath her feet. She reached a plain wooden door. It inched open easily, and the volume of the music increased.