The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake 4) - Page 44

It was the piano and harpsichord again. The melody was slow, beautiful, and terribly sad. They were mourning, she realized. Mourning for Pierre.

She suddenly felt too intrusive. Of course they were mourning for Pierre. They'd known him for years. She'd known him only a few days. She considered going back, but caught a glimpse of the hallway and stopped.

She opened the door further, and her mouth fell open. After the bare stairwell, she'd expected a more spartan environment, but this was...opulent. The hallway was wide enough for five people to walk down at once, and the floor was covered with a beautiful hand-carved rug. It felt thick and woolen to her feet. It was a rich ruby-red with golden fleur-de-lis scattered across it in a trellis pattern. Another pattern of gold and ivory roses formed a wide border around the rug.

The hall was illuminated with golden sconces along the walls, each sconce dripping lead crystal teardrops. Even the ceiling was beautiful - ivory with fancy moldings painted gold. The doors were also ivory with gilt woodwork. Interspersed between the doors were bombé chests and ornate armoires. Antiques, Heather guessed, and incredibly expensive.

She padded silently down the hall, past oil paintings that looked like they belonged in a castle. The music grew louder. It emanated from a room where the double doors were ajar, jutting into the hallway.

She eased behind a door and peered through the crack by the doorframe. She saw the piano. It was an old baby grand decorated with gold scrollwork. A woman was playing, her long blond hair loose down her back. Inga.

A woman moved across the room, blocking Heather's view. It was Simone, doing some sort of dance. A minuet? She glided out of the way, and Heather glimpsed the harpsichord. Jean-Luc? She caught her breath and turned away, pressing her back against the wall.

Jean-Luc was the one playing the harpsichord! She stood there, listening to the melancholy music. He was quite good, actually. But why would a modern man play such an old instrument? The more she learned about him, the more the immortal theory made sense.

He was hurting, she realized, as the sad strains tugged at her heart. She should have talked to him earlier. She should have comforted him. She knew him well enough to know he would blame himself. He was an honorable man with a deep sense of responsibility. An old-fashioned guy. And he might have a very good reason for being old-fashioned.

But she'd refused to see him. She'd reached a point where one more emotional stimulus would have sent her over the edge. She had to withdraw and be alone for a while.

The music brought tears to her eyes. He was such an amazing man. How could she not fall in love with him? Fencing champion, fashion designer, musician. One hell of a kisser. Of course, if he was immortal, he'd had centuries to develop his talents.

She tiptoed down the hall, wondering what to do next. Should she confront him? Maybe. But not with Simone and Inga around.

The music stopped. She turned, suddenly afraid that she'd been spotted. But no, the hallway was still empty. She heard a clicking sound at the other end of the hallway. The door was opening.

She dashed behind a tall armoire and plastered herself against the wall. Footsteps approached, muffled by the thick carpet.

"Robby!" the ladies exclaimed. "You must stay and dance with us."

He was in the music room, Heather realized. Could she make it to the other exit before he came out? He was talking so softly, she couldn't make out his words.

Her attention was snagged by the oil painting right across from her. Definitely an antique. The guy was wearing black leather bucket boots, maroon knee breeches and waistcoat, and a white shirt with a wide lace collar. A short velvet cape was slung nonchalantly over one shoulder. His foil was by his side, the tip planted on the floor, his hand resting lightly on the ornate hilt.

Heather smiled. He looked like one of the Three Musketeers. Or a pirate, except that he was too clean and well dressed. His long black hair curled to his shoulders, and his wide-brimmed hat boasted two plumes - white and maroon. A sharp dresser. Pretty blue eyes.

Her heart froze. Goose bumps tingled down her arms. Good Lord, she knew those eyes. She'd kissed those lips.

It was true. He really was immortal.

"Thank you for the warning," Jean-Luc's voice drifted from the music room. "I'll take care of her."

Her breath caught. Was he talking about her? Oh God, they were leaving the music room. She wasn't ready for this. She needed time to accept this new reality. Immortal men. She opened the nearest door and slipped inside.

The room was dark except for a dim sliver of light to the left. As her eyes adjusted she made out several pieces of furniture - an armoire, a wingback chair and ottoman situated next to a table and lamp. There was no mistaking the largest form in the room. The bed was huge and dark. The headboard stretched halfway to the ceiling.

Great, just what she needed, to be discovered in someone's bedroom. The sliver of light drew her attention. She walked toward it, feeling the smooth coolness of a wooden floor beneath her feet. As she approached the foot of the bed, she stepped onto a thick rug. Hand-carved wool in an Aubusson style.

The dim light emanated from a pair of double doors that had been left partially open. She pushed the doors further open and sucked in a deep breath.

It was the most beautiful bathroom she'd ever seen. Marble floors and countertops gleamed a soft, rosy beige. Ornate gold faucets curved over two scalloped sinks. The shower stall was huge and boasted three shower heads. But the most striking feature was the huge whirlpool bathtub in the middle of the room. It was rectangular in shape, with a marble column at each corner. The columns were topped with a gilded cupola. Marble steps led up to the tub.

She ascended a few steps and peeked under the cupola. It was painted like a summer sky, complete with sun and white, fluffy clouds. As she stared, the sky grew brighter. No, the whole room was brighter. She slowly turned.

Jean-Luc was standing by the door with his hand on the dimmer switch.

She swallowed hard. At least he didn't look angry. "Hi. I know I shouldn't be here, but - "

"Do you like it?" He waved toward the giant bathtub.

"I - yes. It's...very nice. I mean, fantastic, really."

"It's great for relieving stress. You can use it whenever you like."

"It's...your tub?"

He nodded, then glanced over his shoulder. "My bedroom."

"Oh." Of all the bedrooms in the world to stumble into...

"Are you all right?" he asked. "I was worried about you."

"I'm fine." He didn't seem too upset about her trespassing. But he did look pale and worried. "I'm really sorry about Pierre."

His gaze lowered to the floor. "So am I."

The poor guy was hurting. She eased down the steps to the marble floor. "It's late. I should be going."

"No." His gaze lifted to her. "We need to talk."

She gulped. Was he going to confess the truth now about being immortal?

"How did you get the combination to the keypad?" he asked.

"Alberto, but he was only trying to help. He didn't expect me to...sneak down here."

A corner of Jean-Luc's mouth tilted up, although his smile still looked sad. "He underestimates you."

"I saw the portrait in the hall. The musketeer guy." She wanted to say you, but the word stuck in her throat.

"Heather." He stepped toward her, and she moved back. He halted, and a pained look crossed his face. "I would never hurt you."

"I know. But this is all kinda...weird."

"I would do anything to protect you and Bethany. You're safe with me." He motioned to his bedroom. "Come and have a seat. We need to talk."

She eased past him into the bedroom. It wasn't quite so dark now, and she could see the bed was covered with a maroon velvet comforter. The wingback chair and ottoman were also maroon. She perched on the ottoman.

He pushed the bathroom doors partially closed, causing the bedroom to grow darker. Then he walked to his bed and sat on the end of it. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you. It may be difficult to believe."

She took a deep breath as if preparing to dive into the deep end. At war with fear, she reminded herself. "It's all right. I already know your secret."

Chapter 20

She knew?

Jean-Luc cleared his throat. "Perhaps I should start at the beginning."

"Fourteen eighty-five?" she whispered. "I - I think that could be the year of your birth."