Heather swallowed hard. "He said he loves me."
Heather slumped. "He said he'd waited five hundred years for me."
"But he's a vampire."
Fidelia shrugged. "Nobody's perfect. My second husband - he had six toes on one foot."
"This is a little more serious than that. Jean-Luc is literally dead half the time."
Fidelia nodded. "For most men, that would be an improvement."
"I'm serious! I have to stay away from him. I want a normal life for me and Bethany. We'll live here for the moment, but I'm going to avoid him at all costs."
"All right," Fidelia agreed. "You must never talk to him, even if he is muy romantico. And you must try not to think about how good the sex was. It was really good, wasn't it?"
"You're not helping. Whose side are you on?"
Fidelia patted her knee. "I'm on the side of your heart, chica. Your heart will tell you what to do if you listen."
Heather groaned as another jab of pain targeted her temple. This was not the advice she wanted to hear. For when it came to her heart, she feared it was already lost.
After tossing and turning with too many sexy memories replaying in her sore head, Heather gave up on sleep. She took a long hot shower, dressed, and headed down the stairs to the studio by five A.M. As she neared the security office, the door opened.
"Good morning, lass," Robby greeted her.
She mumbled a greeting and hurried past him. If she could just immerse herself in the work she loved, she might be able to forget all the vampires lurking about. They probably all knew by now that their secret was out.
"Hey! Wait up, dudette!"
She glanced back. Great. The one named Phineas was following her. She kept walking.
"Whassup?" He caught up with her.
"Nothing." She stopped in front of the studio doors and punched fourteen eighty-five into the keypad. "I just want to work."
"That's cool. Don't mind me. I'm just hanging out."
"Like a bat?" she muttered as she entered the studio.
"More like your own personal bodyguard." He closed the door behind her. "We want to keep you safe."
"Somehow I'd feel a lot safer without a vampire following me."
Phineas stopped with an injured look. "I ain't gonna hurt you."
Had she actually hurt his feelings? "You've never bitten anyone before?"
He winced. "I ain't perfect, but I've worked real hard to control myself. I know I was a bum before. Hell, I was a real loser when I was alive, but Angus believes in me, and I ain't gonna let him down."
She proceeded to the worktable to organize her supplies. "Are you saying your life is better now that you're dead?"
"I ain't dead. At least not right now. And yeah, my life is better. This is my first real job, and I'm doing real good. I'm sending money home to my family. And I'm learning how to fence and do martial arts. You wanna see?"
Before she could say no, Phineas spun around to face the cluster of mannequins in the center of the room.
"Hai-ya!" He assumed an attack pose. "You're going down, sucker!"
He grabbed a male mannequin by the arm, twisted, and bent over at the waist. Heather assumed the mannequin was supposed to fly over his shoulder and crash on the floor, but unfortunately, the arm simply came off.
Phineas looked surprised for only a second, then he tossed the arm on the floor. "Yeah, I whupped your ass." He pranced back, holding up his dukes. "You won't be messing with me, sucker! I'll turn you into the one-armed man!"
A grin tugged at Heather's mouth, and she turned away. The last thing she wanted was to remember how much she actually liked these guys. She wandered toward the dress form where she'd draped the finished parts of the first gown. There was a note stabbed to the form with a sewing pin. She glanced over the black cursive script to read the signature at the bottom.
Jean-Luc. Her heart lurched. She removed the note.
An excellent start on your first gown. The show will take place as planned, a week from this Saturday. Attendance will be restricted. I wish you well with your designs, but my first priority is your safety.
That was it. Polite and businesslike. She was almost disappointed. He could have written something like, Sorry I'm a vampire, or I'd rather die again than ever bite you. But no, he didn't even mention his role as a blood-sucking fiend. And he didn't write anything romantic, either.
She crumpled up the note and dropped it in the trash bin. It was better this way. He was her boss, nothing more. As soon as Louie was dead, she was outta here. She settled down at the sewing machine to finish the skirt.
Phineas perched on the worktable. "Robby thinks you're afraid of him. That's why he sent me to guard you."
"I'm not afraid." Just totally freaked. She stepped on the foot pedal to start the machine.
"It takes time to get used to us. Man, I was totally freaked when I first found out I was a vampire."
Heather stopped sewing. Had he read her mind? More likely, totally freaked was just the universal reaction to vampires. "How long have you been...like this?"
"Just over a year." Phineas described his transformation at the hands, or teeth, of some evil vampire dudes, and how Angus had saved him.
"The evil ones still feed on people?" Heather asked.
"Yeah. They even kill people. We hate them." Phineas puffed out his chest. "We're the good guys."
"So there are good vampires and bad ones?"
"Yeah. How does Connor say it? Death doesn't change a man's heart. So a bad dude's gonna stay bad, you see."
"And a good man stays good?" Like Jean-Luc. She'd always felt he was a good man. A wonderful man. I know you love me. His words haunted her.
"Yeah, that's right." Phineas launched into a long story about a really bad dude named Casimir.
Heather returned to her sewing, but found herself drawn into the story and asking questions. Apparently the two factions were called Vamps and Malcontents, and they were on the verge of an all-out war. Angus MacKay had been the Vamp general in the Great Vampire War of 1710.
"Did Jean-Luc fight in the war?" she asked.
"Hell, yeah. He was second in command. Connor told me Jean-Luc never left Roman's side. He took some major cuts to keep Roman safe."
He was a loyal friend, a hero among his own kind. But his world was totally beyond hers. It was a dangerous world, too. Not a good place for her and Bethany. She tried not to think about him. "Who's Connor?"
"Roman's head bodyguard. I'm usually assigned to Roman's house, but Connor insisted on hiding them."
"They're in danger?" Heather recalled meeting Roman briefly. His wife had been very friendly and - Heather stopped sewing with a gasp. "They have a child!"
"Yeah. Roman's like a scientific genius, you know. He makes the synthetic blood we drink. And when Shanna wanted a baby, he figured out a way to make the baby his."
Heather couldn't believe it. "That sweet little boy is the son of a vampire?"
"Yeah. He's a cute little guy, huh?"
"But how could Shanna have a baby? Vampires are dead, sorta." This was too confusing.
"Shanna's mortal." Phineas grinned. "Like you."
Heather gulped. A mortal married to a vampire? And giving birth to his son. How could Shanna do that? But she seemed so happy. And the baby boy was beautiful.
"Mama!" Bethany skipped into the room, followed by Fidelia with her purse and Ian.
Heather glanced at the clock. It was after six. She hugged her daughter. "You're up early."
"I'm hungry," Bethany announced.
"Come have breakfast with us." Fidelia stepped closer and whispered, "They want us to stay together all day."
"But I have to work," Heather protested.
"Doona worry," Ian said. "We'll bring some furniture in here and make sure ye're all comfy."
Soon Heather and her family were sitting around the kitchen table eating cereal while Phineas stood guard. Ian plucked the recliner off the floor and left, carrying it over his head as if it weighed no more than five pounds.
"Hmm, muy macho." Fidelia leaned to the side to watch his exit.
Heather swallowed her cereal with a gulp. Apparently vampires were very strong. She recalled how easily Jean-Luc had picked her up and tossed her on the bed. Other memories rushed back. Good Lord, he was so hot. But off limits. She shoved the memories away.