His mouth curled up. "Are we talking about the same thing?"
"I don't know." Her heart pounded. It was hard to think when he looked at her like that.
"I'm going to show you the rest of the fall collection."
"Oh." She blinked. "Right. That's what I thought."
"But of course." The twinkle in his eye was suspicious. He opened the door and escorted her inside.
"It's dark - " She hushed when some lights came on.
A quick glance at the high ceiling let her know he'd turned on only half the lights. Her gaze moved downward. The room was huge, much bigger than the showroom. Shelves lined the walls, filled with bolts of beautiful fabric. Her fingers itched to touch it all. In the back, she spotted two sewing machines. They were reflecting off the glass of French doors along the back wall. To the left of the room sat two large cutting tables. To the right, rack after rack of fabulous clothes. In the center, a host of male and female mannequins stood in a circle like the Stonehenge of high fashion.
Good Lord, what she would give to have a workroom like this. It was heaven. "This is where the magic happens."
"Magic?" He shut the door. "I would call it hard work."
"But it is magical." She wandered toward the first rack of clothes, her heels clunking on the wooden floor. "This is where ideas give birth to beautiful things."
He followed her. "Then you like the design studio?"
"Oh yes." She eyed the cleverly cut jackets and skirts on the first rack. "Adorable." She rubbed the fabric between her fingers and frowned.
"It's a winter jacket."
"And this is Texas. You might sell it in the Panhandle, but down here, you'd have to turn on the air conditioning to wear it, even in the winter."
"I didn't realize that." He crossed his arms, frowning.
"The cut is remarkable, though." She admired one of the jackets. "The guy's a genius."
"I thought he was completely detached from reality."
Heather laughed. "That, too." She proceeded to the second rack.
"Did you make your dress?"
She winced. "Is it that obvious?"
He shrugged. "It is well made, actually. The fabric is crap, but so much of it is these days."
"Oh, I know. I've bought things that literally fall apart after two washings." She halted in front of a beaded bolero jacket as a thought suddenly occurred to her. Since when did security guards know anything about fabric?
"Is it your own design?" he asked.
"Sorta. I like to combine different features from different patterns to make something...unique."
He nodded. "It is unique."
"Thank you." Who was this guy? "Do...do you work for Echarpe as a designer?"
"Would you like to?"
Her mouth fell open. "Huh?"
"You've convinced me that I'm neglecting part of the market, and women such as yourself deserve to look your best."
"I believe more of these designs could be adapted for fuller figures, and you might be just the person to do it."
"Come back Monday evening if you wish to start."
"Oh." Good Lord, she was sounding like a moron. "I could work here? In this magical place?"
"Oh my gosh!" Obviously this guy wasn't security. "Are you the manager? I - I hope you weren't offended by some of the things I said. I did say Echarpe was a genius."
"And that he was completely detached from reality. And that you had to fix his designs."
Heather winced. "I got a little carried away. But it's only because I feel so passionately that women like me deserve to look as good as our skinnier sisters."
"You have passion." He motioned to her dress. "And talent. Otherwise, I would not hire you."
She grinned. "Oh, thank you! This is a dream come true." She pressed a hand to her chest. "I'm so excited, Mr. - uh, what shall I call you?"
He bowed slightly. "Allow me to introduce myself." His eyes gleamed as he slowly smiled. "I am Jean-Luc Echarpe."
Jean-Luc expected her reaction to be entertaining, and it was. Heather's mouth fell open. Her lovely green eyes widened in horror. Blood rushed from her face, leaving her so pale, even her freckles faded away.
He grinned. He hadn't had this much fun in years. She opened and shut her pretty mouth, but no words came out, so she looked rather like a fish. An adorable fish.
He tilted his head. "You were saying?"
She managed to choke out a few strangled squeaks. "How can you be - I - I thought you were really old."
He arched a brow.
"I mean...oh God, I'm sorry." She pushed back her thick curls. Her purse tumbled to the floor. "Aw, shoot."
He leaned over to retrieve it.
"No, I'll get it." She grabbed her purse so fast, she stumbled as she was straightening.
He reached out to steady her.
"I'm okay." She stretched an arm toward some clothing to catch herself. Unfortunately, the clothes parted like the Red Sea, leaving her to plummet to the floor. "Aagh!"
"I've got you!" He grabbed hold of her sleeve. Rip.
She crashed onto the floor with him holding her sleeve in his hand. Merde.
He leaned over her. "Are you all right?" Her skirt had ridden up, revealing her shapely legs. He couldn't help but imagine those thighs wrapped around his waist. Or his neck.
"Are you really Jean-Luc Echarpe?" she asked.
She moaned and covered her face. "Do you have a cellar I can crawl into for about fifty years?"
Actually he did, and he was tempted to invite her there. She would certainly brighten up his long exile. But he had no right to imprison a mortal just to entertain himself.
He sat on the floor beside her. "There's no need to be embarrassed."
"I'm mortified. Just kill me now."
He chuckled. "I was saying the same thing earlier this evening. We are too melodramatic, non?"
"I said some awful things about you." She lowered her hands. "I'm really sorry."
"Don't apologize for being honest. I like it. In this business, very few people are honest."
She sat up and winced when she noticed her skirt. She hurriedly adjusted it. "I don't understand how you can be so hand - young. You've designed clothes for people like Marilyn Monroe."
Had she almost called him handsome? His smile faded when he realized it was time to start lying. Zut. She'd been so honest with him. "I'm the...son of the original Jean-Luc Echarpe. You may call me Jean, so you won't confuse me with my father."
"Oh. That's great that you inherited his talent."
Jean-Luc shrugged. He hated deception. That was why he normally preferred the company of Vamps. Any relationship with a mortal required a number of lies, especially now that he had to go into hiding. He handed Heather the ripped sleeve. "I'm sorry it tore."
"That's okay." She stuffed it into her purse. "Like you said, the fabric is crap." She looked around the room and grinned. "I can't believe I'm sitting in a real design studio with a famous fashion designer."
He smiled as he rose to his feet. "Are you coming Monday to work?" He extended a hand to help her up.
"Oh, you bet. This is a dream come true for me." She placed her hand in his.
He pulled her up so quickly, she bumped against his chest. His arms instantly surrounded her. She glanced up with her lovely eyes. Such a dark, vivid green. He could hear her heartbeat speeding up now that she was in his arms. He liked that. "Do you know how beautiful you are?"
She shook her head.
Apparently he could also make her lose the ability to speak. Desire sizzled through his veins. She felt so warm and sweet, but he had to stop before his eyes glowed red. She was too great a temptation, and he was always careful to avoid real relationships.
He released her. "I'm afraid I can only hire you for two weeks." Once the store closed, the only mortal allowed inside would be his security guard, Pierre.
"I understand." She stepped back, her face sad. "I realize I have no experience. And I have to go back to teaching in September."
"Are you assuming I'll find fault with you?" Her responding blush indicated he'd touched a nerve. He suspected her feisty attitude was hiding a pit of self-doubt. It was a trick he recognized, having used it himself.