The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake 4) - Page 50

"Can't be bought?" Fidelia asked wryly.

"No." Heather laid the dress back into the box. "I'll be returning this."

Ian dug into the fourth box, then quickly closed it. With a blush staining his youthful face, he pushed the box toward Heather. "It's for you."

"What did you get, Mama?" Bethany danced over, waving her doll in the air.

Heather pulled out something red and lacy. A bra. She stuffed it back in. "It's nothing. Just clothes."

"Oh." Bethany turned away, disappointed.

"Let me see." Fidelia inched closer.

Heather fumbled under the peanuts and pulled out another item. Black lacy underwear. She stuffed it back in.

Fidelia chuckled. "That Juan-Luc. He's a naughty one."

Heather shook her head. He'd ordered this stuff Sunday night? Had he planned on seducing her all along? She pulled out a midnight-blue silk nightgown, edged with lace. Yep, apparently, he had.

"Mmm, muy romantico," Fidelia whispered.

Heather closed the box, feeling the heat of a blush. Even Ian and Phil looked embarrassed. They were studying a shadow on the wall.

"I'm not keeping this stuff." She stacked her two boxes neatly. "I refuse to be in his debt."

Fidelia shook her head. "I don't care what you say. I'm not giving back my new cards."

They all proceeded to the design studio. Curtains had been drawn across the French doors along the back wall. The furniture from the kitchen had been arranged in a front corner, away from Heather's sewing machine. She could sew all day without interfering with Fidelia's ability to watch television.

The morning passed without further incident. Lunch was a little creepy when Ian sauntered into the kitchen, sipping something red from a glass.

Alberto joined them a bit later. "Do you have any idea where Sasha is? She never showed up for our lunch date."

Heather shrugged. "She's at some spa in San Antonio."

"I called there, and she checked out."

"Oh." Heather took a bite of her turkey sandwich while she considered. "Her mom lives nearby. Sasha might be visiting her." Or she might be avoiding Alberto.

He frowned at his sandwich. "I suppose."

"I'm sure she'll be back in time for the charity show," Heather said. "There's no way she'd miss that."

Alberto nodded. "That reminds me. We need to set up a runway in the showroom. Do you know any local carpenters?"

Phil shook his head. "We don't want strange workmen coming in."

"I've got an idea." Heather carried her plate to the sink. "The high school where I teach put on a musical last year, and they built a runway into the orchestra pit. I could check to see if they still have it."

"Good." Alberto looked relieved. "See if they can bring it here. I'll work on the invitation list."

"No more than twenty guests," Ian warned him.

Alberto scoffed. "That's ridiculous!"

Ian arched an eyebrow. "Ye can say that after what happened to Pierre?"

"But once I invite the school board members, and the mayor and city council, that will be almost twenty guests," Alberto protested.

"The show will be small," Ian repeated. "Jean-Luc's orders. Safety first."

Alberto left the room, grumbling.

The rest of them returned to the studio where Heather worked while Fidelia and Bethany tried all the outfits on the new doll. It was almost six o'clock when Ian stumbled and caught the edge of a worktable to steady himself.

"Something wrong?" Phil walked toward him.

"I feel...strange."

Heather stopped sewing to watch.

Ian doubled over with a long moan.

She rushed over to him. "Are you all right?"

"Nay." He stumbled forward, then collapsed to his knees. He breathed heavily, and sweat glistened on his brow. "I feel verra - " With a groan, he covered his face.

Heather knelt beside him. "Is there anything we can do?"

He cried out, then fell on the floor.

Heather looked at Phil. "We've got to do something."

With a grimace, he shook his head. "We can't take him anywhere. The sun would fry him. And there's no way to explain this to a doctor."

Ian let out a long moan.

"But he's suffering," she whispered.

"Mama, what's wrong with Ian?" Bethany started toward them, but Fidelia pulled her back.

"Don't worry, sweetie," Heather responded. "He's just a little...sick. Something he ate."

Ian cried out again and suddenly stretched out stiff. His hands gripped his face, the knuckles white.

"What can we do?" Heather leaned over him. "Where does it hurt?"

"Everywhere," he breathed. "My face. It feels like it's ripping in two."

Heather touched his shoulder. "You can't take that drug anymore."

"I have to."

"No, you don't. Phil can watch over us during the day. I won't have you suffering because of us."

"'Tis not just for you," Ian groaned. "'Tis for me."

"What do you mean?"

Phil squatted beside them. "He'll age a year for each day he takes the drug."

Heather couldn't imagine why anyone would want to age.

"I'm four hundred and eighty years old," Ian muttered. "I'm a full grown man trapped in the body of a fifteen-year-old. I canna go on like this."

"But this is hurting you," Heather protested.

"I doona care." Ian cried out again and rolled into a fetal position. "I - I need to look older. I want to find true you and Jean-Luc."

She started to deny that she felt anything like love for Jean-Luc, but she noticed that Ian's body had gone still. His hands fell away from his face. "He - he's not breathing."

Phil pressed fingers against Ian's neck. "His heart has stopped."

"Oh my God." Heather fell back onto her rear. "This can't be happening." She scrambled to her feet. "He can't be..." Dead? Weren't vampires already dead? "What - what's going to happen to him?"

"I'm not sure." Phil ran a hand through his thick brown hair. "I can think of two possibilities. It could be that the drug has worn off, and Ian has simply gone into his daily death-sleep. That would be good since he's no longer feeling any pain."

"And the second possibility?"

Phil frowned. "The drug might have killed him."

"No!" Tears sprang to her eyes. "He can't die. All he wanted was an older face and a chance at true love." Dammit, these vampires were way too human.

"I don't think he's dead. At least, not permanently." Phil studied the inert body. "In my experience, a truly dead vampire will turn to dust."

"When will we know for sure?" Heather wiped her eyes.

"When the sun sets. If he's all right, his heart will start beating again." Phil pointed at his face. "Does he look different to you?"

"No." Heather examined him more closely. "Actually, yes. I think his jaw is a little bigger. And he has more of a five o'clock shadow."

Phil nodded. "Growing pains. That's what he was feeling. A year's worth of growing pains. I think he might be a little taller, too."

Heather frowned at the dead body. "Didn't the inventor of this drug know this would happen?"

Phil shook his head. "Roman never felt any pain. Of course, he was already about thirty years old. Since he was full grown, it wasn't such a shock to his body."

"Roman took the drug himself?"

"Yes. After his son was born, he took it for a week to help out with the baby. But then his hair started turning gray, and they realized what was happening."

Heather rose to her feet. "I don't think Ian should take it again. Surely there are female vampires who would understand his problem and accept him as he is?"

Phil stood. "I don't know. But I think this is his decision."

Heather disagreed and decided to talk to Jean-Luc about it. Right after she returned the clothes he'd bought. Shoot, so much for her plan to avoid him completely.

She looked down at Ian's body. "We can't just leave him lying here on the cold hard floor."

Phil's blue eyes twinkled with humor. "He's not feeling anything, believe me."

"It just looks so uncomfy." Heather searched the shelves and located two bolts of soft flannel. She slid one under Ian's head for a pillow and unrolled the other to make him a blanket.