"I can still go places. I just have to be careful. I can't afford to be spotted by the media."
"How on earth do you travel?" She paused as they entered the showroom. "Don't tell me - you're stashed in a coffin in the cargo bay of a 747."
He winced. "That would be awful. Travel is actually very easy for us. We just teleport."
"Teleport? Nobody teleports, except in sci-fi shows."
She gazed around the showroom, speechless. She turned back to Jean-Luc, and he vanished.
She gasped. "Jean-Luc?"
She jumped and spun around. He was behind her. "Oh. That was too sneaky."
"It comes in very handy. That's how my guards were able to bring your daughter's toys here."
She narrowed her eyes. "You could teleport into my bedroom whenever you like, even with the door locked?"
"Yes. But don't forget - I'm an honorable man."
She winced with a sudden thought. "Then Louie could teleport here. He could go straight to my bedroom - "
"Heather," he interrupted her, touching her shoulder. "An alarm goes off the second anyone teleports into the building. It went off last night when Simone returned."
"Oh. So that's why you barged into my bedroom."
He really was protecting her. "I appreciate how hard all of you are working to keep us safe."
He smiled. "When this is all over, I think we should go on a date."
"You mean dinner and a movie?" She scoffed. "I'm not volunteering to be dinner."
He chuckled. "No, but I could take you somewhere out of the public eye, like Angus's castle in Scotland or Roman's villa in Tuscany."
What a rascal. He was dangling a carrot that she found hard to resist. She'd always longed to travel.
"I have Vamp friends all over the world who would welcome us," Jean-Luc continued. "We just have to be sure that I'm not recognized. Or that the sun hasn't risen."
"You mean you would take me with you when you teleport?"
"Yes. It's quite simple, really."
She snorted. "That's easy for you to say. You're talking about turning me into some kind of...vapor, then hoping I materialize with my head on straight."
"It's perfectly safe."
"It doesn't sound safe."
He tilted his head, considering her. "I'll show you how it works now, then you won't have to worry about it."
She stepped back. "I'm okay with worrying. I'm really quite good at worrying."
"We'll just go to my office." He pointed to the second-floor window that overlooked the showroom. "And then later, when I take you on a longer trip, you won't be afraid."
Good Lord, he was so enticing. "I might agree to a date sometime in the future. But that doesn't mean I've agreed to that courtship idea of yours."
"Fine. We'll do a practice run now." He moved closer.
Her heart lurched. Oh God, she'd agreed to teleport.
He placed his hands lightly around her waist. "There are a few things you must do for it to work."
"Put your arms around my neck and hold tight."
She slowly moved her hands up to his neck. "What now?"
He wrapped his arms around her. "Now you kiss me."
She scoffed. "They never did that on Star Trek."
"What if you're teleporting alone or with a guy?"
He winced. "All right. I lied." He gave her a rueful smile. "But you can't blame me for trying."
She swatted his shoulder.
He chuckled. "You do have to hold me tight, though."
The room began to waver, and Heather grabbed his neck for dear life.
"Trust me." His soft words whispered in her ear just before everything went black.
She felt a floating sensation, then a solid floor beneath her feet. She opened her eyes. She was in a large office. "That was spooky."
"You'll get used to it."
She stepped back, and he released her. She wandered around the office, noting the two leather wingback chairs, the desk, computer, and file cabinets. She stopped by a worktable that was strewn with beautiful fabric in shades of green and blue. A pile of peacock feathers begged to be touched. She stroked the soft fronds.
"I knew you would have to touch," he spoke quietly behind her. "You like texture."
Her skin prickled with goose bumps. "How did you know?"
"I've been watching you." He moved close beside her. "You like the smoothness of silk against your bare skin. You like to touch chenille and velvet." He picked up a peacock feather. "This reminded me of you. It holds all the different shades of green and turquoise that I see in your eyes. They change slightly when you're smiling or frowning or...climaxing."
She shot him an annoyed look. "Your eyes change, too."
He smiled and handed her a stack of sketches. "What do you think?"
She looked them over. He was so talented. He managed to draw on centuries of fashion experience and create something both classic and new. "They're beautiful."
"So is my inspiration." He stroked the edge of the feather down the side of her face and down her neck.
She dropped the sketches and paced toward the window. She gazed down at the mannequins, stark white in the dark showroom. "I need to know more about you."
"What do you wish to know?"
She leaned her forehead against the cool glass. "Everything. You know everything about me."
He sighed. "There's not much to tell. I was born a poor peasant, the son of Jean who cleaned out the stable. I don't recall a family name."
She turned to face him. "What about Echarpe?"
"I acquired that name after I was transformed. Some Vamps gave it to me as a jest. After women...encountered me, they would wear a scarf to hide the marks." He shrugged. "Echarpe means 'scarf.'"
She winced. "A sad joke."
"Much of my life has been a sad joke. I have...fought to be where I am today."
She could relate to that. "Is it true what you said the other night - that your mother died when you were young?"
Frowning, he sat in one of the wingback chairs. "Both my parents died. I was orphaned by the age of six. The baron allowed me to sleep in the stable and take over my father's duties."
Heather huffed. "Well, that was kind of him."
"It was better than being homeless."
She walked toward him, stopping at the desk. "Go on."
"The baron was a seasoned warrior, and he had several wards living at the chateau with his son. He was training them all for knighthood. I would hide behind barrels to watch. Then I practiced at night in the stable with a staff."
She nodded. "I bet you were good."
"The baron's son was a bully, and he would beat the other boys to a pulp. The baron did nothing, for he was proud of his son. One day, when I was about ten years old, the son had one of the wards down on the ground, and he was pummeling him with a club. I grabbed my staff and shoved him away. We engaged in battle."
Heather winced. As a history teacher, she understood the severe consequences if a peasant attacked one of his superiors.
"The servants were yelling at me to stop and run away," Jean-Luc continued. "The other wards ran to alert the baron. And I continued to fight. I fought like a madman. All my years of frustration and misery erupted with so much anger."
"I can believe that." She'd been so angry at herself for her years of being a doormat. "What did the baron do?"
"He ordered us to stop. I realized then what I had done. I thought I was going to die." Jean-Luc rubbed his brow, frowning. "That was the first time I felt the full extent of being powerless. My fate was entirely in the hands of another man."
"How terrible." Heather moved to the chair next to him.
"To everyone's surprise, the baron walked up to his son and backhanded him across the face so hard, the boy fell to the ground with a cut lip. The baron called it punishment for failing to kill an inferior in battle. Then he said if I wanted to fight, I could. I was astonished, but it seemed much better than mucking out the stables for the rest of my life, so I agreed."
"You trained with the other boys?"