The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake 4) - Page 58

More people arrived, and soon all the seats were filled. Robby shut the door, then walked down the hall. A few seconds later, he strolled onto the catwalk. Obviously he'd used vampire speed once he was out of sight.

Gregori stepped onto the platform next to the runway. "Good evening, and welcome to Schnitzelberg's first fashion show."

The small crowd cheered. Pom-poms waved.

Gregori grinned. "This is a charity event. For each person in attendance, Jean-Luc Echarpe is donating one thousand dollars to the Schnitzelberg Independent School District."

More cheers.

Jean-Luc scanned the room. Every visitor was mortal. None of them had approached him to talk or thank him, so it looked like his identity was still a secret.

"We'll start with two designs by Alberto Alberghini," Gregori continued. "May I introduce our world-famous models - Simone and Inga!"

The crowd clapped politely. Jean-Luc suspected they'd never heard of his famous models.

Music started. Alberto was controlling that from backstage. At the front door, Ian dimmed the sconces on the walls, so the runway would look brighter.

Simone stepped onto the runway. There was an appreciative gasp among the crowd.

"Simone is wearing a black silk evening gown that shimmers with thousands of bugle beads," Gregori read from his notes. "The draped back gives it just the right dramatic touch. A stunning design."

Simone marched down the runway and struck a pose. Jean-Luc watched her carefully. She glared at him, but then she always modeled with an angry expression. She was halfway back when Inga began her walk.

"Inga is wearing an ivory cocktail dress of shantung silk," Gregori announced. "Note the slanted neckline which leaves one shoulder bare and how this is echoed in the asymmetrical hem. An elegant creation by Alberto Alberghini."

The crowd clapped politely.

"Did Alberto write this script?" Heather whispered.

Jean-Luc nodded. "I edited it." He knew Simone and Inga would be busily changing into their next outfits. Alberto had set up a screen so the mortal models wouldn't see them using vampire speed to change clothes.

"And now," Gregori continued, "we have three designs by Schnitzelberg's very own designer, a promising new talent in the fashion world, Heather Lynn Westfield."

The crowd cheered. Coach Gunter circled a fist in the air and hooted. The cheerleaders shook their pom-poms.

Heather ducked her head. "I can't believe this."

"The town loves you," Jean-Luc whispered. "I can see why."

She looked at him, her eyes sparkling with emotion. "Thank you for believing in me."

He took her hand. "It doesn't have to end tonight."

"All right!" Gregori grinned. "Our first model is Miss Gray, an English teacher from Guadalupe High."

Miss Gray stepped hesitantly onto the runway, wearing Heather's first gown.

The cheerleaders leaped to their feet, their pom-poms in the air. "Go, Miss Gray!" Shake, shake, shake. "Go, Miss Gray!"

Alberto started the music up again. Miss Gray smiled and apparently realized she was among friends. She walked down the runway, her smile growing.

"Miss Gray is wearing an evening gown of royal-blue silk chiffon," Gregori read from his notes. "Notice the expert flow of the skirt and the versatility provided by the matching stole."

The second teacher started down the runway.

"Go, Ms. Lawson!" Shake, shake, shake. "Go, Ms. Lawson!"

"Ms. Lawson is wearing a black cocktail dress, topped with a bolero-style vest," Gregori announced. "The red soutache trim on the bolero is repeated on the hem of the skirt. A creation both elegant and bold."

Heather clung to Jean-Luc's hand.

"You're doing great," he whispered.

"If someone wants to attack me, I wish they'd just do it," she whispered back. "The suspense is killing me."

The third teacher stepped onto the runway.

Coach jumped up and hooted. "Way to go, Liz!"

"Go, Miss Schumann!" Shake, shake, shake.

Liz started down the runway, wobbling a bit in her maroon stiletto heels.

"Miss Schumann is wearing a maroon jacket dress," Gregori said. "The fitted dress is topped with an elegant jacket, featuring a pleated portrait collar, three-quarter-length sleeves, and a faux gem button."

She posed at the end of the runway while Coach whipped out a camera.

Jean-Luc ducked, not wanting his picture taken. Zut, Robby must have been too busy checking purses. He'd missed this camera.

A light flashed, apparently blinding Miss Schumann, for the woman stumbled back, then squealed as she teetered on the edge of the runway and fell off.

"I got you, Liz!" Coach rushed toward her and helped her up. "She's okay!" He raised his arms like she'd scored a touchdown.

The crowd cheered. Heather started toward her friend, but Jean-Luc stopped her.

"You need to stay with me." He exchanged a look with Robby. It looked like the three mortal models were safe. But Lui could have still taken over someone's mind in the audience. And Simone still had one walk left.

The crowd gave Liz another round of applause as Coach Gunter escorted her back to the curtained-off area.

Gregori cleared his throat. "And now, we have three more designs by Alberto Alberghini. First up, Schnitzelberg's own world-famous model, Sasha Saladine."

Sasha started down the runway, and the crowd cheered.

"Sasha is wearing a three-piece outfit, all in beige silk," Gregori continued. "The tightly fitted pants and top make a stunning contrast to the loose and flowing full-length coat."

Jean-Luc noticed Sasha had her hands in the coat pockets. That was normal for a model, but...

Sasha pulled out a gun, aimed at Heather, and pulled the trigger.

Jean-Luc leaped in front and felt a sharp sting in his right arm. As thin as Sasha was, the recoil from the pistol sent her flying off the runway. Phineas jumped on her. The deputies and sheriff were running toward her.

"Are you all right?" Jean-Luc looked at Heather. She was shaking, her eyes wide. He pulled her close.

He glanced at the catwalk. Robby was gone. Ian was gone, too. No doubt they'd teleported outside to look for Lui, in case the bastard was lurking about.

The crowd pushed toward the door, screaming.

The sheriff jumped onto the runway. "Calm down! The danger is over."

Coach blew his whistle, and the crowd quieted. "All right, let's go." He steered the crowd out the door. "Form a double line. Move it! Move it!"

Billy jumped down to where Phineas had Sasha pinned on the floor. He helped her up, and she looked around, dazed.

"What happened?" She looked at the sheriff. "Oh hi, Billy. I remember you from high school."

With a frown, he pulled her hands behind her back and cuffed her. "Sasha Saladine, you're under arrest for attempted murder. You have the right to remain silent."

"What?" Sasha turned pale. "I wouldn't hurt anyone."

Billy used a handkerchief to pick up her gun. "You just tried to shoot Heather with this."

Sasha gasped. "I don't know how to shoot. I would never hurt Heather."

"Yeah, right." Billy led her toward the front door. "You probably blew up her truck, too."

Sasha gasped. "No! I don't know what you're talking about. Billy, please." She gave him a beseeching look. "Don't you remember me?"

He looked sadly at her. "Yeah, I do."

Heather pulled away from Jean-Luc. "Billy, she's telling the truth. She's not responsible."

He gave her an incredulous look. "She shot at you. Everyone saw it." He led Sasha out the front door. "You have the right to an attorney..."

Heather turned to Jean-Luc. "We can't let her pay for Louie's crime."

"I'll take care of it," Jean-Luc assured her. "For now, it's more important that we find Lui." He removed the sword from his cane, wincing when his arm objected.

Heather gasped. "Oh my God!"

"What are you doing?" Gregori strode toward him.

"I want you and Phineas to guard Heather while I hunt for Lui."

Gregori shook his head, frowning. "Dude, you're not in any shape to fight. Let Robby and Ian do it."

"But it's my responsibility." Jean-Luc tightened his grip on his sword. For some reason, his hand was tingling and unresponsive. "I have to kill that bastard once and for all."