Robby paced around her, his claymore clenched in a tight fist. "I need to search the grounds. Now."
Jean-Luc nodded. "Go."
Robby sprinted toward the French doors along the back wall and let himself out.
Jean-Luc took a deep breath. "Are you all right?"
"I guess." Heather dropped the belts and Lui's foil onto a cutting table. "But I don't understand what's going on. What's the deal with all these swords? And why would anyone want to kill a fashion designer?"
"It's a long story." And a painful one. "I wish you had run like I told you to do."
"I meant to, but when I saw him attacking you with that sword, and all you had was a mannequin - I don't know. I should have been afraid, but I've been afraid all my life, and I'm sick and tired of it. Then all this anger came pouring out. Anger at myself for being a wimp. Anger at my ex for being an ass**le. I just had to take action. And - and I was good!"
Jean-Luc took her hand in his. He suspected it was her ex-husband who had left her immersed in self-doubt. But she was fighting back, and his heart swelled with pride for her. "You were very brave. You may have saved my life."
Her cheeks turned pink. "I don't know if I helped that much. You were doing really well. Who was that guy?"
"I have never known his real name. I call him Lui."
She frowned. "That's what I said."
Jean-Luc sighed. "Lui means 'him' en fran?ais. He is an assassin of many names. Jacques Clément, Damiens, Ravaillac. He incites murder and delights in death."
Her hand trembled. "Why does he want to kill you?"
"Because I have tried to stop him over the cen - years. I succeeded once, and he has wanted me to suffer ever since." Jean-Luc squeezed her hand. "Heather, I regret to tell you this, but you are in terrible danger."
Her face paled. "I was afraid of that. He thinks I'm..."
"He believes you are my lover."
She pulled her hand from his grasp. "I'd better stay away then. I guess I can't work here after all."
"Au contraire, you should work here. I have security guards who can protect you. In fact, you should live here until we can...take care of Lui."
She scoffed. "I can't live here. I have a house in Schnitzelberg."
"You must live here. Lui has killed two women in my past."
Heather gulped. "He kills your girlfriends?"
"Yes. I am sorry this happened to you. I did warn you not to let him see you."
She winced. "I should have done what you said."
"If you had, I might be dead. Let me protect you, Heather. I owe you that much."
"I can't stay here. My daughter - "
"Non." Jean-Luc felt as if he'd been pummeled in the stomach. "You have a daughter?"
"Yes. Oh my God. Are you saying she's in danger, too?"
Jean-Luc swallowed hard. A vision of mutilated bodies flashed through his mind. Yvonne in 1757. Claudine in 1832. He couldn't bear this pain and guilt again. "Do not be afraid. I will protect you both."
She should have known he wasn't perfect. Anyone as gorgeous as Jean-Luc Echarpe had to possess a few serious flaws. Flaw number one: stubborn as a mule. After Heather had recovered from the initial shock, she had refused Echarpe's offer of protection. He'd looked stunned, but then he'd announced his intent again as if he'd automatically passed a law.
After she'd lived for six years with a control-freak husband who legislated everything, even down to what kind of underwear she could buy, Heather's dictator-approved, white cotton panties were in a twist. God help her, she needed to escape domineering men. And she also needed to buy new underwear - something wild that symbolized her newfound courage. Thank goodness there was a giant discount store on the way home. Where else could an independent gal like her purchase lacy underwear and shotgun shells in one convenient stop?
"Mr. Echarpe, I appreciate your kind offer, but I really don't need a protector." She motioned toward the locked door. "If you'll just let me out - "
"In a moment." He frowned at the door. "I don't think you realize how dangerous Lui is."
Grrrr. The man never gave up. "Louie didn't seem that dangerous to me. He was downright wimpy when I hit him with those belts. And you fought him with a broken mannequin. For a villain, he was rather easy to beat."
"It was not easy! It only appeared that way because I am the best swordsman in all of Europe."
Flaw number two: overinflated ego. Though she had to cut him some slack. She'd never met a man yet who didn't suffer from that problem. "Maybe y'all still do swordfights in Europe, but here in Texas, we use guns. If I'd been packing, Louie would be on his way to the morgue."
Jean-Luc's brows drew together in a fierce scowl. "Are you saying you can fight him better than I?"
"I've got more faith in my shotgun than any man, that's for sure."
"But I'm trying to save you!"
"I'm already saved. Hallelujah, praise the Lord. Now unlock that door and set me free, brother."
His eyes widened with a look of exasperation. "I cannot let you go until you agree to let me protect you."
"You'll be waiting a long time 'cause I don't need you."
"Arrogant man." Her heart raced. Good Lord, this was just as exciting as the time she'd slammed a pie into her ex-husband's face. Even better, actually. The pie had been an act of desperation, tainted with the sad knowledge that her marriage was a failure. This - this was a glorious declaration of independence. She'd never felt stronger or more fearless. Whipping Louie with those belts had made her feel like Wonder Woman, and she liked it.
"It was nice to meet you, Mr. Echarpe. And I appreciate your offer of employment, but under the circumstances, I feel it's best for us not to see each other again." Heather turned, quite proud of her little speech, and marched toward the door. The muttered curses behind her made her smile. "If you'll just unlock the - "
The door suddenly burst open, and a crowd of people swarmed into the room.
"About time," Jean-Luc grumbled.
A kilted Scotsman shut the door and leaned against it. The stern look on his face and the long sword in his hand meant business. Heather's dignified exit was ruined. More than ruined. She was trapped. Somehow, Jean-Luc Echarpe had managed to call in backup.
Flaw number three: he was more than stubborn. The man was relentless.
He introduced her to his friends, but she barely paid attention. This was too damned frustrating. She'd fought too hard to learn how to take care of herself and her daughter, Bethany. Letting a man protect her felt like a giant step backward.
Yet she had to admit he'd seemed very charming at first. She'd been so flattered that he found her attractive. She'd certainly found him attractive before his Napoleon complex had kicked in. He'd offered her the job of her dreams. Chances like that didn't come along often, so she'd be crazy to pass it up. Was she overreacting because he pushed the wrong buttons? He was overbearing, but he'd lost two girlfriends. His desperation was understandable.
The guy wanted to be a hero. Was that so bad?
But what did she know about him? If you judged a man by his friends, Jean-Luc would be caring and loyal. That was how his friends appeared. There was a tall, serious man named Roman Dragon-something with his blond wife and baby boy. There was another guy named Gregori who grinned a lot. The two Scotsmen were both named MacKay. Brothers, maybe. The one named Robby was still guarding the door. The other one, Angus, was married to a beautiful brunette named Emma. Come to think of it, they were all exceptionally good-looking.
"Are you models?" Heather asked as the men hustled Jean-Luc across the room, leaving her with the women and baby.
Shanna laughed as she jiggled the baby in her arms. "No way. I'm a dentist. My husband's the owner of Romatech Industries, and Gregori's one of his VPs. Angus is CEO of MacKay Security and Investigation."
"Oh." Heather glanced at the door. Robby was still guarding it. She wasn't going anywhere for a while.
Emma smiled at her. "You fought very well."
"Thanks." Since she was trapped, Heather figured she might as well fish for more information. "What do y'all know about Louie?"
Shanna shifted the plump toddler to her hip. "It's a sad story. Jean-Luc has been plagued with him for a long time."