"Angus explained a bit while we were coming downstairs," Emma continued with a slight British accent. "Lui has murdered two of Jean-Luc's girlfriends from the past."
"I'm not a girlfriend," Heather muttered. "I only met Mr. Echarpe tonight."
"It doesn't matter," Emma said. "As long as Lui thinks you two are involved, you will be a target."
"I can understand your reluctance to accept Jean-Luc's protection," Shanna admitted. "I was once in a similar situation where Roman had to protect me. That was before we were married."
Heather glanced at the men, huddled across the room and whispering urgently to one another. They were a handsome bunch, but still, there was something different about them, something she couldn't quite put a finger on.
"It took me a while to get to know Roman and trust him," Shanna continued. "I understand your reluctance to trust a stranger, but I've known Jean-Luc for two years now, and he's a totally trustworthy guy. Sweet as can be. He's always watched out for Roman and me."
"He came to my rescue, too," Emma added. "He's the best swordsman in all of Europe."
"So I heard." Heather sighed. His friends were laying it on thick. She glanced at Jean-Luc. She had no doubt he was a capable guy. He had the body of an athlete, and she'd seen how quick and resourceful he was in action. His elegant tuxedo didn't conceal his aura of strength and danger. It just made him look more like James Bond. And James Bond always got the pretty girl in the end.
Her heart constricted in her chest. God help her, she wanted to be that pretty girl.
Flaw number four: too gorgeous for his own good.
"He's a handsome man, don't you think?" Shanna whispered.
Heather jumped. Shoot, she'd been caught ogling him.
Emma gave her a knowing smile. Even the baby on Shanna's hip snickered along with his mom.
"Okay, so he's good-looking. That doesn't mean I need his help," Heather protested. "I can take care of myself."
Emma's smile faded. "You don't understand how terrible Lui is."
"The guy ran away as soon as he was outnumbered. He's not so tough."
Emma lowered her voice. "Locked doors cannot stop him. He has the ability to enter your house whenever he chooses. You would never hear him. He could appear behind you at any moment. Before you knew what was happening, your throat would be sliced in two."
Heather gulped and fought an urge to look over her shoulder. Dammit, they were starting to scare her. Her voice began to rise. "He can't be that bad. It's not like the guy can actually vanish or appear at will. You make him sound like some kind of supernatural creature of the night!" Her loud words echoed in a suddenly quiet room.
The circle of men all turned to stare at her. Heather's face heated with a blush. Even in the classroom at Guadalupe High, she didn't get this kind of undivided attention.
The silence stretched while the men exchanged glances. Emma and Shanna looked at each other, then laughed. The toddler squealed and waved his arms toward Heather.
"He wants you to hold him." Shanna thrust him into Heather's arms.
The baby grabbed a handful of Heather's hair, and it brought back pleasant memories of Bethany's infancy. Heather smiled at the little boy's chubby red cheeks and bright blue eyes. "He's adorable. What's his name?"
"Constantine," Shanna answered. "I heard you have a daughter?"
Heather could see where this was going. They'd use her daughter to ratchet up the guilt and make her accept Jean-Luc's offer. "She's four years old. And I can protect us both. I inherited a shotgun from my father."
Shanna winced. "You keep a weapon in the house with a child?"
Heather gritted her teeth. There was nothing she took more seriously than being a good mom. "I don't keep it loaded. Of course, now I need to get some shells for it."
Emma's eyes gleamed with approval. "You know how to shoot?"
"Yes. My dad taught me everything about gun safety. He was an expert."
"What happened to him?" Shanna asked.
"In the line of duty," Heather added. "He was the town sheriff."
"Unfortunately, that just goes to show you that even the best of professionals can be killed," Emma said. "You need help to protect your daughter. You cannot stay awake and alert 24/7."
"Fidelia is packing, too."
Shanna gasped. "Your four-year-old has a gun?"
"No, of course not!" Heather huffed. "I would never allow my daughter around guns." She winced. That wasn't quite true. Fidelia had made it clear that she never went anywhere without her pistols. "Fidelia is my live-in babysitter and an old friend of the family. She would do anything to protect Bethany and me."
"So there are two women in your household who know how to shoot?" Emma asked, smiling. "Would you like to make it three?"
Shanna grinned. "That's a great idea!"
"What?" Heather settled the baby Constantine on her hip.
"But do you think Angus will mind?" Shanna leaned toward Heather and whispered, "They're newlyweds."
"We've been married a year now, so I don't think a few nights apart will kill Angus," Emma protested. "What do you think, Heather?"
"It's very kind of you to want to help, but - " Heather winced when the baby tugged on her hair.
"I'm vice president of MacKay Security and Investigation," Emma explained. "And I'm a former employee of MI6 and the CIA, so I'll make a very good bodyguard."
Heather was impressed. "I really appreciate your offer, but my funds are very limited - "
"No charge," Emma interrupted. "Jean-Luc helped Angus and me when we were in trouble. I owe him one."
"It's the perfect solution," Shanna concluded.
Constantine tugged once again on Heather's hair, and she glanced at his face. His eyes captured her attention.
"My days are...tied up, so I can only guard you at night," Emma continued. "But that'll give you and your babysitter a chance to sleep, so you'll be better able to protect yourselves during the day."
"I understand." A calm acceptance seeped into Heather as the baby smiled at her. "Thank you, Emma. I'm delighted to have your help."
"Great! I'll let the men know what we decided, then we can go." Emma strode toward the group of men.
Constantine released his grip on Heather's hair. "You can put me down now."
She blinked. The toddler's voice was remarkably clear. And there was something oddly intelligent about his eyes. She set him on his feet. "How old is he?"
"Seventeen months," Shanna replied.
Heather watched him stroll calmly back to his mother. "He's a special little boy."
Shanna beamed with pride. "Yes, he is."
Thirty minutes later, Heather pulled her Chevy truck into the driveway of her home in Schnitzelberg.
"What a lovely house." Emma opened the passenger door to get out.
"I inherited it from my parents." Heather loved the old Queen Anne with the wide porch and hanging swing. She loved the gingerbread woodwork around the porch and second-floor balcony. But most of all, she loved the fact that she could raise her daughter in the same house where she'd grown up.
She grabbed her purse and the shopping bag containing her newly purchased lacy underwear and shotgun shells. Emma hadn't batted an eyelash at the discount store, so Heather liked her already. "This way." She headed up the stairs to the front door.
Emma hitched a tote bag over her shoulder and scanned the front yard. "Your house is off the ground?" She leaned over for a closer look. "No cellar?"
"I wish. I could use the extra storage." Heather unlocked the front door. She could hear the television inside. Fidelia might still be awake.
Emma frowned as she ascended the porch. "It's a lovely home, but very vulnerable. Whose room is off the balcony?"
"Mine, but I keep all the windows and doors locked."
Emma didn't look impressed. "Let me go in first."
Heather's heart lurched. "You think Louie is here?" With her baby inside?
"I'm not taking any chances." Emma retrieved a stick from her tote bag and eased into the foyer.
A stick? It would be quieter than a shotgun, but Heather doubted it was more efficient. She followed Emma in and locked the door.