The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake 4) - Page 9

Emma peered into the living room, then whispered, "Is that Fidelia?"

Heather looked inside. Fidelia was snoozing on the couch with the TV blaring in Spanish. "Yes." The living room opened into the dining room, which appeared empty.

Emma slipped past the staircase toward the back of the foyer and the swinging door that led to the kitchen.

Heather had no patience for this. She had to know if Bethany was all right. She charged up the stairs to her daughter's room.

The nightlight barely illuminated the pink roses Heather had stenciled across the walls and around the windows. White lace curtains let the sun shine in during the day, but for now, the blinds were shut.

Heather tiptoed past the giant dollhouse and wicker doll carriage to the bed topped with a Sunbonnet Sue quilt her mother had made. She dropped her purse and shopping bag on the foot of the bed. Her daughter's feet reached only halfway down the length of the bed. At the head, strawberry-blond curls lay strewn across the pillow. The sight always squeezed Heather's heart. She brushed the curls away to reveal a soft cheek. If she never accomplished any of her dreams, if she never designed clothes or saw Paris, it would be no great loss, for she'd already created the most perfect little masterpiece.

I will protect you, sweetheart. Heather went to the windows to make sure they were locked.

"Don't run away from me again," Emma whispered from the doorway.

Heather turned. "I had to make sure my daughter was okay."

Emma nodded as she entered the room. "The first floor is clear, and all the rooms upstairs."

Wow, she was fast. And thorough. "There's a guest bedroom across the hall that you're welcome to use."

"Thank you, but no." Emma hitched her tote bag higher on her shoulder. "I'll be up all night."

"Then please help yourself to anything you want in the kitchen." Heather had to admit she would sleep a lot easier with Emma standing guard. Thank God she'd managed to avoid having Jean-Luc Echarpe over. The last thing she needed was another domineering man in her life. And a famous fashion designer? He'd probably go through her closet and throw everything out. Or worse, he would stand there and laugh.

Emma eased closer to Bethany's bed and whispered, "She's beautiful."

Heather nodded. "She's everything to me."

"I understand." Emma's smile held a hint of sadness. "I'd like to see the attic now."

"This way." Heather went to the hall and pulled the rope that lowered the folding ladder. "Do you need a flashlight?"

"I see quite well in the dark." Emma ascended the ladder. She stayed in the attic for a moment, then came down. "It's clear. I'd like to check outside again."

"Okay." Heather folded the ladder and let it swing back into the attic. Emma had already moved down the stairs and out the door, so Heather decided to get ready for bed.

She retrieved her purse and shopping bag from Bethany's room and proceeded to her own bedroom. She closed the blinds over the French doors to the balcony. What a night. A job offer from a famous designer and a death threat all in one evening. She replayed the night's events in her mind as she dragged her desk chair over to her closet. Why would a deadly assassin pick on a fashion designer? Unless...he was more than a fashion designer? Jean-Luc did have a James Bond aura of mystery about him.

With a snort, she rejected that theory. International espionage was not interested in Schnitzelberg, Texas. She climbed onto the chair, located the shotgun on the top shelf of her closet, then took it to her bed. Didn't Jean-Luc say something about Louie's other names? Cadillac? No, something else. She inserted two shells.

Maybe if she relaxed a bit, she could remember. She'd always had a great memory. She'd given her ex-husband, Cody, the shock of his life when she'd recalled his every insult and threatening remark in court.

She undressed and put on her favorite green silk pajamas. She adored the feel of silk against bare skin, and the sensation always calmed her. She sat on her fuzzy chenille bedspread, snuggled against the pillows, and closed her eyes. An assassin who had taken many names. Not Cadillac, but Ravaillac. Jean-Luc had admitted to stopping Louie, and that was why the assassin wanted revenge.

What kind of fashion designer stopped an assassin from carrying out his evil plan?

James Bond music started playing in her head. No, it couldn't be. She was letting her imagination go crazy.

She turned on her computer, then dragged her chair back to the desk while it booted up. She Googled "Ravaillac" and sat there, stunned. This was even crazier than her James Bond theory.

Fran?ois Ravaillac had been executed in 1610 after assassinating King Henri IV. Four horses had ripped him into four parts. Sheesh, did they do his death certificate in quadruplicate? One thing was for sure, the man was definitely dead. Even if Louie managed to live four hundred years, he couldn't be Ravaillac. And the French government had ordered the infamous name never be used again.

At the bottom of the web page, there was a link to another assassin named Damiens. That was another name Jean-Luc had mentioned. She clicked on the link.

Robert-Fran?ois Damiens had tried to kill King Louis XV in 1757. He'd failed, but had still won the grand prize - death by drawing and quartering. Once again, the French had ordered the name never to be used again.

A search for Jacques Clément yielded similar results. He'd killed King Henri III in 1589. He'd been quartered and burned. As a history teacher, Heather found it all fascinating, but confusing. It just didn't make sense. Either Jean-Luc was mistaken or purposely lying or...something very strange was going on.

That brought Jean-Luc's list of flaws up to number five: ambiguity. How could she trust him if his story didn't make sense?

There was a soft knock on her door, and Heather quickly minimized her screen. "Yes?"

The door cracked, and Emma peered inside. "I just wanted you to know everything is safe. You can relax for the night. I'll be leaving shortly before dawn."

"Thank you."

"Fidelia woke up, so I told her what was going on. She insists on reading my future."

"Oh, right." Heather nodded. "She does her tarot cards for anyone who comes to the house. It's her way of protecting us."

"Along with her guns? This should be interesting." Emma glanced at Heather's computer. "Catching up on e-mail?"

"Yes. I'll be down in just a minute."

"All right. Please keep the door open a bit, so I can check on you during the night."

"Okay." Heather waited for Emma to leave, then turned back to her computer. She Googled "Jean-Luc Echarpe" and found a few sites that sold his clothing. She ignored those and looked for personal information. She found a picture taken a year ago at his annual show in Paris. Dark curls, blue eyes, a hint of a dimple with his debonair smile. Sheesh, could the guy get any more gorgeous? Back to flaw number four: too handsome for his own good.

She found a recent article, translated from the Parisian newspaper Le Monde. Everyone was wondering why Jean-Luc Echarpe hadn't aged in thirty years. Hmm, they had to be referring to Jean-Luc's father. The Jean-Luc she had met looked only about thirty years old. Apparently the elder Jean-Luc had not been seen for several months. The media suspected he was undergoing another facelift.

Heather found another article dating back thirteen years. This one had a photo. Sheesh, he looked exactly the same as he had tonight. This wasn't making any sense. She searched for Jean-Luc's date of birth, but found no personal information at all.

Back to flaw number five: ambiguity. Some women might call an aura of mystery a plus, but Heather didn't like surprises when it came to men. Though it was intriguing...

Why would he call Louie a bunch of names that had disappeared centuries ago? And why did he look exactly the same after thirteen years? Cosmetic surgery or...A thought flashed through her mind. A totally bizarre thought, no doubt triggered by the late hour and her overactive imagination.

It had always been one of her favorite TV shows - the immortal Highlanders who lived for centuries, fighting their old enemies with swords. It would explain why Jean-Luc and his friends fought with swords. And why he talked of assassins who lived centuries ago. He even had the kilted Highlander friends. The way they had huddled across the room, whispering to one another, had definitely looked like a bunch of guys with a secret.

Could Jean-Luc be immortal?

With a snort, Heather turned off her computer. Her theories were becoming more and more ridiculous. Immortal men? She might as well believe in elves and fairies, too. Unfortunately, she'd learned the hard way that trolls existed. She'd lived with one of those for six years.