Home > The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake #4)(10)

The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake #4)(10)
Author: Kerrelyn Sparks

Heather's story last night had made him take a hard look at himself. He now realized what lay hidden beneath his guilt and anger. Fear.

He'd risen far from his humble beginnings as an orphaned stable boy. He was a knight by the time Roman transformed him in 1513. He'd become a musketeer, owner of the most prestigious fencing academy in Paris, a lieutenant-colonel in the Vamp army, and now he was coven master of Western Europe, in addition to being a designer and successful businessman. He'd poured all his energy into outward success in an effort to be the master of his own destiny. But beneath it all, the same old torment continued to plague him. The fear of being powerless.

As a lowly stable boy, he'd been powerless to the whims and political machinations of the masters over him. He'd sworn never to be a pawn again. And he'd succeeded until Lui came into his life in 1757.

He should have let Louis XV die that year. But no, Jean-Luc had done his duty as a royal bodyguard, and he'd stopped the mortal assassin Damiens.

The mortal had only been a pawn. Lui enjoyed using mind control to make mortals do his dirty work. He'd succeeded twice before, using mortal scapegoats to kill two kings - Henri III in 1589 and Henri IV in 1610.

Jean-Luc had foiled Lui's third royal assassination. The next night, he'd received a note. Because of you, the king lives. Because of me, your queen dies. There'd been no signature on the note, but the paper had been folded and sealed with a dollop of wax, imprinted with the letter L.

Two nights later, he'd found the mutilated body of his mistress, Yvonne. In addition to knife wounds and fang marks, he'd found the letter L burned into her flesh.

He had declared war against the enemy he dubbed Lui. After twenty years of evading capture, Lui had disappeared. Jean-Luc had hoped the bastard was dead. Then in 1832, he'd discovered his mistress, Claudine, murdered, with the letter L burned into the flesh over her heart.

Jean-Luc had decided the only honorable course of action was to avoid another relationship. But Heather's talk had made him realize the truth. His honor had masked the fear that if he entered into another relationship, he would be powerless to save the woman's life. He wasn't living an honorable life. He was living with fear.

That revelation caused him shame. And anger. Dammit to hell, if he wanted a relationship with Heather, he would take it. He would put an end to Lui's torture and kill the bastard once and for all.

Jean-Luc pulled into her driveway. As he exited the car, Emma emerged from the shadow of a large oak tree. She was sipping from a bottle of cold blood, her bag of stakes slung over her shoulder. She'd kept her presence a secret, so it would appear that they had arrived together.

"They're fine," she reported quietly. "I heard their voices inside. Calm and happy. And the perimeter's clear."

"Good." He exhaled with relief, then took Emma's empty bottle and set it inside his car. From the backseat, he retrieved Lui's sword and cane, along with his own sword. He locked the car and headed for the front porch.

"You're hoping Fidelia can locate Lui?" Emma asked.

"Yes." He noted the small pair of roller skates next to the front door and the paperback book resting on the seat cushion of the porch swing. Life had continued here during the day, and he'd missed it.

"I'm psychic, too," Emma whispered. "More so than the usual Vamp. I've been listening for any sign of vampire telepathy in the area, but so far, it's been quiet."

Jean-Luc sighed as he rang the doorbell. "Lui is very good at staying hidden. God knows I have tried for centuries to find him." And always failed.

His depressing thoughts vanished when the door swung open and Heather stood there, smiling. She was wearing a turquoise sundress and matching sandals. The twinkle in her eyes and her glowing complexion ignited a spark of desire in Jean-Luc. She seemed genuinely happy to see him.

"Come on in." She stepped back. "We have some lasagna left over from supper, if you're interested."

"That's very kind, but we've already eaten." He hoped he didn't have blood breath. He shut and locked the door.

The little girl, Bethany, sidled up close to her new friend. "Hi, Emma." She glanced shyly at Jean-Luc. "Hi."

He bowed slightly. "Good evening, Bethany."

"Hello, love." Emma knelt to give the little girl a hug. "Did you have a good day?"

"Yes." Bethany leaned close and whispered loudly, "My mommy wanted to look pretty for Mr. Sharp."

"Bethany!" Heather's face turned pink. "Why don't you take Emma upstairs and show her...something."

"Like my new book?" Bethany asked brightly.

"Yes. Please." Heather glared at Fidelia, who was standing by the staircase chuckling.

Jean-Luc felt like laughing, too, but he managed to stay quiet.

"Let's go." Emma led the little girl toward the stairs. She glanced back at him, her eyes sparkling with mirth.

"I see you've brought Louie's sword and cane," Heather hurriedly changed the subject. "Fidelia's ready to help us locate him." She motioned toward the living room.

Jean-Luc followed her. "You succeeded wonderfully."

"On what?" She glanced back. "Staying alive? It was very peaceful today."

"That's good. But I was referring to what your daughter said. You look very pretty."

Heather waved a hand in dismissal. "Bethany turns everything into a romance. Even her stuffed animals are married to each other. She has me perform the ceremony. Today I married a male Chihuahua to a lady gorilla."

Fidelia chuckled as she settled on the couch with her purse. "That dog is barking up the wrong tree."

Jean-Luc rested his sword next to the wingback chair. "My friend Roman always says that with love, anything is possible."

"Sí, like double homicide." Fidelia patted her purse.

Heather snorted. "Or child custody battles."

Jean-Luc gave her a wry look. "Have you lost all faith in love?"

She looked away, her cheeks pink. "No. There's always hope. Shall we get started?"

"Very well." He placed Lui's sword and cane on the coffee table in front of Fidelia.

She took the cane into her lap. Closing her eyes, she ran her fingers up and down the polished wood. Heather sat quietly beside her. Jean-Luc settled in the wingback chair and waited.

"It is a dark place," Fidelia whispered.

That was hardly surprising. All vampires needed a dark place for their daily death-sleep.

"A cellar," Fidelia continued. "Made of stone. No windows." She shook her head. "It's too dark. I can't see anything."

"Can you tell how far away it is?" Jean-Luc asked.

"Not far, but not too close. Not in town, I think." Fidelia inhaled sharply. "He senses me." Her eyes opened wide, and she shoved the cane onto the table. "This was a mistake. I - I think he may be psychic."

Lui would have a vampire's psychic abilities, but that wasn't something Jean-Luc could admit to.

Fidelia gave him a worried look. "He sensed me. I could feel it. He was cold, so cold." She shuddered.

"It's all right." Heather rubbed the older woman's back. "It's over now."

Fidelia shook her head. "I was trying to trace his location. I think he was doing the same to me."

Jean-Luc winced. Zut, he should have taken Fidelia somewhere else to do this.

Heather's face paled. "He's hunting us."

"Heather, I must ask you again to move to my place," Jean-Luc said. "It is only a matter of time before Lui figures out who you are and where you live."

"We'll just have to find him before he finds us. If we knew more about him, it might help." Her eyes narrowed. "Who is he exactly?"

Jean-Luc sat back. "I wish I knew. If I knew his real name, I would have hunted him down and killed him many years ago."

"You would...commit murder?"

"I would do anything to protect those I love."

Fidelia nodded approvingly. "You are good man, Juan."

He glanced at Heather, wondering if she agreed. She looked puzzled.

"You said many years ago," she murmured. "How old are you?"

Merde. There was no way to answer this.

"I'm twenty-six," she announced. "And you?"

He shifted in his chair. "I am older than you."

"How much?"

"I was twenty-eight when..." He rubbed his forehead. "I was three when my mother died..."

"I'm sorry. I didn't realize..." Her eyes warmed with sympathy. "Emotional wounds take the longest to heal."

"Yes." He heard a car pulling up in the driveway. He stood, grabbing his sword. "We have company."

Heather jumped to her feet. "It couldn't be Louie, could it? Not this fast."

"I'll be ready for him." Fidelia dug in her purse.

"I don't think it's Lui." Jean-Luc doubted his arch nemesis used cars very often. Even so, he strode into the foyer with his sword. He heard a car door slam outside, then heavy footsteps pound up the steps to the front porch.

Heather arrived at the front door just as a fist knocked hard enough to shake the door's panes of leaded glass. Jean-Luc stayed close by her side.

"I can see him!" a male voice shouted. "You've got that boyfriend spending the night again, don't you?"

"Oh no, it's Cody," Heather groaned. "Thelma must have seen you arrive, and she called his mother."

Jean-Luc peered through the door window. The man on the porch was large and flushed with alcohol-rich blood.

"I can see you, you a**hole!" Cody yelled. "You want to screw my ex, go ahead, but lay one finger on my daughter and I'll - "

"Stop it!" Heather hissed as she unlocked the door.

"You shouldn't let him in," Jean-Luc whispered.

"Oh please, let him in," Fidelia drawled. She stood by the stairs, waving her Glock in the air. "Make my day."

"Fidelia, put the gun away," Heather ordered. She opened the door. "How dare you - "

Cody barged into the foyer and glowered at Jean-Luc. "Who the hell are you?"

Jean-Luc glared back. "I do not answer to you."

"Jean - " Heather started, but her ex interrupted.

"John? So you're bringing your johns home?" Cody turned to Jean-Luc. "You keep leaving your car parked out front. Now everyone in town knows you're screwing my wife!"

"Ex-wife." Jean-Luc narrowed his eyes. "You are the fool who let her go."

"Enough." Heather stepped between them. "Cody, lower your voice before Bethany hears you. You're drunk, and you have no right to spy on me or pass judgment."

He sneered at her. "I do, too. My daughter's living here, and I can sue for full custody now that everyone knows you're a slut."

"I am not. And I will never let you take her from me."

Cody snorted. "Watch me."

Two hundred years ago, Jean-Luc would have simply skewered the bastard and tossed his body into a river, but the modern world tended to frown upon that solution. He assaulted the man with a psychic wave. You are a cockroach.

In his inebriated state, Cody had no resistance at all to vampire mind control. He fell to the floor and scurried around the foyer on all fours.

With a squeal, Heather jumped back. "Cody, what is your problem?"

"I am a cockroach," he muttered in a squeaky voice.

"Hmm, about time you figured that one out," Fidelia stepped back as he brushed against her long skirt.

Cody attempted to go up the stairs, but tipped over and landed on his back. He squirmed, arms and legs flailing.

"Cut it out, Cody," Heather demanded. "Get out of here before you scare Bethany."

"What's going on?" Emma descended the stairs, looking askance at Cody's wriggling body.

Fidelia chuckled. "Let's get a can of bug spray."

"Raid!" Cody flipped onto all fours and scuttled out the front door.

You will return to normal at sunrise, Jean-Luc ordered.

"Yes, Master." Cody tumbled down the porch stairs.

"Good Lord, the man's gone crazy." Heather shut the door and locked it.

"That was interesting." Emma gave Jean-Luc a pointed look. She'd probably heard his psychic commands.

He wondered briefly if Lui had heard him, but he doubted he'd said enough for Lui to trace.

"Is Bethany all right?" Heather rushed up the stairs.

"Ooh wee, I need a drink." Fidelia waddled toward the kitchen, still holding her Glock. "I need a beer, that's what I need. You want a beer, Juan, Emma?"

"No thank you." He wandered back into the living room and rested his sword against the wingback chair.

Emma leaned against the entrance, smiling. "A cockroach?"

He smiled back. "The man deserved it."

She nodded. "I'll go back upstairs." She paused, then added, "I think you've made quite an impression on Bethany. The toy mum who lives in the dollhouse has a new boyfriend named John. He's a G.I. Joe doll who looks like he could beat the crap out of the Ken living in the closet."

"Really?" Jean-Luc's heart squeezed in his chest. Could he actually be welcomed into this family? He'd always wanted to be part of a family. His father had died when he was six, three years after his mother had passed away in childbirth. Roman and Angus were the closest he'd ever come to having real brothers.

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