Home > The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake #4)(14)

The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake #4)(14)
Author: Kerrelyn Sparks

"I'm hungry. Can I have some cotton candy? I want the pink one."

"We can do that. After supper." Heather glanced at the gazebo. "Look. Miss Cindy wants you up there."

Bethany squirmed off her chair and ran toward the gazebo where all the preschoolers were gathering. One of the teachers, Miss Cindy, proceeded to arrange them into two rows, the taller children in the back.

Heather rubbed her neck. The physical labor, Texas heat, and lack of sleep were catching up with her. At least once the sun set, the temperature would fall a few degrees. Jean-Luc was smart to wait.

There he was again, in her thoughts. She'd tossed and turned for an hour last night before sleep had finally overtaken her. She'd been tempted to go downstairs and keep him company all night. God knew there was still a lot she needed to learn about him. She'd shared her life story with him, but he'd shared very little with her.

What was he doing in Schnitzelberg, Texas, when the fashion world was centered in Paris? What was the real story behind Louie? Was she really in as much danger as Jean-Luc claimed? In spite of all her questions, she was drawn to him. Her heart raced whenever she looked into his sky-blue eyes. And she wanted his arms around her again.

But she'd known him only two nights. It was dangerous to fall for a man so fast. It should be dangerous, but it felt wonderful and exciting. Even more reason for her to keep her guard up. She'd survived too much upheaval in her life to screw it up now. Her first priority should be to maintain a calm, loving environment for her daughter.

Fidelia plopped down beside her and set her purse in her lap. In honor of the festive occasion, she'd worn her bright red skirt with gold spangles. "Those silly old church ladies. I offered to do a fortune-telling booth, but they turned up their snooty noses and said it was too pagan for a church function."

Heather winced. "I'm sorry." No doubt one of those church ladies was Cody's mother. Mother Westfield had already informed Heather that she was abusing Bethany by allowing a gypsy woman to live in her house.

When it came to her daughter's safety, Heather was more concerned with Fidelia's gun-toting habits than her card reading. She glanced at the infamous purse. "Are you packing?"

"Only the Glock. I cut back." Fidelia hung her head. "I felt kinda bad about the squirrel."

Heather patted her arm. "I was relieved to have your gun with me last night."

Fidelia nodded. "If that Louie shows up, I'll blow his head off. Don't care if I go to prison for it, either. You were kind enough to give me a home, even after I failed your mama." Her eyes glimmered with tears.

Heather turned to face her old friend. "You didn't fail my mother. You tried your best to warn her."

"If I'd kept my mouth shut, both your parents might still be alive. Maybe those church ladies are right. Maybe I'm no good."

"I won't let you say that! My mother paid for your services, and she would have pestered you to kingdom come for your advice. You know that. It was impossible to tell my mother no."

Fidelia sniffled and wiped her eyes. "I'll do anything to protect you and the baby girl. I owe you that much."

"You don't owe me anything. You were always there for me. Like a second mother." Heather laughed to keep her own tears at bay. "But a lot more fun than my real mother."

Fidelia nodded. "She was a strong-willed woman."

"Stubborn and fearful," Heather corrected her. "I'm not living with fear anymore. I don't want you to, either."

Fidelia patted her purse. "I've got my courage right here."

"You've got courage inside you. And you're a good person. If I wasn't a hundred percent sure of that, I wouldn't trust you to take care of my daughter."

Fidelia blinked away her tears, then assumed her tough face. "I checked out the crowd and the surroundings like you asked. No strangers with white hair and a cane."

"Good. Thank you." Heather glanced at the sun. About thirty minutes to go before Jean-Luc arrived. "Did you have any dreams last night?"

"I did have a strange one. I think it was Juan, but it was hard to tell. He looked like a guy from that movie you watch so much. Pride and something."

"Pride and Prejudice? He looked like a Regency guy?"

Fidelia narrowed her eyes, trying to remember. "I think so, but only for a second. Then he looked like...George Washington, but fancier."

"That's weird."

"Sí. And then he looked like - I don't know. He had on tights and funny shorts that filled out like balloons."

"Like a Renaissance man?"

Fidelia shrugged. "I don't know what it means."

Heather took a deep breath. She'd dismissed her immortal theory as too bizarre, but now she wondered.

Fidelia watched her closely. "You have an idea?"

"It's too strange."

"You're talking to me, honey. Nothing's too strange."

"I think Jean might be...different somehow."

Fidelia laughed. "He's a hell of a lot different from any men in this town. But he might be just right for you."

"I mean really different."

"You mean in a supernatural way?" Fidelia tilted her head, considering it. "That could be."

"You could believe that?"

"I've told you a million times. There are many things we do not know. That doesn't make them not true."

An immortal man? If Jean-Luc was one, then Louie was one, too, and they were locked in a struggle that had gone on for centuries. In spite of the heat, Heather shivered.

"Mama! Aunt Fee!" Bethany ran up to them. "Did you see me on the stage?"

"We sure did." Heather pulled her onto her lap. "You looked fabulous."

"Will you sit on the front row to watch me sing?"

"Of course." Heather adjusted the barrette in her daughter's hair. It was topped with a blue grosgrain ribbon bow to match Bethany's blue sundress.

"I'm hungry."

Heather smiled. "You're always hungry."

"I checked out the booths," Fidelia said. "We have our choice of German sausage on a stick or a hot dog."

Great. Heather grimaced. Pork or pork.

"I want a hot dog!" Bethany jumped off her mother's lap. "With lots of ketchup."

A mental picture flashed through Heather's mind as they strolled toward the hot dog booth - Bethany on stage with her blue sundress and a giant ketchup stain down the front. "Let's go easy on the ketchup."

"You should try a foot-long," Fidelia told her.

"I'm not that hungry."

"Honey, who's talking about food?" Fidelia winked.

With a snort, Heather shook her head.

"You should try one with some nice French buns."

Heather laughed. "Yeah, I've been carb-free for too long."

"Look! A Care Bear!" Bethany pointed at a huge yellow bear on display at a game booth. "Can I have that one?"

"I can try." Heather pulled a wad of dollar bills from her jeans pocket. She purchased five balls for five dollars. Four times she managed to hit the stack of milk bottles, but they never fell.

"It's rigged," Fidelia muttered.

"I realize that." Heather sighed. "At least it's for a good cause." Another five dollars later, the milk bottles were still standing. The man handed her a tiny, green bear.

"I'm afraid that's all we get." Heather gave the bear to her daughter.

"That's okay. He's a baby." Bethany cradled it in her arms as they walked away. She looked wistfully back at the huge yellow mama bear.

They ordered their hot dogs and sat on a bench under a giant oak tree. Fidelia teased Heather about settling for a six-incher, while Heather kept an eye on the crowd. There were a few white-haired men with canes, but she recognized them from church.

The sun disappeared over the horizon. The street lamps surrounding the park on three sides came on. Each booth was lit, and the gazebo sparkled with white twinkle lights. The only dark area was down by the river. It was deserted except for a few teenagers stealing kisses. Most of the townspeople were crowded around the booths, laughing and spending money.

The high school students were gathered around the dunking booth, trying in vain to get Coach Gunter wet. He goaded them, his booming voice carrying across the park.

Fidelia was still working on her foot-long hot dog, so Heather left Bethany with her to purchase some cotton candy. Unfortunately, the cotton candy vendor was right across from the dunking booth.

"Come on, you wimps!" Coach shouted at the kids. "Who's gonna dunk me?"

"We're out of money, Coach," one answered.

"You lazy bums! Get a job!" Coach yelled at them.

"Hey, Mrs. Westfield!" several students called out.

She greeted them by name.

"Mrs. W.," Coach shouted. "Come and play with me!"

Students snickered. Heather groaned inwardly and turned her back to wait in line for cotton candy. Sometimes this town was really too small.

"I found you." The deep, softly accented voice made her heart leap.

She whirled and found Jean-Luc standing behind her.

Chapter 10

"Oh. You made it." Heather scolded herself silently for sounding too breathless. "I...are you hungry?"

"I already ate." He turned to Robby, who had opted for black jeans instead of a kilt. "We'll be fine."

"I'll check the perimeter then. Good evening, Mrs. Westfield." He inclined his head, then marched off.

Heather noted how Robby's T-shirt was stretched across his broad back. Definitely no weapon hidden there. "No swords?" she whispered.

"He has a dagger strapped to his calf," Jean-Luc whispered back. "And I have this." He tapped the ground with a mahogany cane. "There's a sword inside."

Heather eyed the ornate brass handle. "It looks like an antique." Was the owner one, too?

Jean-Luc surveyed the crowd. "I'm overdressed."

Heather smiled. His gray slacks were classy, and his blue dress shirt matched his eyes. "You look good to me."

"Miss?" The vendor interrupted. "It's your turn."

"Oh." She'd been too distracted to notice she was next in line. "One pink cotton candy." She glanced at Jean-Luc as she dug money out of her pocket. "Unless you want one?"

"No. Allow me." He whipped a five-dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to the vendor.

"Thank you." Heather frowned as she took the stick of spun sugar. She wasn't sure she wanted him paying.

Jean-Luc waved away the change the vendor attempted to give him and smiled at her. "It's for playground equipment, non?"

"Right." She smiled back. He was being generous for the preschool. She shouldn't read more into it than that.

"Is that your friend, Heather?" Coach's voice roared.

Heather winced. "Ignore him."

Jean-Luc glanced at the coach. "Who is that man? What is that machine?"

"It's a dunking booth."

"Ah, I understand." Jean-Luc nodded. "If he does not drown, then he is a witch."

"No, he's just a creep. It's a game." A witch? That sounded medieval. Score another point for the immortal theory. Heather motioned toward the bench where her daughter and Fidelia were sitting. "They're waiting."

"Hey, Mrs. W.," the senior quarterback greeted her.

"Hi, Tyler." She grabbed Jean-Luc's arm, but he didn't budge.

"Wow." Tyler's girlfriend looked at Jean-Luc and gave Heather a thumbs-up. "Way to go, Mrs. Westfield."

"Thank you," Heather muttered, tugging on Jean-Luc's arm. This town was way too small.

Jean-Luc leaned close. "You know all these people?"

"They're students. I'm their history teacher. And everybody knows everyone in this town."

"Heather!" Coach roared. "Where'd you find that sissified city boy?"

Jean-Luc stiffened. "Is he referring to me?"

"Ignore him," Heather begged. "I do. Constantly."

Jean-Luc studied the coach, then turned to Heather with a wary look. "Every man in this town wants you."

She laughed. "Yeah, right. The old guys from the nursing home go into cardiac arrest whenever I walk by."

His gaze drifted over her. "I can believe that."

Was he crazy? She was wearing worn-out blue jean shorts, and the afternoon heat had left her skin almost as pink as her tank top. Her hair was escaping its ponytail to curl around her forehead and neck. She was a mess, and Jean-Luc was looking at her like she was as sweet as the pink cotton candy she was holding.

"Hey, you! City boy!" Coach shouted. "I bet you can't dunk me."

Jean-Luc turned toward the booth, his eyes narrowing.

"Why don't you get some balls, huh?" Coach yelled.

The kids snickered.

"Dude, you got burned," Tyler muttered.

Jean-Luc's jaw shifted.

Heather yanked on his arm. "Let's go."

"He has insulted my honor," Jean-Luc announced. "I should challenge him to a duel."

"What?" Heather wondered if he was serious. Did they still duel in France? "You mean pistols at dawn?"

"I always preferred swords." Jean-Luc marched toward the dunking booth.

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