Jean-Luc Echarpe is a world-famous French fashion designer and the vampire coven master over Western Europe. Lately, the media has been starting to wonder why he doesn't seem to age, so to protect his secret, he has reluctantly decided to go into exile. He has a new lair built just outside a remote town in the heart of Texas, complete with a store specializing in his high fashions straight off the Paris runway. After the store has been open for a short time, the plan is to say it was a bust and close up shop, leaving the town residents believing it has been abandoned. In reality, he'll be living there for the next twenty-five years. At least that was the plan until Jean-Luc meets the woman of his dreams and her life is threatened by his oldest arch-enemy, the same man who has already killed two women he loved.
When Heather Westfield attended the grand opening gala of the new high-fashion store outside town, she didn't expect to meet the sexy owner himself. She finds Jean-Luc's designs to be too frivolous and unrealistic for plain, fuller-figured women like herself, so she decides to take some of his ideas and "adjust" them. When Jean-Luc catches her "copying" his designs, he thinks she's a fashion spy, but when he sees some of her ideas, he instead offers her a job, designing clothes for women more like her. When Jean-Luc's nemesis, Lui, threatens Heather and her daughter's lives, he also gives them a place to stay and his full protection. As Heather gets to know him better, she begins to realize that Jean-Luc is the man she's always dreamed of, but when she discovers his secret life as one of the undead, will she be able to accept him for who he is or will it mean the end of their blossoming romance?
The Undead Next Door was another solid read in the Love at Stake series. The entire series thus far contains just the right mix of emotional romance, depth of characters, LOL humor, and exciting adventure to keep me turning the pages and eager for more each time I finish a book. This particular novel also had an inspiring theme of conquering your fears right when I needed it the most. The romance is both sweet and sexy, and there is just enough action to keep the reader on their toes. I loved the characters, and the mind control Jean-Luc used on Heather's no-good ex-husband had me cracking up throughout. Overall, The Undead Next Door was quite simply a lot of fun to read.
Mmmmm, Jean-Luc is soooo sexy! He may be a French fashion designer, but he's definitely no sissy, even though the red-neck men in Heather's small town seem to think so and challenge him at every turn. He's a centuries-old vampire who lost two women he loved to his arch-enemy, Lui, who is out to get him yet again. After losing his second love, Jean-Luc has generally avoided women except for sustenance, and ever since Roman invented synthetic blood, he's stayed far away from them. After meeting Heather, he can no longer resist. She is everything he's ever wanted in a woman and more. He would literally give his own life to protect her and and her daughter, Bethany, from harm when it becomes clear that Lui has put them on his hit list. Jean-Luc is an old-fashioned, honorable man who longs for a family of his own and can't help fantasizing about having that life with Heather and Bethany. Jean-Luc treats Heather like a precious jewel, and the things he does for Bethany are utterly sweet. He's very much the embodiment of the perfect balance between strong alpha protectiveness and gentle tenderness, and I couldn't help but fall for him.
Heather is an excellent, loving mother who is kind, caring and compassionate toward others. She is recently divorced from an extremely controlling ex, who told her everything she could and couldn't do, right down to what clothes she could wear. She loves designing and sewing her own clothes, but can't help feeling like they pale in comparison to Jean-Luc's. She's also fuller-figured. It was very sweet how Jean-Luc always tried to reassure Heather that she was beautiful in his eyes and how he respected her talents enough to offer her a job designing clothes for women like herself, rather than the stick-thin models who worked for him. Since divorcing her ex, Heather is trying to be an independent woman and doesn't want to rely on a man for anything, not even one as sexy and charming as Jean-Luc. She has to find a balance between her newfound independence and listening to Jean-Luc in order to stay alive, and I think she did an admirable job of it. She was also pretty smart to figure out part of Jean-Luc's secret before he revealed it to her, so by then, she was already halfway to accepting him as he was. I also very much admired Heather for her "war against fear" and how she was trying not to allow it to get the best of her no matter what.
I absolutely love the multinational cast of characters in the Love at Stake series. Oddly enough, I don't have any trouble imagining all their different accents in my head. In my mind, this is a testament to Kerrlyn Sparks writing skill that she is able to imbue each one with their own distinct personality and dialect. Of course, readers get a visit from Roman and Shanna (How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire) and get to see their growing family, as well as Angus and Emma (Be Still My Vampire Heart). Other common characters who played roles in this book and will get books of their own later in the series: Jean-Luc's guard and Angus' descendant, Robby (The Vampire and the Virgin); Roman's happy-go-lucky right hand man, Gregori (Sexiest Vampire Alive); the boyish kilted Highland guard, Ian (All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire), who gets a bit of a "make-over" in this book; Phineas (Wanted: Undead or Alive), the new African-American guard who is always good for a laugh; Phil (Forbidden Nights with a Vampire), the mortal day-time guard who has an interesting secret revealed in this story; and last but not least, a cameo from, Giacomo (Secret Life of a Vampire), the suave Italian Casanova. The main villain in this story is the evil Lui, an assassin who's had it in for Jean-Luc for centuries and is now in league with the equally evil Casimir who wants to take over the world. Lui also manages to use his vampire mind control to take over a couple of other characters and make them do bad things as well. Probably the best secondary character in the story, though, was Heather's Latina, psychic, gun-toting nanny, Fidelia, who was an absolute hoot.
Overall, The Undead Next Door was another great read from the imaginative mind of the talented Kerrelyn Sparks. She never fails to keep me engaged when reading her books, and I'm very much looking forward to continuing with the series soon. I adore Ian and have been waiting for his book for a while now, so I'm very excited that it's next up.
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