One Lucky Vampire Page 10

Nicole had no idea why she was so resistant to getting a security system. She’d actually looked into getting one herself when she’d first moved here with Rodolfo, but then she’d left him instead. When she’d moved back there had been so much to do, and then there had been the problems with the gas grill and furnace and people had begun suggesting her ex was trying to kill her and she should have a security system because of that, and suddenly Nicole had resisted the whole idea.

She would admit Rodolfo hadn’t treated her well, and yes he’d tried to go after as much of her money as he could in the divorce, including commissions she’d contracted for before meeting him and a percentage of any commissions she did in the future, which was just ridiculous. But to suggest he was trying to kill her . . .

Shrugging her irritation away, Nicole stepped into the guest room, grabbed the list of tasks Marguerite had left for her and returned to her studio. It looked like an awfully long list. Nicole waited until she was in her studio, cuddled up under the fluffy duvet she kept on the daybed that served double duty as a couch in the corner of the room, before beginning to actually read it . . . and fell asleep doing so.

Nicole shifted sleepily some time later, turning onto her side and tugging down the duvet she’d burrowed under. The action freed her eyes and nose, so when she then blinked her eyes open she had an unobstructed view of the eight-foot-tall silhouetted figure just feet away in her studio and blocking the light from the window.

The shriek that ripped from her throat was high and terrified. The figure reacted to the sound by wobbling and then tumbling off whatever he stood on. Nicole sat up abruptly and stared down at the man now lying on her studio floor.

With the window no longer blocked and light pouring in, she could see the stepladder he’d fallen off of and that he had a screwdriver in his hand. She stared at him with confusion as he sat up and then frowned slightly. The ladder and screwdriver didn’t suggest a break-in and he wore a blue shirt with C.C. SECURITY on the pocket. Her gaze shifted to the window and she saw a half-installed small white boxy-looking thing on the edge of the window.

“Man, you scared the crap out of me,” the man admitted, turning over and sitting up.

Nicole relaxed as she took in his gangly figure, red hair, and freckled face. Between that and his open air of chagrin, he wasn’t the least bit threatening and he was obviously the security guy Jake had mentioned coming for a look-see. Apparently a look-see had turned into an install, she thought with irritation.

“Are you okay?” she asked, pushing aside her irritation in favor of worry for the man who had taken a tumble. “You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?”

“Oh, no, I’m fine. I was only two steps up. I was more startled than anything,” he assured her and then they both glanced to the door when it burst open and Jake charged in.

He paused abruptly as he took in the scene, and then turned his concerned gaze to Nicole. “Are you okay?”

When she nodded and began to push her duvet aside, he turned his attention to the man still on her floor and moved forward to offer him a hand up, asking, “What the hell are you doing in here, Cody? I told you not to bother her while she’s working.”

“I know, but when I was doing the office I looked in and the studio seemed empty, so I thought I’d quickly do it while she was out. She must have been buried under the duvet,” he added with chagrin.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night. I decided to catch a nap before starting to work,” she explained to Jake, feeling guilty that she’d been lazy.

But he just nodded and said, “Good. I was surprised you didn’t go back to bed again after Marguerite left. You were working until dawn.”

Nicole relaxed a little and stood up, unaccountably relieved that he was being so understanding rather than glaring at her with disapproval as Rodolfo would have done. “I think I’ll make some coffee.”

“I set up the pot earlier. You just have to turn it on,” Jake said, and then led the way out to the office to do it for her, before adding, “I also made a fruit-and-cheese tray in case you wanted a snack. It’s in the fridge.”

Nicole moved to the small bar fridge beside the coffee counter and opened it to find a large plate with cheese, crackers, grapes, and a sliced-up apple on it.

“Wow,” she murmured, taking it out and peering at it with surprise. Then she smiled at him. “I think I’m going to like having a cook/housekeeper.”

Jake smiled crookedly back, and then peered past her, his eyebrows rising. “How much more do you have to do in there, Cody?”

Nicole noted that the man with C.C. SECURITY on his shirt had followed them to the door and was now eyeing the coffeepot with interest. At Jake’s question, he forced his eyes away from the dark liquid and answered, “I just have to finish the one window and then do the sliding glass doors. I’ve already done the keyed door and the other two windows. I’ll be done before the coffee is.”

When Jake nodded, the man moved back into the room and out of sight.

Nicole raised her eyebrows in question and Jake explained, “He happened to have a cancellation this afternoon. When he got here and took a look around, the quote was so good I told him to go ahead.”

“Oh.” Nicole frowned, but merely nodded. Despite her resistance to the idea, she would have got a security system eventually if only to stop everyone else from bugging her about it. That or a big dog. She’d been leaning toward the big dog the last little while. It was lonely rattling around in this big house by herself, and a bit nerve wracking. She’d found herself jumping at the littlest thing. Actually, the last couple of days were the first time she hadn’t felt edgy in the house and that was because she’d had Marguerite and now Jake here. She supposed he’d worked as well as a big dog in making her feel comfortable in her own house.

“I better get back upstairs,” Jake said suddenly. “I was making peppercorn sauce when I heard you scream. I took it off the stove before I came down, but it might curdle.”

“Right,” Nicole nodded, her mind now on peppercorn sauce. It sounded hot. She wasn’t much into hot, but she kept that to herself and turned to her office with her cheese-and-fruit plate. She was wondering now, though, what time it was if he was starting dinner already.

A glance at the clock as Nicole entered her studio told her it was only two in the afternoon. She’d slept an hour and a half. Put that with the four hours from earlier, and it was five and a half. Six would have been better, but five and a half would do. Her gaze slid to Cody now as he stepped off the stepladder and carried it over to the sliding glass doors. She looked at the window now, noting the little white box, and frowned. There were three windows on the back wall of her studio; one large center window and two narrower ones on either side. The center window was the only one that opened though, but there were now boxes on all of them.

“The side windows don’t open,” she began. “Why—”

“They have glass break detectors,” Cody explained. “The center one is fitted with a sensor for breaking glass and opening and closing.”

“Oh.” Nicole peered at the windows again. She hadn’t realized they had sensors for glass breaking. It was clever though, she supposed. Her gaze slid back to Cody and she held out the plate of cheese and fruit. “Cheese?”

Cody grinned and moved forward to take a slice of apple, cheese and a cracker. “Thanks.”

Nicole nodded and took a slice of apple herself, then set the plate on a table by her easels. “The coffee should be ready in a minute. Do you want one?”

“Oh, yes please. That would be great,” he said, and then popped the fruit, cheese, and cracker in his mouth all at once and headed back to the sliding glass doors.

Knowing she wouldn’t be able to get any work done until he finished and left, Nicole settled on the daybed to eat her slice of apple.

“This is a beautiful house,” he commented as he began to attach another white box and a magnet sensor on that door.

“Thank you,” Nicole murmured, her gaze skimming around her studio. She agreed, she loved this house, and had from the start.

“So your husband must make a load to afford it. What does he do?”

She stiffened briefly with surprise, and then said, “I’m not married. Or won’t be in two weeks,” Nicole added reluctantly, because technically she was still married. Though, frankly she’d never really felt married. She’d always thought of marriage as a merging of a couple, not just their assets, but their lives, their dreams, their futures. She and Rodolfo hadn’t merged anything.

“Ah. I see. Divorcing,” Cody said and nodded. “So you got the house in the divorce settlement?”

Nicole stiffened. What was it with people thinking the man was the breadwinner all the time? As if the woman couldn’t make it herself. “No. The house is mine. I bought it . . . twice,” she added dryly. “Or one and a half times. I paid for it when we moved back to Canada, and then I got to buy my soon-to-be ex out of it as part of the divorce because it was considered a marital asset.”

Cody raised his eyebrows with surprise. “You bought it?”

“Women can make money too, you know,” she said dryly and he flushed guiltily.

“Sorry,” he muttered, but his gaze slid to the three covered canvases in the room. “An artist?”

Nicole nodded. She always covered her paintings between sessions. It prevented her looking at them and picking out all the flaws when she wasn’t working on them. She was her own worst critic. Turning her gaze back to Cody, she commented, “You seem to know Jake well.”

“Oh, yeah. Met him on the job when he first moved out here to Ottawa,” Cody said easily. “Being in the same business, we got along well. Went out for a drink after work.” He shrugged. “A friendship was born.”

“The same business?” Nicole asked with surprise. “You’re in security and he’s a cook/housekeeper. I wouldn’t think that was really the same business.”

Cody stilled briefly, but then continued working and said lightly, “House security, housekeeping, it’s all about the house.”

Nicole eyed him briefly, but his back was to her as he worked and she couldn’t see his expression. She stood up. “The coffee should be done. How do you take yours?”

“Just regular, please,” Cody said, his gaze now extremely curious as he looked again to the covered canvases on their easels.

She deliberately took her time making the coffees, wanting to avoid any more questions. In the end, she timed it perfectly. Cody was folding up his ladder when she re-entered her studio.

“All done in here,” he said cheerfully, crossing the room with the ladder under one arm.

Nicole merely smiled and held out his coffee as he approached.

“Thanks,” he said, taking it with his free hand and continuing on out of the room, saying, “I’ll let you get back to work now. Sorry for scaring you.”

“No problem,” Nicole said quietly and followed to close the French doors of the studio behind him as he left. She turned back to the room then with a little sigh. She was still tired and now a little out of sorts as well. Not the best mental state to work in. It was times like this she wished she had a more normal job. She didn’t imagine your state of mind affected your work much if you were an accountant or something. One plus one still equaled two no matter your mood. Sadly, it wasn’t the same with painting, or probably any of the more artistic jobs like music or writing where your mood could make you more critical. Still, she walked over and removed the covers from the canvases one after another and then stood back to survey what she’d done so far.

Nicole knew at once that this was not going to be a very productive day. Every flaw, real or imagined, immediately jumped out at her. She’d used too much red here, not enough shadow there. Was the actress’s nose a touch too big? And the sketch of Christian and his fiancée was all wrong; too stiff, not reflecting the love that seemed to shine from every photo of the couple.

Grimacing, she tossed the covers back over each of the canvases and took her coffee and the cheese plate to the daybed, where she sat down with a depressed sigh. Nicole hated when her work was disrupted. Last night things had really been hopping. She’d been painting quickly and happily, satisfied with what she was doing and how the portraits were working out. Today they all looked like crap to her . . . bleck.

It looked like it was going to be a “to do” day. Those were days she did banking, shopping, and any other chore that she’d neglected while working. Usually there were a lot of tasks to do, cleaning, cooking, shopping, banking, bill paying. Now that she had Jake she could take cooking and cleaning off her list, but that still left some chores.

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