One Lucky Vampire Page 13

“Ran away?” Nicole suggested and when he glanced at her sharply, half suspecting she’d read him, she said, “You changed your name and ran away here to Ottawa to punish them, maybe.”

She was right, of course. He’d changed his name and run away from his home and his family like a kid. Wow . . . he was such an ass, Jake realized suddenly and shook his head.

“We all act like idiots at times,” Nicole said quietly. “We’re human. We have emotions and those are sticky and confusing and rarely logical so we do stupid things.” She shrugged, and turned off the car. “Welcome to the human race. You’ll make many more mistakes before your life is done. Accept it, deal with it, and move on.”

Jake stared at her blankly until he realized she was undoing her seat belt.

“What are you doing?” he asked, glancing around with a frown.

“Going into the bank. Do you want me to leave my key here so you can turn the engine back on and have the heat?”

“No.” He undid his own seat belt. “I could use a short walk to stretch my legs. I’ll come with you.”

She shrugged and opened her door to get out and Jake quickly did the same on his side. He scanned the parking lot as he walked around to meet her at the front of the vehicle and walked her inside, but didn’t see anyone. Inside, he settled in one of the chairs where he could keep an eye on her as well as the parking lot outside while he waited. A lot of his job was watching and waiting. The bodyguard job, not the cook/housekeeper job. Jake was finding this cover surprisingly challenging. His mother might think he was a good cook, but she was a mother and as such was delusional when it came to her sons. He suspected most mothers were.

As far as Elaine Notte was concerned, he and Neil practically walked on water, or could if they wished. However, if today had done anything, it had proved to Jake that he couldn’t cook worth a damn. He’d stayed up all night, silently prowling the house and repeatedly checking on Nicole as she worked. When she’d moved through the dark house to seek out her bed just before seven that morning, Jake had retreated to the shadows, seeing her but not being seen. Once she was safely in her room he’d then gone to the kitchen to consider what to make for brunch for the two ladies when they got up.

Jake had made pancakes, intending to keep them warming in the oven until the gals got up, only to throw them out when they came out looking like Cajun pancakes. He had never been served pancakes as black as the ones he’d produced. And he’d destroyed one of Nicole’s frying pans in the effort.

He’d followed up that effort with French toast . . . with the same results.

Omelets had been his third effort, but they had been a sort of congealed mess: half raw, half blackened, and wholly crunchy from the eggshells that had somehow made their way into the mix.

Marguerite had come out as he was inspecting that effort, his clothes covered with everything from flour to eggs, and his face wreathed with disappointment, and had taken pity on him. She was the real person behind the lovely, fluffy, perfect omelets they’d had that morning. She’d called a local restaurant and had them delivered. Marguerite apparently couldn’t cook worth a damn either. But then the last time she’d cooked had been in medieval days. She’d only recently returned to eating and had a cook/housekeeper to manage the cooking.

Five minutes after Marguerite had left for the airport and Nicole had gone down to her studio, the doorbell had rung. Jake had rushed to answer it, expecting it to be Cody and his boys to handle the security system, but instead it had been a courier with a delivery. Jake had signed for it, surprised to find his name on the package. He’d taken it upstairs to find that it contained three cookbooks. Cooking for Dummies was the first book. The titles did not get more encouraging after that.

After greeting Cody and his men and showing them around, Jake had left them to work with the admonition not to bother Nicole in the studio and had retired to the kitchen to go through the books looking for something to make for supper. Something easy that he couldn’t burn or completely destroy. He’d been on his third and most successful effort, the peppercorn steak sauce, when Nicole’s scream had drawn him downstairs. He’d been just finishing it off when she’d come up and announced she was going out.

As her bodyguard Jake had to go with her, but there was another reason. He’d pretty much emptied her refrigerator and freezer with his failed attempts at cooking that morning and afternoon. He had to replace the food, or explain where it had all gone. But that was going to be tricky shopping with her. How the devil was he supposed to explain that he was picking up a carton of eggs when she’d had a full carton that morning? Never mind the onions, cheese, and various other foods he’d run through.

Jake contemplated the matter briefly as he watched Nicole slowly make her way toward the front of the bank line, and then suddenly pulled out his phone and punched in a number.

“Dan?” he said a minute later when his call was answered.

“Yeah buddy. This you, Jake?”

“Yeah, listen, Hank gave you a couple days off, right?”

“Of course. He always gives us time off between gigs.”

“Yes, he does,” Jake agreed, and then asked, “How would you like to make a couple hundred bucks for an hour or two of easy work? Maybe only an hour,” he added.

“I’m listening,” Dan said with interest.

Jake glanced toward the line to see that Nicole still had a long wait ahead of her. For once in his life he was grateful rather than annoyed that banks never had enough tellers. Turning his attention back to the phone, he said, “Okay, here’s the situation . . .”

Nicole gazed over the pest control section with pursed lips. Her choice was catch-and-release traps or sonar. There were other options, but she just couldn’t bring herself to deal with killing the poor little buggers. On the other hand, catching and releasing them outside so that they could run back into her house the first time she opened the garage door didn’t seem that sensible, so the only real option appeared to be the sonar repellent thingies. She peered at the containers, reading the promises on them and then tossed several in the shopping cart with a shrug. She hoped they worked. She didn’t want Jake quitting because of mice in her house.

That thought made her think of the man and she smiled faintly as she recalled his suggesting she go get her other tasks done and perhaps have a cup of coffee while he managed the shopping. Nicole had been trying to think of a way to make the same suggestion so that she could come get mousetraps without him. His suggesting it had worked even better. She’d handed him the cash she’d taken out at the bank and left him at the grocery store to come next door to the Canadian Tire.

Nicole tossed several more of the sonar things in the cart and then wheeled away to explore the rest of the store. She didn’t really need anything, but she had time to kill after all, so rolled up and down the aisles, looking at this and that and buying things she didn’t really need but that looked interesting or useful. When she got to the till and watched the items rolling up the conveyor belt toward the cashier, she had to wonder if they didn’t have some sort of subliminal persuasion on some of the signs in the store. Certainly, she seemed to have a lot of stuff there and she wasn’t sure why she’d grabbed half of it.

Once through the checkout, Nicole returned her cart and headed outside with her bags, surprised to find it was dark again. She glanced at her wristwatch, grimacing when she saw that she’d been in the store browsing for an hour. It was just after 4:30, but the sun set early in late November. Nicole hated that. It had just been making an appearance when she’d gone to bed just before seven that morning and now it was already setting. It felt like there was no daylight at all this time of year. But then she supposed it would help if she didn’t sleep through it.

Nicole didn’t at first see the car. It seemed to come out of nowhere as she crossed the parking lot. One moment there was nothing, and the next, bright lights were glaring at her from a car roaring toward her. She never would have got out of the way in time. Even as she realized that, something hit her from behind and nearly knocked her right out of her boots.

Nicole landed several feet away on the snowy pavement, grunting when something heavy landed on her back, and then gasping when she was pulled into a bumpy roll, her back riding over something bulky before she was rolled facedown on the ground again with that bulkiness covering her once more. The move got her a good distance away from the car that swept past without slowing.

“Are you okay?”

She heard the question, but was so stunned by the speed and violence of what had happened that Nicole was slow to respond. In the end, all she could manage was a weak nod as she tried to catch the breath that had been knocked out of her. The warm body above and behind her moved away and Nicole eased to her hands and knees on the cold hard pavement, realizing that her wrists were still through shopping bag handles when the action dragged them across the cold ground. She wheezed a breathless thank-you when someone caught her under the arms and lifted her to her feet like a child.

“Deep breaths,” the unfamiliar voice said. “I probably knocked the wind out of you. Sorry.”

Nicole released a breathless laugh and shook her head. He was apologizing for saving her life.

“Thank you,” she gasped finally, managing to straighten fully. She glanced to the man who had helped her, noting fair hair and a concerned smile. She managed a crooked smile in response and said, “Really. Thank you. I thought I was a goner.”

“You nearly were,” he said, his smile fading. His gaze shifted to search the parking lot.

Still struggling for breath, Nicole followed his gaze. The lot was as empty and still as it had been when she’d come out of the store. They were the only two people in the parking lot at the moment. There wasn’t even a car light to be seen, and the car that had nearly mown her down was either gone, or had parked and shut its lights off to blend in with the others.

Nicole had no idea where that last thought had come from, but it made her shift uncomfortably.

“Here. Allow me to walk you to your car,” her rescuer said, relieving her of her bags.

“Oh, thanks,” Nicole forced a smile and started to move when he shifted her bags to one hand and took her arm with the other, to urge her to move. She glanced at him curiously as they walked. He was tall, and well built like Jake, but that was where the resemblance ended. This man was fair-haired as she’d noted, but he also had a boy-next-door look rather than the more rugged good looks Jake had. Which she supposed was kind of ironic, considering Jake was a cook/housekeeper and this man had acted like a commando when he’d tackled and then rolled her to save her life. He was also older than Jake by a good ten years, by her guess.

“Ex-army?” she asked suddenly as they paused at the back of her SUV.

He had been scanning the parking lot as they’d walked, but now glanced to her with surprise. “How did you know?”

“It was that or an ex-football player,” Nicole said with amusement. “You have a heck of a tackle-and-roll thing going on there.”

His mouth widened into a smile, losing the grimness it had held since she’d first seen him. “Well, I did play football in high school,” he admitted with amusement. “But the tackle-and-roll thing is a more recent skill.”

Nicole nodded and opened the back of the SUV for him to set her bags inside. She then reached to close it and winced as pain shot down her side.

“I really did you in,” he said with concern, closing the back of the vehicle himself.

“A couple bumps and bruises,” she said waving away his concern. “Much better than the beating I would have taken from the car if you hadn’t been there.”

“Hmm.” He squinted at her through the dark, trying to get a better look at how much damage had been done, she supposed, and then said, “Maybe we should call the police and take you to the hospital.”

Her eyebrows rose with surprise. “On that’s not necessary. I mean, what would we tell the police? I almost got run over? I didn’t catch the license plate, did you?”

“No,” he said with an expression that made her suspect he was kicking himself for not getting it. “Still, I don’t want to just leave you here like this. In this light I can’t tell if you have a head wound or something else serious. If you pass out from blood loss or a head wound on the road and crash, I’d never forgive myself.” He glanced around briefly, and then said, “There’s a Moxie’s restaurant just past the grocery store next door. Let me buy you a coffee so I can be sure you’re okay.”

Nicole hesitated. She thought she was probably all right, but was aware she was trembling. A result of the adrenaline in her system she suspected, but truth be told she wasn’t sure herself if she wasn’t wounded somewhere. She’d hit the ground hard and was hurting pretty much everywhere. Moxie’s, she thought. It was right beside Loblaws, where she was supposed to pick up Jake.

Prev Next