One Lucky Vampire Page 15

He glanced at her hand, then accepted it and shook firmly. “You’re more than welcome, ma’am. All in a day’s work for us superheroes.”

Laughing, Nicole retrieved her hand and got into the SUV.

“I have your number,” Dan said as she settled in the driver’s seat. “I’ll call you later in the week and see how you are. Find out if you’ve recovered, had any more problems, or if Jakey boy is driving you wild,” he teased. “You might need an emergency coffee date to recover.”

“I just might,” she said on a laugh, pulling on her seatbelt. “Thanks again.”

“My pleasure,” Dan assured her and closed the door, gave her a little wave, and backed up.

Nicole started the engine, still smiling. She felt much better than she had right after the near miss. Her nerves were settled again, and while she was a little stiff and bruised, coffee with Dan had cheered her up. The man had flirted, but not seriously, just enough to make her feel good. He was a nice guy. He definitely had issues with men in non-conformist positions, but he was nice.

Nicole shifted into reverse, waved at Dan, then backed out of her parking spot to drive around to the grocery store to meet Jake.

“Do you recognize that car?” Jake asked, eyes narrowing on the little sports car waiting in the driveway when Nicole turned into it.

“It’s Joey. My brother,” Nicole added as she eased up the driveway and hit the button to open the garage door. She smiled slightly, and said, “He’s . . . well, you’ll either love him or hate him. There’s no middle ground with Joey.”

Jake raised his eyebrows at the comment. Marguerite had mentioned Joey while giving him the details about Nicole and her husband, but he’d understood that while the man had made millions in land development here in Ottawa, he’d got out of the rat race and retired down to the Southern states. Marguerite hadn’t been sure if it was Florida or Hawaii. Other than that, all he knew about the man was that he was thirty-eight, Nicole’s half brother from their father’s first marriage. That his birth mother had died when he was young, he accepted Nicole’s mom, Zaira, as his mother now, and that he adored Nicole as much as she adored him.

Jake peered at the man curiously as they drove slowly past him, and then Nicole steered into the garage and stopped the SUV. Once she’d put it in park, he opened the door and slid out.

“Yo! What’s going on? I come out to see my shut-in, workaholic sister who never leaves home and she’s not here.”

Jake glanced to the man walking up to the garage just as Nicole closed her door and hurried to the back of the vehicle to greet her brother.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she laughed as she hugged him. “I had to go to the bank and then do some shopping. What are you doing here anyway? I thought you had headed for warmer climates?”

“I did. But Mom called and did the Jewish mother guilt thing so I came back,” he said with exasperation.

“Mom isn’t Jewish,” Nicole pointed out with amusement as she pulled out of the man’s arms.

“Tell her that,” Joey said dryly and then glanced to Jake with raised eyebrows. “Replaced Rodolfo already, have we, Nicki? Nice.”

“No!” Nicole flushed with embarrassment and gave Jake an apologetic look as she made the introductions. “Joey, this is my new cook/housekeeper, Jake.”

“Cook/housekeeper,” Joey repeated, eyebrows askance as he looked Jake over again. Despite that he moved forward, offering his hand. “Is that a euphemism or are you really a cook/housekeeper?”

“I really work for your sister,” Jake assured him solemnly, looking the other man over as well. Joey was a good-looking guy: golden hair and eyes, a nicely chiseled face, tight black jeans, a black leather jacket, expensive watch, and a confident swagger Jake suspected women swooned over. He looked a lot like his sister in the face and hair, but otherwise not so much. Nicole was short and curvaceous to his tall and lanky, and a jeans and T-shirt type gal compared to his more stylish dress. She also did not have a confident swagger. She was more like a hummingbird, rushing here and there with an anxious air.

“Well, cool then,” Joey said, shaking his hand firmly and then added, “No offense, but Nicki’s had a rough time of it and the last thing she needs is to be hooking up with someone right now.”

“So I understand,” Jake said with a nod, and then glanced to the SUV as Nicole opened the back.

“Good God, girl!” Joey exclaimed, moving to help take bags. “What did you do? Buy out all of downtown Ottawa?”

“I’m only responsible for the Canadian Tire bags,” Nicole assured him. “The rest is Jake’s fault. I think he thinks he’s feeding a small army . . . or a big one,” she added with a frown as she looked over the bags. “Geez, Jake, you did get an awful lot.”

“Don’t worry about the groceries, I’ll get those,” Jake said quickly, moving up to shoo them away from the vehicle. “Why don’t you two go in and visit. I’ll bring these up and make coffee for you, then start on dinner. I’m guessing you’ll be staying for dinner, Joey?”

“Thank you, I think I will,” Joey said, walking Nicole to the door. As they went inside, Jake heard him say, “This cook/housekeeper thing was a good idea. Whose was it? I know you didn’t come up with it by yourself.”

“Marguerite,” Nicole answered. “She suggested a cook/housekeeper would ease my burden quite a bit so I could concentrate on work. She even found me Jake. He’s a family member of hers so I know he’s trustworthy.”

“Ah, yes. Clever Marguerite,” Joey responded as the door closed behind them.

“Clever Marguerite,” Jake agreed dryly as he began to gather grocery bags, and wondering what the hell he was going to do about supper. He’d made several attempts at dinner, the last and only successful one being the peppercorn steak sauce that was to be poured over the steaks after they were grilled, but the recipe had been for two steaks. Of course, he could feed that to them and make himself something else to eat. It wasn’t like they’d welcome the housekeeper at the dinner table anyway.

Shaking his head, he turned his attention to the groceries.

“This one’s almost done.”

Nicole glanced up from the bags she and Joey had just carried into her studio to see that Joey had lifted the cover to peer at the portrait of the actress. Turning her attention back to searching the bags, she said distractedly, “Yeah. I’ll probably finish it tonight.”

“And this one?” Joey asked, peering under the cover over the stern older man.

“By the end of the week,” she said, barely sparing the painting a glance before returning to her search. She was looking for the mouse sonar. She wanted to plug them all in while she was thinking of it.

“Who’s this?”

Nicole glanced up again. Joey had uncovered the sketch of the couple. “Marguerite’s stepson, Christian, and his fiancée, Carolyn.”

“Geez, she must have married an old guy if he has a kid this old,” Joey commented. “I bet this Christian hates having a stepmom so young.”

“No.” Nicole smiled. “He seems to really like Marguerite. He calls her Mom and she calls him her son rather than her stepson. If they weren’t so close in age, I wouldn’t know they were steps. It’s really very sweet.”

“Hmm,” Joey said. “I’m not buying that they get along that well. He’s probably got the hots for her and hoping to slip in there when the old man dies . . . and I wouldn’t blame him. Marguerite’s a hottie. How old is she anyway?”

“I don’t know. Jake says she isn’t forty yet and that she married Jean Claude when she was thirteen.” Pausing, she glanced at the picture with a frown. “But Christian doesn’t look any older than Lucern, Etienne or Bastien.” She tilted her head. “I wonder if they were Jean Claude’s kids and not hers.”

“They have to be,” Joey decided. “She just isn’t old enough to have kids that age.”

“No, she isn’t,” Nicole agreed and then shrugged. “Still, even if she was thirteen when she married Jean Claude, she’s got to be thirty-five or something.”

“She doesn’t look a day over twenty-five,” Joey said firmly.

“I know. Nice huh?” Nicole said enviously. She’d probably look forty when she was thirty-five.

“Yeah, that’s what money does for you,” Joey said wistfully. “Enough money and you can look young forever.”

“Or you can look like a fan tester,” Nicole said dryly.

“A fan tester?” Joey asked with confusion.

Nicole nodded. “You know, the whole too many face-lifts thing where they look like they’re staring into a high-powered fan.” She pulled the sides of her face back with her hands so that her mouth and eyes were pulled into wide slits.

Joey chuckled, but then asked, “Do you think she’s had face-lifts?”

“Marguerite?” Nicole asked, letting go of her face. She shook her head and turned back to her search. “Nah. I think she just has some amazing fricking genes.”

“Hmm.” Joey covered the paintings again and wandered back to her. “What are you looking for?”

“I bought these sonar mouse-repellent things,” she muttered, giving up on the bag in front of her and grabbing another.

“You have mice?” Joey asked with a grimace.

“No. At least I don’t think so,” she added. “But I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Oh.” He grabbed the bag nearest him and began to help look through it. “Are these them?”

Nicole had just found two of them in the bottom of the bag she was searching, but glanced up and nodded when she saw that Joey was holding up half a dozen more. “Yeah. Thanks.”

As she got to her feet, he moved over to the rolling table she kept her paint brushes and other paraphernalia on and grabbed a pair of scissors to begin cutting open the packages. “So where are we plugging these in?”

Nicole smiled faintly at the “we” and leaned up to kiss his cheek as she reached his side. “You’re a star, Joey. Thank you for helping me.”

“Geez, sis. I’m just opening the containers and plugging them in. It’s not that big a deal,” he assured her.

“But I appreciate it,” she said simply.

Joey snorted and shook his head. “God, how did you end up so pathetic?”

“Nice,” Nicole said, smacking him in the back of the head when he set down the scissors to pull out two of the little white repellent gizmos.

Joey grinned and said, “You spent too much time around Pierina growing up. She encouraged that nice gene from Mom to bloom and grow. You should have spent more time around me. I got Dad’s selfish asshole gene, I could have encouraged that in you.”

The words surprised a laugh from Nicole and she ruffled his hair affectionately. “The very fact that you think you’re a selfish asshole means you aren’t.”

“Ha! Got you fooled,” he said with amusement, and then concern entered his gaze and he caught her arm.

“What?” she asked, and glanced down. She’d pushed up her sweater sleeves while searching, revealing the bottom of a large, dark bruise on her arm.

“What happened here?” he asked, pushing the sleeve further up.

Nicole blew her breath out and grimaced. “I took a bit of a spill coming out of Canadian Tire earlier tonight.”

“That’s more than a spill,” he said quietly.

“It’s just a bruise, Joey. I’m pretty sure I have several more of those. My hip and knee are both sore as heck and feel stiff, and I think I must have wrenched my neck as well. But at least I didn’t break anything.” Nicole shrugged and tugged her arm free. “I’ll take a dip in the hot tub before bed tonight and tomorrow it will all just be a good story to tell.”

“Hmm.” He didn’t look impressed. “Well if you don’t feel better tomorrow, you should go see the doctor. Maybe he can give you something . . . for clumsiness.”

“Ha, ha,” Nicole said dryly. “Come on, smart boy. Let’s go plug these in.”

“Where are we putting them?” Joey asked, gathering the little items in his hand.

“One in every room,” she answered, stopping to plug one into the socket by the door. “We’ll do the kitchen last. You can distract Jake while I plug one in there. I don’t want him to think I have mice. He might quit.”

“We wouldn’t want that,” Joey said with amusement.

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