One Lucky Vampire Page 2

“Until now,” he said quietly.

“Until now,” Marguerite agreed solemnly. “Because I need you.”

That brought him upright in his seat, his eyebrows high. “You need me?”

“Yes.” She nodded solemnly, but then sat back and peered past him.

Jake wasn’t surprised to look around and see the waitress returning with their drinks.

“Are you ready to order, or do you need a few more minutes?” the girl asked as she set down their drinks.

Jake glanced at Marguerite as she looked down at her menu. She had opened it, but he didn’t think she’d really got a chance to check it out before this. On the other hand, he hadn’t even opened his, but didn’t need to. He had eaten here many times. The workers were always annoyingly perky, but the food was also always great. It was why he’d suggested it as the meeting spot.

“I know what I want,” Jake said now, “but Marguerite might need—”

“Ooh, the quail sounds lovely,” Marguerite interrupted.

The waitress chuckled and nodded as she took her menu, and then turned to Jake in question. “The grilled hanger steak for you?”

Jake blinked in surprise. “I—yes,” he said slowly, a little concerned that she knew that.

“It’s what you’ve ordered the last three times you’ve come here,” the waitress said gently as she took his menu. “At least the last three times I’ve been working.”

“Right,” Jake said, and felt a moment’s guilt that he hadn’t recognized the girl. Before the turn he’d always made sure to remember details like that, making note of people who served him, showing his appreciation for good service. He’d changed since the turn though. His thoughts now were usually turned inward, and he rarely paid attention to his surroundings or even the people around him unless he was at work, where that was a necessary part of the job.

Clearing his throat, he offered her an apologetic smile and nod. “Thank you . . . Melanie,” he added, glancing to her name tag. He would make sure to remember her in future.

“My pleasure,” she assured him, beaming again before whirling away.

“She likes you and thinks you’re attractive,” Marguerite said with a grin the moment the girl was out of earshot.

“Yeah, that happens a lot since the turn,” he said dryly. “I’m guessing this immortal business includes some kind of chick magnet deal or something?”

“Not exactly,” she said solemnly. “Although the scientists at Argeneau Enterprises have noted that we secrete higher levels of certain hormones and pheromones that might affect mortals, both male and female.”

“Of course,” he said bitterly. “It would make us better hunters.”

Marguerite raised her tea for a sip. As she swallowed and set the cup down, she said carefully, “You must have a lot of questions about how you are different now.”

“No,” he said gruffly, and then pointed out, “While mother and Roberto made sure I was in the dark as a child, I’ve known about immortals since I was eighteen. I learned a lot in the thirty-some years before I left California. I know most things, I think. I just never realized that my brother, Neil, was such a chick magnet because of what he was, not because of his natural charm and wit.”

“Well, see, there’s one benefit at least,” she said cheerfully. “You’re a chick magnet now.”

Jake didn’t argue the point, but simply said, “You said you need my help?”

Marguerite looked like she wanted to say more on the benefits he’d gained when he’d been turned, but she let it go with a sigh and then asked, “I understand you work as a bodyguard now?”

Jake nodded. Before being turned he’d been a vice president at V.A. Inc. in California, a company with diversified interests. Vincent Argeneau had been the president, but the man had been little more than a figurehead, leaving the actual running of the company to Jake and his younger brother, Neil. Jake had been the daytime president. Neil had taken over at night. But after the turn . . . well, Neil already had the nighttime gig, and most companies didn’t need day and night V.P.s. It was only immortal-owned companies that did that, catering to both mortals by day and immortals by night. But Jake hadn’t wanted to deal with immortals at that point. If anything, he’d wanted to get as far away from them as possible, but a similar position in a mortal company was impossible. Vampires didn’t work days.

Jake had needed a new career to go with his name change, one he could do at night and one that needed minimal training. He’d always been interested in martial arts and had trained at it since he was six. The bodyguard shtick had seemed a good deal: interesting, exciting even. Boy, had he got that wrong. Mostly it was standing around, eyeballing crowds for hours on end. But it was a reason to get up every morning.

Night, he corrected himself. It was a reason to get up every night. After seven years he still had trouble with a lot of the changes to his life. He had never been a night person. Now he was whether he wanted to be or not.

“Well, I have someone who needs guarding.”

Jake was pulled from his thoughts by that announcement. He stared at Marguerite with surprise. “Surely Lucian would arrange for Rogue Hunters to protect any immortal who needs—”

“No,” Marguerite interrupted. “This situation has nothing to do with immortals. She’s mortal and so is the person who is a threat to her.”

Jake sat back in his seat and merely quirked an eyebrow, inviting her to explain. Marguerite was an immortal, and an old one. At least seven hundred or something, he thought, though he wasn’t positive. He was pretty sure she’d been born in medieval days. As far as he knew, everyone she knew was immortal. He couldn’t think what mortal she would be concerning herself with.

“Her name is Nicole Phillips. Her mother, Zaira, is the sister of my housekeeper, Maria,” Marguerite said and then explained, “Zaira married and moved north with her husband just before Maria started working for me. But her husband had a heart attack when Nicole was fifteen and they moved back this way to be closer to family. From fifteen until she finished university, Nicole, and Maria’s daughter, Pierina, used to help out Maria with spring cleaning of my home, and preparing the house for the rare big parties I threw.” She smiled. “They were both good girls, very polite and hardworking.”

Jake could hear the affection in her voice, and when she paused, he nodded, encouraging her to continue.

“The two girls grew to be very close, more like sisters than cousins. Pierina really enjoyed cooking. She was also the little organizer, deciding where things should be and who should do what.” Marguerite’s mouth curved up with affectionate amusement. “Nicole, though, was more interested in artistic endeavors. She grew up to be an amazing artist, and she’s now a very successful portraitist. Her work is well respected and much sought after.”

Jake couldn’t help noticing the pride and affection in her voice. It was obvious she had taken great interest in and had a lot of affection for both girls. He found himself smiling faintly in return.

“And then a couple years back she met a charming Italian while on vacation in Europe. By all accounts, he seemed to adore her. It was very romantic, a whirlwind affair. He was suave, promising to show her the world and proclaiming his love in the most passionate terms . . . and she was smitten. Then they married.”

Jake’s mouth quirked at her change of tone on those last three words. They sounded flat and grim. “I gather things changed once they were married?”

“Oh yes,” she said on a sigh. “Nicole tried to hide it, but—”

“There is no hiding it from you,” Jake suggested quietly.

“It wasn’t me who figured it out first,” she corrected. “As I mentioned, Nicole was always very close to Pierina, but she moved to Italy briefly to be with Rodolfo—”

“That’s the suave Italian?”

“Yes, Rodolfo Rossi. She lived with him in Italy for a bit and then they married and moved back to Canada, but to Ottawa rather than the Toronto area where her family is . . . at his insistence,” she added grimly. “He claimed he could better find a job in his field in Ottawa. But I realize now that he wanted to isolate her from her family.”

Jake nodded silently. That was usually what happened with an abusive mate: lasso the woman and move her away from family and friends and any kind of support or interference they might offer.

“Fortunately, Pierina came out to Ottawa to visit Nicole,” Marguerite continued. “She wasn’t happy with what she found. At first, Pierina just thought Nicole was working herself too hard, working her way into the grave in fact. She insisted Nicole come to Toronto for a girls’ weekend to relax and I invited the two of them and their mothers for dinner. I wanted to ask Nicole about doing a portrait of my son, Christian, and his fiancée, Carolyn, for me,” she explained.

“And you read her mind and quickly realized work wasn’t the problem,” Jake suggested.

“I realized it wasn’t the only problem.” Marguerite corrected. “She was taking on too many commissions and working too hard . . . at Rodolfo’s insistence. She’s much sought after with clients from all over the world. She usually has to refuse a good many of them, or book them years in advance she is so busy, but Rodolfo was insisting she could do more and should accept them all. He insisted she should “strike while the iron was hot”; the commissions might dry up one day and she should make all the money she could before that happened. He had her working around the clock . . . and all the while he wasn’t working at all.”

“Nice,” Jake murmured.

“Yes, well, while that was helping to sap her energy, the real problem, and what she was trying to hide was that he was terribly controlling and hypercritical. While he was insisting she should do all these commissions, he would then complain that she spent no time with him. He was also tearing at her self-esteem and independence and basically making her miserable. By the time she came to Toronto, he had demoralized her to the point that I don’t think she could have left him on her own, so . . .” She paused and avoided his gaze briefly, and then admitted, “I gave her a mental nudge to make her leave him.”

“Ah,” Jake murmured. It was all he could say. He’d never thought much of the way immortals tended to control the minds of mortals and make them do things they might not otherwise have done. The truth was, he didn’t like it. But in this instance, Marguerite’s heart had been in the right place at least.

“Here we are.”

Jake glanced to the side and sat back to get out of the way as their waitress arrived with their meals.

“Thank you,” he murmured as she set his plate in front of him.

“You’re more than welcome,” she said brightly, beamed at him, and then slipped away.

They were both silent for a moment as they tasted their food. As Jake had expected, his steak was amazing. But then it always was. It was the first thing he’d tried here and the last. He tended to stick with things when he liked them. Although, glancing at Marguerite’s quail, he now wondered if he shouldn’t try some of the other dishes here. It looked delicious too.

“It is delicious,” she assured him, and Jake grimaced, aware that she was reading his mind. While he too was immortal now, it was a new state for him and he knew most older immortals could read him as easily as if he were mortal.

“Sorry,” she muttered.

He shrugged with a wry smile. Swallowing the steak in his mouth, he asked, “So you prodded this Nicole and she left her Rodolfo?”

Marguerite nodded as she took a sip of her water, and then said, “It all seemed good at first. She left him and started divorce proceedings. She also started to see a counselor to try to undo the damage he’d done.” Marguerite smiled. “It’s working. Nicole’s becoming the happy, strong young woman she was before the marriage again.”

“But?” Jake prompted. If everything were going so rosy, Marguerite wouldn’t need his help.

“But there have been some incidents,” Marguerite said on a sigh, cutting viciously into her quail.

“Incidents?” Jake queried.

“Three gas explosions narrowly avoided.”

His eyebrows rose. “You think Rodolfo’s trying to kill her?”

Marguerite’s mouth tightened and rather than answer outright, she said, “He’s going after her money, hard. He’s claiming he left his country, friends, family, et cetera, to marry her and move to Canada and she is now abandoning him. No one’s buying it,” she added grimly. “He was actually let go before the marriage and suggested the move back to Canada himself. Besides, Nicole had arranged interviews for him with companies in his field here before he even landed in Canada. He refused to go though, claiming he wanted a career change. But then he didn’t look for work in any field, but lived off of her.”

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