One Lucky Vampire Page 20

The blonde glanced over now. Spotting him, she leaned back in her seat to give him the once-over.

“You’re up,” she commented, pushing her long, wavy blond hair behind one ear. “How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Jake said slowly, his gaze narrowing on her eyes. They were a bright silver green. Not an Argeneau or a Notte then. Argeneaus were known for their silver-blue eyes, and Nottes for their dark metallic eyes. “Who are you?”

“Nina Viridis,” she announced, standing up. “I’m an Enforcer.”

Jake nodded, relaxing now that he knew she was a Rogue Hunter. “So Nicole did call Marguerite?”

Nina nodded, and leaned back against the table, arms crossing over her chest. She hadn’t stood to approach and shake his hand in greeting as he’d first expected, but so that she wasn’t at a disadvantage. As a Rogue Hunter, it would be second nature to ensure she was never at a disadvantage, he supposed.

“She called Marguerite, who called Lucian, who sent us over to look after things until Marguerite and the others could get here.”

“Marguerite’s here?” he asked, instinctively glancing over his shoulder as if expecting the woman to come walking across the upper living room from the stairs.

“She was,” Nina said, drawing his attention again. “And she brought Julius, Decker, and his wife, Dani, as well as Dante and Tomasso. They’re gone now though. Everyone but the twins left once you were resting quietly and obviously on the mend.”

“Dante and Tomasso are still here?” he asked with a frown.

Nina nodded. “They remained behind to help babysit the mortal.”

Jake shifted uncomfortably at this news. He hadn’t seen anyone from the Notte family since moving to Ottawa and wasn’t sure he was ready to see his cousins now. “I’m sure with you here I don’t need Tomasso and Dante to—”

“My team’s not going to be here,” she said at once. “Mark and Gill already left. Tybo’s leaving after he finishes clearing the drive of snow, and I was only waiting for you to wake up.” She smiled wryly. “Marguerite suggested it. I gather Dante and Tomasso aren’t the most talkative duo on the planet and she wanted to be sure someone told you what happened.”

Jake sighed at this news. It seemed he was going to deal with family now, ready or not. Shrugging that worry away for now, he asked, “So what did happen? Was it vampire flu or something? Because between the headache and vomiting, it sure as hell felt like flu, but I thought we couldn’t get sick.”

“We can’t,” she assured him. “It wasn’t flu. The headache was caused by some sonar mouse repellents Nicole had bought. We removed them and have wiped them from her memory. Several times,” she added dryly. “She keeps remembering them and wondering where they are and one of the twins or myself wipes her memory . . . again. We thought it best not to get into explanations like that until you could talk to her.”

Jake merely grunted at this news and then asked, “So that was the cause of the headache. What about the vomiting up blood?”

“Poison,” Nina said grimly.

Jake’s head went back at this news, and then he immediately began shaking it. “I was weak, puking, and had a fever. It was flu.”

“You were weak from lack of blood, puking up the poison thanks to the nanos, and what you thought was a fever was the nanos working in overdrive to save you. They heat up in your blood, so your blood heats up,” she said simply. “It was poison, not flu.”

“But I couldn’t have been poisoned,” he argued. “I cooked supper. I did the shopping too, and I replaced anything in the house that had been opened on that shopping trip, just in case poison had been slipped into something. There is no way—”

“It was the hot tub,” she interrupted. “Dani took a sample and had it tested at a lab here in Ottawa and there were high concentrations of some poison that can be absorbed through the skin, nicotine and dimethyl sulfate—” She paused and frowned. “Or was it sulfide?” She shook her head. “No, it had fox in it somewhere. Sulfoxy maybe?”

“Whatever. It was poisoned,” Jake said grimly. He didn’t care about the specific substances. The hot tub had been poisoned.

“Yeah.” Nina nodded. “Apparently, Nicole got lucky she put the robe on you before helping you inside. Dani thinks she might have got enough poison from just skin to skin contact to kill or at least make her sick. I guess the concentration was super high.”

Jake’s mouth tightened at this news as he distinctly recalled Nicole reaching out to help him while he was still in the hot tub. Fortunately, he’d felt sick and cranky and had waved her away, refusing her help. If she had touched his bare arm then, would she have been poisoned from just that small contact? Nina was suggesting she may have been. “So the vomiting was from the poison?”

“It was the nanos getting the poison out of your system, which is why it went on so long. I mean you got a full body dunk in poison soup, my friend. It would have been in your skin, blood, organs . . . well, if it got that far. The nanos probably went after it as soon as it soaked into your skin, but we humans have a hell of a lot of skin.”

Jake nodded and sighed. He had no doubt that particular poison soup had been meant for Nicole, and as unpleasant as it had been, he was glad he’d taken that dunk in it rather than her. He survived. She wouldn’t have. Raising an eyebrow, he asked, “Where is Nicole?”

“Down in her studio, working. Dante and Tomasso are with her,” Nina added as if he’d worry about that.

“Why? She should be safe in her studio,” he said with a frown. “I had a security system installed and as long as she keeps her sliding door locked she’s fine on her own down there.”

“Yeah, as long as she leaves the door locked. But while we got a lot of snow dumped on us last night, it’s mild today and she had her studio door unlocked and cracked open to let the paint fumes out,” Nina announced dryly. “I gather she has no clue she’s the target of someone who wants her dead?”

“No,” Jake admitted. “She’s in denial. She thinks the things that have happened are just accidents and such.”

“Yeah, well, someone needs to kick her ass out of denial,” Nina said grimly. “This was no accident. She would have died if she’d got in that hot tub, and she wouldn’t have gone pleasantly. Someone’s playing hard ball.”

Jake nodded. “What did she say when Marguerite told her the hot tub was poisoned?”

“Marguerite didn’t tell her anything,” Nina said with amusement. “She said it wasn’t her place.”

Jake frowned. “What? Well, how did you guys explain what happened to me?”

“We didn’t. Marguerite slipped into her little mortal head, made sure she felt everything was okay, and that she was relaxed, and sent her back to work, and Dante and Tomasso have been keeping her in that headspace. Actually,” Nina added wryly, “It may have been the best thing she could have done for her. Apparently, Nicole has painted up a storm since. In fact, she was painting until well after dawn this morning, and then went right back to it after little more than four hours of sleep. I gather she’s finished two portraits, is almost done with a third and is going gangbusters on two new ones.”

“She only got four hours of sleep?” Jake asked, picking on the one thing that had bothered him.

“She worked late and then had an appointment this morning with some old guy in one of the portraits,” Nina explained. “I guess she does the final details with the subject there posing and he was available this morning when she called last night. It didn’t take her long, but afterward she wanted to keep working.” Nina shrugged. “I suppose she’ll sleep when she gets tired.”

“Hmm.” Jake turned toward the door, intending to go down and talk to her.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Nina said, stopping him.

“You wouldn’t what?” he asked, turning back.

“She’s working well right now, probably faster than she ever has. I suspect that’s thanks to a suggestion Marguerite put in her head,” Nina added wryly, and then pointed out, “No doubt that’s going to come to a shuddering halt the minute you tell her how things are. Why don’t you let her get as much done as she can, while she can? Eat, shower, shave, and just take it easy for a bit. The boys will bring her up for dinner and you can bring her world crashing down around her ears then.”

“Dinner,” Jake muttered. After yesterday, eating was the last thing he was interested in, but he had to cook dinner.

“Marguerite arranged for meals to be delivered for the next couple of days,” Nina informed him, turning to her iPad and shutting it down. “She thought you’d appreciate the break.”

“Yeah,” Jake muttered, relaxing. After dinner was soon enough to talk to Nicole, mostly because he very much feared Nina had it right and this conversation was going to bring Nicole’s world down around her ears. She was so resistant to acknowledging that her ex-husband might wish her actual physical harm . . . She wasn’t going to take this well.

“Just a heads-up,” Nina said, closing the cover of her iPad and picking it up to walk toward him. “You have more than the hot tub poisoning to deal with here. You tried to bite her and flashed your fangs while you were out of your head,” she announced as she slid past him to exit the room. “Marguerite fiddled with her memory to keep her from freaking about it, and Dante and Tomasso have been reinforcing it while you were asleep. But it won’t last long once she’s in your presence again. You’re going to have to tell her everything.”

“What?” Jake asked weakly, turning to stare after the woman.

“You can handle it,” Nina said quietly, pausing to retrieve a brown leather jacket that had lain on the end of the couch. She tugged it on, shifting her iPad from hand to hand to do it, and then pulled her hair out of the neckline and moved toward the stairs with a solemn, “Good luck.”

Jake stared after Nina, wanting to call her back. He wanted to ask her to do the talking for him. Or to tell him what to say. This was not a conversation he was ready for. He’d only just learned Nicole was his life mate, and he hadn’t yet accepted and handled that; how could he expect her to accept not only that she might be a perfect mate for him, but also that there were such things as vampires and he was one?

Yeah, this was definitely a conversation that could wait until after supper. It would give him some time to figure out what the hell he was going to say.

“That’s good. It looks just like Christian and Caro. It looks live, like they could walk right off the canvas and into the room.”

Nicole smiled at that compliment from Tomasso as she shifted away from the portrait of Marguerite’s son and soon to be daughter-in-law to the next painting and began to work on it. It was the perfect compliment and exactly what she was trying to achieve. She loved it when work went well, and it was definitely going well. She was on a roll. The last two days since Jake had got sick she’d been on fire and had got more done than she normally did in a week. It was a real high for her, better than drugs. She was jazzed.

“Yeah,” Dante agreed. “But why do you work on more than one painting at a time?”

“It keeps it interesting,” Nicole said with a shrug as she played with the skin color on the portrait of the local politician. She was trying to get just the right shade to emulate the rough, somewhat florid color of the man’s face in life.

“Hmmm,” Dante muttered.

Nicole smiled faintly, and shook her head. “You guys must be bored to tears. I don’t know why you aren’t off doing something more interesting than watching me paint.” Frowning now, she added, “What are you doing here anyway?”

“We’re Jake’s cousins. We’re visiting,” Dante said.

“Jake said he ran away from his family,” Nicole told them.

“Yeah,” Tomasso said. “Some people don’t handle things so well, and some people need time to handle things. Stephano needed time.”

“Stephano,” she murmured and shook her head as she shifted to the next painting. “I know that’s his first name, but it’s still weird to hear him called that. I know him as Jake.”

“Jake’s a good name,” Dante commented.

“Yeah.” Nicole smiled. She liked the name. She guessed she liked Jake too. He seemed like a nice guy. He was certainly easy on the eyes. Not that she was looking at him a lot or anything, but he was handsome . . . and a good cook, and thoughtful. Like that cheese-and-fruit tray. That had been a nice surprise and she didn’t think it was really part of the job of a cook to supply snacks. Or was it? She had no idea. She’d never had one before, and he didn’t exactly fit what she would have imagined a cook/housekeeper to look like. The only housekeeper she knew was her Aunt Maria, a sweet, grandmotherly type woman who bustled around in black dresses and orthopedic shoes.

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