One Lucky Vampire Page 21

Jake was nothing like her aunt, Nicole thought, recalling him sitting on the edge of the hot tub, buck naked. With a flat stomach, and muscular arms and legs, the man was built. He could be a Chippendale, or a male model.

Nicole frowned as she recalled the blood staining his face and chest. The man had been vomiting blood. That had scared the hell out of her. He was better now, though, some part of her mind reminded her. He was apparently sleeping well and recovering. Everything would be fine.

Those familiar words soothed her. Everything would be fine, but her stomach kept gnawing at her.

“I’m hungry,” Dante announced in his deep growl.

“Me too,” Tomasso agreed.

Nicole grinned at that. “You two are always hungry.”

“Yeah, but I’m really hungry. And it’s after six.”

Nicole straightened from the portrait and glanced around to the clock with surprise. It was indeed after six . . . and that was no doubt the reason for the continued gnawing in her stomach. Clucking under her tongue, she quickly gathered her paintbrushes to wash and moved to the sink, saying, “I’m surprised Nina didn’t come and bark at us to get upstairs for supper like she did at lunch.”

“Nina’s gone,” Tomasso rumbled.

“What?” Nicole glanced around with amazement at that. The woman had been standing guard over Jake like a German drill sergeant since arriving. She hadn’t even allowed Nicole to peek into his room just to see for herself that Jake was alive and well. “Then who’s watching over Jake?”

“Pinocchio doesn’t need watching. He’s not sick anymore,” Dante informed her.

“Yeah, he’s walking and talking like a real boy now,” Tomasso added dryly.

Nicole frowned. They’d been calling him Pinocchio since she’d met them. She didn’t understand the reason for it and they refused to explain.

“Well, he shouldn’t be on his own,” she muttered, working a little more swiftly to clean the brushes. “The man was at death’s door just yesterday.” She paused and frowned. “Or was it the day before?”

“The day before,” Dante confirmed.

She scowled. “Right, so he was on his deathbed the day before yesterday and now he’s up and moving around?” She shook her head. “What if he passes out or just falls down and hits his head?”

“It’s okay, it couldn’t hurt anything,” Tomasso assured her.

“Of course it could,” she snapped. “People have been known to die from head wounds.”

“People have,” Dante agreed. “But not Pinocchio. His head is full of wood.”

Nicole shook her head and set her brushes aside to dry, then slid out of the white smock she’d been wearing to keep from getting paint on her clothes and headed for the door.

The two men were on her heels as Nicole scurried out of the studio and up the hall. The door into the living room was open and she hurried out and took a sharp left right into a very tall, very hard body.

“Jake,” she gasped, grabbing at his shirt to keep from tumbling back. Their closeness and position caused a flash in her mind of his being on top of her and her struggling with him, which she didn’t recall or understand. But even as that flash slid through her head, she was gasping in surprise as one of the twins crashed into her from behind, squishing her against Jake’s chest.

“Sor—” Dante ended the apology on a grunt as Tomasso apparently bumped into him, squishing him against her a little harder.

When Nicole tipped her head up and back to peer at the man behind her, he smiled wryly and muttered, “Choo choo.”

Nicole gave a breathless laugh at the train sound and then slid out from between the two men, leaving them inches apart. She hardly noticed, however; she was busy trying to sort out what had just happened and what those memories in her head were. Had that really happened? Were they fragments of a dream?

Fragments of a dream. Everything is fine. Relax. The thoughts wafted through her head and she found herself relaxing.

“I was coming to fetch you for supper,” Jake said, stepping back from Dante.

“And we were just coming for supper,” Nicole said, looking him over now that those flashes were no longer an issue. His color was back and he seemed fine. Better than fine. He had more color now than he had since she’d met him. He almost glowed with good health, and certainly had he still been suffering even the least bit of weakness, she was sure he would have toppled over when she’d crashed into him. Instead, he’d stood strong and caught her arms to keep her up. Still, he’d been seriously ill, and she couldn’t resist asking, “How are you feeling?”

“Good.” His gaze slid to the twins and back and then he turned abruptly. “Let’s go before dinner gets cold.”

Nicole glanced to the twins herself, noting their hard, expressionless faces. It seemed there were bad feelings between the three men, which was a shame in her opinion. She and her own cousin, Pierina, were as close as sisters. But Nicole didn’t know what the situation was with Jake and his cousins. She knew they were cousins through his stepfather, but if they’d grown up together . . .

Whatever the case, their relationship definitely wasn’t good right now, she thought as she followed Jake to the stairs.

“I set the table in the kitchen rather than the dining room. I hope that’s okay,” Jake commented as he crossed the upper living room to the kitchen.

“Of course,” Nicole murmured. The dining room was the left half of the large upper room in the loft off the stairs. There was no wall separating it from the living area to the right and the entire area was carpeted in cream. The house obviously had not been built for children, she thought as she glanced to the large, dark oak dining-room table with ten chairs. She had never used the more formal dining space yet. It would be handy for large family functions, but she hadn’t had anything like that so far. Maybe she should consider having the family up for Christmas, she thought now.

“Would you like wine, water, pop, coffee . . . ?”

Nicole turned her attention to Jake’s back at that question as he led them into the kitchen. “Wine sounds nice.”

She’d worked hard and a glass of wine sounded relaxing, something she suspected she would need, considering the tension building in the air around her. Geez, there were definitely bad feelings between the trio of men in whose company she found herself. Dante and Tomasso obviously resented Jake for running away from the family. They also obviously wanted to bring him back to the fold, or they wouldn’t be here. The question was whether Jake would be willing to rejoin his family.

“Dinner is some kind of chicken, so is Creekside okay?” Jake asked, pulling a bottle of white wine out of the refrigerator. He or someone else had obviously put it in to chill. Nicole didn’t drink much and only put white wine in the refrigerator when she was expecting company. Rodolfo had wanted to put in a wine fridge, but they hadn’t got around to it before they’d split.

“Sounds good,” she murmured, moving to the table and hesitating before taking the end seat backing the front window. It meant the three men would have to take the other end and the sides. They’d have to deal with each other. She wasn’t surprised when Dante and Tomasso each took a side, leaving the other end of the small bar-height table for Jake. He would now have one man on either side of him. There was no way to ignore their presence.

Nicole’s gaze shifted to the table as she settled on her high seat. Aside from the four place settings there were several covered dishes on the table, and even as she took note of them, Dante and Tomasso began lifting covers to look underneath. The smells that wafted out were amazing and she felt her stomach rumble with interest.

“It’s chicken with a creamy mustard sauce, dilled potatoes, asparagus with butter and lemon, and a light cranberry salad,” Jake read off a piece of paper held to the refrigerator door by a magnet as he opened the wine in front of the door.

“You didn’t cook, did you?” she asked with a frown.

“Not me. Marguerite apparently ordered catering for a couple of days,” Jake said quietly. “I just warmed it up.”

“Good,” Nicole said relaxing. She didn’t care how much better he seemed, or the fact that Dante and Tomasso claimed he was back to normal. The man had nearly died. She didn’t want him doing anything for a day or so while he recovered . . . which she supposed was ironic. She was paying the man to work, he’d worked one day and then got sick and spent two days down. Now she didn’t want him working for a couple more. Go figure.

“It must be from the same place the last two dinners were from,” Dante said with a blissful sigh as he surveyed the chicken.

Tomasso nodded in agreement. “It smells as heavenly as those meals were.”

“Two dinners?” Jake asked with a frown as he set a glass of wine in front of Nicole. “You mean one.”

“Two,” Tomasso said.

“Two,” Dante echoed.

When Jake glanced to her with a questioning frown, she nodded. “Two. You started throwing up Friday night, were unconscious all day Saturday and Sunday. This is Monday.”

“Oh,” he said weakly and turned away to move around to his seat. As he sat down, he muttered, “Sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for. You can’t help it if you got sick,” Nicole said firmly and frowned when she caught the looks the twins exchanged. Jake had a funny expression on his face too, she noted, but simply reached for her wine. She paused with it halfway to her lips, though, when she noted that she was the only one with wine. Glancing from man to man, she asked, “Doesn’t anyone else want wine?”

All three men shook their heads as one. Nicole stared at them, but they were all busy removing the lids on the food and beginning to serve themselves, so she took a sip and set the glass down, suddenly self-conscious about having it.

The meal was as amazing as it smelled and Nicole made a note to call Marguerite and ask which restaurant she’d had cater the meal. It would be a number she would keep right beside the phone in future.

Dinner was a mostly silent affair. Nicole made several efforts to try to start conversation, but none of the men were biting. They weren’t even looking at each other. Well, Dante and Tomasso exchanged glances that she was sure held whole conversations, but neither twin was looking at Jake and Jake was staring at his plate, his forehead knitted through the entire meal. The atmosphere was enough to put Nicole off her food, and she was relieved when she was done eating.

“I guess I should get back to work,” she murmured, picking up her plate and starting to stand.

“Actually, I need to talk to you,” Jake said quietly.

“Oh.” Nicole started to sit back down, but then changed her mind and finished getting up. She carried her plate and silverware to the sink to rinse off before putting them in the dishwasher and then returned to her seat.

A moment later Dante and Tomasso both did the same, carrying their dishes over to rinse and set them in the dishwasher.

“Would you like coffee?” Jake asked as he stood up with his own plate.

“Sure. I’ll get it,” Nicole said, starting to stand.

“We’ve got it,” Dante announced, picking up the coffeepot as Tomasso gathered four cups from the cupboard.

“Oh, thanks,” Nicole said, settling back in her seat, but she wasn’t used to being waited on and found it a bit discomfiting.

“Thank you,” Jake murmured as he moved over to rinse his own plate and silverware. By the time he finished, Dante and Tomasso were carrying the coffees back to the table.

“Thank you,” Nicole repeated as Dante set a cup in front of her. She then reached for the cream and poured some in, passing it on to Dante as she reached for the sugar.

They fell silent then as the twins fixed their own coffees. They were all sipping their hot drinks when Jake returned to the table. He sat down, fixed his own coffee and then frowned from Dante to Tomasso.

“Guys, I need to talk to Nicole,” he said finally.

Dante and Tomasso both nodded silently and relaxed back in their seats. For some reason their attitude made Nicole want to smile and she had to bite it back, especially since Jake appeared frustrated by their attitude.

“Could you give us some space?” he asked finally.

“No,” Dante said bluntly.

“We’re here to help,” Tomasso added.

Nicole bit her lip. She could see that Jake was getting annoyed, and when he opened his mouth to say something else, said quickly, “It’s fine if they stay, Jake.”

He frowned at her for the comment, which kind of confused Nicole. He was her cook/housekeeper. That was all. It wasn’t like he would have anything private to say. At least she didn’t think he did. On the other hand, she had no idea what he wanted to say. Maybe he didn’t want to stick to the two-week trial, maybe he’d made up his mind already and didn’t want to work for her anymore. Maybe this latest health crisis was making him want to run again.

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