One Lucky Vampire Page 3

Marguerite shook her head with disgust. “Her lawyer doesn’t think he’ll get much at all. However, if she dies before the divorce is final . . .”

“He gets it all,” Jake finished for her and she nodded solemnly. “And you think he’s thinking that way?”

“Yes,” Marguerite said on a sigh.

Jake nodded, but asked, “So, why doesn’t she have a will made up leaving everything to someone else?”

“Because she doesn’t believe he would do anything like that,” Marguerite said unhappily.

He was silent for a moment and then guessed, “And you feel guilty because you are the one who nudged her into leaving him.”

She nodded again and then said firmly, “I am not sorry I did it. As I say, she’s regaining her self-esteem and returning to the cheerful, strong woman she was before the marriage. She’s much happier. But—”

“But she’s also under threat now, which she wouldn’t have been had you not interfered,” he suggested quietly and Marguerite sighed and nodded again.

Jake considered her briefly as she took a bite of her quail and then said, “I’m surprised you haven’t just taken care of the husband yourself. Wiped his mind and sent him back to Europe or something.”

Marguerite bit her lip and then grimaced and admitted, “That’s why I’m in Ottawa. Julius thinks I came to go over photos for the portrait Nicole’s doing of Christian and Carolyn, and so does she, but really I intended to take care of Rodolfo and send him back to Europe. Unfortunately, I can’t locate him. Nicole moved out and left him the house at first, the understanding being that she pay the bills and he live there and act as caretaker until it sold . . . at which point they would split the proceeds. But he was apparently enjoying the free rent and making sure it wouldn’t sell, so she had to buy him out of the house. Nicole has no idea where he moved to after that.”

Marguerite scowled and shook her head. “I thought, no problem, I’d get Rodolfo’s address from his divorce lawyer. So I got his name from Nicole and then paid him a visit, but even his divorce lawyer doesn’t know Rodolfo’s actual address. His contact with him is a P.O. box and a cell-phone number that is still registered to the marital house address.” She scowled. “It’s like he’s hiding out. Nicole says when she asked him where he’d moved to, he refused to say, joking that she might send a hit man after him.”

Jake’s eyebrows rose. He was a firm believer in that old saying, a skunk smells its own hole first. In this case, Rodolfo’s thinking she might try to bump him off suggested he was thinking that way himself. He probably was trying to inherit rather than divorce, but . . . “Why me?”

Marguerite paused with a forkful of rutabaga halfway to her mouth, and cast him an uncertain look. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“I mean, why me?” he repeated. “Why has Nicole not hired a company for protection? And why are you coming to me? I work for an agency, I don’t run it, Marguerite.”

“Oh, yes, I see.”

She slid the rutabaga into her mouth and chewed, her expression thoughtful, and Jake guessed she was gathering her thoughts, so turned his attention to his own meal, surprised to find that he’d eaten half of it while they’d talked. That was a damned shame. The steak was good enough it should be savored, not eaten absently and without really tasting it while you were distracted by conversation. He took a bite of steak now, savoring the delicious flavors.

“Well,” Marguerite said finally, “The problem is that Nicole is in total denial and refuses to believe she’s under threat.”

His eyebrows rose and he swallowed before saying, “This doesn’t sound like something easy to deny. You did say there were three narrowly escaped explosions.”

“Yes.” She set her fork down, obviously preparing for a long explanation, and said, “Nicole bought Rodolfo out of the house last month and moved back in herself. Pierina came up to help her unpack. She says they were sitting talking after the move, exhausted and achy and Pierina suggested a glass of wine and a dip in the hot tub would be nice. So, they went to open the sliding glass doors to check and be sure that the hot tub was on, but couldn’t get the door open. Wood was jammed in the door, which was keeping it from opening.”

“Many people do that to prevent thieves breaking in,” Jake commented with a shrug.

“The house is about twenty-five years old, and so are the sliding glass doors. They’re a reverse set. The glass door that opens is outside the screen, and the wood was jammed in the track outside,” Marguerite said dryly. “A thief could have plucked it out. It was stopping the door from opening from the inside.”

“Oh,” he said quietly.

Marguerite nodded. “So they went around to her studio to go out that way and it was the same thing. Every sliding glass door on the main floor of the house was blocked shut from the outside.”

“Interesting,” Jake murmured.

Marguerite nodded. “Pierina says they just thought Rodolfo was an idiot at that point and actually laughed about it.”

“But something changed their minds?” Jake guessed.

“The next morning they woke up to find the furnace had died. There was no heat, and the house was going cold fast. Nicole called in a heating guy and apparently something had been removed from the furnace. Pierina explained it, but—” Marguerite shrugged. “I can’t recall what it was. However, it was preventing the pilot light from relighting. Well, remembering the doors being blocked shut, Pierina got suspicious and asked if that missing piece could have caused a buildup of gas in the house and a possible explosion. The man assured her that, no, it couldn’t because newer furnaces have an automatic shutoff, but if it had been an older furnace it could have caused a gas fire if the gas had been ignited, or anyone in the house could have been overcome by gas and died. Still, he was bewildered that someone had removed the piece. He said it had to have been physically removed. It couldn’t just fall out, and, even had that been possible, the piece had been taken away. It wasn’t lying there anywhere as if it had fallen out.”

Jake was silent for a moment, and then said, “I don’t see—”

“Someone removed that piece,” Marguerite pointed out. “Why? Apparently the furnace in Rodolfo’s home back in Europe was old and probably wouldn’t have had that new automatic shutoff. An explosion would have been more than possible with his furnace back in Europe had the same thing happened there and Pierina suspects he thought this would act the same way . . . And the doors were blocked,” she reminded him. “Nicole would have been trapped in the house if a fire had ignited, or if she’d been overcome by gas.”

“Surely there are other doors in the house,” Jake said with a frown. “They aren’t all sliding glass doors. Her front door for instance—”

“It’s a keyed entrance. There are three proper doors on the ground floor and all three are keyed entrances. There is no way to unlock them from the outside or the inside without a key. If the house had burst into flames in the middle of the night, she wouldn’t have crawled out of bed with her keys in hand. She would have stumbled downstairs through the smoke, only to find she couldn’t open the doors without keys and then tried the sliding doors to find those were blocked. Then she would have had to find her way back upstairs in the smoke and find her keys, and then make her way back down to use a door.”

“I see,” Jake murmured, and he did. In that situation, chances were the smoke would have overcome Nicole before she got out. “And the other two near misses?”

“There’s an indoor gas grill in the kitchen. Nicole planned to make grilled steak for dinner on the second day of Pierina’s visit, but when she turned it on, instead of the grill lighting up, flames exploded out of the base by the dials and shot right up into her face. It took her eyebrows off. Fortunately, she was quick to shut it off, and that was all that happened.

“They called in another gas guy to see what was wrong. Apparently there was a layer of foil between where the flames come out and the grill on top. He asked why it was there. Nicole shrugged. She hadn’t put it there. When she saw it, she’d thought her ex had done it to catch any drippings so he didn’t have to clean the base of the grill. She hadn’t thought anything of it.

“But the flames wouldn’t have been able to get to the food through the foil,” Jake said with a frown.

“Exactly,” Marguerite said grimly. “That didn’t occur to her though until he pointed it out. Apparently, Rodolfo had always put foil in the oven under the elements, and she hadn’t really noticed that the foil would hamper the flames.”

Jake nodded. He supposed if she’d been distracted, chatting with Pierina, that wouldn’t have occurred to her.

Marguerite took a sip of tea, and then continued, “The gas man removed the foil and right away saw the problem. The gas tubing had been pulled out of its housing, the gas was coming out of the pipe itself, lit up by the pilot and shooting straight up through the dials. He said they were lucky. It could have been much worse than her losing her eyebrows. Pierina says he then asked Nicole if there was anyone who didn’t like her. Pierina told him Nicole was in the middle of a divorce. He apparently nodded slowly, and then said it was a two-minute fix, just put the tubing back where it belonged, but he thought he should check anything else gas-related in the house.”

“And he found something else,” Jake said quietly, beginning to agree that Rodolfo wanted his wife dead. He didn’t know if the guy was inept, or Nicole was just lucky, but this was two “accidents” that could have been deadly.

“The gas fireplace in the master bedroom,” Marguerite said on a sigh. “Pierina didn’t know what the issue there was, but he took one look, muttered under his breath, and then started telling Nicole she needed to get a state-of-the-art security system with cameras. He said people went a little crazy in divorce and she needed cameras, lots of security, maybe a couple of guard dogs too, et cetera, and the whole time he was taking her fireplace apart and then putting it back together, so Pierina thinks there was something wrong with it.”

“Nicole didn’t ask what it was?” Jake asked with a frown.

Marguerite shook her head. “Pierina was the one who was suspicious, but even though she was so shocked, she didn’t ask. Nicole was just dead silent, a troubled look on her face. Besides, Pierina said he was really lecturing the whole time. But she knew he was serious when he refused to charge Nicole for the visit after being there all day. I mean who does that?” she asked, eyebrows raised. “And she says he kept giving Nicole these worried, pitying looks, and repeating she should get security right away. He actually hugged Nicole on the way out. Pierina said it was like he thought it would be the last time he saw her alive.”

“So the fireplace was probably rigged somehow and was the third narrow escape,” Jake murmured thoughtfully.

Marguerite nodded unhappily. “But Nicole laughed it off. She’s sure it’s all just coincidence or accidents, and the closest she’ll come to admitting that Rodolfo might prefer inheriting everything to getting half the money in the divorce, is to say that if he did do any of those things, then he was terribly inept and she isn’t worried.”

“Major denial,” Jake said dryly.

Marguerite grimaced and then sighed and said, “I supposed it’s hard enough to have to admit that you made a mistake in your marriage. But it would be positively humiliating to have to acknowledge that not only was your husband not the man you thought, but he’s just a gold-digging bastard who cares so little he’d kill you for the money he was really after all along.”

She was silent for a moment and then added sadly, “But those thoughts are there under the surface. That he never loved her. That she’s so worthless that her only value is money. That he is willing to kill her to get it. But she won’t admit it consciously. She can’t. Her self-esteem was almost completely demolished by his actions during the marriage. Admitting this now would undo all the work the counselor has done and destroy her.”

“And hiring protection would be admitting all of that, which she can’t do,” Jake said with understanding.

“Exactly,” Marguerite nodded firmly. “So, I can’t hire a company and send them over there. She’d just send them away, saying she didn’t need it.”

Jake nodded, but asked, “So what do you expect me to do? She’ll do the same with me.”

“Not if you didn’t tell her you were a bodyguard,” she pointed out.

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