One Lucky Vampire Page 34

Elaine turned apologetically to Nicole. “I’m so sorry, dear. Of course you are wondering where your Jake is.” She smiled at her widely as if Nicole’s wondering was to be expected and something to be celebrated. “I should have told you at once. I insisted Tomasso and Dante take Jake home to shower and change. His shirt had blood all over it and his borrowed jogging pants kept falling down.” She wrinkled her nose and added, “He was beginning to smell a bit rank too.”

“Oh,” Nicole said weakly, kicking herself for forgetting about the mind reading. Sheesh, she needed to keep that in mind and—Oh good Lord, hadn’t she been thinking something about Jake’s fine butt earlier?

“Yes, but it’s okay,” Elaine assured her. “Stephano does have a fine behind. He got that from his father. A good man with a fine mind and an even finer ass.”

“Oh God,” Nicole breathed weakly.

“Mother!” Neil protested.

“What?” Elaine glanced at her son, her nose in the air. “I’ve heard much worse from your thoughts over time. Besides, your father already knows about Stephano’s father. He loved his first wife as much as I loved my first husband. He understands.”

“I do indeed,” Roberto said with amusement. “Your mother, she is nothing if not honest. It is part of the reason I love her. Besides, she assures me while I cannot compare with her first husband when it comes to his behind, I kick his fine ass when it comes to the bedding. To be fair though, he was a mere mortal.”

Neil was squawking with alarm and embarrassment at this, but Nicole was peering at the elder Notte man curiously. He had a very thick Italian accent, but his speech was . . . well, it sounded kind of . . . antique? It was the only word she could think to describe it. If she closed her eyes, she’d think a television show was on that was set in the Renaissance or something.

“Yes, well, that’s understandable, dear. Roberto is very old.” Elaine patted her hand again. “He’s been around for centuries. I’d tell you how many, but it makes him self-conscious.”

Nicole smiled uncertainly. She was feeling rather as if she’d been knocked senseless. Oh wait, I have, she thought wryly and blushed when Elaine, Roberto, and Neil all chuckled. Right, they can hear my thoughts.

“Yes, and it’s not fair,” Elaine said apologetically.

“What’s not fair?”

Nicole glanced to the door, relief flowing through her as Jake walked in with Dante and Tomasso on his heels. He had obviously showered, shaved, changed his clothes and returned without dawdling. While the man’s face was clean shaven, his hair was still damp.

“Mom’s reading Nicole’s mind and seeing that she thinks you have a fine ass,” Neil said drolly.

The twins burst out laughing at the announcement, and Jake grinned widely, but Nicole closed her eyes and wished herself anywhere but there. This was really too much. The poisoning, learning about vamp—immortals, she corrected herself silently, the car accident, and now her lover’s family had invaded her hospital room.

Dear God, she was meeting the family, Nicole realized with dismay. Already. This was something that usually didn’t happen for—well, at least until you had a bloody date. That thought made her realize that she was sleeping with a man that she’d never even gone on a date with.

I’m such a ho’, she thought with dismay. What must his mother think of Jake hooking up with such a skanky chick?

“All right, all boys out of the room,” Elaine ordered abruptly.

“Ah,” Neil complained. “Things were really starting to get interesting.”

“Neil,” Elaine snapped, and then glanced to her husband. “Roberto, darling, take the boys down to the hospital cafeteria and buy them ice cream.”

“Mother, we’re not children anymore,” Neil muttered as his father caught his arm and pushed him toward the door.

“You’ll always be my child,” Elaine said with unconcern as Neil and the twins filed out. Glancing at Jake, who hadn’t moved, she said, “You too, Stephano.”


“Now,” Elaine ordered. “In fact, go find Nicole’s doctor and tell him to sign her out or whatever it is doctors do. We are taking her home.”

Jake hesitated briefly, but apparently decided that was a good idea and turned to head out with a nod.

Elaine immediately turned to Nicole. “I’ll have to be quick. He won’t stay away long, so forgive me if in my attempt to be quick, I’m less than delicate.”

When she paused briefly, Nicole nodded that she understood. Apparently that was all she was waiting for; the woman immediately launched into it.

“Fifty-some years ago I was sitting exactly where you are.”

“In a hospital bed?” Nicole asked uncertainly.

Elaine gave a breathless laugh. “No dear, I mean that’s when Roberto came into my life. I was newly widowed, raising a young son on my own, working two jobs to make ends meet, and taking night courses to try to better myself and make more money. I had no time or interest in men, and then came Roberto.” She sighed, her eyes misting as she looked into the past. “I loved my first husband, dearly, Nicole. He was a very good man. He loved Stephano and me more than anything else in the world and treated us like gold.”

Her gaze focused on Nicole again, and she said solemnly, “I know that wasn’t your experience with your husband, but the end result was the same. I was heartbroken and even angry at him when he went and died on me, just as you are heartbroken and angry over the failure of your marriage.”

“How did Jake’s father die?” Nicole asked quietly.

“A heart attack.” Elaine shook her head, her expression suggesting she was still bewildered by it. “He was only twenty-five years old, and appeared healthy and well on the surface, but apparently there was something wrong with his heart. He had a heart attack at the wheel on the way home from work one night and . . .” She shrugged helplessly.

“I’m sorry,” Nicole murmured.

“There is nothing to be sorry for. I was fortunate to have enjoyed the time with him that I did . . . and I like to think a part of him lives on in Stephano.”

Nicole nodded, but every time the woman called Jake Stephano, she felt a momentary confusion and disorientation. He just wasn’t Stephano to her. He was Jake.

“Anyway, the point is, I was young and mortal once too, nursing a broken heart, afraid to love again and risk yet another heartbreak . . . and I want to tell you, not as Steph—Jake’s mother,” she corrected herself gently with a smile for Nicole that suggested she’d read how the use of his proper name threw her off. “As a woman, not Jake’s mother, I want to tell you that this risk is well worth it.”

Elaine let her consider that briefly and then said, “But you need to know that the normal mortal courting rules do not apply with these men. You cannot judge your behavior or theirs by mortal standards. The passion comes hard and fast, as it is meant to. I think it is how the nanos bond you at first, or perhaps how they ensure you do not let your fears make you think your way out of the relationship. Like with cats in heat in nature, the nanos seem to do something similar with life mates, both mortal and immortal. Your hormones are no doubt going crazy. He is probably releasing pheromones at an accelerated pace that you can’t resist.”

Elaine patted Nicole’s hand and stared her in the eyes as she said solemnly, “You are not a “ho’.” Grinning then, she added, “Or if you are, than I guess I am too . . . along with every other female who has found themselves in this most enviable position.”

“Is it enviable?” Nicole asked quietly.

Elaine nodded solemnly. “It most certainly is. I have been with Roberto for fifty-some years and every day is as good or better than the one before. My first husband made me as happy as any mortal could, but the happiness I’ve experienced with Roberto surpasses that a hundredfold. And it will be the same for you and Jake.”

“You sound pretty certain about that,” Nicole said, wishing she could believe her.

“I am very certain. I have never yet met life mates who are not as happy as Roberto and myself. The nanos are never wrong,” she assured her and then squeezed her hand. “Believe me . . . if you allow your fears to convince you to pass this up, you will never again find the happiness you can have with my son.”

Nicole stared silently at Elaine Notte. She really wanted to believe her, because—Nicole cut off her own thought there, unwilling to finish it.

“Because you’re afraid you’re already half in love with my son,” Elaine finished for her and then smiled sympathetically and said, “You’re wrong.”

Nicole blinked in surprise at the words. “I am?”

Elaine nodded. “You’re not half in love with him, you just love him, plain and simple,” she assured her, and then added, “I can read your mind, dear. I can see that you think you may only be on the way to loving him, but I can also see the veils and subterfuge you have put in place to protect yourself from admitting that you do love him. The logic you’re using that claims it’s too soon. But it isn’t. You love the man you think Jake is, but are afraid he’s not that man and is presenting only what he thinks you want him to be. But he isn’t playing games. What you see is what you get with Jake and he is every bit the man he seems to you: smart, funny, brave, and considerate. You love the man this time, not the idea.”

Nicole let the words resound inside her head briefly, but then glanced toward the door as Jake returned to the room.

“The doctor is signing the release papers right now. We can take her home,” he announced with a smile. “I ran into Father and Neil on the way back and they’re off finding a wheelchair for her.”

“Do Dante and Tomasso know?” Elaine asked, standing up. “Or are they busy trying to eat the cafeteria out of food?”

“They know,” Jake said, his smiled fading before he added, “They went down to check the vehicles and be sure they haven’t been tampered with before we leave.”

Elaine nodded, apparently unsurprised, and then glanced to Nicole. “You don’t want to wear that hospital gown home. Where did they put your clothes, dear?”

“Do you want another pillow behind your back? Or maybe another blanket?”

“No,” Nicole said on a laugh. “Jake, I’m fine, really. Stop fussing.”

“You just got out of the hospital, Nicole. I’m supposed to fuss,” he said mildly, glancing around the bedroom.

“I only bumped my head. It’s fine now. I—what are you looking for?” she interrupted herself to ask.

“The television remote,” Jake muttered, moving over to the love seat against the wall beyond the bed and across from the TV. “You can watch television and relax while I get you something to eat and drink.”

Nicole frowned. Relaxing in bed watching television sounded delightful . . . and decadent. She hadn’t watched TV in what seemed like months. Her workload was too full for that. Reminded of her workload, she immediately felt guilty and began to push aside the sheets and blankets he’d just finished arranging over her. “I should really go down to the studio and—”

“Do not even think about getting up,” Jake barked, whirling on her, remote in hand. Striding back, expression grim, he added, “The doctor only agreed on your release if you relaxed today and that’s what you’re going to do. Tomorrow, if you don’t have a headache and everything seems fine, you can go down to the studio. But for one day you will relax. Doctor’s orders.

Nicole heaved an irritated sigh and pulled the sheet and blankets back over herself, but she also stuck her tongue out at Jake for being so bossy. However, the truth was, she liked his bossiness right now, and his concern. Rodolfo would have told her to suck it up and get back to work. The world didn’t care if she had a little headache, she had deadlines to meet and she should get to it. Rodolfo hadn’t been a very sympathetic fellow. During their two-year marriage, he’d urged and even insisted she work while down with a fever of 104 due to pneumonia, and then another time when she had a broken ankle. Painting while delirious was really not very smart, but standing on a broken leg for hours on end had been worse. Incidents like that had made it hard to believe he cared about anything but the money she made for him to spend.

“There.” Jake turned away from the television as it came on and carried the remote to her. “Find something you want to watch and we’ll cuddle in bed and eat lunch while we watch it when I come back.”

“You cuddle?” Nicole asked with interest. That seemed to be something most men avoided like the plague as far as she could tell.

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