One Lucky Vampire Page 35

“Oh, baby,” he said, dropping the remote in her lap and placing his hands flat on the bed to lean in and growl, “I’m just a big old teddy bear when it comes to cuddling.”

He was close enough she felt his breath on her lips as he spoke, and then Jake kissed her. She suspected he’d meant it to be a quick brush of lips before leaving, but it didn’t end up that way. Quite simply, it couldn’t end up that way. The moment his lips touched hers, the passion that always seemed to lie in waiting roared up between them like a backdraft exploding up a long hallway when a door was opened. In the next moment, Nicole somehow found herself flat on her back in the bed with him crawling on top of her, his hands seeking out all her hot spots through the flannel pajamas she’d changed into on getting home.

Nicole wasn’t still under the onslaught; her own hands were pulling at his clothes, tearing at them desperately as she alternately sucked at his tongue and thrust her own out to tangle with it.

“Yo, Stephano!” Dante said from the open door. “Your mom wants you in the kitchen . . . now. And get off that poor girl or I’ll find a pail of water to dump on you. Nicki has a concussion.”

Jake groaned into her mouth, then slowly disentangled himself and crawled off the bed, saying, “I’ll make you grilled cheese and tomato soup . . . and ginger ale and orange juice.”

Nicole blinked with surprise. “That’s what my mother always made for me when I wasn’t feeling well.”

“Yeah? So did mine,” Jake said with a grin and then he was gone.

Nicole stared after him for a minute, and then glanced to the television. She picked up the remote and pulled up the guide, looking for something interesting, but it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. Talk shows seemed to be the only thing on and she wasn’t big on talk shows. She continued to click through the guide, but her mind began to wander to wondering what Jake was doing. He was making them lunch, of course, but how far had he got? And did he like his tomato soup made with water or milk? Her mother had always used milk and Nicole did as well. It was too acidy for her taste with just water.

Maybe she should just go out and see if he used water or milk. She could always sit at the island and chat to him while he cooked. That would still be relaxing, wouldn’t it?

“Ugh,” Nicole muttered as she realized how pathetic she was. The man had just left her and she wanted to follow him like a lost puppy following a kid home from school. How pathetic was that?

It was the nanos’ fault, she told herself. Elaine had said so. She wasn’t supposed to judge herself by normal—or mortal—standards. This situation was neither normal, nor mortal.

Gad, Nicole realized with a grin. The woman had basically given her permission to just follow her instincts and act like a ho’ . . . guilt free.

“Cool,” she muttered. Tossing the sheet and blankets aside, Nicole looked around for her robe. She’d donned it over her pajamas after changing out of her street clothes at Jake’s insistence on arriving home. Now she couldn’t recall what she’d—oh, there it was, she’d laid it over the end of the bed and then tossed the blankets over it to get up.

Pulling it on, Nicole left the room in search of Jake.

“So she now accepts that someone is out to kill her, but still doesn’t accept that it’s her husband,” Elaine Notte murmured thoughtfully and Jake glanced around to where his mother sat at the kitchen table with his brother, stepfather and the twins.

“She doesn’t?” he asked with a frown. “Still? After everything that has happened?”

“No, I’m afraid from the thoughts I’ve read she’s completely bewildered as to who could be causing these events, but she’s quite sure it’s not her husband.”

“Ex-husband,” Jake growled, turning back to give the soup in the pot a stir and flip the grilled cheese in the frying pan.

“He’s not quite yet her ex, dear,” his mother said gently.

It made Jake want to growl. He didn’t like the idea that any man had a claim to Nicole, no matter how short term or tenuous.

“Well, it doesn’t matter what she thinks, someone is out to kill her and they aren’t going to stop now,” Neil said quietly. “I suggest the two of you stick close to home until this is resolved.”

Jake frowned at the suggestion. “I was thinking of taking her out for dinner and a movie either tomorrow night or the night after . . . if I can drag her away from work,” he added wryly.

“Well, that’s just not really a good idea right now, bro,” Neil said and then pointed out, “She’s mortal, which makes her vulnerable, and someone’s trying to kill her.” When Jake turned a scowl on him for his advice, Neil added, “Although, I suppose if we came with you, we might be able to keep her safe between us all.”

“I believe Stephano was thinking more along the lines of a date than a family outing,” Roberto said with amusement.

“Oh.” Neil frowned.

“Neil wouldn’t know about dating,” Dante said, sitting back in his chair with a grin. “His head’s too full of numbers and quarterly reports to think about such things.”

“I date,” Neil said defensively.

“When?” Tomasso asked with amusement.

“Last—” He frowned and muttered, “Well it couldn’t have been more than—” Shaking his head, he scowled and said, “I have a very busy life now that Stephan—Jake isn’t there to carry the daytime burden at V.A. Inc.”

Jake glanced around with surprise. “Didn’t Vincent hire a replacement for me?”

“Of course he did,” Neil muttered. “But the man is mortal and doesn’t know about us. I spend more time trying to ensure he doesn’t find out about us than I do getting work done. It’s frustrating as hell.” He scowled briefly, and then sighed and grimaced at Jake. “Sorry. Not your problem.”

Jake turned back to the food he was cooking, but he was frowning now. He hadn’t thought about how his leaving would affect his brother. Or anyone else for that matter. He’d been pretty wrapped up in his own hurts, real or imagined. Now he kind of felt guilty. He suspected it was a feeling he should get used to. There had no doubt been more fallout than that from his running away.

“Back to the issue at hand,” his mother said firmly. “The best way to handle this is to hunt down her husband, read his mind to ensure he is behind all of this, and then take care of the problem.”

“And how would you take care of the problem?”

Jake stiffened and then whirled toward the kitchen door to see Nicole standing there in a fluffy white housecoat, and fluffier pink slippers, peering in at them all worriedly.

Chapter Sixteen

“You shouldn’t be out of bed,” Jake said with concern, turning off both burners under the food he was cooking and rushing over to urge Nicole back to the bedroom.

She, however, wouldn’t be urged, but stood her ground and said quietly, “I need to know.”

“It’s nothing as sinister as you’re thinking,” his mother said.

Jake glanced from one woman to the other, wondering what exactly Nicole was thinking.

“We wouldn’t kill him or anything. We’d just perform a mind wipe and check him into a psychiatric hospital where he could spend the rest of his days.”

“Where he could spend the rest of his days mindless and drooling on himself,” Nicole said dryly. “You think that is better than killing him?”

“If he’s the one behind these attacks, he deserves that and more,” Jake said grimly.

“Well, at least you added the if,” Nicole said stiffly.

Jake peered at her helplessly. “I know you don’t want to believe that your ex-husband is trying to kill you, but—”

“It isn’t Rodolfo,” Nicole said firmly. “I’ll admit, someone appears to be trying to kill me . . . or maybe you,” she added, and pointed out, “You were the one poisoned in the hot tub, and you were in the SUV with me.”

“That’s true,” his mother said and peered at him with worry. “Have you made enemies since leaving California, son?”

Jake scowled. “No. Besides, no one knows I’m here but you guys, and, while the last two attacks have hit or included me, you’re forgetting the car that nearly ran you down in the Canadian Tire parking lot.”

Nicole waved that away. “A bad driver.”

Jake’s mouth tightened. “And the gas issues?”

“The gas issues?” Neil asked with interest.

“The furnace was fiddled with, the doors blocked closed, the gas grill was pulled out of its housing and something was wrong with the fireplace,” he listed quickly and then frowned at his brother. “Didn’t Marguerite explain that to you?”

“Those were just . . .” Nicole waved her hand impatiently, apparently not sure what to call them. “Look, the furnace thing wasn’t deadly. It just knocked the heat out and was an inconvenience.” Frowning she added, “I told you he took cords and whatnot from things and removed two chairs. And look at what he did with the pictures. He—”

“The pictures?” Roberto interrupted curiously.

“Her ex-husband crazy glued framed pictures of them to the walls all over the house,” Jake explained. “I had to call in some wall guys to remove them and fix the walls where they’d been glued.”

“Thank you for that,” Nicole said quietly. “I meant to thank you as we were leaving the house to go shopping and then you asked me which car I wanted to take and I got distracted.”

Jake nodded stiffly. “You’re welcome.”

“Anyway,” Nicole sighed. “The furnace was just another bit of his trying to bug the hell out of me,” she said quietly. “The worst it could have done was let the house go cold and make me call in the furnace guy. All it did was cost me money, just like everything else he’s done.”

“Are you sure he knew that?” Jake asked. “Marguerite said his furnace in Italy was older, and could have blown up had he done it there,” he pointed out and then added, “And he put the wood in the door’s tracks outside, blocking them from opening. That was obviously an effort to trap you inside when the furnace exploded.”

“No, that was Rodolfo being the idiot he is,” she responded dryly. “He was always doing stupid things like that. The man was cute, with a sexy accent, but he wasn’t the brightest lightbulb in the chandelier.”

“Or maybe he’s smarter than you think,” Jake said grimly. “Your doors are keyed, and you wouldn’t have thought to grab them had you woken up to find the house on fire.”

“No I wouldn’t, but I also wouldn’t have run downstairs into the fire. I would have gone out the balcony door off my bedroom, which wasn’t blocked,” she pointed out impatiently, and then added, “And if I was sleep addled and stupid enough to run downstairs without keys, I would have just gone out through the garage.”

Jake frowned at the logic in that. “What about the gas grill?”

Nicole sighed. “Like I said, he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. He was also lazy and didn’t like cleaning. He put foil in the bottom of the oven to catch drippings and I imagine he did the same thing with the grill.”

“But the flames couldn’t have got through the foil to cook food,” Jake pointed out.

“No,” she agreed dryly. “I did mention he wasn’t bright and if I myself had been thinking at the time, I would have noted the foil, thought of that, and removed it to see that the tubing had been knocked out of its housing . . . probably when he put the foil in. But I was busy yapping with Pierina. I’d also had a couple glasses of wine, so I didn’t notice and started it without thinking.”

“And the fireplace?” Jake shot out at once. “The gas guy took it apart and put it back together as if there was something wrong with it.”

“Yes, he did,” Nicole agreed. “But he never said there was anything wrong with it. He was too busy going on about how one partner always goes a little crazy in a divorce and whatnot.”

“Well, he seemed to think your ex-husband was trying to kill you. He apparently hugged you on the way out, insisting you should get a good security system. And he charged you a pittance for being there most of the day.”

“He hugged both of us, and I think he only hugged me so he could hug Pierina and cop a feel,” Nicole snapped. “He was crunching on her. I think that’s why he took the fireplace apart in the first place, so he had an excuse to hang around, ogle her, and chat her up. He offered to take us out on the town and show us the city while Pierina was here,” she added dryly. “And I think his crunching on her is why he agreed with her worries that Rodolfo was trying to kill me.”

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