One Lucky Vampire Page 36

Jake was aware that everyone had been glancing from him to Nicole as they’d argued, as if watching a tennis match. They were now focused on him again and he shifted uncomfortably, unsure what to say. She seemed to have an answer for everything . . . and Marguerite hadn’t mentioned that the gas guy had been crunching on Pierina, but then Pierina probably hadn’t mentioned that either.

His thoughts were distracted when the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it,” Dante said.

“What is crunching?” Elaine asked with confusion as the twin left the kitchen.

“Hitting on,” Tomasso answered. “The gas guy had the hots for Pierina.”

“Oh.” She nodded with understanding. “Well then it’s possible he was exaggerating the dangers to be the hero in Pierina’s eyes.”

“Mother,” Jake complained. He was having enough trouble trying to convince Nicole it was her husband without his mother siding with the woman.

“Well, it’s true, dear,” she said apologetically. “Men do silly things like that when they want a woman. And these earlier things you’re talking about don’t sound nearly as deadly, or as well planned as the hot tub and the accident. The poisoning of the hot tub took some knowledge of poisons, and fiddling with the car brakes and accelerator took some skill.”

“The police have already found out what was done to the car?” Nicole asked.

“Dante gave them a mental nudge at the accident scene to ensure they had it examined right away,” Jake said quietly.

“They called while Jake was settling you in bed when we got home,” Elaine added. “And it was no accident, the car had definitely been messed with.”

“It must have been while we were in the mall,” Jake muttered unhappily. “It was fine on the way out.”

Nicole nodded in agreement and then sighed and returned to the original topic. “Look, I know Pierina is convinced that Rodolfo is trying to kill me, but trust me, he isn’t. He’s greedy, selfish, and a bully. But he’s too fond of his own hide to risk landing in jail by getting caught trying to kill me . . . and he would be the first suspect in this instance. If he was going to kill me, he would have done it before I left him. But afterward? No.”

“I’m afraid she’s right.”

Jake glanced sharply past Nicole as she whirled at that announcement. His eyebrows rose as he watched Vincent Argeneau and his wife Jackie greet her.

“You must be Nicole,” Jackie was saying, shaking her hand with a smile as Dante slid past the trio to reclaim his chair at the table. “I’m Jackie, and this is my husband, Vincent.”

“Hello,” Nicole said uncertainly, and then blinked and peered more closely at Jake’s old boss and said, “Vincent Argeneau?”

“That’s me,” Vincent said lightly.

“You saved Jake’s life. You turned him when the skinny bitch stabbed him,” she said, using Jake’s exact words from when he’d told her about the incident.

“He was Stephano then, but yes,” Vincent said, eyes sparkling with amusement at her words.

“Not that he was too pleased at the time,” Jackie added dryly.

“Well I am now,” Jake said quietly, moving forward to greet the pair. He hugged Jackie first, murmuring, “I’m sorry I didn’t say it then.”

Hugging Vincent next, he added, “But thank you for my life.” Stepping back, he added solemnly, “And for giving up your one turn. I realize what a sacrifice it was, especially since you already knew Jackie was your life mate and that you couldn’t turn her once you turned me.”

Vincent smiled crookedly. “Well, if I’d stopped to think at the time, I might not have done it and risked losing Jackie,” he admitted wryly. “But it all worked out in the end, so you’re more than welcome.”

Jake smiled, understanding exactly what he meant. Each immortal was allowed only one turn in their life. It was meant for, and usually reserved for, a life mate, but Vincent had given up his one turn to save his life seven years ago. Jake didn’t know if he could do the same for anyone now that he’d met Nicole. He wanted to turn her, if she was willing. To keep her with him for always.

“Ah, Jackie, Vincent, what a nice surprise to see you,” Elaine said with true pleasure, appearing at his side to hug the pair in greeting. Roberto was right behind her, greeting the couple like family.

Jake knew they’d been grateful for what Vincent had done back then, but it appeared obvious from this greeting that Jackie and Vincent were now considered part of the family. There were probably a lot of changes that had taken place since he’d run away, he acknowledged wryly. But he was glad of this one.

“So,” Neil said after he and Tomasso had greeted the couple as well. “What was that about Nicole being right?”

“Oh.” Jackie grimaced. “Rodolfo isn’t behind whatever is happening here.”

“At least the last two attempts,” Vincent added, and explained, “Dante told us about the hot tub and car accident, and Rodolfo definitely isn’t behind those. At least not personally.”

“He’s in Italy,” Jackie added.

“Are you sure?” Jake asked with a frown.

“Positive,” Vincent assured him, and then added, “We just came from there. He’s bought a house with the money he got from Nicole and is already romancing an heiress with heavy pockets.”

“Poor thing,” Nicole muttered and when Jake glanced her way, shrugged and said, “Rodolfo can be as charming as hell in the short term. He’ll romance her, sweep her off her feet, promise her the world, and then, once he has her, treat her like a dog, go through her money, and hate her for letting him.”

“Yeah,” Jackie agreed with disgust. “That’s what I got when I read him. He hates women, especially any woman who gives him the time of day. He knows he’s worthless, so any woman he fools enough to succeed in making fall in love with him must be even more worthless than he is in his eyes.”

“I wouldn’t feel sorry for the heiress though,” Vincent added with amusement.

“Yeah,” Jackie agreed with a grin. “Rodolfo may have bitten into the wrong apple here.”

“Why’s that?” Nicole asked with interest.

“Because the heiress’s uncle is neck deep in the mob and very fond of the niece he’s raised since his brother’s death when she was “just a bambina,” Vincent said with a wicked grin. “I guarantee if he treats her like he did you, he’ll wind up with a fine new pair of cement shoes.”

“Does he know about the mob ties?” Jake asked with interest, and smiled when the couple grinned and shook their heads. His gaze slid to Nicole to see that she was biting her lip, looking slightly concerned. Jake slid his arm around her waist and murmured, “You reap what you sow in this life, Nicole. Whatever happens, he will have brought on himself . . . and who knows, maybe Uncle will give him a warning to be good to his niece, or else.” Jake shrugged. “He may be a better man for it.”

“He’ll have to be,” Dante said with amusement.

Jake nodded, but then frowned as his mind shifted back to the matter at hand. “So . . . Rodolfo isn’t behind this, but could he have hired someone?”

Vincent shook his head. “I read his mind pretty thoroughly. He did take something out of the furnace, thinking she’d have to have someone in to fix it. It was a nuisance act. As for the wood in the doors, that was to prevent break-ins.”

Jake raised his eyebrows at this news. It seemed the guy really was a moron if he thought putting the wood outside would prevent someone outside from getting in.

“I told you he wasn’t bright,” Nicole muttered with satisfaction.

“Well, to be fair,” Jackie said, “He was aware that he was putting it outside, and that it could be lifted from the outside. His thinking was that they’d never look to see that it was actually there on the outside. He seems to think most people are stupid.”

“The kettle calling the pot black,” Dante murmured.

“And the grill?” Jake asked. “Did you find anything about that?”

“He put the foil there at the same time as he put the foil in the oven and never used it after that. There were no thoughts about pulling the tubing out of its housing,” Jackie said, almost sounding apologetic.

“And there was nothing at all about the fireplace in his thoughts,” Vincent added. “It really doesn’t seem like he was trying to kill Nicole. That’s why we stopped here on our way back to California. We thought we’d be bringing good news.”

“But then we got here and Dante told us about the car trying to run Nicole down, and then the hot tub and the car accident, and it seems like you really do have a problem,” Jackie said on a sigh.

“So the incidents that made Marguerite concerned enough to hire you to protect Nicole weren’t murder attempts at all,” Elaine murmured slowly.

“But the hot tub and car accident were,” Jake said firmly. “And Rodolfo seemed like the most likely culprit. He had the most to gain from her death.”

“No he didn’t,” Nicole said at once, and Jake glanced at her with surprise.

“Certainly he did,” he argued. “He would have got everything instead of just half.”

“How stupid do you think I am?” Nicole asked irritably, sliding out from under his arm to go to the cupboard and grab a coffee cup. He noted that she took several deep breaths as she carried it to the coffeepot, as if to calm herself, and then she admitted, “The first thing I did after I left Rodolfo was to change my will and the beneficiaries on my insurance.”

So, despite her protests that Rodolfo wasn’t trying to kill her, she’d protected herself . . . and she was obviously annoyed that they would think she hadn’t. Jake watched her pour herself a coffee and then asked, “Who did you make your beneficiary?”

“Joey and Pierina get everything,” Nicole answered and then glanced around. “Do you want a coffee? I—”

Something in his expression must have told her what he was thinking, because she stopped and scowled.

“Oh, come on!” she protested. “You can’t be serious?”

“What is he not serious about?” Roberto asked curiously.

“He’s thinking Joey must be behind the hot tub and car accident,” Elaine murmured, obviously reading his mind. Jake was only surprised Roberto hadn’t.

“Do they know you put them in your will?” Jake asked, ignoring the pair.

Nicole sighed wearily. “Jake—”

“Do they?” he insisted.

“Yes, but Joey has his own money. He made a fortune in land development. That’s why he was able to retire.”

“And he’s running through his retirement like water,” Dante said quietly, drawing Nicole’s startled gaze.

“What?” she asked with surprise.

“That bitchy beauty of his is expensive,” Dante said with a shrug. “He’s spent a good bit of his retirement on making her happy.”

“And once she’s gone through it all, will no doubt move on to a new sucker,” Jake said dryly. He really hadn’t liked the woman.

“It doesn’t matter. Joey wouldn’t try to kill me,” Nicole said firmly. “He’s my brother.”

“What is this about Dad’s selfish asshole gene?” Elaine asked suddenly.

Jake glanced to his mother uncertainly. “What?”

“Please stop reading my mind,” Nicole said stiffly.

“What did you read?” Jake asked with interest.

“Dammit, my brother is not trying to kill me,” Nicole snapped before his mother could answer. She then headed for the door, weaving her way through the group to get out of the room. “I’m going to my studio to work.”

“You’re supposed to be relaxing,” Jake growled. “And what about the lunch I was making you?”

“I’m not hungry. And working is a hell of a lot more relaxing than standing here listening to you guys accuse everyone in my life of wanting me dead,” Nicole snapped, heading for the stairs.

“Let her go,” his mother said gently, catching his arm when he started to go after Nicole.

Jake paused and looked from Nicole to his mother unhappily. “What were you talking about with the asshole gene?”

“It was a conversation Nicole thought of even as she denied her brother would try to kill her. He said she was pathetic and too nice and it was because she’d spent too much time with Pierina who had encouraged that in her. That she should have spent more time with him. He’d got his father’s selfish asshole gene and would have nurtured that in her instead,” she explained, and then added, “Nicole was surprised and said that his thinking he was selfish meant he wasn’t.”

Prev Next