One Lucky Vampire Page 37

“And what did he say to that?” Jake asked when she paused.

“I believe it was, “Ha! Got you fooled,” she said solemnly.

“Maybe Vincent and I should go have a chat with Joey,” Jackie said slowly. “Do we know where he lives?”

“Florida,” Jake answered, and then added, “He’s staying at a hotel downtown while here, though.”

“Do you know which one?”

Jake nodded. Joey had mentioned it the night they’d had dinner here at the house. He gave them the name now.

Nodding, Jackie glanced to Vincent.

“We shouldn’t be long,” he said, slipping his arm around his wife to escort her out of the kitchen.

“We’ll go with you,” Dante announced and he and Tomasso followed them out.

Jake watched them go and then returned to the stove. He’d taken the soup and frying pan of sandwiches off the burner when Nicole had entered. Now he put them back on the burners. He would finish cooking it and take it down to her anyway. She hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours now. Besides, maybe she’d accept his peace offering and some of her anger with him would ease.

“Well, Neil,” Roberto said now. “I guess we should take your mother and go check into our hotel.”

“Hotel?” Jake asked with surprise, turning to peer at the trio as his mother collected her purse from the table. “I thought you’d stay here.”

“It’s not your place to make that offer. This is Nicole’s home,” Neil reminded him with amusement.

“Yeah, but I’m sure Nicole would—”

“There’s no need to bother Nicole,” his mother said, slipping her purse strap over her shoulder as she walked over to him. Pausing beside Jake, she gave him a hug, kissed his cheek, and then reminded him, “There are only the three bedrooms here, son, Nicole’s and the two guest rooms. You and the twins are already using the guest rooms.”

“Yeah, but . . .” Jake hesitated. He’d been about to say that he was sure he would be staying in Nicole’s room with her from now on, leaving the bedroom for his parents. Neil could sleep on the daybed in the studio, or one of the couches. But Jake wasn’t all that sure he would be welcome in Nicole’s bed at the moment. She was pretty upset with him right now . . . and all because he was trying to keep her safe, he thought unhappily. Was it his fault her brother was trying to kill her?”

“We are happy to stay at a hotel,” Roberto announced, coming over to give him a hug too. “Your mother and I have got used to not having to be quiet when we go to bed and would not be very good at it now.”

Jake couldn’t keep the grimace off his face. He understood what the man was saying. The older couple were as passionate and loud in the bedroom as he and Nicole were . . . as most life mates were. Roberto may be saying they had tried to be quiet, but while the pair had slept during the day while he was at school, they would disappear into their bedroom at all hours when he and Neil were younger and still living at home. To be sure, they hadn’t bellowed like a couple of mating mooses, but they hadn’t exactly been silent either. The sounds that had come from their bedroom had been enough to traumatize him when he was young.

“Oh, stop,” his mother said with a combination of amusement and embarrassment. But he didn’t understand that she’d caught his thoughts, until she added, “We weren’t that bad.”

“No,” Roberto agreed, and then grinned, eyes sparkling wickedly as he contradicted himself, admitting, “We were that bad.”

Jake didn’t miss the quick squeeze his stepfather gave his mother’s derriere either. The pair was as frisky today as they had been fifty years ago. Oddly enough, he didn’t mind. It meant he had a lot of frisky years to look forward to with Nicole.

“Come see us off, son,” Elaine said, slipping her arm around her husband.

Nodding, Jake followed the trio out of the kitchen. As they started down the stairs, he said, “Call and let me know what room you’re in when you get settled.”

“We will, and you call and tell us what happened with Joey when the boys get back,” his mother ordered firmly.

“If you get the hotel switchboard telling you we are unavailable, we are probably sleeping,” Roberto commented. “It is well past our bedtime now and I am not sure how long we will be up.”

Jake nodded. It was just after noon and he wouldn’t mind a couple winks himself. He’d wait until the twins were back though and could keep an eye on Nicole for him. She was the only one of them who had slept last night.

“Perhaps later tonight we could meet for dinner,” his mother suggested as they stepped off the stairs. “It would be nice to sit down for a meal with you again.”

Jake felt guilt pinch at him. His mother sounded so wistful. The last seven years had obviously been hard on her. Probably the last forty had been hard on her, he acknowledged. His pulling away from the family to hang out on the fringes when he’d found out what they were at eighteen had probably hurt her terribly. He wished now that he’d reacted differently. But he couldn’t go back and change history.

Pausing at the front door, Jake turned and gave her a big, hard hug. “I’m sorry, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you too . . . and always have,” she whispered and there were tears in her eyes when he released her and stepped back.

“The past is the past,” Roberto said gruffly, hugging Jake now himself, and thumping his back. “We are just glad to have you back. We love you, son.”

“Thank you,” Jake said solemnly. “I love you too . . . Dad.”

Roberto hugged him more tightly and then stepped back, swiping at his eyes. Jake wasn’t surprised to find his own eyes misting. Roberto was the only father he’d ever had, or at least the only one he recalled with any clarity. His birth father was just a picture he’d been shown, and stories he’d been told. The only father he remembered was Roberto, and he’d been a good dad. While he’d offered discipline and direction when necessary, he had also given abundant love and affection. But Jake had refused to call him father since his eighteenth birthday.

“Well, now that you have Mom and Dad blubbering away . . .” Neil said dryly, stepping up next to hug him. “I’m glad you’re ready to come back into the fold. I’ve missed my big brother.”

“I’ve missed you too,” Jake assured the younger man and knew it was true. Even at his angriest, he’d missed having Neil, his parents, and the rest of the family there in his life . . . and he’d done it to himself. Shaking his head, he gave Neil’s back a pat as they parted. “I’ll call when I hear anything.”

“Call my cell,” Neil said. “I’ll answer.”

“Oh hey,” Jake said as that reminded him. “Do you want my cell-phone number?”

“I have it,” Neil assured him and when he looked surprised, grinned. “What? You didn’t think we’d keep tabs on you? I’ve known where you were and what you were doing since you left. Jackie is a very good detective.”

Jake chuckled and shook his head. “Right.”

“Later bro,” Neil said smiling, and then turned to follow their parents to the car waiting in the driveway.

Jake watched until the car had started and pulled out onto the road, and then gave a wave and closed and locked the door. He considered going to check on Nicole, but cowardice reared its head and he decided he’d wait until he had her lunch ready first. The smell of it might—

Jake sniffed the air. He thought he’d caught a whiff of something burning, but it was gone now and he couldn’t think what—

“Crap!” he muttered and rushed for the stairs as he recalled he’d put the soup and sandwiches back on the burner and then left them there to see his family out.

That whiff came again and stayed this time as he got halfway up the stairs, but it was the smoke he could see billowing out of the kitchen when he reached the top of the stairs that really alarmed him. Hell, he was burning down the bloody house!

Jake charged into the kitchen, relieved to see that there wasn’t actually a fire. The grilled cheese was producing all the smoke. Grabbing the pan, he whirled and stuck it in the sink and turned the tap on, and then whirled back to the soup pan, which was boiling over onto the burner. Jake automatically grabbed that as well to throw in the sink, only to curse and drop it when the handle burned his hand. It hit the floor with a loud clang, sending tomato soup flying in every direction.

“Damned metal handles,” he muttered, grabbing paper towel off the counter and bending to the mess he’d made. He swiped up a good portion of the orange-red mess, tossed the sopping paper towel in the garbage and started to reach for more, but changed his mind and stood to hurry to the sliding glass doors instead. The air was thick with smoke and the stench of burnt food. His eyes were beginning to burn and water. He needed to air out the room.

God, he hoped Nicole stayed in her studio for a while, Jake thought as he unlocked and opened the sliding glass doors. He hoped he hadn’t completely destroyed her pot and pan too. And he guessed he wasn’t feeding her tomato soup and grilled cheese.

Grimacing, Jake left the door open and moved back to finish cleaning up the mess. He then picked up the much cooler pan and examined it as he set it in the sink. It was a mess, the soup a blackened mess on the bottom of the pan, but he thought he might be able to clean it off. Maybe. As for the frying pan . . . Jake grimaced as he examined it. The Teflon on the bottom was discolored. He’d put the heat on too high.

Sighing, he set the plug in place in the sink so it would fill with water and dumped some soap in, then caught the floating, blackened sandwiches and tossed those.

He’d have to figure out something else to feed her, Jake thought. But first he needed to change. The soup had splashed all over, catching even his top, but really getting his jeans good. Grimacing, he started out of the kitchen, but then paused and turned back to turn off the tap. Causing a flood on the heels of the first calamity would have been impressive, he thought grimly, and shook his head as he left the kitchen.

Chapter Seventeen

Nicole paced to the end of her studio and back, and then did it again . . . and again. She really didn’t know what else to do. She was angry, and restless and frustrated. She was mad because it seemed someone was out to kill her. While Jake had taken the brunt of the two attacks, no one knew he was here but his family, so she had to be the target. But she didn’t have a clue why anyone would want to kill her. Truthfully, Joey was the best suspect because he got the bulk of her estate if she died . . . and she was angry about that too. As mad as she wanted to be at Jake and his family for suspecting her brother, he was the most likely one . . . and she hated that too. Nicole didn’t want to suspect her brother. But the facts were he’d arrived in town the day the hot tub poisoning happened, after she’d told him she planned to take a dip in the hot tub later.

Was that just a coincidence? Or had he poisoned the hot tub before leaving that night? He might have already planned to poison the hot tub and had the poison with him, or her mentioning planning to use it might have made him run into town when he left here, purchase whatever poisons it was that had been used, and drive back, park up the road and walk to the house in the dark to dump the poison in. There were no streetlights out here and the houses were a good distance apart; each sat on a plot of land of at least two acres. No one would have noticed him.

As for the car, Nicole hadn’t mentioned it to Jake, but Joey was pretty handy with cars. He’d bought and restored old ones since he was a teenager. He could have tampered with her SUV.

Sighing, Nicole dropped onto her daybed/couch and closed her eyes briefly. She could hardly be angry at Jake and his family for suspecting her brother when she suspected him too. And she wasn’t really angry at them. She was just angry in general, or maybe angry at herself. What was it about her that the men who were supposed to love her, treated her so shabbily? Her husband had professed to love her and then had abused her and screwed her royally financially, and now her brother, who she had always been sure loved her, might be trying to kill her for a couple bucks.

Was it something about her that made them react this way? And what if that something eventually made Jake come to loathe her or think her only value was the money she made and he turned on her like her husband and brother?

That was where her true upset lie. Or at least half of it, Nicole corrected, because losing her brother to greed and attempted murder would hurt terribly. But she suspected Jake going the same way would hurt more, and what did that say about her? It would upset her more if Jake, a man she’d only met a week or so ago now, turned on her than the fact that her brother may have.

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