Jackie stared down at her chili and ground her teeth together. She'd been so sure she'd convinced Vincent to go put on some clothes when he'd stopped dead in the hall at her insults. It would appear she'd been wrong. The man had followed her into the room a moment later, cheerful as could be... and still half-naked.
Damned man, she thought irritably. Vincent was gorgeous and knew it. He'd been stretching and flexing his pecs through the entire lunch, making it difficult for her to concentrate on what she was eating. It could have been sawdust for all she knew.
"Jackie, is that one of the cups we bought?"
She glanced up to see Vincent pointing toward a lone cup on the counter. Jackie peered at it blankly and then back to him as she answered, "Yes, of course it is."
"Oh. I guess it just looks different in this light." Vincent slowly drew his hand back and gave a shrug, drawing her gaze to his chest as it moved. Jackie stared at the shifting muscles and then realized what she was doing and jerked her eyes up to Vincent's beaming face.
The irritating vamp knew exactly what effect he had on her, she realized. Her eyes narrowed coldly, but before she could say something they might both regret, the kitchen door swung open and Marguerite sailed into the room.
"Good afternoon!" she sang.
She was smiling and cheerful, but Jackie still frowned and offered, "I'm sorry, Marguerite. Did the men wake you? I meant to warn them to work more quietly but?
"No, no," she interrupted. "No one woke me, I set my alarm for noon. I wanted to be up early to help you."
"To help me?" Jackie asked, alarm bells ringing.
"Yes. The early bird catches the saboteur, you know."
Jackie's head jerked toward Vincent, accusation sharp on her face.
"She read my mind last night while we were out," he muttered apologetically.
"Vincent never could lie to me," Marguerite announced with a small smile.
Jackie ground her teeth together and forced herself to count to ten. Her first instinct was to protest most vehemently. Unfortunately, Marguerite was Bastien Argeneau's mother, andfor that reason aloneJackie would never take the chance of offending the woman. She had to handle this delicately. Her mind raced briefly and then suddenly hit on a plan to keep both of the immortals out of the way while she and Tiny worked.
"Well, this works out nicely," she announced and couldn't help noting that Marguerite's eyes had suddenly narrowed and Vincent's face had turned suspicious.
Ignoring their reactions, she said, "I was thinking this morning that it might be good if Vincent went out and talked to the actress who walked out on the play yesterday, just on the off chance that the saboteur had neglected to clear her mind as efficiently as the others. However, I didn't want him to go by himself in case the saboteur really has turned his attention his way. I thought I'd have to go with him and put off going through the letter writers to eliminate as many as I could. This way, though, you can go with him and Tiny and I can stay here and get through the letters."
"Lovely." Marguerite beamed and Jackie was just beginning to relax, when she added, "However, as you say, the saboteur may turn his attention to him now that the plays are no longer a target and if that's the case, perhaps he should stay here and go through the letters with you while Tiny accompanies me."
Jackie's eyes widened in dismay. She'd hoped to get rid of both of them, not be stuck with Vincent. Alone. "Oh, I?
"Besides, the more sunlight he avoids the better. I can just slap a bag of blood on my teeth. Vincent can't," Marguerite pointed out and Jackie felt her shoulders droop in defeat. Apparently recognizing victory when she saw it, the woman moved to slip a hand through Tiny's arm. "Come along, Tiny. I rented the cutest little sports car. You can drive it if you like."
Tiny glanced toward Jackie in question, but relaxed and allowed Marguerite to lead him out of the room when she nodded grimly.
"Nice try, but Aunt Marguerite always gets what she wants. Or mostly always," Vincent said dryly as they watched the door close behind the pair.
Jackie scowled at the man. "If you hadn't told her?
"I stuck to the cover story," Vincent interrupted to assure her. "She read my mind last night while we were out."
"Well, couldn't you keep her from doing that?" she asked with exasperation. "Surely immortals can keep other immortals out of their thoughts?"
"Yes, if we concentrate on guarding our thoughts we can keep other immortals from reading them," Vincent admitted, but before Jackie could use that against him, he added, "However, no one can be on guard all the time. She knew I was lying and the minute I let my guard slip, she was in there routing away at my thoughts."
Jackie shook her head with disgust. "It sounds an uncomfortable way to live if you constantly have to be on guard against others reading your thoughts."
"It is," he acknowledged. "Which is why many of us are more solitary by nature until we find our life mates. Once we reach adulthood, most move to their own homes to have a place to relax after work and not constantly be on guard."
Jackie glanced at him curiously. "After work? Do you work mostly with immortals then?"
"Most of the actors and actresses are mortals, but a lot of the production people and office workers at the production company are immortal," he answered.
Jackie frowned. This news meant there were a lot more suspects than she'd hoped. Sighing, she carried her bowl to the sink to rinse it. Vincent stood to follow suit and Jackie's mouth tightened as he joined her at the sink and she caught a whiff of him. He smelled good and it wasn't cologne. The man hadn't showered or dressed yet. What she was smelling was him... And she liked it.
Moving away from him as quickly as she could, Jackie headed for the door. "I'll be in the office."
"I'll shower and dress and be right with you," Vincent said as he rinsed his own bowl.
"You don't really need to help me with the letters," Jackie said quickly, pausing at the door. "I can handle it on my own."
"I'm sure you can, but it will go quicker with two of us," Vincent argued easily as he turned off the water and set his bowl aside.
Jackie's gaze dipped down over his body as he neared and then she turned swiftly away and slid from the room. She was almost running as she moved up the hall and was slipping into the office before the kitchen door opened behind her.
Jackie closed the door with relief and peered around the office. It was a good-sized room but the idea of being stuck in here alone for hours with Vincent made it shrink in her mind.
Crossing the floor, she scowled at the stacks of letters on the desk, then snatched up the rest that didn't have to do with the case and filed them in the box in the closet. She then settled at the desk and turned her attention to the letters she'd decided were possible suspects. They had to look into each person and start eliminating suspects. Of course, the eight or so from the anonymous writer who just kept saying I know who you are. I know what you are, would be difficult to eliminate. They had neither a signature, nor a return address, but she could at least start eliminating the others. Her father had always said, round up all the suspects, eliminate all you can, and who you're left with is probably the culprit. Of course, that was assuming you could eliminate everyone but the culprit, which wasn't always the case.
Sighing, she set to work and was well into it when Vincent entered. She had to pause then to tell him what to do and then returned to work, managing to almost ignore his presence... Almost. It was like trying to ignore an elephant on your chest, but she did her best.
They worked on the letters through the afternoon and managed to get enough information on half of the letter writers to eliminate them as possible saboteurs. It was close to five when Vincent announced he was going to get a drink and slipped from the room. Jackie continued to work for another couple of minutes before a case of the yawns made her stop.
This kind of work was the boring side of being a private investigator. Hoping a little fresh air would revive her, Jackie stood and opened one of the French doors. Her gaze moved over the driveway as a car came into view. Jackie stared at the vehicle, sure she hadn't heard the buzzer announcing a car at the gate.
She watched the car park behind Allen Richmond's SUV. The doors immediately opened to allow two women to spill out and move toward the house. They were both tall and blond, but one had a full, curvaceous body, while the other had the thin, gawky body of a youth.
"I don't know why you wouldn't just let me fax them over here, Sharon. She told me to fax them," the slender girl said and Jackie realized she must be the production assistant, Lily. Dear God, the child didn't look old enough to be out of high school.
"Because if you'd faxed them, we wouldn't have had an excuse to come over and check out this Jackie person," said the woman Lily had addressed as Sharon.
"Who cares?" Lily snorted. "I don't want to meet her."
"Well, I do," Sharon countered. "As Vincent's secretary, I should keep abreast of these things. Besides, if you really didn't care and didn't want to meet her you could have given me the papers to bring over myself," she pointed out, and Jackie found herself examining the woman from head to toe. Sharon looked to be in her late twenties to early thirties. She was pretty and dressed smartly in a short, straight black skirt and white blouse.
"I was the one told to send them to her. If they're coming over, I'm doing it myself to make sure it gets done," Lily said grimly. In contrast to the other woman, Lily wore jeans and a Planet Hollywood t-shirt. Production assistant chic, Jackie supposed.
The pair passed by, so busy nattering at each other that neither woman noticed the open French doors, or Jackie standing half behind the closed one. Leaving her spot by the door, she moved out into the hall and opened the front door just as Sharon reached out to press the doorbell. Both women stilled and gaped, so taken by surprise that neither seemed sure what to say at first.
"Sharon and Lily." Jackie's greeting just seemed to surprise them even more. The two women looked at each other, then back to her in silence.
Jackie immediately felt a ruffling at the edge of her mind. Instantly on the alert, she projected a brick wall in her mind and began to silently recite "Little Jack Horner." She also peered more closely at the women. Lily had pretty but plain hazel eyes. She wasn't the vampire then. Every immortal had a metallic shine to their eyes, either silver or bronze. It had something to do with increased night vision and was their most telling feature.
Her gaze slid to Sharon and Jackie's eyes narrowed. The secretary had silvery green eyes, definitely a vampire... and the one presently trying to rifle through her thoughts. Continuing with her silent recitation, Jackie held her hand out toward Lily, smiling as she said, "This would be the list of employees I called you about?"
"Lily had to wait for me to come into the office to find out where I'd filed them," Sharon excused their tardiness. "And then she doesn't drive, so I brought her over."
"Hmm." Though she'd overheard the reason they were really here, Jackie didn't comment. She simply waited patiently with her hand extended for the papers Lily held.
"I didn't know Vincent was hiring a P.A.," Sharon said as the silence drew out.
"Neither did I until he hired me," Jackie said pleasantly.
Sharon frowned. "He usually has me call the agencies to send people out when he wants to hire someone. It's how Lily and Meredith and everyone has been hired."
"How interesting," Jackie said mildly, but ground her teeth together as the ruffling continued on the edge of her thoughts. She was beginning to find the woman's persistence irritating.
Finding no satisfaction in that line of questioning, Sharon tried a new one. "I don't know why Vincent would possibly want the list of employees. I thought he'd closed this play for good. Is he thinking of starting it up again?"
"I have no idea," Jackie lied easily. "But it's not my place to wonder. I just do what I'm told," she added pointedly, then glanced at the younger girl. "Can I have the lists, Lily?"
"Oh, yes. Sorry." Lily handed them over and then glanced at Sharon.
Jackie got the feeling the girl was silently begging to leave now. If so, Sharon's answer was a resounding no as she turned and said, "Well, MeredithMeredith in accounting, she handles payroll," she explained. "Meredith hasn't heard of you either."
"I'm sure Mr. Argeneau will take care of that eventually," Jackie said calmly, but made a note to herself about such slip-ups. Covers only worked if they were credible.
"Well, you'd better be sure he fixes it if you want a check on payday." Sharon was turning out to be an annoying woman. She was curious and determined to have her curiosity satisfied.
"I'll make a note of mentioning it to him," Jackie murmured.
"Make a note about what?" Vincent asked suddenly from behind her and Jackie nearly jumped out of her skin in surprise.
Turning, she grimaced and said, "Sharon was just informing me that I haven't been put on payroll yet."
Vincent's eyes widened and then he forced a smile. "That's because you'll be paid out of the household account. Like Tiny."
"Who's Tiny?" Sharon asked curiously.
"My new housekeeper," Vincent answered.
Jackie's eyebrows rose as she noted he'd left out the cook part of the title.
Ignoring her look, Vincent said, "Thank you for bringing the files over, ladies."
He'd apparently decided to send them on their way, but Jackie had one more thing she needed to know. "Did someone buzz you in at the gate? I didn't hear the buzzer."
"I have a remote," Sharon announced.
"Sharon often has to drop things off and it's just easier with her having a remote," Vincent said into the silence that followed her words.
"Of course." Jackie smiled pleasantly. "If you'll excuse me?"
Leaving Vincent to handle the women, Jackie turned away and walked straight upstairs to find Allen Richmond. She discovered him in Vincent's room, overseeing the work being done there. While waiting for him to finish instructing one of the men, Jackie ran her gaze over the room. She'd taken a quick peek the day before as she'd toured the upstairs, now she took a more thorough look around. Vincent Argeneau had a taste for the decadent. The room was huge and decorated in tans accented with deep reds. There was a large entertainment system with a huge television as well as stereo equipment, but the king-size bed was the central focus. It was an ocean of red sheets that had a sheen to them, suggesting they were some blend of satin. Sateen perhaps.
"Miss Morrisey? Can I help you?"
Jackie turned from her examination of Vincent's room to peer at Allen Richmond as he approached. She got right to the point. "When you fixed the gate, you didn't change the sensor or code, did you?"
"No. You didn't request it."
Jackie nodded. "Can you change them?"
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Yes. Is there a problem?"
"I'm afraid someone has a remote who shouldn't," Jackie explained.
"It would be cheaper to ask for the remote back and just have to change the code," Allen pointed out.
"I knew you'd be up here," Vincent said dryly as he entered the room. "There's no need to change the gate code and sensor."
"Can you get the remote back?" Jackie asked, turning to him.
"I could," he said slowly, obviously not pleased with the idea.
"Would you be willing to?" Jackie asked, getting to the point.
When Vincent winced at the idea, she nodded and turned back to Allen. "Change both the code and sensor and get Vincent a new one."
"But Sharon might be offended that? Vincent began in protest.
"Sharon will never know until she tries to use the remote again, and then you'll simply tell her you had your entire security system overhauled and forgot to mention it," she said reasonably.
Sighing, he nodded at Allen Richmond. "Do it."
"No problem. Whatever the customer wants," Allen said with amusement and headed out of the room.
Jackie was quick to follow. She was uncomfortable in the lush room now that Vincent was there.
"Tiny and Aunt Marguerite are back," Vincent announced as he followed her. "And the coffee I put on should be ready."
Jackie recalled that he'd gone in search of a drink before the women had arrived and supposed that he'd been making the coffee then.
"I'm surprised you didn't insist I get the remote back from Sharon," Vincent admitted suddenly as they started downstairs.
"Sharon doesn't seem the most understanding of women," Jackie said mildly. "And there's nothing likely to cause more havoc than a secretary pissed at her boss. The last thing we need at this juncture is havoc. Changing the sensor and code are the easiest solution all around."
"Good thinking," he murmured. "Sharon can get a bit testy."
"Why do you keep her on then?"
Vincent hesitated, then sighed. "She was the wife of a friend of mine. When he died, she was left with nothing and had to start over." He shrugged. "She needed a job and I needed a secretary. I couldn't possibly fire her."
Jackie glanced quickly away from his handsome face and sighed. The man was too damned nice by half. Unfortunately, the last thing she wanted him to be was nice. It made it difficult not to like him. Jackie scowled and reminded herself of Cassius as they reached the bottom of the stairs and started up the hall.
She forced a smile as she pushed through the door to the kitchen and found Tiny and Marguerite there. As Vincent had said, they were back. Tiny was transferring something from the refrigerator to the oven and Marguerite looked as if she'd just been leaving the room, but paused now as they entered.
"Oh, there you are. I was just coming to look for you."
"We were upstairs talking to Allen," Jackie explained, and then asked, "Did you find out anything?"
"Nothing," Tiny answered with a grimace as he straightened from the oven. "The woman's brain was an empty slate."
"In more ways than one," Marguerite added dryly.
Jackie smiled faintly. "Well, we had a little better luck. We eliminated at least half of the letter writers from the list of suspects, and the assistant brought the employee lists by."
"She brought it?" Tiny asked with interest.
"Yes. Brought rather than fax it as I requested," she said dryly. "Vincent's secretary wanted to check me out."
"No, she didn't," Vincent countered with amusement. "After you left, Sharon explained that the fax machine was down. Lily doesn't drive and so Sharon offered to bring her over. It was good of her to go to the trouble."
"Is that what she told you?" Jackie asked dryly. "Well, I hate to ruin your illusions where your secretary is concerned, but I heard them talking as they walked by the office and clearly heard Sharon say the reason she'd brought Lily over rather than let her fax the information was because she wanted to check me out."
When Vincent looked stunned at this information, Jackie commented, "I'm surprised she lied to you when you could just read her and know she's lying."
"I told you, we can only read another immortal if they aren't guarding their thoughts," Vincent muttered with a frown. "And I don't go around reading my employees anyway. I don't read anyone. It's rude and intrusive."
"Vincent's still young," Marguerite said almost apologetically. "After another couple hundred years, he'll find it easier to use the skills he has. Reading minds cuts through a lot of misunderstandings."
Jackie bit her lip as she realized that here she'd been thinking Marguerite was rude in trying to read her mind, yet was advocating Vincent's reading Sharon's mind, as well as Marguerite's reading the actress's. It seemed she had some double-standard issues.
"This secretary, Sharon, is an immortal?" Tiny asked curiously.
"Yes," Jackie said, glad for the distraction and then added, "And a barracuda."
"No, she isn't," Vincent said with surprise. "She's fine."
"She's pushy, nosy and rude," Jackie said irritably. Double standard or not, if Sharon had tried to read her mind one more time, she'd have plowed her.
Vincent was frowning. "That doesn't sound like the Sharon I know at all."
"This is Hollywood. Everyone's an actor out here," Jackie said with a shrug. The comment was directed as much to herself as him. It was a reminder. She had to stop thinking Vincent was nice. He was an immortal by birth like Cassius, and an actor by chosen trade. She mustn't forget either fact.
But neither detail changes the fact that he's nice by nature. Vincent's a good man.
Jackie glanced sharply toward Marguerite as those words drifted through her mind. The woman had projected them into her thoughts. She'd read her mind and silently sent her answer so the men wouldn't hear. Jackie wanted to be angry, but instead was afraid. Marguerite seemed to be encouraging her to like Vincent and the last thing she needed was encouragement. She was having trouble fighting it as it was.
Why fight it then?
Jackie ground her teeth together as the question floated through her head.
"What was the production assistant like?" Tiny asked suddenly and Jackie turned to him, relieved to have something to occupy her mind besides Marguerite's words.
"Lily seemed all right," she said. "She's young though, looks like a teenager."
"Lily's older than she looks," Vincent said.
"That's good to know, because she looks about twelve. You do know about our child labor laws, don't you?"
"Lily is well over eighteen, hardly a child," Vincent assured her, sounding annoyed.
"Him," Jackie murmured doubtfully. "I can't wait to meet the rest of your staff."
"The rest of them?" Vincent looked startled. "Why would you need to meet my staff?"
"Anyone in your company could have accessed these employee lists," Jackie pointed out, gesturing to the papers she'd taken from Lily and still held.
"So, that means anyone in your company could find out who was in your New York cast. It makes them suspects."
"My people wouldn't?
"Vincent," she interrupted patiently. "Someone's angry enough with you to be causing these problems. They seem to be trying to ruin you."
He didn't look pleased, but said, "Yes, but I've never deliberately hurt anyone in my life."
"You're over four hundred years old, you may have slighted someone, or broken the heart of someone on your staff two or three hundred years ago and not remember."
"I hardly think this is about slighting someone two or three hundred years ago," he said stiffly. "And I've never broken anyone's heart. It can't be about that."
"Then what is it about?" Jackie asked sharply.
Vincent shook his head, frustration plain on his face. "I don't know."
"So, it's something you've forgotten because of its insignificance to you," she said pointedly.
His mouth tightened. "I'm not an asshole, Jackie. I'd hardly forget something that hurt someone enough they'd do this."
Jackie shrugged. "Asshole. Immortal. Whatever."
"Dinner's ready!" Tiny stepped between their glares and placed a serving dish of chicken on the table.
Jackie blinked at the food. "When did you have time to cook a meal?"
"I wasn't sure of our schedule so I cooked it this morning while the chili was simmering. I put it in to warm when we walked in," he explained, then added firmly, "It's warm. Eat."
Jackie bit her lip as she took in his grim expression. Tiny obviously felt she'd overstepped and been rude. He wanted her to stick a piece of chicken in her mouth and shut up. Aware that she had been rude with that last crack about immortals and assholes, Jackie sighed and settled into a chair at the table, her mind searching for the words to apologize without making a big deal out of it. She never got the chance though. While Vincent's nose had quivered over the delicious aroma of the roasted meat, he said, "Thank you, Tiny. It looks delicious. However, I'm afraid I'm not hungry."
Tiny sighed as the vampire left the room, then turned on Jackie. "He isn't Cassius."
She jerked back in shock. "How... ? You..."
"Your father told me about Cassius during that last year while he was sick," Tiny admitted quietly. "He feared the prejudice it caused in you against immortals might someday become a problem, that you might misjudge a case, or something similar. He thought if I knew about it, I could help keep that from happening."
"I see," Jackie said stiffly, her emotions in chaos. She was angry that her father had told Tiny, as well as embarrassed that her friend knew how she'd been controlled and used by Cassius. "Are you saying you think I'm allowing my past experience to make me misjudge this case? You don't think it's a vampire sabotaging Vincent?"
"Oh, I think you're right about the saboteur being an immortal," he assured her.
"But I think you're misjudging Vincent," he added solemnly.
"That asshole remark was bitchy," Tiny said bluntly. "And that isn't like you. Even when you absolutely detest someone, you're coolly polite and professional. But you aren't with Vincent. I think it's because you're attracted to him and it scares you because of your experience with Cassius. And, I think you're being unpleasant in an effort to make him keep his distance."
Jackie stared, feeling exposed and vulnerable. Before she could even come up with something to say, movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention to the door as it closed behind Marguerite.
Jackie groaned inwardly as she realized the woman had heard everything and probably read the rest in her thoughts. She hadn't exactly been guarding them. This just wasn't her day and this case was one she now wished she'd never taken on. One way or another, Jackie was sure she was going to end up hurt.
"I'm afraid I'm not hungry either, Tiny," Jackie said wearily. "I think I'll go shower and change into something more comfortable, then do some work."
Tiny sighed as he peered at the meal he'd prepared, but didn't say anything to dissuade her as she left the kitchen.
Vincent was pacing the length of the living room, his mind in an uproar when Marguerite found him. She eyed his stiff stature, then asked, "Have you tried to read Jackie yet?"
Vincent waved the question away with irritation. "No. As I said in the kitchen, I don't like to read people's thoughts."
"Well, you shall have to try to overcome your reticence and read Jackie's," Marguerite said firmly. "There's something in her past that causes her distrust of immortals and I think it would help if you knew what."
Vincent stiffened. "She doesn't trust us?"
"She doesn't trust anyone with immortal blood in their veins," Marguerite said quietly. "Except perhaps for Bastien and even he she only trusts so far."
Vincent frowned. "Why?"
"Try to read her mind and you might find out," Marguerite suggested. "Otherwise you'll have to read Tiny."
"Try to read her mind?" he asked and then his eyes widened as Vincent recalled Bastien saying Marguerite was coming out here because she thought he was lonely and might need help cheering up, or even seeing to the situation.
"Oh, no," he said grimly. "No, no, no, no. Do not even go there."
"Go where?" she asked innocently.
"Do not start playing matchmaker. I could read Jackie if I tried, I just haven't tried. She is not my life mate."
"I don't know, Vincent. I've seen it four times now in the last couple years. There's a certain chemistry between life mates and you two seem to have it."
"Aunt Marguerite," he said in warning.
"So, prove me wrong. Try to read her," she challenged.
Vincent's mind raced. Part of him was excited at the idea that Jackie might be his life mate. The other part was absolutely terrified. He'd lived more than four hundred years on his own. Four hundred years was a long time to wander the earth in search of a mate, and that's what he'd been doing.
Vincent wanted a life mate. He wanted someone to share his hopes and dreams and even his sorrows with. His parents' relationship had been full of love and support and caring. They'd been true life mates, bonded and inseparable until his mother's death. He wanted that. He wanted someone to laugh with and cry with and to hold close in the dark of night and the harsh light of day. It was why he'd traveled so far and wide during his life. Vincent had been actively seeking his life mate.
During the first three hundred years, Vincent had gained a reputation as a ladies' man because he went out of his way to meet as many women as he could. It was only the last fifty years or so that he'd grown tired of the hunt and begun to fear he might never find her. Not all immortals did.
Now, his aunt was holding out that hope to him and he was afraid. Oddly enough, he wasn't just afraid that he might be able to read Jackie, which would mean she wasn't his life mate, but he also feared not being able to read her, a sure sign that she was his life mate.
Vincent liked Jackie, he found her intelligent, and funny and sexy and he even enjoyed her strength and her slightly hard edge. His own mother had been a strong woman and he wanted that kind of woman for himself. But...
"Go try to read her," Marguerite said quietly. "If you can read her, there's nothing to worry about or fear. If you can't..." She shrugged. "Then you can begin to consider the possibilities."
Vincent nodded slowly, then turned and made his way back to the kitchen. He'd try to read Jackie. If he could, nothing had changed. If he couldn't... Everything had.
P/S: Copyright -->www_novelfreereadonline_Com