Julia struggled to not look back at Lucian as she left the room. Was he going to follow them? She sure hoped not, because it would be hard to focus on her patient with him lingering nearby, staring at her like he wanted a repeat of—
Okay, she couldn’t even finish that thought.
Thankfully, Lucian appeared to remain behind as Devlin escorted her up the interior staircase to the third floor. Pushing aside all thoughts of him, she focused on her surroundings, ending up enthralled by all the woodwork and beauty of the home.
The walls were a pale gold color, the trim and chair rails that ran the length of the hallways an antique white. There were paintings she’d never seen before, so realistic that she could almost smell the earthy scent of the bayou or hear the sounds of Jackson Square.
“The woodwork in the home is amazing,” she commented, trailing a hand along a railing. What appeared to be vines were carved into the rich wood.
“Most of the woodwork you’ll see has been done by Gabe,” Devlin explained, surprising her. “He’s been working at it for the last decade or so.”
“Wow. He’s very talented.”
He nodded in agreement. “We have dinner here at six-thirty. You may join us if you wish,” he offered, and she had no idea if she could seriously sit and have dinner with whoever “we” were. “Richard will be with you shortly to discuss access to a vehicle. Since you have no set schedule, all that we ask is that if you are to leave, you advise Richard. Please feel free to take breaks. I know that her care does not require constant observation, but Dr. Flores will discuss that more thoroughly with you.”
She murmured okay as she fidgeted with the strap on her purse.
Devlin was quiet once more.
She glanced up at him, still a bit shocked that it was the Devlin de Vincent in front of her. It was incredibly unreal that she was reading about him and his fiancée a few hours ago and now he was here.
The photographs had not done him justice.
“Is the third floor a new addition?” she asked in the silence between them.
“The original house was only two levels, built in the late 1700s,” he answered.
Whoa. That was seriously old. Like old enough to be haunted. She rolled her eyes at her own thoughts. Why did her brain always have to go somewhere creepy?
Devlin continued up the staircase. “My family renovated the entire home about fifteen years ago. It had been upgraded before—the electricity, plumbing, and cooling, but it needed more. The third level was built then, done in the same design as the rest of the house.”
At the entry of the third floor hallway, she noticed several doors. “Do they lead out onto the balcony?”
“They’re more like porches, but yes. There are several entryways from the hallway and from each room,” he explained, never once looking back in her direction. “There’s also an exterior staircase.”
More fans churned overhead, keeping airflow going. This place must be a beast to cool in the dead of summer. “It’s a beautiful home.”
It truly was, but there was a . . . a shadowiness that clung to the hallways, along the floors and ceilings. It was as if the wall sconces even during the daylight couldn’t cast enough light to chase them away.
Devlin nodded. “It was my father’s pride and joy.”
Was? She found that odd considering she was under the impression that the older de Vincent was still alive. She also found it weird that he wasn’t the one discussing Madeline’s care with her. Maybe he was away on business?
Devlin went quiet then, and she assumed he wasn’t much of a talker, and she was fine with that. After all, what in the world would they have in common to even chat about?
She thought of Lucian and inwardly cringed. Last night, she’d been surprised by how easy it had been for them to talk, but now? She knew it had to be an act. They came from two very different worlds.
Devlin stopped at the end of the hall, opening the door with pretty vine-engraved trim. An aroma of roses greeted her. Stepping to the side for her to enter, Devlin held the door open as she walked in and scanned the room.
By a set of double doors with white curtains drawn back, was a large chair and in that chair was a woman. A thin pale blue blanket covered her legs and was tucked in around her waist, as if someone had lovingly folded it back and then smoothed all the wrinkles out. Her arms were pale and hands were resting limply on top of one another over her stomach. Under the short-sleeve cotton shirt, her chest rose and fell in deep, even breaths.
“This is our sister, Madeline,” Dev said quietly. He did not look at her. Only stared in the general direction of his sister.
Placing her purse on a nearby chair, Julia made her way to Madeline. Immediately, she saw the resemblance between her and Lucian. The same golden-colored hair and defined cheekbones. She had all the details of his face except it was a more feminine version.
Madeline was as beautiful as her brother.
Her gaze was fixed on a painting near the doors, but she showed no sign of being aware that Julia was there or that her brother was in the room. The only movement was the slow blink of her eyes, but she was in far better condition than Julia expected.
“Hi.” Julia knelt down beside her and smiled. “My name is Julia. I’m going to be here for a little while to help you.”
Behind her, Devlin cleared his throat. “She won’t respond. She hasn’t spoken since she came back.”
“That’s okay,” she replied. “That doesn’t mean that she can’t hear us.” Or communicate in some other method, but Julia figured there was really no point to bring that up right now. “I’m going to check a few things out with you, okay?”
There was no answer or reaction, but Julia wasn’t expecting one. There could be a chance that Madeline wasn’t processing anything anyone was saying to her, but that didn’t mean she didn’t deserve basic decency.
Julia reached down and picked up Madeline’s wrist. Her skin was cool and her pulse was a little low, but steady.
Carefully, she placed Madeline’s hand down. “Was she able to walk to the chair or was she placed here?”
“She is able to walk very short distances with assistance. I believe either my brother or Richard moved her to the chair this morning. She . . . seems to like it there.” There was a pause and when he spoke, the sound was closer than before. “Dr. Flores should be here shortly.”
Rising, she turned around and stiffened. Devlin was close, only about a foot away. She hadn’t heard him move.
“Dr. Flores will go into more depth about her condition.”
Nodding, she inconspicuously stepped around to the back of the chair. A quick check of the room, she found several medical instruments one would find in a doctor’s office. Blood pressure cuff. Behind the ear thermometer. An air oxygen measuring device. Catheter equipment. She had no idea what exactly she was dealing with here. What was the diagnosis?
“Would you please step outside the room with me for a moment?” he asked, and she followed, glancing at the woman in the chair. Back in the hallway, he quietly closed the door behind them. “Ms. Hughes—”
“Please call me Julia.”
He nodded. “May I be blunt?”
Figuring he wanted to discuss his sister in privacy, she was prepared to ask at least a dozen of the hundred different questions shooting around in her head at the moment. There were two super important ones. What exactly had Madeline been diagnosed with? And what tests had been done?
Devlin turned toward her, and it was then when she realized how close they were standing once more. She could see a tiny scar under the left side of his mouth, shaped like a crescent moon. That was how close they were. Like his brother, her towered over her, and when his unflinching stare met hers, unease blossomed in the pit of her stomach.
Did no one in his family understand the concept of personal space?
Julia wanted to step back, but she held herself in place with sheer grit. She wasn’t the same woman who had been married to Adam. She held her ground.
“I want to talk about my brother for a moment.”
Oh God, no.
“I have no idea what truly went down when my brother traveled to Pennsylvania to meet you, and knowing my brother, I probably don’t want to know. Part of me wants to call the agency and have a replacement sent, but my gut instinct is telling me that you’re good at your job and that I can trust you to be discreet.”