“Looks like it to me,” he replied as he focused on the ghastly white hands frozen in time.
“There is very little he could do that would actually surprise me, but hanging himself?” Gabe lifted a hand, dragging his fingers through his hair. “That’s not his . . . style.”
Luc had to agree. It would be very unlike Lawrence to do them a solid and leave them all in peace. “Maybe it’s the curse.”
“Are you serious?” Gabe cursed under his breath. “You’re starting to sound like Livie.”
The grin returned as he thought of their housekeeper. Mrs. Olivia Besson was like a second mother to them, as much a part of this house as the very walls and roofs, but the damn woman was as superstitious as sailors on a stormy night. The grin vanished like a dream.
A heavy silence fell between them as they both found themselves staring at their father. It was Gabe who broke it, and he spoke quietly, almost as if he worried he’d be overheard. “I woke up before Dev called me. I thought I heard someone on the top level.”
The damn air halted in Lucian’s throat.
“I went up there, but . . .” His brother’s chest rose with a heavy breath. “You know what you planned to do tomorrow? You’re not going to be able to now.”
“Why not?” he repeated with a shocked laughed. “You can’t leave the state the very next day after our father died.”
Lucian didn’t see a problem with it at all.
“Dev would go ape shit.”
“Dev doesn’t even know what I’m doing,” he replied. “He probably won’t even know I’m gone. I’ll be back the following morning.”
“It’s important that I do this. You know that. I don’t trust . . . I don’t trust that Dev would’ve picked the right person. There is no way I’m just going to step aside and let him handle this.” His tone brooked no room for argument. “Dev can believe all he wants that he’s the one handling this. I don’t care, but I will have a say.”
Gabe sighed wearily. A moment passed. “You better make sure your guest fully understands how important it is that she does not breathe a word of what has happened here.”
“Of course,” he murmured, rising lazily from the chair. He wasn’t at all surprised by the fact his brother knew he’d brought someone home.
This house had ears and eyes.
Gabe started toward the door. “I’ll find Dev.”
Lucian watched his brother leave and then turned back to the body of his father, searching for something, anything inside him. The shock he’d felt upon entering the room had faded before it fully formed. That was the man who raised him, hanging from the ceiling fan, and he couldn’t even find a kernel of sorrow within him. Twenty-eight years of living under this man’s thumb and there was nothing. Not even relief. Just an abyss of nothing.
He looked up at the ceiling fan again.
Did Lawrence de Vincent hang himself? The patriarch of the family would’ve outlived all of them out of pure spite.
But if it hadn’t been him, then that meant someone did it and made it look like a suicide. Wasn’t impossible. Crazier shit had happened. He thought of the footsteps he’d heard. It couldn’t be. . . .
Briefly closing his eyes, he cursed under his breath. This was going to be a long night and not in a fun way. Tomorrow was going to be even longer. As he left the room, he stooped down and lifted the edge of the rug, rolling the heavy material back from the reach of the fluid spreading across the floor.
Lucian hauled ass up the shadowy stairs, taking them two and three at a time. His living quarters weren’t his first stop. He climbed the third flight and entered the enclosed hallway through the breezeway. Wall sconces lit the way, casting just enough light to see a few feet in front of him.
Passing several closed doors to rooms that hadn’t been opened in years, rooms the staff refused to enter for various screwed-up reasons, he stopped at the end of the hall. Muscles all along his spine tensed as he stared at the off-white door.
The handle was cold against his palm as he turned it. The door glided open, moving soundlessly along the plush carpet. The scent of roses surrounded him. A light was on in the room. One of those small bedside lamps with a pale colored shade. The figure lying in the large bed with the handcrafted bedposts appeared so incredibly diminutive and frail. Nothing like she’d been before.
“Maddie?” he called out, his voice sounding abrasive to his own ears.
There was no movement from the bed. No sound. Nothing that gave him any indication that she was awake or even aware of him. His chest tightened with the kind of pressure that no amount of drinking or screwing around could lessen.
There was no way those footsteps could’ve belonged to her.
He stared at the bed, at her, for a moment and then stepped back, closing the door behind him. Scrubbing a hand down his face, he headed for the breezeway and went down a floor. He passed the empty corner guest room that was catty-corner to his.
A different kind of tension crept into his muscles as he yanked open the door to his rooms. Stepping inside, he drew up short.
His guest rose from the couch, completely nude with the exception of black fuck-me heels. Holy shit, his gaze moved down, following the red-tipped hand that slid between the swells of her breasts and glided lower, dipping between her thighs.
“You were taking too long,” she said, and when he dragged his gaze back up, she bit down on her lower lip. “So, I thought I would get started without you.”
Sounded like a great way to pass time to him.
There was a part of him that wanted to kick the door shut behind him and forget the mess that was happening downstairs. Hell, he was a man, and that was a very attractive and very naked woman in front of him, playing with herself, but . . .
He couldn’t allow himself to take a trip down that happy little road.
So he focused on her nose, thinking that was a safe place to look. “Honey, I hate to do this—”
She pounced on him like a damn tiger in the wild. Fucking literally jumped a good foot or more across the floor.
Out of shock, he caught her. There was no way he could let her hit the floor. He was a dick, but not that big of a dick.
Long legs wrapped around his hips and warm hands clamped down on his cheeks. Before he could draw in a damn breath, her mouth was on his, her tongue thrusting between his lips like she obviously wanted him to be doing between her thighs.
She’d apparently also helped herself to the bottle of bourbon.
He could taste it.
Grasping her slim hips, he peeled her off like a candy wrapper and put her down on her feet. “Jesus,” he grunted, stepping back. “Did you run track in college?”
She came forward, frowning when he sidestepped her and bent down, picking up the flimsy pair of panties. She watched him grab her dress next. “What are you doing?”
“As much as I appreciate the enthusiastic greeting, you’re going to have to leave.” He offered the clothing.
She lowered her arms to her sides. “What?”
Searching for patience he didn’t normally have, he drew in a deep, long breath. “I’m sorry, hon, but you’ve got to go. Something has come up.”
Her gaze flickered to the door behind him, and he swore to God, if one of his brothers was standing there. . . . “What’s come up?” she demanded.
“Nothing that’s any of your business.” When she didn’t take her clothes the second time, he tossed them on the couch behind her. “Look, I’m sorry about this, but I need you out of here now.”
Her mouth dropped open and she made no move to pick up what he’d tossed on the couch. “There is no way you’re asking me to leave.”
Was he speaking in a different language?
“Whatever is going on, I can wait—”
“You can’t wait, and I really do not have time for this,” he cut in, his tone hardening.
She stared at him a moment and then her lips thinned. “You have got to be fucking kidding me? This is absolute bullshit.” Her tone pitched high, and Lucian realized he was getting an answer to his earlier question. Her beauty did not run very deep at all. “You drag me all the way out here, get me all worked up, and then you kick me out?”