“They say our house is haunted.” He couldn’t help himself as he continued, “And that our family is cursed. Or it’s the land that is cursed and our family that is haunted? I always get those two confused.”
She stared at him for a moment and then gave a little shake of her head. She didn’t wince this time, so hopefully that meant she was feeling better. “All righty then,” she murmured, and then spoke louder. “I didn’t find anyone walking around, not even a ghost, but the doors to the porch were wide open.”
Well, that was . . . odd. Frowning, he glanced at his sister and then to the door. No one would’ve left that door open. “They were closed when I left her.”
“When you left her?”
He nodded as he pushed away from the doorframe and walked across the room. “I read to her.”
She turned, watching him. “You’re the one reading Harry Potter to her?”
“Yeah. Why do you sound so surprised?” He opened the closet doors and checked inside, doubting he’d find anything. When she didn’t answer, he glanced over his shoulder at her. She looked adorably dumbfounded. He chuckled. “Actually, why do you look so surprised?”
“I don’t know.” She folded her arms over her chest. “I just didn’t think it was you.”
“You thought it was Gabe?”
Her lips pursed, and when she didn’t answer, he knew why.
“I try to do it every night. Sometimes I can’t,” he explained even though he really didn’t have to as he scoped out the bathroom. “But I think when I read to her it makes her . . . more comfortable.”
“It probably does,” Julia replied after a moment. “It’s always good to do things like that. You should keep doing that.”
Rubbing his palm across his chest, he wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “Well, no one is hiding in the closet or bathroom, waiting to jump out at us.”
“That’s good to hear,” she remarked, and he grinned at the dryness in her tone. “Would Gabe or Devlin have left the doors open?”
“No.” Facing her, he was dismayed to see that she’d moved closer to the door leading out to the hallway. She was going to leave. There was nothing left to do. Maddie was asleep. It was in the middle of the night and Julia should be sleeping, but he wasn’t ready for her to disappear back into her room. And he was selfish. “They wouldn’t have even come up here to visit her.”
She opened her mouth like she wished to respond, but thought twice. “Well, someone left those doors open.”
“Probably the ghost.” He walked to Madeline’s side and brushed a strand of hair back from her cool cheek. Stopping, he peered up at Madeline. “Or ghosts.”
She rolled her eyes.
His grin returned as he bent down and placed a quick kiss on his sister’s forehead. Rising, he found Julia watching him. “You must be a very light sleeper, Ms. Hughes.”
She blinked rapidly and he’d swore she blushed. “I . . . I wasn’t asleep. And please, stop calling me Ms. Hughes.”
“But what if I like to call you Ms. Hughes?”
Her brows snapped together again. “I guess if you like you can, but . . .”
“But what?” He came around the corner of the bed, heading straight for her, slowing down. He had a feeling she’d bolt if he got too close, too quick.
“But it sounds a little weird.” Her shoulders squared as he took another step. “I’d prefer that you call me Julia.”
“So . . .” He inched closer. “You’d prefer that I was more familiar with you? I like that idea. A lot. Especially since it would make more sense, all things considered.”
An explosion of pink covered the centers of her cheeks. “That’s not what I was suggesting, and it’s really late. I was just—”
“It wasn’t what you were suggesting?” He was about a foot from her now, close enough to see the smattering of freckles under her left eye.
She took a step back. “Absolutely not.”
“That’s a shame.” He moved forward.
“I don’t know why it is.” Her chin lifted again. “Look, we had . . . a brief thing, but you really don’t know me well enough to feel that way.”
He would not call what they had a “thing.” “Well, based on that theology, you don’t know me either, but you assumed that it couldn’t have possibly been me reading to my sister—my twin sister.” He got in close then, close enough that he could catch the faint scent of lingering perfume. Vanilla? “The same sister that I demanded we hire a nurse for? The same sister I traveled all the way to Pennsylvania for the morning after my father died?”
Her lush lips parted on a sharp inhale. A moment passed as she held his stare. “That’s a good point . . . I can’t argue.”
Lucian lowered his chin and his voice. “I am really good at winning arguments.”
The corners of her lips now twitched as if she fought a smile. “I’m sorry about making a snap judgment about you.”
“I have a feeling there’s a ‘but’ in there, Ms. Hughes.”
She took another step back. “You’d be incorrect in that assumption.”
“Hmm,” he murmured, propping his elbow against the doorframe, above her head. “I have this sinking suspicion that you’re lying just to prove me wrong.”
Her eyes narrowed. “And I have this sinking suspicion you have no value for other people’s personal space.”
“I don’t think you had a problem with that before.” He lowered his head toward hers. “But you’d be a hundred percent correct in that assumption.”
“Not something to be entirely proud of.”
“But at least I can admit when you’re correct. Can you admit when I’m correct?”
She drew in a deep breath that raised her shoulders. “Maybe I’m not admitting anything because I’m trying to be polite.”
“Where’s the fun in being polite?”
Her eyes widened as she stared up at him like she was dealing with a five-year-old. “It may not be fun, but since you’re my boss—or one of my bosses—I figure polite is the way to go.”
His gaze dropped to her mouth, and he wondered once more how those lips would feel against his . . . and against other places on his body. “You know what I think?”
“Not really,” she replied wryly.
“I think impolite is way better than polite. You know why?” He plucked up a piece of her hair and ran the strand between his fingers. Soft like cashmere.
She reached up, snagging her hair free from his fingers. “Why?”
“Because people are usually being truthful when they’re being impolite.” He lifted his gaze to hers. “And they’re usually lying when they’re being polite.”
“I don’t think you know a lot of decent people if you really think that.”
“Maybe.” He cocked his head to the side. “Do you know a lot of decent people?”
“Used to,” she muttered, eyeing him warily.
Catching what she was saying or not saying, he chuckled deeply. “Are you suggesting that I’m not decent?”
One delicate brow rose.
“Well, Ms. Hughes, I am rather indecent most of the time.”
A look of surprise shot across her face once more. “Well, I guess acknowledgment is the first step?”
“That’s what they say.”
She flashed a quick smile and then slipped out of the doorway, into the hall. “It was . . . nice chatting with you, but—”
“Why were you awake?” He followed, closing the door to his sister’s bedroom behind him.
Now standing in the middle of the hall, she still had her arms wrapped around her. “I . . . I have a little bit of insomnia.”
“Really? So do I.”
“Oh.” She glanced down the hall. “Is that why you’re awake?”
Partly the reason. Tonight, he’d just been sitting in the small room off of the living area, a space that used to be a large walk-in closet before he converted it into a studio. And all he had been doing was staring at a blank canvas for the last three hours with clean hands and a crowded mind full of thoughts of his so-called father, his brothers and his sister, and of course, of Julia.