Normally when his head got like this, he’d spend the night at the Red Stallion until he found a woman to screw away the troubled thoughts. Except when Gabe told him he was heading there, Lucian had passed on the invite.
It had to be because he didn’t feel right leaving Julia in the house alone after taking such a crack to the head. And he also didn’t want to be gone too long from the home since Stefan had been sniffing around today. Checking on Madeline out of genuine concern? Bullshit.
That’s what he’d been telling himself.
“You know what I find really helps when I can’t fall sleep?” he asked instead of answering.
She looked at him like she was half afraid of his answer.
“There’s this tea Livie has in the kitchen. I believe it has chamomile in it. Always helps me. At least, to just chill out.”
“Oh, chamomile.” She unfolded one arm and tucked a strand of hair back. “That makes sense.”
He clasped his hands behind his back and said, “Also, fucking until sweat covers every inch of your body and you’re near exhaustion also helps. I find that way a lot more fun and indecent way of falling asleep.”
Her mouth moved without sound. “That . . . that is really . . .”
“Inappropriate? Yes. I know.” He winked. “Come on, I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
“Yeah, that’s not necessary.”
“I know, but I want to. Plus, I’ve gotten really good at making the tea. You’ll be asleep in no time.”
“Thank you, but I think I will just go back to my room.”
He caught and held her gaze. “But I insist, Ms. Hughes.”
Everything about her seemed to freeze as that order hung in the air between them. He could tell she got that it was no longer a request. A good, decent person wouldn’t do what he just did, but Lucian hadn’t been lying when he said he was indecent. He wanted more of her time and he’d used whatever means necessary to get that.
She exhaled roughly. “Just a quick cup of tea.”
“Of course,” he repeated, unapologetically proud of himself. “Just a cup of tea, Ms. Hughes.”
Julia cursed herself the whole way down the stairs to the lower level. How in the world did she allow herself to be coerced into a late, late night cup of tea with Lucian?
And Lucian totally coerced her into doing this. Which out of the possible things she ever feared that an employer would twist her arm into doing, drinking a cup of chamomile was not one of them.
The house was quiet as they made their way toward the kitchen. She was a couple of steps behind his tall frame. The whole way down the three levels, she watched the muscles along his back and spine flex and roll with each step. She hated herself for that, just like she hated herself a little for picturing him earlier, but seriously, he was truly stunning.
Julia couldn’t help it.
Passing the room with an oval table and fancy chairs around it, he pushed open double doors, catching one before it could swing back and smack into her. She drew in a deep breath and forced herself to keep moving as he flipped on the overhead lights.
The kitchen was just as ridiculous as she suspected. Larger than half her apartment back home, it had gray cupboards reaching all the way up to the ceiling, stainless steel double ovens and a gas grill, and one of those space-age looking fridges that probably tracked what went in and left it. The countertops looked like white marble with gray veining, the kind of countertops she’d only ever seen on HGTV.
And the kitchen didn’t even look used—oh my God, a new thought struck her. Were they one of those super wealthy families that had, like, two kitchens? One for looks basically and another where the real cooking was done?
Who needed two kitchens?
“Grab a seat,” he said as he crossed the kitchen, his bare feet silent on the slabs of tile covering the floor.
She dragged herself over to one of the bar stools lined up in front of the large island. She pulled out the stool, surprised by how heavy it was. She winced at the horrible scratchy sound it made. She froze and peeked up.
Lucian’s back was still to her as he grabbed a small box out of one of the cabinets.
Sitting, she watched him pick up a kettle out of the cupboard and she almost banged her head off the marble countertop, but the last thing she needed was a second head injury. “You can’t just microwave the water? I’m fine with that.”
“Microwave?” He shook his head like she’d suggested they drink pond water. “You have to do it the correct way. It makes all the difference.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. My methods work.” Filling the kettle up, his lips curved up at the corners as he walked toward the grill top.
That was what got her in the bar. There was something teasing and charming, downright sexy and daring about his grin.
She had to look away and ended up staring at the stove top and his hands, which she guessed was better than gawking at his face. He flicked his wrist along the controls and a whoosh of blue flames followed the rapid clicking of the gas igniting.
Because she had no willpower, she lifted her gaze. He was staring right at her as he placed the kettle on the stove, watching her in that intense way she was quickly becoming familiar with.
Did he stare at everyone like that—like he was committing every minute detail to memory?
Thoughts scattered and pieced back together, forming images she tried to block—images of him doing things she really shouldn’t be thinking about.
This was a bad idea. “You really don’t have to go to all this trouble.” Placing her hands on the island, she started to rise. “Besides, I’m feeling sleepy.”
“It’s no trouble.” He came toward the island, and he didn’t just walk. He prowled forward, stopping to stand across the island from her. “And we need to talk.”
“Yeah.” He placed his forearms on the island and leaned in a little. The faint stubble along his jaw seemed to have darkened. As close as he was, she thought his eyes were more blue then green at the moment. “I want to tell you about this land—about us.”
Her brows rose. “About the whole cursed or haunted thing?”
He nodded and the glimmer in his eyes was straight-up devious. “I think if you’re going to be here for a while, you need to know what they say about this house, about us and . . . about the women who come here.”
The women who come here?
That sounded like a bucket full of all kinds of wrong.
Julia liked to think she had a healthy curiosity just like any other normal person. And even though the glint to his eyes screamed that he was teasing her, she wanted to know where he was going to go with this.
“All right.” She eased back down, propping her elbows on the table and resting her chin in her palm. “Tell me about the ghosts.”
“You sure?” He bit down on that plump lower lip and slowly let it pop back out. That was cute. Also kind of sexy. Okay, a lot of sexy. “It might scare you.”
She smirked. “It’s not going to scare me.”
His lashes lowered as he brought one hand to the countertop. “Legend goes that only two things can happen to women of the de Vincent family or to women who come here. They either end up . . . unstable.” Tracing a gray vein, he looked up at her. “Or they end up dead.”
Julia stared at him for a moment and then blurted out, “That’s morbid as hell.”
His shoulders shook with a low laugh. “It is, right? And it’s about to get more morbid.”
She wasn’t sure how that was possible.
“As you may have noticed, the staff don’t like to be here at night. Most flat-out refuse.” He continued to follow the path of the vein in the marble. “They believe what’s been said about this house and land. There are even people in the city who wouldn’t come here and spend a night. Not even Livie or Richard will stay here.”
She thought back to what Richard had said when he told her about the card with numbers. “So, what’s the deal?”
“From what I can remember from my great-grandmother, it is believed that this land—this whole entire property and then some—has always been bad. Tainted.” His finger stilled on the marble. “Had to do with all the plagues that used to strike this area. Yellow fevers. Flus. The kind that killed, and for years and years, it was used to separate those who were ill from those who were healthy. Kind of like camps of the sick. A lot of people died here. Some claim it was hundreds. Other say it was thousands. The thing is, there isn’t a lot of evidence of this land being used as such. Gabe once tried to look it up, and there wasn’t much, but then again, there were also a lot of fires back in the day that wiped out a lot of documents, but we do know that there were people buried here.”