He was the kind of guy who couldn’t go a weekend without getting laid. They existed. She’d met a few while in college and when she did her stint at the hospital. They weren’t exactly particular when it came to who’d they be with. Pretty much came down to whoever was available at the time.
Which meant she wasn’t going to be impressed with stray compliments that were tossed out as often as the trash was.
Lucian leaned and then spoke in a low voice, “There is another reason why I didn’t tell you who I was.”
The change of subject rattled her and she whispered back. “Why?”
He tilted his head so his mouth was directly above her ear. “Because I knew the moment you’d figured out who I was, you wouldn’t have let me come back to your apartment.”
Exhaling roughly, Julia knew she needed to pull away and stop this conversation. That was the professional and mature thing to do, but she didn’t move. She was frozen on her stool, her heart thumping in her chest.
He wasn’t done yet. “I knew that if you realized who I was, you would’ve never let me get my hand between those pretty thighs of yours and I would’ve never known how soft and slick you felt against my fingers.”
A bolt of red-hot lust blasted through her veins as heat poured into her very core. Those words created a storm inside her. A tremble rocked her body.
“So, yeah, that’s another reason why I didn’t say who I was.” His lips brushed the lobe of her ear, sending an illicit shiver across her skin.
Pulse pounding, she drew back. She felt unsteady as Lucian straightened on his chair, and she felt so close—too close to do something irrevocably reckless. Like hopping off her stool and into his lap.
“You’re not supposed to bring that up,” she reminded him. “You promised.”
He tilted his head to the side. “I didn’t promise that.”
She opened her mouth.
“I didn’t,” he insisted, and when she dragged the conversation back through her thoughts, she realized he was right. He hadn’t.
Her eyes narrowed. “Even so, it would be the appropriate thing for you to do.”
“And I think you already know how I feel about doing the appropriate thing.”
She shook her head. It was way past time to end this conversation. “Thank you for the tea, Lucian, but—” A gasp cut her off.
Lucian rose and was in front of her so quickly that she was startled. “Say it again.”
Confusion swamped her. “Say what?”
They were close, and he towered over her by a good foot. Julia reached out, gripping the edge of the island. “Why?”
“Because I asked?” he offered, his lips curving up at the corners. “And because I like the way it sounds coming from your lips.”
Her heart did a weird little jump. She had no idea how to respond to that request. None whatsoever.
But then he moved. He reached into the small place between them, catching the piece of her hair that had fallen across her cheek. Before she could move away, the back of his hand dragged across her cheek as he tucked the hair behind her ear. Her stupid, stupid body immediately responded once more.
Heat flushed her veins, pooling low in her belly, which was so wrong on so many different levels she should be ashamed. Knowing that didn’t change a single thing about how her body was oh so down for whatever he was up to. A wave of tiny shivers danced over her skin. She felt the tips of her breasts tighten as his closeness swamped her senses.
Lucian lowered his head, stopping when only a hair’s breadth remained between their mouths. She dragged in a ragged breath, inhaling the decadent scent of rich, male spice. “Please?” he asked.
What was he asking for again?
His gaze dropped and those lips tipped up even farther, spreading into a knowing smile as he lifted his gaze to hers. She knew what he saw. The hard tips of her breasts.
A different kind of warmth flooded her system, forcing her to take a step back. Crossing her arms once more over her chest, she swallowed a mouthful of curses. “We were having such a good conversation—a weird one—but a good one, and you had to go and ruin it.”
His laugh was totally unrepentant as he leaned a hip into the island. “I have this feeling there are certain parts of you that don’t think I ruined a thing. I’d even go as far as to say I’m willing to wager a bet that those other parts of you are really, really interested.”
Oh my God, was he for real?
As she stared at him, she realized she had a couple of options at this point. Either let him fluster her with his audacious flirting or shut that crap down.
She went with the latter. “Look, I get that you’re a flirt. That’s your thing. You probably don’t even realize you’re doing it or you can’t help yourself. Whatever. You just need to know that it’s going in one of my ears and out the other. I’m not here to ease your boredom or whatever.”
His gaze dropped again and his smile turned indulgent. “You’re right. I can’t help myself.”
“Think you should try harder.” She turned around before they ended up in another unnecessary battle of wits. “Good night.”
“Good night, Ms. Hughes,” he called out in return.
She lifted one hand and instead of flipping him off, she wiggled her fingers in a short wave.
“Do you believe?” he asked just as she reached the doors.
Knowing she should keep walking, she stopped anyway and faced him, wishing for the hundredth time that evening that he resembled Big Foot instead of someone dreams were made of. “Believe what?”
“About the house and my family—the curse?”
She laughed softly. “No. No, I don’t.”
Sitting down in the stool she’d sat in, he watched with heavy-hooded eyes as he picked up his mug. “You should. You really should.”
Lucian watched Julia leave the kitchen and hurry off through the house as he sipped his tea. He didn’t get up to leave. No, he waited.
And he didn’t have to wait long.
“Why did you tell her all of that?” a voice asked from behind him.
He lowered his cup to the island. “And how long were you eavesdropping on our conversation?”
Twisting toward the doorway on the other side of the room, he propped up an arm up on the island. “You’re up late, Gabe.”
His brother walked into the kitchen. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“My insomnia must be contagious.”
“Possibly.” He looked toward the double doors. “Julia seems like a really . . . nice person. A good person.”
He tilted his head to the side as he watched his brother. “She does.”
Gabe picked up her empty mug, staring down into the leftover tea like it would spell out his future for him. “We should leave her alone and just let her do her job.”
Interesting, Lucian thought. “Where is this royal ‘we’ coming into play?”
“You know what I mean.” He placed the cup back down and met Lucian’s stare. “You know what we are. What we always end up doing to people. We destroy them and then go about our lives like nothing fucking happened.”
A huge part of Lucian wanted to deny that, but he couldn’t because it was true. In a way. But, he thought, didn’t all truths change at some point?
Silence fell between them and then Gabe pushed away from the island. “Get some sleep.”
Gabe left then, disappearing into the darkness of what used to be the back porch but had been sealed up ages ago and turned into a storage room.
In the quiet kitchen, Lucian turned back around on the stool and picked up his mug. Halfway to his mouth, he halted as a draft of cold hair stirred the short hairs at the nape of his neck. He looked to the right just as the door on the cupboard he’d gotten the tea out of swung open.
Somewhere, deep in the house, he thought he heard laughter.
And he thought it sounded an awful lot like great-grandma Elise.
Julia held her breath as she tried again and offered the slim paintbrush to Madeline. She’d been holding it toward her for a least thirty minutes and the only progress they’d made was that Madeline appeared to be staring at the brush.