Soon, Dev would rise to the platform in the front, take the podium, and spew out so much rose-colored bullshit about their father, Lucian would need to take Pepto to swallow it.
Hopefully, he could slip away undetected before that happened.
He’d already fended off about half a hundred half-assed condolences and if one more person approached him with a forced sympathetic smile, he may punch it right off their face.
The only good coming from this damn circus was the donations that would be made and matched. Other than that? Nothing.
“You could try to look like you want to be here,” a voice said from behind him.
Lucian smirked as he glanced over his shoulder at Troy. “I don’t believe in the fake-it-till-you-make-it motto.” He waited until Troy moved to stand beside him. “And what are you doing here?”
Troy folded his arms. “Thought I’d pay my respects.”
He snorted. “Really?”
His dark gaze slid to his. “Didn’t like that man one bit, but I consider you guys my brothers. For that, I’ll deal with a few minutes of wanting to punch myself in the balls repeatedly.”
Lucian laughed under his breath. “Right there with you on that.”
Cutting toward them through the throng of people was Gabe. His strides were long and purposeful, and he looked about as comfortable as Lucian felt as he smoothly sidestepped an aging politician heading in his way.
“Almost got you there.” Troy chuckled as Gabe stopped to stand with them.
“Christ,” grunted Gabe, running a hand over his hair. The long strands immediately fell forward. “If I had to listen to one more story about the good old days at Eton, I’m going to hurt someone.”
Shoving his hands into the pockets of his trousers, Lucian rocked back on his heels. He watched a tall, thin blonde appear at Dev’s side. His lips twisted in a wry grin. “Looks like you just reached safety.”
“Damn,” Troy muttered under his breath as he saw who Lucian was talking about.
“What?” Gabe looked over his shoulder and cursed. “Aw, hell.”
Standing at Dev’s side was Sabrina Harrington, Dev’s Photoshopped heiress fiancée. With her willowy frame and ice-blond hair, she looked as cold and untouchable as their oldest brother. To this day, Lucian couldn’t figure out how in the hell they ended up together.
Especially since she’d been hot for Gabe years ago, after they all returned home from college.
Lucian also couldn’t understand how Dev could stand to be around the woman long enough to even contemplate the idea of marrying her.
The three of them watched her thread a pale arm around Dev’s. The eldest de Vincent glanced down at her. She smiled breezily, but Dev’s face remained impassive and that smile of hers didn’t last long.
“Wow. They seem so in love,” Troy commented.
“Yep,” Lucian replied as he glanced at Gabe. He was now busy staring at his polished loafers, looking like he wanted to sink through the damn floor.
“Where’s your uncle?” Troy asked, dark brows furrowing together.
“In one of the back rooms with some of their friends,” Gabe answered, angling his body so his back was to Dev and Sabrina. “Probably getting drunk.”
“Sounds like he’s going to have a better time than we are,” Troy replied, casting another gaze over the crowd. “Well, I’m going to be heading out of here, but before I go . . .” Troy faced them both. “I’ve been holding the chief off as much as possible, but we’re going to have to talk soon. Real soon.”
Lucian figured the autopsy reports would be back or coming in soon enough. He nodded. “Message received.”
Troy clapped him on the shoulder and then did the same to Gabe. “See you all later.”
The brothers watched Troy make his way through clusters of well-wishers. It was Gabe who broke the silence with a heavy sigh that seemed heavier than the chatter around them. “I have this feeling we aren’t going to be happy with what that autopsy shows.”
Lucian’s jaw locked down for a moment and then he said, “As do I.”
Progress required patience of the virtuous level. It required someone who was able to occupy their body while they waited. At least that was what Julia believed as she watched Madeline.
The woman had held the paintbrush for about an hour before she’d gazed upon the palette of paint. Julia had demonstrated with another brush on what she’d discovered wasn’t an actual canvas but several sheets of thick parchment paper.
Julia painted what looked like a lopsided stick figure, but that was the best she could do. About thirty minutes ago, she’d pulled the sheet she’d been messing with off and now Madeline was staring intently at the blank page, the paintbrush trembling in her hand.
A mix of boredom and anticipation swirled inside Julia as she sat there. She could’ve turned on the TV, but she didn’t want Madeline to become distracted even though she figured that her holding the paintbrush was probably going to be the only progress she’d make for—
Julia bit down on her lip as the woman’s hand hovered over the tray of paints. After a couple of moments, she dipped the brush into a canister of brown paint and then lifted her hand to the paper. Her wrist flicked and a faint line of brown paint spread across the canvas.
“That’s it, Madeline,” she said as she watched the woman make small brushstrokes with the deep brown color. “That’s amazing.”
And it was amazing that Madeline was already painting—painting what appeared to be small wisps of lines, but still, that was actually miraculous.
Maybe even a little too miraculous, whispered a voice in the back of her head.
Immediately, Julia felt terrible for thinking that, but she had realistic expectations of this endeavor. Patients with these kinds of conditions could take weeks and months, sometimes even years to make the smallest of change. Even then, it was no small feat.
But Dr. Flores was of the belief that this was psychological, and if that was the case, physically Madeline could do anything she’d been able to do before. There were mental roadblocks instead of physical.
Chewing on her lip, she studied Madeline as she continued to work with the brown paint. After a bit, she changed up the color, choosing a red that reminded Julia of the velvet that covered the chairs in the room Julia had been seated it when she first arrived.
As Madeline worked on the painting, Julia was torn between wanting to pat herself on the back for thinking outside of the box and being in a state of not believing any of this was really happening.
But maybe this was some sort of key that would eventually unlock whatever Madeline was going through and Julia needed to take advantage of that. “Do you know where you are, Madeline?
Her hand stilled over the canvas.
Hoping she wasn’t making a mistake, she drew in a shallow breath. “Do you know you’re home?”
Madeline started painting again, shading in the crimson along the top of the parchment.
“Do you . . . do you know where you’ve been?” When Madeline didn’t answer, but kept painting, Julia rubbed her palms along her knees. “It’s okay. You just need to know that you’re safe here.”
The paintbrush froze, and Madeline appeared to draw in a deep breath. Slowly, she turned her head toward Julia. The woman’s eyes were wide, pupils a stark contrast against the light blue-green.
Julia sucked in a sharp breath as she read the fear in the other woman’s eyes. There was no mistaking that. She looked terrified, and Julia’s stomach filled with knots.
“Madeline—” Julia snapped her mouth shut as she saw the woman’s gaze dart over her shoulder. A prickly sensation broke out along the nape of her neck and spread over her shoulders.
Breath catching, she twisted around on the stool. Her heart lurched into her throat when she saw a stranger standing in the doorway of Madeline’s bedroom. Julia’s body reacted out of instinct. Shooting to her feet, she planted herself in between Madeline and this man as her gaze darted to where her cell phone sat on the nightstand. Damn it, why wasn’t it in her pocket?
A trickle of fear dripped like ice in her veins. Everyone was gone from this house, so whoever this person was, it was very unlikely they belonged here. And that typically wouldn’t be a good thing, but he wasn’t dressed like he was about to whip out a gun and demand access to a safe full of gold bricks. He wore a robin’s egg-blue polo tucked into khaki shorts. She was pretty sure he was wearing boat shoes.