He was stressed out, and who could blame him for that? No matter how comfy this man’s life had been, he was dealing with a lot of stuff, and that caretaker part of her, the almost idiotic need to offer comfort, had wanted to seek him out last night and do just that.
And that’s why she basically face-planted the pillow all night.
Sighing, she draped the small towel out over the faucet and then walked back into the room. She sat in the chair beside the bed, chewing on her lip as she scanned Madeline. The woman was intently focused on her painting. This morning, Julia did a check. No fever. Her pulse was a little slow and her blood pressure was low, but that could be normal for her or a byproduct of lack of movement, but other than that? There were no signs of severe underlying health issues. Atrophy hadn’t begun to set into her muscles. Her skin wasn’t sallow or ruddy, just pale.
Julia leaned forward, plopping her elbow on her knee and resting her chin on her palm. “What happened to you?”
There was no answer.
The woman’s gaze was fixed on her painting. What did she know about Madeline? She was rebellious as a child and teen. Was super close to her twin until they became teens, becoming closer to her cousin Daniel. Madeline obviously wasn’t close to her other brothers, not before her disappearance or when she returned. She’d disappeared the same night her mother had died. That was nearly ten years ago. Had the death affected her so severely that it made her vulnerable to some predator? Or had the death triggered a hidden mental illness? From what Lucian had said the night he told her about his family, it sounded like there was a thread of mental illness in the family, and in a lot of the cases, certain diseases could be hereditary. It could be a mix of both things.
But someone had to have taken care of her while she’d been missing. That didn’t mean they weren’t also taking advantage of her. So who had her? How did she escape? Or had she?
So many questions.
Her phone rang, jarring her out of her thoughts. Thinking it was Anna since her friend had texted last night saying she’d call today, she rose and walked over to where her phone was. She picked it up, and her stomach sank.
Pressure clamped down on her chest when she saw the area code and exchange. It was familiar, too familiar, and definitely not Anna’s, whose number was saved. Turning to the porch doors, she hit the button to send the call to voice mail. She stood there for several moments, hoping her suspicions weren’t correct. Because there was no way they could be. She’d finally changed her number after the last time he’d called. Her parents wouldn’t have given it to him.
Only a handful of moments later, a text came through and it was just four words. Four words she didn’t want to see.
It’s Adam. Call me.
“Damn it,” she muttered. Closing her eyes, she squeezed the phone tight until her knuckles ached. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Someone had given him the number or somehow he’d figured it out, which wasn’t surprising considering what he did for a living. He likely now knew she was no longer in Pennsylvania.
There was no way she was responding.
But did not responding help matters? Avoiding him in the past never really seemed to work. Not long-term. But why did she even have to deal with this? Not a single part of her wanted to.
Opening her eyes, she quickly deleted the text and started to put the phone down when it rang again, from the same number as before.
“Jesus,” she muttered, silencing the call again. This was not happening—
“Is everything okay?”
Yelping at the close sound of Lucian’s voice, she spun around and gasped. He was only a few feet behind her. Holy crap, how could he not make a sound when he was that big?
Her gaze roamed over him.
And how could he look so good when he’d obviously just showered? His hair was damp and a darker shade than when it was dry. The light gray cotton shirt he wore clung to his chest and lower abs, hinting at the taut muscles below. It appeared as if he had taken a shower, grown bored with drying off and pulled on clothes, then came straight up here.
“Oh my God,” she said. “Are you part ghost?”
“Maybe.” He was staring at the phone she held, brows furrowed together. “Is everything okay?” he repeated.
“Yes.” She brought the phone to her chest, screen down. Her heart thudded unevenly. “Of course.”
“You sure of that?”
Julia forced a light laugh. “Why would I—”
The phone rang again, the sound muffled only a little by her breasts. It was official. God hated her.
He raised a brow. “You going to answer that?”
Pressing her lips together, she shook her head as she slid her finger along the side and silenced the call. While she was at it, she turned the ringer off.
“And why not?”
“I’m working, which means I shouldn’t be on the phone.”
Lucian tilted his head to the side. “You’re allowed to answer the phone and talk on it.”
Of course she was, but that really wasn’t the point.
His gaze flicked up and moved over her face. “Is there a reason why you don’t want to answer the phone?”
She didn’t know what exactly caused her to snap back. Maybe it was the fact that Adam somehow had gotten her phone number. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. She had no idea. “I really don’t think that’s any of your business.”
One side of his lips kicked up. “Hmm . . . Now that response makes me think there really is a reason why you don’t want to answer the phone.”
“Whether there’s a reason or not, it doesn’t matter.” Keeping the phone in her hand, she folded her arms. Her chin lifted.
“I like the outfit by the way.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Why do you keep saying that? They’re just scrubs.”
“But there are a lot of things to like about them.”
Julia decided to ignore that. “Is there something I can help you with?”
His chin dipped and she knew immediately that was the wrong thing to ask. “There is a lot you can help me with.”
Julia rolled her eyes despite the way her stomach did a pleasant little drop. “Let me rephrase that. Is there anything I’d be willing to help you out with?”
“Oh, Ms. Hughes.” His voice was a low, sensual drawl. “You’d be willing.”
Her lips parted as her body flashed hot, really hot, and then cold. “Is there literally anything you can’t make sound sexual?”
“No. It’s like a superpower of mine.”
Her eyes narrowed.
Impatience warred with reluctant amusement. “Do you not have a job to go to or something?”
“Does living a life of debauchery count as a job?” His grin turned devilish. “Because if so, I deserve a pay raise.”
“No.” She sighed. “No, it doesn’t.”
Chuckling low, he turned toward his sister. “How is Maddie doing?”
Relieved by the change in subject, she twisted at the waist. “She’s doing okay. Been painting all morning.”
He walked over to where his sister sat. Speaking to her in a voice too low for Julia to hear, she stayed back until he said, “Since you’ve had a lot of experience working with patients like this, is her improvement . . . normal?”
Pushing the call aside to dwell over later, she walked to the foot of the bed as she mulled how to answer this question when she herself had been thinking the same thing. “I’ve had patients who were comatose and others with very limited functions. Some showed signs of improvement and interest in hobbies they used to be involved in, but none . . . as quick as this.”
Lucian glanced over. “You mean you haven’t worked with someone who seems to have no medical reason for why they are the way they are or why they can do something like paint but not speak?”
Not wanting to lie, she nodded as she reached down, straightening the blanket at the foot of the bed. She could feel his stare.
“She’s not faking this.”
Her chin jerked up and she found his stare. “I’m not suggesting that.”
His jaw was hard as he said nothing.