“To fake something like this would be extremely difficult. Trust me. I don’t think that at all.”
Lucian held her gaze for a moment and then returned to his sister.
“Has . . . someone suggested that she is?” she asked.
He didn’t answer for a moment. “I think my brothers suspect it’s not as it appears.”
Her gaze bounced back to Madeline’s face. There wasn’t a flicker of change in her expression. A wealth of sympathy for her welled inside her. “Do they have a reason to think that?”
Lucian was quiet again for so long, she looked over at him. He shrugged then. “Like I’ve said before, they weren’t close to her.” He paused, brushing hair back from Madeline’s face. “A lot of it had to do with our father. I really think that he really didn’t want to have any more children beyond Dev and Gabe.”
She wanted to tell him that couldn’t be true to make him feel better, but what she’d heard about the elder de Vincent told her that those words wouldn’t work. Lucian knew better. “Did he . . . did he not pay a lot of attention to you and Madeline?”
He smirked as he dropped his hand. “Let’s just say that the only time he did pay attention to us we wished he hadn’t. Our mother . . .”
“What about her?” she asked when he hadn’t continued.
“She . . . tried to make up for it.” The wry twist of his lip faded. “She really tried, which sometimes created another problem.”
“Making up for our father created problems between her and Dev and Gabe. It was almost like no one could ever do enough, you know?” he said almost to himself. “Every step forward for one of us was two steps back for another. Anyway, there was another reason why I came up here,” he said.
She figured it was to spend time with his sister. “If you would like some alone time, I can—”
“Actually I came to see you.” He faced her and the seriousness was gone from his face. That teasing grin was back almost as if he hadn’t just been talking about his family. “Have you had a lunch yet?”
She’d gotten some lunch in Madeline, but she hadn’t sat down to eat yet.
“Don’t lie,” he said. “Because I have on good authority that you hadn’t.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Because it seemed like the polite thing to do.”
Crossing her arms once more, she smiled wryly. “I thought you didn’t do polite things.”
“I’m making an effort for you.”
She stared at him. “Am I really supposed to believe that?”
His eyes glimmered. “I hope so.”
“I didn’t say I believe so,” he clarified with a grin. “But it’s kind of a moot point.”
“Because I already had Livie make us a lunch.”
Her jaw practically hit the floor.
“And Richard has actually set up this nice little place for us to eat outside in the rose garden since it’s nice outside, so if you say no, then you’ve made Livie and Richard go to all this work for nothing. Plus, Livie is on her way up to sit with Maddie so you can take a break.”
For a good ten seconds, she couldn’t even formulate a complete sentence. “You are . . . you are . . .”
“Incredibly sexy? Hot. Stunning,” he suggested. “Extremely clever? No. Wait.” He held up a hand. “I got it. I’m irresistible and irreplaceable.”
Her lips twitched. “More like reprehensible and manipulative.”
“Those are my less charming qualities, but they are effective, aren’t they?” That damn grin spread. “Because you aren’t going to say no. You know why?”
“Because you’ve manipulated me into saying yes?”
“Well, besides that, I had Livie make her famous homemade beignets and they’ll put all others to shame.”
Damn it all to hell.
There was no way she could say no to that.
And, of course, he’d known that.
The air had been warm and the house had offered enough shade to make the time spent outside bearable. In about a month, no amount of shade would push back the oppressive humidity.
Though Lucian would bear the sticky air if it meant he was spending time with his nurse.
Even though Julia looked like she’d rather walk through a swamp barefoot than join him, he was pleased with himself, especially when the expression of awe had replaced the one of irritation when she got her first good view at the rose garden.
It was a bit wild. Roses and vines grew over the pathway and consumed the multiple trellises to the point you couldn’t even see them or the wrought-iron fence that closed the garden in. Probably in a few years, the roses would cover the bistro table and chairs, but he refused to allow anyone to touch them.
The garden was the way his mother liked it.
And based on the way Julia had to touch every petal and leaf on the way to the table, he had a feeling she liked it the way it was too.
He peppered her with questions, undaunted when she was evasive. As they ate lunch, he discovered that she hadn’t traveled widely and that she’d been thinking about getting a cat before she took this job. He found out that she hadn’t been to a movie theater in three years, and he ended up explaining that it was almost impossible to eat a beignet without getting sugar all over yourself.
With each question she answered, he could tell he got through one chink in her armor and she relaxed a little, not sitting so stiffly in her chair or squirming nervously. And each time one of those chinks broke apart, he was reminded of the night in the bar, before she had an idea of who he was.
Her hair was up again, smoothed back from her face and twisted into a knot. He wanted to reach across the table and pluck the pins from her hair, letting it fall through his fingers.
He doubted she’d appreciate that, though.
“So.” He sat back, a glass of sweet tea in his hand as he came up with another question he was dying to hear the answer to. “Have you been married before?”
Her glass of tea froze halfway to her mouth. A shadow flickered across her face. He didn’t miss it or the way she tensed all over again. “I . . . I was married.”
Surprised she actually answered, he stilled. “Divorced?”
Her gaze flicked to the deep pink roses. “That’s really not something I think we need to get into.” She started to place her glass down. “And I need to—”
“Run off,” he suggested.
Her jaw fixed into a stubborn line. Cute. “Actually, I need to get to work, unlike some.”
Lucian chuckled. If she only knew. “We’ve only been gone about thirty minutes. Most people get an hour lunch. We have time left.”
Julia stared at him, those dark brown brows furrowed together. “Why?” Putting her glass down, she held his gaze. “Why do you want to spend time with me and know all this stuff about me?”
He wasn’t sure what to make of that question. “Is it so hard for you to believe that I’d be interested in spending time with you? Or getting to know you?”
She glanced around. “Uh, yes. Yes, it is.”
“Okay.” He leaned forward, not breaking her stare. “It’s clear you’re not getting it. I’m interested in you, in getting to know you, and in getting to spend time with you. And if you ask me why, I really can’t answer that. I don’t know. It just is.”
Lucian paused, making sure she was hearing him. “And I know you think it’s because I’m bored. I’m not. Trust me. If I want to find something or someone to occupy my time with, the options are literally unlimited. And I know you think it’s because I want to fuck you. That is true. I do. Obviously.”
Her eyes widened as she sucked in a sharp, audible breath.
“I’m not going to lie about that. I lay in bed for hours just thinking about exactly what I’d like to do to you,” he continued. “It is strange, though. The fact I actually want to fuck you and get to know you. Those two things are usually not accompanying one another.”