Gabe coughed out a dry laugh. “You know what gets on my nerves about you?”
“I’m not sure if we have enough time or liquor to go through that list.”
He grinned. “You’re annoyingly observant. People don’t realize that about you. You see through a lot of bullshit, but you know what else I know? You only see through the shit you want to see through. Any other time, you put blinders on.”
Lucian’s hand tightened around the glass. “I know where you’re going with this. I know you and Dev think Maddie is faking—”
“She’s up there painting.” Gabe’s eyes met his as he spoke in a low, clipped voice. “She’s up in that room painting, but she can’t do anything else? You’re telling me that’s not suspicious as hell?”
“I don’t know what it is, but that’s irrelevant.”
Shaking his head, Gabe took a long swallow of his whiskey. “Let me ask you something.”
“If it’s about Maddie, I don’t want to hear it, because I don’t want to punch you off this stool and draw attention.”
“It’s not about her. It’s about Julia.”
Well, shit, that was also another topic he figured would end the same way. “What about her?”
Gabe held his gaze. “What would you do if I said I was interested in her?”
“I’d punch you off that stool.” He leaned in, keeping eye contact. “But I know you’re not into her like I am.”
He raised a brow. “Maybe I’m interested enough.”
Lucian got what he was saying. “We are long past those days, brother.”
“Really? Because it didn’t seem that way a couple of months ago. What was her name? Laurie? The three of us had a real good night.” He paused, biting down on his lip. “Could be another good night with Julia.”
A muscle began to work along Lucian’s jaw. “It’s different.”
“You mean she’s different?”
“Yes,” he gritted out.
“Huh.” Gabe looked away and took another drink.
Lucian’s eyes narrowed.
A long moment passed and then Gabe said one name that was a shock to the system. “Emma.”
Lucian stiffened. None of them talked about her. None of them would even dare to bring her up to Gabe. “What about her?”
Gabe didn’t answer immediately. “Her father contacted me this morning.” He stared down at his glass. “He didn’t say why, but asked if I could come to Baton Rouge next week.”
“Shit.” Lucian sensed there was more to this. “And no reason why?”
Gabe shook his head. “You know I haven’t talked to her in years. Haven’t even seen her, so all I can think is . . .” The next breath he took shook a little. “Something must’ve happened to her.”
Oh hell, if that was the case, that would be bad. “Need me to go with you?”
“No.” He looked up. “If she is fine, she doesn’t need to see both of us or Dev. She made that plenty clear that last time we spoke.”
That was true, but he didn’t like his brother going into this blind. Emma was a part of a tricky past that none of them could afford to dwell on, especially Gabe.
“So, I doubt you tracked me down to talk about this stuff. What’s your reason to be here when I know you’d rather be spying on the nurse.”
“Someone else is observant.” He spoke low so they wouldn’t be overheard. “The police are opening a homicide investigation. Only a matter of time before that hits the news.”
Gabe white-knuckled his glass. “Not like you care about that.”
“I don’t, but you know that Dev does.”
“Yeah.” Several moments passed. Gabe twisted toward him once more. “I’ve got to know. Just between you and me. No bullshit. Do you think our father killed himself?”
Lucian exhaled raggedly and then tipped his head back, finishing off his drink. “No. No, I don’t.”
Gasping awake, Julia rolled onto her back and blinked open her eyes. Her heart thudded in her chest as her gaze darted around the dark bedroom.
Where am I?
It took a few moments for the unfamiliar surroundings to click into place. She was in her room at the de Vincent compound. It was Thursday night—or Friday morning. She’d actually fallen asleep pretty easily, a little after eleven, but as the cobwebs of sleep cleared, she felt like something had woken her up.
That was it.
She swore she heard someone call her name.
Squinting, she tried to make out the different dark shapes in the room. The outline of the chair by the door. The curtains in front of the porch. The small table—the curtains. They floated along the floor as if a rush of air stirred them.
Oh my God.
Her heart kicked into overdrive as she jerked upright. Were those doors open?
Mouth dry, she quickly leaned over and flipped on her lamp on the nightstand. Soft light flooded the room, chasing the shadows back. Her left hand curled around the edge of the bedspread as she scanned the room. The white curtains swayed, the center billowing out. Cool musty air crept over the bed, washing over her bare arms.
Every muscle locked in to place for a second as icy fear took root in the pit of her stomach and then she sprung into action. Tossing the blanket off her legs, she scrambled from the bed. She rushed over to the doors, her heart leaping into her throat as she drew the curtains back.
The doors were wide open, leading out onto the dark, quiet porch.
For a moment, she couldn’t even move as she stared out into the night. Her brain simply wouldn’t process it. There was no way.
“I locked these,” she said to herself. Hadn’t she?
A bird trilled somewhere off in the distance, snapping her out of her stupor. Reaching forward she grabbed the doors and pulled them shut, throwing the lock.
Rubbing her hands down her arms, she turned and her gaze settled on the interior door. She hurried to that door, finding it locked. She was almost positive that she’d locked the porch doors before she’d climbed into bed.
Unease sent a shiver down her spine as she backed away from the door and started to sit down on the bed when she heard it. Footsteps. Her gaze shot to the ceiling. The sound was clear as day. There was no mistaking it.
Walking around the bed, she tracked the footsteps across the room and then they just stopped, leaving Julia standing a few feet in front of her closet, which would put the source of the footsteps roughly in the same area.
She glanced at the clock. Same time as the night before last. A little after two in the morning.
Julia waited and when she didn’t hear the sound again, her eyes narrowed. Whoever was up there had to still be in the room. She didn’t hear the footsteps head toward either doors.
Pivoting around, she snatched the long cardigan off the back of the chair and slipped it on. She unlocked the door and stepped out into the hallway, determined to find out whoever was strolling around in Madeline’s room.
She made it a few steps before the door to the right opened and Lucian walked out into the hall.
Oh holy mother of God. . . .
Lucian was shirtless.
She hadn’t forgotten the glimpse she had of him the night in her apartment, but her memory did nothing for her.
His skin was a tawny golden color and there was a whole lot of it on display. Those shoulders were wide and his pecs were well-defined. Her gaze got a little hung up on the dusky male nipples before lowering. He wasn’t overly muscled, but lean and cut.
Dear Lord, his body was incomparable. Adam sure as hell didn’t have a body like this. Not that his was bad. It was just normal. And normal was good. Normal was safe, because what Lucian had going on was a whole lot of trouble.
He had the kind of body that you wanted to touch. The tips of her fingers tingled at the mere thought of tracing the taut dips and planes.
She knew she should stop staring at him, but she couldn’t help herself. The sweatpants he wore rode his hips indecently low, showing off two indents on either side of his hips and a faint trail of hair.
Damn. His voice, the smooth, deep timbre combined with the way he said her name, crawled deep into her belly and smoldered.