For a moment, she almost didn’t want to touch it for fear of ruining it with her grubby fingers, but then the inner girl kicked in, and she sprang forward.
Snatching the dress, she pulled it out of the box. The thing was stunning. Flirty sleeves and a beaded, heart-shaped neckline, the gown had a high waist, one that would cinch right under the breasts.
“Holy crap,” she whispered, stepping back from the bed and holding the delicate sleeves to her shoulders. The skirt reached just below her knees.
It was simply a thing of beauty, and the last time she’d worn anything this nice had to have been her wedding.
Could she wear this, though?
Lowering the dress, she stared down at it. There was no price tag, but she doubted it cost the same as what she’d normally pay for clothes. It was obviously a gift—
A peek of crimson was still visible in the box. Draping the dress over one arm, she leaned forward and peeled back the rest of the tissue paper, and laughed.
Strappy, red heels.
That’s when she saw the note. Picking it up, she turned the linen-colored card over.
Firestones is formal. Wanted you to be prepared.
The handwriting was beautiful, nothing like the note she’d found before. Julia didn’t know why, but she laughed again. “This is . . . insane.”
She was shaking her head, but she was grinning as she scooped the heels up and placed them on the bed beside the box.
There was only one person who would’ve gotten her this dress and shoes.
Buying her this dress without her permission was so entirely aggressive, so completely him. It reeked of arrogance and control, and yet, it was oddly thoughtful at the same time.
Part of her didn’t want him buying her clothes. That was way too intimate. The other part of her couldn’t wait to try it on.
Placing the dress on the bed, she quickly shed the robe and slipped on a set of panties and bra, both red to match the gown. It was a rare matching set. She picked up the dress and slipped it on.
Goodness, it fit perfectly, and she didn’t even want to consider how Lucian was able to find this dress and make sure it fit like it was tailored just for her body.
Lucian shouldn’t have dared to buy her this gown or shoes. It was yet another inappropriate thing added to a long list of inappropriate things they were both responsible for.
But she was going to wear it.
Tugging on the heels, she turned slowly in front of the bathroom mirror, feeling like a cheesy Cinderella. Her reflection caught her attention.
Julia barely recognized herself.
Her heart was fluttering wildly as she smoothed her hands down the flattering supple material. Never in a million years would she picture herself in such a form-fitting dress and feel . . . feel absolutely confident and beautiful in it.
“All right,” she said, swallowing down a sudden messy knot of emotion that literally came out of nowhere.
Blinking back tears, she left the bathroom and snatched up her purse. She guessed she was going to meet the brothers downstairs. Stopping at the door, she collected her suddenly wild emotions, got them under control and then walked out of the bedroom. She’d made it only a few steps before the door to Lucian’s rooms opened.
Julia’s first look at him had her stomach dipping like she was on a roller coaster. He was stunning, dressed like he had been to his father’s memorial minus the tie and jacket. He wore a white dress shirt and dark, tailored pants. His hair was dry, styled back from his face, but she had a feeling some of those wilder, curlier waves would fall forward before the evening was done.
She’d thought it before and she knew she’d think it a dozen times from now, but Lucian de Vincent was almost so beautiful he didn’t seem real to her.
Her steps slowed as she approached him. It was only then that she realized he was staring at her just as intently as she was him. A wave of shivers danced all over her skin as his gaze roamed from her eyes all the way down to the tips of her shoes.
“Damn,” he murmured, dragging his gaze back up to her face. “Ms. Hughes, you’re absolutely breathtaking. Do you know that? Breathtaking.”
She felt her face heat. “Thank you.” Slowly, she lifted her gaze to his. “And thank you for the dress and shoes.”
“You like?” He stepped into her. “I have to say I knew you would look amazing in red.”
Her heart was trying to claw its way out of her chest. “I do appreciate it, but you shouldn’t buy me something like this.”
“And why not?” He lifted a hand, trailing his fingers down the length of her hair, catching the ends. “A beautiful woman deserves beautiful things.”
“That’s a pretty nice line I’m sure you’ve read somewhere, but it’s not—”
“Appropriate? You not wearing this dress would’ve been inappropriate.” He spread the strands out over her arm. “And it wasn’t a line I read somewhere. It was a thought that I decided to speak out loud.”
“Okay then,” she said, wholly aware of the tips of his fingers lingering on her upper arm. She stepped back. “But don’t buy me things like that if you don’t have my permission.”
He cocked his head to the side, the expression on his face seriously leaving her to wonder if that was a foreign concept to him. “So, I can buy you pretty things as long as I have your permission?”
Julia frowned. That wasn’t what she was saying at all.
“I will remember that.” His lips curved up in a smile. “You ready?”
It wasn’t so much of a question, but she nodded anyway, even though she was nowhere near ready in the ways she needed to be.
Lucian could barely keep his eyes off Julia as they walked down to the main floor. He wasn’t the only one having that issue. Gabe hadn’t stopped checking her out either.
Maybe the dress had been a bad idea, because all he wanted to do was strip her out of it.
She stood between them in the warm early evening air, one hand folded over her forearm.
Gabe was cajoling her with the list of dishes the Firestones offered while Lucian tracked every line of her face and curve of her body. “You have to try their crawfish étouffée. It’s amazing.”
“I’ve actually never tried crawfish.”
“Well, we’re going to have to change that tonight.” He glanced over at Lucian. “Make tonight a . . . night of firsts for Julia.”
Lucian raised a brow.
Looking over her shoulder at him, Julia dipped her chin. “Do you . . . like seafood?”
With her attention on him, he moved closer to her back. “You’ll discover that there is a raging debate on if crawfish is considered seafood or not, but, yes, I like all food.”
“That’s not exactly true,” Gabe replied, shifting so he stood in front of her. “Lucian is not a fan of any food that is green.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Well . . .” He placed his hand on her shoulder, relieved when she didn’t come out of her skin at the contact. “Are vegetables really food?”
Julia shook her head. “I think—whoa.” She stiffened. “Is that for us?”
Lucian looked up, spying the black limo coming up the paved roundabout. “I sure hope so, since it’s ours.”
“I sent it out to be detailed.” Gabe brushed his hair back. “It’s been a while since we’ve used it.”
Julia’s mouth worked with no sound for a few seconds. “Are you guys serious? You normally get driven around in a limo?”
“Yes.” Lucian slipped his hand down to her lower back. “It’s quite normal.”
The limo pulled up to the front steps, and Gabe stepped down. “I wouldn’t say we take it often for a spin, but tonight is special.” He opened up the back door. “We’re going to show you how we live.”
Julia hesitated, and Lucian could practically feel her growing unease. “What is it?” he asked, voice low.
“I . . . this is all overwhelming,” she said with a shaky laugh. “I’m not used to this—any of this.”
The sudden need to comfort her filled him, and for a moment, he couldn’t move or speak. His entire life he’d only ever felt the need to really comfort his mother and sister. Not even his brothers.