She watched him out of the corners of her eyes. “Why wouldn’t they?”
A wry smile appeared on his lips. “I . . . kind of dated their daughter for a few years. When we were in college and then off and on a couple of years after that.”
“Did things not end well?”
He snorted. “That would be an understatement.” He smacked his hands off his knees. “Anyway, I had a good time last night. I hope you did too.”
The change of subject gave her whiplash. “I did. It was a lot of fun.”
“We’ll have to do it again when I get back.” His gaze slid over to hers. “Of course, we’ll invite Lucian.” He winked. “Wouldn’t want him to feel left out.”
She shot him a dry look. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Hell you don’t. My brother is so wrapped up in you, if I call your name, he comes running. You damn well know that.”
Her eyes widened.
He tipped his head back and laughed. “You know, you probably don’t want to hear this, but I’ve never seen my brother act the way he does when it comes to you.”
Her brows lifted. “I’m not sure what that means.”
“It’s probably best that you don’t.”
She twisted toward him. “I . . . I don’t know what to say. I didn’t come here to start a relationship or anything like that with anyone. I—”
“You wouldn’t mix business with pleasure. I know. You’re kind of straitlaced.” Those lashes lowered, shielding his eyes. “Not completely. There’s a bit of wild in you. I can sense that.”
Thinking of the elevator, Julie flushed. There wasn’t that kind of wild in her.
Moving his hands to the arms of the chair, he rose. “On a serious note, though? I don’t expect you to get personal with me or anything like that, but I just want to let you know that you’re different to him.”
She lowered her mug. “I’m really not sure if that’s a good thing.”
So not expecting that response, she had no idea how to respond.
Gabe started to turn, but stopped. “Maybe it’ll be a good thing,” he said, pausing. “You’re a good thing, though. Anyway, I’ll see you soon.” He bent down, kissing her cheek before she even had a chance to realize what he was doing. “Make sure Lucian behaves himself and doesn’t kill Daniel today.”
And then he was walking away, disappearing around the corner of the porch, and Julia was left sitting there, wondering if he was joking about making sure Lucian didn’t kill Daniel.
Probably not joking.
Sighing, Julia collapsed back and closed her eyes. The de Vincent brothers were so . . . they were so weird and yet so attractive, almost so much so that it nearly canceled out the weirdness.
But yeah, it didn’t.
You’re going to come to me.
Julia shivered again.
Could she do it?
Could she throw away all her reservations and concerns? Could she go to Lucian simply because she wanted to—wanted him? Was she able to let her past go and live—live in the moment? She wasn’t sure, because all of that still terrified her, because what if it blew up in her face?
Could she make that choice?
Lucian met his cousin Daniel at the door. “I don’t want you here.”
Daniel stood just outside, sunglasses perched on his head. He briefly met Lucian’s gaze before quickly focusing over his shoulder. “I know and I appreciate you letting me come.”
“As if me letting you stopped you when you showed up here unannounced.”
“I’m sorry about that, but I had to see—”
“You don’t have to see anything.” Stepping forward, he gripped Daniel by the collar of his pale blue polo and dragged him in through the open front door. “If you ever show up here unannounced again or even cause Ms. Hughes’s heart to jump in her chest, I will put you down.”
His cousin’s eyes widened. “I—”
“Do you understand me? And you better think about that question before you answer, because this is the only warning you’re going to get.”
Daniel’s nostrils flared. “I understand.”
The man’s throat worked on a swallow. “For real.”
Lucian let go of the front of his shirt, and Daniel stumbled back. “Close the door behind you.”
Daniel did just that. After he closed the door, he caught up with Lucian in the main hall. “Are Devlin and Gabe around?”
Lucian snorted. “Why? You worried?”
Walking beside him, Daniel straightened his shirt. “Just want to be prepared in case I get snatched up again.”
He chuckled. “I prefer you to be in a constant state of fear.”
Daniel didn’t respond until they reached the steps. “I didn’t mean to scare the nurse. I didn’t know she would be here.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Lucian resisted the urge to turn and push Daniel down the stairs. “Your entire life is causing things you didn’t mean to.”
“That’s a little harsh.”
“Truth isn’t always nice.”
There was a gap of silence before Daniel replied, “That is true.”
They didn’t speak the rest of the way up to the third floor, but Lucian stopped him before they rounded the short hallway to Maddie’s rooms. “If my sister gets anxious or appears stressed out, you will leave immediately.”
Daniel faced him. “You know that I would never want to hurt Maddie or stress her out. You don’t have to tell me twice.”
Breathing in deeply, Lucian’s jaw locked down as he looked away. Daniel wasn’t bullshitting. As much as he disliked the little son of a bitch, he cared for Maddie. Always had. And Maddie cared for him. It was the only reason why he was here.
“Come on,” he growled.
The door to Maddie’s room was open. His sister was at the easel, painting away. Today it appeared to be a part of a child’s face. Possibly? And his sister was clothed prettily in what appeared to be some kind of dress-and-sweater combo.
But it hadn’t been his sister he’d noticed first. It had been Julia. How messed up was that?
She stood beside Maddie, her long, thick wavy locks of hair falling free around her face. God, she didn’t wear her hair down nearly enough for his liking. He wanted to sink his hands into her hair, fist the strands—
Shit, he needed to focus and not on that or he would go back on what he told her last night quicker than a strike of lightning.
Julia looked over as they entered, her gaze lingering on Lucian before moving onto Daniel. “Good afternoon.”
Daniel started forward, but stopped and looked in Lucian’s direction first. Lucian smiled tightly, and Daniel’s shoulders tensed. “Hello, Ms. Hughes. How are you?”
“I’m good.” She turned to his sister. “Madeline’s already eaten, but lunch has been bought up.” She gestured at the covered plates Livie must’ve just sent up.
“Do you mind if I sit with Maddie for a little bit and talk first?” Daniel asked.
Julia shook her head. “I don’t have a problem with that.” She turned to him. “Lucian?”
Of course, he did. He had problem when Daniel breathed, but he shook his head no. His cousin slowly walked over to where Maddie sat. Every movement was cautious as he sat in the seat Julia usually occupied.
“Hey, sweet girl,” Daniel spoke, voice light. “What are you working on?”
There was no response. Maddie kept on painting, but Daniel kept on talking to her like she was responding. The same way Lucian talked to her. He watched his cousin and sister for a few moments, and then his gaze crept to where Julia was.
The cream-colored shirt she wore hinted at the soft swells beneath as she bent at the waist, picking up one of the brushes that Maddie must’ve dropped. His gaze was hungry as he watched her place it on the tray beside Maddie.
As Julia moved back to give them some space, he walked over to join her by the doors. She glanced up at him, but quickly looked away.