He leaned over and whispered, “I liked the scrubs. Thought they were cute. Really liked you in that dress last night. Thought you were beautiful. But seeing you in jeans, finally? Fucking sexy as hell.”
Her gaze shot to his.
Lucian winked as he clasped his hands behind his back, fixing his expression into bored indifference when Daniel glanced over his shoulder at them.
“Don’t you dare,” she whispered the moment Daniel refocused on Maddie.
He raised a brow as he angled his body toward her and the doors, keeping an eye on his cousin and sister. “Dare what?”
“Stand there like you didn’t just say that.”
Lucian pressed one hand to his chest. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Her lips twitched as she rolled her eyes and then she smiled as she shook her head. “You’re ridiculous.”
“Well, you can’t spell ridiculous without dic—”
Julia smacked his arm—smacked it hard, too. He chuckled when she turned bright pink, because Daniel looked over again. The lunch pretty much went like that. The three of them picked at the food while Daniel did the whole one-sided conversation, which was a stroll down memory lane.
There was little reaction from Maddie throughout the lunch. She stopped painting every so often and would look in Daniel’s direction, so Lucian guessed that was some improvement.
God, he hoped so.
If having Daniel here every single damn day would help Maddie, then he’d put up with it without punching the little prick out.
“You’re doing good,” Julia commented as he helped her carry the plates out to the hall, placing them on a tray. “I expected that I’d have to pull you off him at some point.”
“You have such little faith in me.”
“More like just low expectations based on your own words and Gabe’s.”
“What did he say?”
“Pretty much the same thing you’ve already said,” she explained, placing the linen over the used plates.
He checked in on Daniel and Maddie. They were at the easel, where they left them. His gaze swung back to her. “When did you talk to my brother?”
She bent down, picking up a napkin that had slipped off the tray. “Obviously when you weren’t around.”
“Really? I am feeling a little . . . jealous.”
Straightening, she pinned him with a droll look. “He stopped by when I was out on the porch. He told me he was leaving to visit some ex-girlfriend’s family.”
“He brought that up?”
Julia nodded, tossing the napkin on the tray. “Yeah. What?”
“Nothing. It’s just that . . . that was a rough relationship. He really had feelings for her.”
“What happened then?” Curiosity filled her voice.
“She got into a situation and we took care of it.”
Her brows lifted as she stared at him. “What does that even mean?”
“Exactly what I said,” he replied.
She stared at him a moment and then shook her head. “We better get back in there.”
He looked over at her as she started back into Maddie’s room. “Are you proud of me?”
She paused at the door. “Maybe a little.”
“I’ll take that.” Walking past her, he reached out, brushed his hand over her lower back and right over the curve of her ass. She sidestepped quickly and spun toward him. “Oops. Sorry. I’m so clumsy.”
“You had to go and ruin it,” she muttered behind him.
Grinning, he crossed the room. The smile quickly faded, though, when Daniel turned to him.
“I have an idea,” he said.
Lucian folded his arms. “Can’t wait to hear this.”
“What is your idea?” Julia joined him.
Daniel glanced back at Maddie. She wasn’t painting anymore. The canvas was filled. “This is her old room, but . . . none of her stuff is here.”
“Her stuff had been packed up. What could be donated was. Everything else was thrown away.”
Julia looked at him sharply, disbelief etched into her face. “What?”
“It wasn’t me who did it.” A little annoyed that she would even think that, he met her stare. “It was our father.”
She paled. “Did . . . did you know he did it?”
Part of him didn’t want to answer, but he did. “No. Not until it was too late.”
Sympathy flickered across her face as she reached over, folding her hand along his bicep. She squeezed gently.
“What about your mother’s stuff?” Daniel suggested. “You know how close she and my aunt were. Do you have any of her stuff still left or did Lawrence get rid of that too?”
Lucian tensed. “No. Her belongings are still in her room.”
“All of her stuff?” Disbelief colored his tone.
Working a kink out of his neck, he then nodded. “Her room has been like it was since the night she died.”
“Really?” Excitement filled Daniel’s gaze. “Maybe we can get some of your mother’s stuff for her. Something for her to look at, maybe touch? Does that sound dumb?” He spun on the stool, looking up at Julia. “You’re the nurse. What do you think?”
“I don’t think it’s dumb.” She folded one arm over her waist. “Exposing patients to their own personal items or those of a loved one is often used, especially if there are memory issues. And we don’t know if she is having memory issues.”
“So, it couldn’t hurt?” Daniel asked.
She shook her head. “Not if they had a good relationship.” Her hand slipped off Lucian’s arm. “Did they?”
“Yeah.” His voice was hoarse. “They had their issues. I guess like any mother and daughter, but they were close.”
“Is there anything in particular that you think Madeline would be drawn to?” she asked him.
God, the options were limitless. When Maddie was little, she played for hours in all of Mom’s jewelry, especially the long pearl necklaces. Then there were the photo albums and the journals her mom kept. Maddie was always messing with them. “There are some things I can think of.”
“So, what do you guys think?” Daniel looked between them.
Lucian wasn’t sure if he wanted to do this. Entering his mom’s room wasn’t something any of them did often. Hell, it was Livie who kept the room clean.
“You think it could help?” he asked Julia.
Her gaze searched him. “I don’t think it would hurt.”
Which meant it could do nothing . . . or it could help his sister. And to help his sister, he would do it.
“Okay.” Lucian scrubbed a hand over his jaw, glancing over at Julia. She nodded in agreement. “I can . . . I can do that.”
“Awesome.” Daniel spun back to Maddie, and Lucian thought he saw a ghost of a smile on his sister’s face.
Julia had just returned to her room when her phone vibrated in her back pocket. Sliding the phone out, her stomach dropped when she saw the familiar Pennsylvania area code.
Instinct told her it was Adam, and that knowledge twisted up her insides as she stared down at the phone. He hadn’t called her since he’d texted, but she wasn’t a fool. She’d known that he’d call again . . . and again, but the brief respite had caused her to let her guard down.
Julia started to do what she always did. Her thumb hovered over the reject button, but she stopped. Avoiding him wasn’t working. Changing her number only derailed him until he ferreted out her new number. The old Julia would ignore this phone call.
But she wasn’t that Julia anymore, was she?
The phone continued to ring, the sound as jarring as nails dragging down a chalkboard.
Something inside of Julia broke. Or maybe something inside of her changed. Either way, she reacted. Julia answered the call and her stomach pitched once more as she said, “Hello.”
The voice was familiar in the way bad nightmares were, and the only response to the sound of Adam’s voice was a wince and a red-hot flaring of annoyance. Gone were the days where his voice would elicit disappointment and regret of all that could’ve been.