He dipped his chin, grinning. “I do want to talk about us. That’s not a distraction tactic. Just suspicious timing.”
Julia laughed as she straightened out her arms. “See you in a little bit.”
Lucian waited until she was out of eyesight before he walked back into the room. He found his older brother sitting at the bar. Walking behind it, he stopped directly in front of Dev. “Is there something you want to let me know?”
Dev smirked. “There’s always something I’d like to let you know.”
“You know what I’m talking about.” Lucian rested his forearms on the bar top. “The chief is dead.”
“That’s what the news just said. Car accident?” Dev took a drink. “What a tragedy.”
A muscle begun to work along Lucian’s jaw. Lucian was thinking along the same lines Julia had been. It was too bizarre to think that Dev had anything to do with the chief’s accident. Especially since they said he had a medical emergency and Troy had mentioned that on the phone, but there was a part of Lucian that wasn’t so sure.
“You say tragedy,” Lucian said finally. “I say what a coincidence.”
“What are you suggesting, Lucian? That I somehow had something to do with him having a medical issue and wrecking his car?” He laughed and then took another drink. “I’m talented but that’s impossible.”
Truth was, nothing was impossible when it came to the de Vincents. Dev knew that. So did Lucian.
“Do you really think I had something to do with that?” Dev asked after a moment.
Lucian met his brother’s stare. “We both know we’d go to extreme limits to protect our family.”
“We both know that you already have,” Dev pointed out.
“Yeah, and I don’t hide that.”
“Hmm.” Dev nodded and then placed his drink down. “You know, you seem to be getting really close to Ms. Hughes. Even though I’d advised against that.”
“And you’re changing the subject to something we do not need to talk about.”
“I think it’s an important subject change and it’s definitely something we need to talk about.” Dev arched a brow. “I don’t think it’s wise.”
Pushing back, Lucian shook his head. “If you have so much of a problem with me getting close to her, why did you hire her in the first place? Why would you even hire someone who would catch my attention or anyone else’s?”
“Because I knew she would keep her mouth shut.”
Instinct flared as he faced his brother. “What the hell does that mean?”
“I’m assuming you’ve been talking to her and not just fucking her,” he commented, and Lucian’s hands clenched. “You know she was married.”
“What does this have to do with her ex?”
“You really didn’t need to check her out, Lucian. I did an extensive background check on her. You know that.” He paused. “And I learned some interesting things about her. Someone who stays with a husband who treats them like shit is going to be pliable, easily controlled.”
Lucian couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Is that why you’re with Sabrina?”
Dev raised a shoulder with a laugh.
Anger simmered in his gut. “Are you fucking serious right now?”
“It’s the truth. Why are you so offended by it? Your girl was—”
Lucian reacted without thinking. His arm cocked back and his fist connected with his brother’s jaw. Dev’s head snapped back and then, next second, he was on the floor, on his ass.
Slamming his hands down on the wood, he lifted himself up, vaulting over the bar. Lucian landed next to Dev just as he was sitting up. Crouching, he got right in Dev’s face. “You do not know shit about Julia. At all.”
“Jesus,” Dev grunted, rubbing his jaw. “What the hell, man?”
Lucian stared at his brother, and it was like looking at a stranger. How in the hell could he have hired Julia because of her past marriage? How could he make that kind of horrific assumption about her—about anyone? His brother could be cold and apathetic. Hell, there were times when he wondered if Dev was one synapse misfiring from becoming a sociopath, but this? This was going too far.
Dev twisted his head to the side, cursing under his breath.
Rising, Lucian took a step back and when Dev looked up at him, ice drenched Lucian’s insides. “Sometimes I don’t even know you, Dev. I really don’t.”
Julia walked into her room, still replaying Devlin’s cold, almost smug smile as the news reported the chief’s death. She felt paranoid for even thinking that he had anything to do with the man’s death, because that was like something she’d see on one of the soap operas her mom watched.
It was unbelievable to even suspect Devlin of such a thing, but . . . but this family, these men, truly did operate in their own world.
What if Devlin did have something to do with the chief’s death?
What if their father had been murdered?
What would that change?
The last question stopped her in the tracks, because she already knew the answer and she wasn’t sure what that said about her. It didn’t change what she knew she was beginning to feel for Lucian.
Julia ran a hand over her head as she turned around slowly, her pulse kicking up. She was . . . well, she was really falling for Lucian and he wanted to talk about them. She had this feeling that they were standing at an important crossroads and once they talked, everything was truly going to change.
But the brothers . . . they had a dark side. They were dangerous. Maybe not to her. Maybe not to those they cared about, but that didn’t change that they were.
Could she accept that?
Had she already?
It was something she really needed to think about. Julia tugged off a bracelet she wore, tossing it on the bed as she walked toward the bathroom. She was going to go to Lucian’s room, but wanted to—
Her eyes narrowed as she scanned the bed. Something was missing. The diary! She’d left it on the bed earlier. Walking around it, she bent down and looked under the bed. It wasn’t there. Not on the nightstand or any place else she checked.
“What the hell?” She turned around, frowning. Where could—
The steady fall of footsteps across the floor above drew her attention. There was no way that was her imagination or some invisible spirit making that noise. And she knew where the brothers were. It couldn’t be them.
Spinning around, Julia hurried out of the room and upstairs. She had no idea what she was expecting to see when she threw open Madeline’s bedroom door, but what she saw, she never would’ve imagined it in a million years.
There was a finished painting on the easel—one that had not been there when she left earlier in the evening. It was of a man—a man who looked just like the senator . . . or their father.
And on the floor were all the paintings Madeline had painted since the easel was brought in the room for her. There were all lined up, either side by side or on top of one another, and . . .
“Oh my God,” Julia whispered as she came to a sudden halt.
Julia didn’t see it before. None of them saw it before, because the painting—the painting had been in pieces and once put together, an entire image appeared. The paintings had been a puzzle, half of a face painted here and the rest painted on another day. No one saw it until it was pieced together.
Until someone had pieced it together.
In a daze, Julia walked over to the easel, careful not to step on the paintings lined up in front of the porch doors. She picked up the sheet and turned, placing it where she knew it went—in the back, left corner.
Julia stepped back, almost unable to process what she was seeing. It was a family portrait. Two dark-haired boys stood shoulder to shoulder, all alone.
Boys that looked so much like the photos Julia found in the mother’s photo album.
And in the forefront was a blond boy and girl, standing in front of a woman who had to be their mother and a man who had to be Lawrence.
The girl and boy were obviously Madeline and Lucian.
A chill etched its way down her spine. Why had Madeline painting them this way? Why . . . ? The chill increased, raising the tiny hairs all along her arms.