Julia turned to the bed. Madeline was lying in it, eyes closed. “Did you do this?”
There was no response from Madeline, but Julia walked around to the side she was closest to. “Madeline, I know that painting wasn’t finished when I left earlier.”
Still no response.
Julie stared at her.
There was something up—something incredibly not right was going on here. “Madeline, did you put these paintings together?” Her voice sharpened and her hands closed into fists. “Answer me!”
Madeline’s eyes opened.
Julia sucked in a sharp breath. Madeline wasn’t looking back at her. No. Her gaze was focused on the—
A door creaked behind her and warm air lifted the hair off her shoulders. Time seemed to slow down even though everything sped up. She turned around, her stomach dropping.
Daniel walked into the room, stepping on the paintings. Canvas crunched under his boots. In his hand—a gloved hand—was the missing diary.
She tensed as she took a step back. “What are you—?”
Julia never got to finish the question. Pain exploded along her jaw. Stars burst, blinding her, and then there was nothing.
Lucian wanted to punch Dev again.
So leaving that damn room was one of the smartest things he’d done in a while. The only thing calming his ass down was that he knew he was getting closer to Julia.
Christ, he was going to have to tell Julia. He didn’t want her to know, but he felt like she needed to. It felt too damn wrong to keep it from her.
He honestly wouldn’t blame her if she packed up her things tonight and left. If she did, he would probably do more than punch Dev.
Stopping by his room first, he found that she wasn’t there. He headed the short distance to hers, a frown pulling at his lips when he saw that her door was open.
“Julia?” he called out, scanning the room. The bathroom door was closed, so unless she was hiding in the closet, she wasn’t here either. That meant there was only one other place she could be.
A small smile pulled at his lips as he pivoted around and made his way upstairs. Her devotion to her job—to his sister was just another reason why he lo—
“Holy shit,” he gasped.
Lucian stopped on the stairs. He didn’t let himself finish that thought, but he knew what that thought was.
It was another reason why he loved her.
He actually felt dizzy climbing the steps, weak in the knees kind of shit, but he was smiling as he walked down the hall and rounded the corner.
“Ms. Hughes, are you . . . ?” He trailed off. Maddie’s door was open, so he saw right inside. “What in the fuck?”
His sister was not in her bed.
She was not in the chair before the easel.
Julia was nowhere in the room, and there were . . .
Lucian stalked around the bed, staring at the paintings on the floor. He knew what he saw—holy shit, it made no sense, but there wasn’t time to really process what his sister had been painting, because Maddie was gone.
So was Julia.
A surreal feeling slammed into him. Like he’d experienced all of this before, and fuck, he had. The night his mother died.
Turning around wildly, he stopped when something red on the edge of the cream bedspread caught his eye. Drops . . . drops of blood?
Pressure clamped down on his chest as his gaze swung to the open porch doors. He shot forward, whipping the curtains out of the way as he stepped outside.
“Julia!” he shouted. “Maddie!”
Shit. Where could they be? His sister couldn’t be far—
A sharp cry ended in a yelp. He spun around, backing up until he reached the railing as his heart pounded in his chest. “Julia?”
He started walking, then running. The sound came from above—from the roof.
“Don’t come up here, Lucian!” Julia shouted from above. “Please—” Another sharp cry cut off her words.
Like hell he wasn’t coming up there.
He charged up, the old wooden steps shaking under his weight. He reached the roof within seconds, his wild gaze swinging around the dark space. With only the silvery moonlight guiding his way, he almost didn’t see her standing behind the rippling canopy.
Relief crashed into him. “Julia, what is—”
“Don’t come any closer.” She held up her hands. “Please.”
Concern exploded through him like buckshot. Moonlight sliced over her. Blood marred her face and her hands trembled.
“I’d listen to her if I was you.”
He slowed as Daniel stepped out from behind the canopy. He almost didn’t recognize his cousin, seeing that he was dressed all in black, like a damn commando. “I don’t know what the hell is going on here, but if you’re the reason why she’s bleeding, I’m going to fucking kill you.”
“Is that so?” Daniel moved swiftly—faster than Lucian would’ve ever expected. In a heartbeat, he was standing behind Julia, one arm around her waist and his hand at her throat.
Daniel held a knife.
“What the fuck?” Lucian exploded.
Julia briefly squeezed her eyes shut. “It’s been—”
“Shut up,” Daniel warned her, his hand moving just a fraction off an inch. “You say one word, you die—you die right now.”
A bitter burst of panic lit up Lucian. He had no idea what was going on or where his sister was, but right now, all he could be concerned with was getting Julia out of harm’s way.
“Let her go, Daniel.” He kept his hands up. “Please. Whatever is going on here has nothing to do with her. Just let her go.”
The knife pointed at Julia’s neck shook. “You’re right. It has nothing to do with her. More like wrong place at the wrong time kind of thing. She wasn’t supposed to be upstairs. None of you were supposed to be.”
Lucian’s gaze shot to Julia’s. One wrong move, and it would be over for her—for them. He struggled to keep calm. “You need to explain to me what is going on, Daniel.”
The younger man’s face was pale. “None of you were supposed to be upstairs. I would’ve had time, but she was there and lined up those damn paintings.”
“I didn’t—I didn’t put those paintings there,” Julia said, wincing. “I heard footsteps. I went upstairs to check. That’s all.”
“The footsteps? That’s been you?” Lucian demanded as lightning ripped across the sky. “This entire time?”
“Good thing those cameras don’t work, right? I guess I have the ghosts to thank for that.” Daniel laughed, but the sound was forced. “God, you have no idea. You’re such a fucking idiot.”
Lucian’s hands closed into fists. “Then maybe you can help me understand. Let Julia go and you and I can talk. Let her go and I won’t hurt you. We’ll just talk.”
“Yeah, right. You think I’m stupid? I know you’ve always thought that about me, but I’m not the idiot. Hell no.” He started moving Julia away from the canopy. “I’m going to fix this. I’m going to take care of this, like I’ve been taking care of everything for ten fu—”
What sounded like a champagne bottle being uncorked echoed across the roof.
Daniel jerked back and at the same time Julia screamed. Red sprayed the side of her face as Lucian shouted. Daniel went down, the knife clattering off the roof as Julia lurched forward, dropping to her knees.
Lucian didn’t even look back. He charged forward, reaching Julia’s side. He knelt, gripping the sides of her bloodied face as panic dug in with icy tendrils. “Are you okay? Julia, baby, talk to me.”
“I’m okay.” She sucked in a shaky breath as she lifted her chin. Her eyes were wide. “The blood—oh my God.” She started to pull away and look behind her.
“Don’t look.” Lucian stopped her, folding an arm around her shoulders, yanking her to his chest. Daniel was flat on his back, half his head gone. He focused on Julia, wiping off the blood and gore from her cheek with his hands. His hands were trembling. “God, I thought . . . I thought I was going to lose you—that I lost you.”