The Reckless Secret

By: Alexa Wilder

Volume One





1





Maggie





Maggie couldn’t really call this one of her better mornings.

Hot travel mug scorching her one hand and the purse sliding off her opposite shoulder, she dodged a group of elderly tourists checking out the monument on the corner and almost rushed head first into the path of a UPS truck.

“Oh sh—” Her heart leapt into her throat as she stumbled back up the curb, UPS truck honking its horn as it raced past, yanking the attention of all passersby directly to her.

Her face burned hotter than the palm wrapped around her hastily brewed coffee.

She took another step back to avoid any more near-death experiences and await a safe crossing, and brought her heel down on something that made a man shout, “Ow!” into her ear, like stepping on the press of a pedal trash can.

“God, sorry,” she said, moving off the man’s toe and turning to face his livid death stare. “I’m so sorry.”

Thick eyebrows hung low over his ice-cold eyes.

“Um,” she said.

“Go,” he snarled, looking behind her pointedly, and she turned back around to see everyone now crossing the street, traffic paused. She was very much blocking this angry man’s way.

Which he rectified a split second later by barging past her and knocking the travel mug out of her hand. She watched, as if in slow motion, as the cup hit the ground on the edge of the street, burst open, and splattered all up the left leg of a passing nun.

After a full minute of flustered apologies and offers to dry-clean the nun’s clothes, she finally made it across the street and halfway to work before her phone rang and had her fumbling in her overstuffed purse.

“Hey, can I call you back later?” she panted into the phone, contents of her purse threatening to spill out onto the filthy sidewalk as she attempted to close the zip. “I’m so late—”

“Just a quick thing,” her brother said, and there was something odd in his voice. Something strained and cracked, not his usual rich tones. “I can’t make Jen’s wedding this weekend.”

The words stopped her dead in her tracks, forcing several people to swerve around her, muttering their irritation. “Sorry,” she mumbled vaguely to no one in particular, and then hurried over to an empty doorway, turning to face the wall to create some privacy. “What’re you talking about?”

“I can’t make it.” Grant sounded entirely unapologetic, and that alone was enough to set her on edge. Her brother didn’t let her down. Not him.

“But—you have to. You promised.” Because he knew how difficult she found these things, attending events with her cousins and aunts and other relatives who didn’t understand her, who judged her, who thought she needed to remember her place in the world—of country clubs and jewelry and brunch four times a week. Relatives who saw her chosen profession as an insult to the upbringing the family had given her. “We’ll find you a medical charity to assist; I’m sure there’s a board somewhere with a seat for you,” they told her, back when she expressed her ambition of nursing. “At least become a surgeon.”

Her father had been apoplectic. “I didn’t pay to send you to all the best schools just so you could become a damn nurse!” he’d raged at her, for weeks on end, every time she saw him and watched that stain of disappointment blacken his eyes.

But her father’s opinion didn’t matter, not anymore—not since she was ten, and he turned her entire world upside down. Tore it apart with a savagery she would never forget.

Grant, her older brother, was the only man in her life who mattered to her from that point on, the only man she trusted. The one who promised to look after her, to protect her, to be everything her father couldn’t.

And he spent the next fourteen years doing just that. Until recently, when hints of a different side of Grant started showing—a side of him she’d never seen before. A disheveled Grant, like the last time she’d seen him, showing up to her cousin Jen’s rehearsal dinner with bloodshot eyes, messy hair, his T-shirt inside out, and a scruff on his face at least three days old. And he never came through with the money for his half of the wedding gift, always next week, I promise, and brief, cold texts about being busy.

“I don’t have time to argue about it now, Mags,” he told her abruptly, and while his tone wasn’t unkind, he still sounded so very much like the opposite of her caring brother that it took her aback. “I gotta go. Sorry.”

“Grant—wait—” But he’d already hung up.

Blinking stupidly at the grimy wall before her, Maggie took a moment to worry about her brother. A vague, abstract sort of worry, the kind without a defining cause she could focus on, think of ways to fix. But she had no time to analyze the change in him, not right now—she was already late for work, and there were a couple of people there who’d delight in her being reprimanded for tardiness. One person in particular.

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