The Reckless SecretBy: Alexa Wilder
She smoothed her hands down her hips, flattening the material of her dress against her skin, looking for an awkwardly visible panty-line or marks on the pale-gold fabric.
“You look amazing,” Ashley said. “Way better than that brown thing you were gonna wear.”
“It was sand,” Maggie said for what felt like the hundredth time.
She did look pretty good, she had to admit. The dress hugged her voluptuous curves in all the right ways, gave a soft and sensual roundness to her hips and breasts, cinched her in at the waist, the hem just grazing her mid-thigh. And the heels, a patent black she’d bought months ago and never got around to wearing, lifted her an inch—or four—and lengthened her newly bronzed legs like magic. Spending ninety percent of her life in a nurse’s uniform, it wasn’t often she felt glamorous and sexy. But seeing herself in this dress, with her hair teased into tumbled curls and her lips slick with matte red, she couldn’t help but think, Yep, you got it.
“The point is, Mags,” Cami said, picking up the thread of their earlier conversation, “you shouldn’t worry about what everyone at work thinks. They all know you wouldn’t do it—right now they’re just getting swept along in the gossip. And you know these things always—oh my god, Grant, you scared the life out of me!”
Maggie swung around and there he was—her brother, standing in her bedroom doorway, pocketing the door key she’d given him the first day she moved into this apartment.
“What—I thought you were busy today.” There was a flatness to her voice, even as her entire insides were melting with relief. Surely, this meant he would be accompanying her to the wedding, keeping her sane in the face of a hundred-strong throng of the upper-class.
He didn’t answer her, too busy smiling and greeting Cami, who’d hopped off the bed to meet him and kiss his cheek, quickly followed by Ashley, the three of them devolving into a catch-up chat. It gave Maggie enough time to get a good look at him, and what she saw made her chest tight.
He didn’t look good, not at all. Shadowed beneath bloodshot eyes, skin pale and stretched tight over bones that were definitely more prominent than the last time she’d seen him. He looked up at her then as if sensing her concern and offered her a smile that spoke of a kind of awkwardness they’d never had between them before.
“You look nice, sis.”
“Thank you,” she said, and then, “Wish I could say the same.”
He gave a chipped laugh. “Yeah, I know,” he said almost bashfully, rubbing a hand over his forehead. “This damn flu I couldn’t shake.”
“You do look ashen,” Cami said. She touched his cheek, a frown on her face. “Are you sure you should be out today?”
Gently, he lowered Cami’s hand from his face and gave it a little squeeze. “I’m fine,” he told her, and then he released her hand, pushing away from the doorway to approaching Maggie. “Couldn’t let my baby sister down, could I?”
He stooped to kiss her cheek, and she returned it, confusion still clouding her mind. If he had the flu, why couldn’t he have just said that on the phone, rather than get angry with her and shut her down?
He pulled back and looked her in the eye, a strained smile on his face that made uneasiness wash through her. She couldn’t help but feel like she was missing something.
“We’ll leave you to it, Mags,” said Ashley, awkwardness in her tone and in the way she tugged on Cami’s sleeve to get her moving too. Whatever atmosphere lingered in the air, it was enough for Ashley to feel like she needed to get out of the way.
“Yeah, we’ll, uh—” stuttered Cami, catching on. “We’ll see you at work.”
They didn’t stop to say goodbye—just swept out of the room and, a moment later, through the front door, shutting it softly behind themselves and leaving Grant and Maggie in a thick, deafening silence.
“That’s a nice dress—”
“What’s going on, Grant?” She crossed her arms and tried to fix a no-bullshit look on her face. It must’ve worked, because his own expression sobered.
“Honestly, I’m fine,” he said, reaching out to give her shoulder a bracing squeeze. “I’ve just had a bad week with this flu—really knocked it out of me, you know? I’m sorry I was such an ass to you about it.”
The earnestness in his voice—the sincerity—sounded exactly like the Grant she knew, the big brother who’d always been her rock, and she stepped forward to hug him. “I was really worried about you,” she mumbled into his ear, and he offered a breathy laugh that sounded like relief. “Should’ve come to me if you were that bad. I could’ve helped.”