The Reckless SecretBy: Alexa Wilder
“She is?” Aunt Constance couldn’t have sounded more shocked if she tried. She dropped Maggie’s wrist.
“I am?” echoed Maggie, and at a sharp look from Grant, she added hurriedly, “I am! Yes. Sorry.”
It took Aunt Constance a moment to find her voice again. “Well, who is he? What does he do?”
She was addressing Maggie, who swallowed thickly and said through her tight smile, “Grant, why don’t you tell her. You’re the one who set us up after all.”
“He’s a lawyer,” Grant said without missing a beat. “But he’s old money. Filthy rich. You’d love him.”
Aunt Constance’s tone when she responded was much more pleasant. “Oh, I see. From an old family, you say? I must know him then. Come on.”
There seemed to be a long stretch of anticipation between Constance’s prompt and Grant’s answer, like time had stopped for a heartbeat or two. Then Grant said, “The Archibalds,” and the floor dropped away beneath Maggie’s feet. She grabbed Grant’s arm, her insides twisting up with horror even as she tried to keep that passive smile on her face.
“The Archibalds?” said Aunt Constance, her face illuminating. “Lovely family. Just lovely. But—do you mean Declan Archibald?”
Of course, he meant Declan Archibald. There was no other male Archibald in her age range who hadn’t already been married off.
Maggie clenched her teeth.
“But he’s here, you know?” Aunt Constance continued. “I was speaking to him a few minutes ago—he didn’t mention you, Maggie, dear.” There was suspicion in her tone now, but Maggie could hardly focus on it.
Declan Archibald was here.
And apparently, Maggie was dating him.
Never before had she so badly wished for a black hole to appear and suck her away.
“Well, it’s early days,” she said in a wobbly voice, trying to inject some coyness into it.
“But it looks promising,” Grant interjected. Maggie wanted to slaughter him. “We better go say hello. Lovely to see you, Aunt Connie. Good luck with today.” Then he leaned in to give her a swift kiss on the cheek and pulled Maggie away, leaving Aunt Constance affronted and wordless with the abrupt dismissal.
Maggie couldn’t look up, focusing on her shoes as Grant pulled her towards the throng of people chatting along the aisle, waiting for the big event.
She couldn’t look up, because she might see Declan, and she didn’t trust her own reaction. What if her knees went weak and gave out beneath her, and she collapsed into a heap at Declan’s feet? A distinct possibility, considering how much she’d lusted after him since…well, forever.
And she hated him for it. For how he’d led her on all those months ago and then discarded her like yesterday’s trash. And how, despite it, thoughts of him still sent an electric tingle across her skin, settled warm and pulsing in her groin.
“You’re welcome, by the way,” Grant murmured to her, and right now she hated him almost as much as she did his old childhood friend.
“For what?” she snapped back at him. “Coming up with the most ludicrous—”
“Declan? Man, it’s been too long, buddy,” Grant said, coming to a stop and dropping Maggie’s arm.
Oh God, she could smell him. That heady mix of far-too-expensive cologne and the pure masculinity of him. She swallowed thickly and looked up.
He wasn’t looking at her.
“Hey, man,” he said to Grant, smiling warmly as they shook hands. “How’s it going?” His smile dimmed a little when he got a good look at Grant’s face, but he said nothing.
Meanwhile, Maggie was praying for a hole to open and swallow her down. Again.
Maybe she could slip away, quietly and without notice, while these two old pals caught up…
“Not bad, yeah,” Grant said. “Last time I saw you, we were at that Playmate party in the summer—”
“Yeah, well.” Declan looked over his shoulder, and Maggie took the opportunity to creep away, one tiptoed step at a time. “The less said about that, the better. At least in this crowd.” The two men laughed, and then Declan said, “And you, Maggie?” bringing her to a stop and making her wince.
She forced a polite smile onto her face and looked up at him. “Hello.”
He stared at her a moment too long. “Always a pleasure.” His voice was a smooth drawl, a rich tone he’d developed in his late teens and carried with him since, deepening as he aged and growing more confident with it. There was a grit to it these days, like caramel poured over gravel. The heat of it washed through her.