Page 1 of Secret Admirer

Prologue

Alice May barely recognized the woman in the long, white dress. The silk seemed to stretch for miles and miles, and she’d never felt anything so soft against her skin. Her hair had been artfully styled, her makeup carefully applied. Everything was ready. She was ready. Her hands tightened around her bouquet—a bouquet of blood red roses.

The wedding would start any moment…

Or, at least, it would start once her groom arrived.

Alice swallowed.

Her bridesmaids were dead silent behind her. When word had first reached them that Hugh Collins hadn’t made it to the little chapel on the edge of Savannah, Georgia, they’d just all laughed and said he must have partied too hard at his bachelor party.

He’d be there.

He wouldn’t miss his own wedding day.

The door opened. She spun around, her heart jerking in her chest. “Hugh—”

Hugh’s brother Jonathan stood in the doorway. His dark hair was no longer perfectly in place. Instead, it stuck up at odd angles, testimony to the fact that he’d been shoving his fingers through it again and again.

Jonathan’s gaze—the same battered gold as Hugh’s—swept over the room. He jerked his head toward the avidly watching bridesmaids. “Give us a minute, would you?”

Oh, God. Hugh wasn’t coming. He’d said he loved her, but he wasn’t coming. He’d changed his mind.

After casting her sympathetic glances, the bridesmaids filed out. The door closed behind them with a soft click. And Alice realized she was twisting her bouquet too hard in her hands. Rose petals had fallen to the floor. They almost looked like drops of blood. “He’s not coming.” Her voice was soft, sad.

“I can’t get him on the phone. I had a neighbor check his house. Hugh isn’t there…but, the cops were.”

Her head whipped up. Fear raced through her. She forgot about the chapel full of people. Forgot about the growing fear that Hugh didn’t love her as much as he’d promised. She bounded toward Jonathan. “Is he okay?”

Oh, God, they’d need to check the hospitals. Right the hell away.

“The cops are searching for him, too.” Jonathan swallowed and his gaze darted from hers. “The neighbor—Sherry something—she said the cops wanted to arrest him.”

A cold chill slid over her skin, but Alice heard herself give a too-high peal of laughter. “That’s ridiculous. Hugh doesn’t even get traffic tickets. Why would he possibly be arrested?” He was an engineer. A volunteer firefighter. The guy was good. Dependable.

But Jonathan’s face remained tense. He drew in a deep breath, and his gaze slid back to her face. “Has he ever…said anything to you about our dad?”

“Your dad?” Her eyes widened. “He died when you were kids. Hugh barely remembers him.”

“Right.” Jonathan nodded, but his stare had become hooded.

He’s not telling me everything.

“Jon?” Alice whispered. “What’s happening?” Because he knew more, she could feel it.

Jonathan shook his head. “We should leave. I don’t want you here if…” But his words trailed away.

“I can’t leave my own wedding!”

A rough exhale came from him. “There isn’t going to be a wedding. The cops think Hugh is on the run, and they are coming here. I don’t want you caught in this madness. You need to get out of this place before it becomes a circus.”

He wasn’t making sense. Nothing was making sense. Her right hand held her bouquet, and her left grabbed the train of her dress. She hurried to the door just as it flew open.

Heather Hollow, her maid of honor, stared at her with wide, stark eyes. “I just heard—on the news—” But she stopped, as if she couldn’t say more.

“What?”

Heather just stared at her.

“Heather! Tell me! What did you hear?”

“Th-there’s b-been an accident. Just down the road…A blue Mercedes SUV flipped. It was being chased by police cruisers…”

Her heartbeat was suddenly far too loud. “Hugh drives a vehicle like that.”

Police cruisers.

The police had been at Hugh’s house. A blue Mercedes had flipped.

She shoved past Heather. Rushed down the hall. Dropped her bouquet as she ran. Guests saw her. They called out, their eyes flaring in surprise, but Alice didn’t stop. She rushed to the front of the chapel.

For such a small chapel, there were so many people crammed in there. She hadn’t wanted to get married in that place. She’d just wanted to run away with Hugh. Only the two of them. Forever. But Hugh had insisted on taking their vows in front of friends and family. He’d been so excited.

She shoved open the chapel’s door. The sunlight hit her, too bright and hot. She was sweating in her beautiful gown, and Alice could hear the scream of sirens. She could also smell smoke in the air.

She started running, not even caring what she looked like. Hugh was late for the wedding. Too late. He was never late. An SUV just like his had been in an accident, and she could see the smoke and flames filling the air. So close to her. She rounded the corner, and there it was. His SUV. She knew it was his because she could see the hiking sticker on the SUV’s bumper. The burning SUV.

Alice screamed and ran forward, but hard hands grabbed her and shoved her back.

One of the uniformed officers barked, “Ma’am, no! This scene isn’t safe!”

“That’s my fiancé’s SUV!” Alice yelled back at him. “Where is Hugh? Where is—”

An explosion rocked the street. The blast was hard enough to send chunks of the SUV flying into the air. Hard enough to send her sprawling back onto the concrete. The skin scraped off her palms, and her dress twisted beneath her.

The uniformed cop reached down for her, and she could see the horror on his face. A terrible combination of horror and sympathy, and she knew he was going to say something that would wreck her. She wanted to beg him to stop, wanted him to—

“He was in the vehicle, ma’am. I’m sorry.”

***

Alice stared into the mirror. A one-way mirror in a police interrogation room. Right after the uniformed officer had told her that Hugh had been in the burning vehicle, Alice had been taken from the scene. She’d been crying, been fighting to get to the SUV and Hugh, but the cops had pushed her in the back of a patrol car. They’d taken her to the station. Left her in this room.

Shock had moved in. A numbness that seemed to fill her every limb.

As she stared at her reflection, Alice realized that she didn’t look like a blushing bride any longer. Mascara had smeared, and it

lined her eyes, giving her a raccoonish appearance. Her dark hair had come out of its careful twist, and her white dress was stained with soot and dirt. Blood had dried on her hands. And Alice just kept thinking…This can’t be real.

The door opened. Finally. She jumped from her chair, part of her thinking it would be Jonathan walking inside…the way he’d done at the chapel. He’d come in and this time, he’d tell her that everything had been a mistake. A big misunderstanding. Hugh was fine. He hadn’t been in the burning SUV.

But Jonathan wasn’t there. A blond man with a hard jaw and glinting eyes stared at her. She could have sworn there was anger in his gaze. He wore a dark suit, and a badge was clipped to his hip.

“Alice May?”

She nodded. Shivered.

“I’m FBI Agent Ryan McCall. I want you to sit down.”

The FBI? What? “This…it’s my wedding day.”

His gaze raked her. “I can get more clothes brought in for you.”

She didn’t want more clothes. She wanted Hugh.

“You should sit back down.”

God! He’s not saying this is a mistake.

The chair’s legs screeched across the floor as she pulled it back. Alice sat in the chair again, falling too heavily. “Please tell me that Hugh isn’t dead.”

Agent McCall sat across from her and put a manila envelope on the small table. “Hugh Collins was in the SUV when it crashed. We weren’t able to get him out before the fire spread.” His lips thinned, then he said, “From what we can tell, he died on impact. The fire didn’t take him. Bastard got off easy.”

Her breath caught in her throat. She could feel herself choking. Why had he just called Hugh a bastard?

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