Excerpt Secret Keeper by Christopher Harlan
Six Months Ago
I hate moving.
I’ve heard that it’s one of the top three most traumatic things you can experience in life, right up there with death and divorce. Then again, I’m not really moving like other people move.
Normal people—like the ones I grew up around—rent U-Haul trucks and ask their friends to give up a few hours on a Saturday morning to help them lug their old furniture up flights of winding staircases. Where I’m from, moving is strictly a DIY situation. But I’m a long way from the place I called home my entire life. Now ‘moving’ is me being driven to my new home by one of Chandler’s personal drivers. No U-Hauls for this girl, not that I’d need one. The apartments in the building are pre-furnished. We won’t be lifting ugly sofas to our fourth-floor walkup. All the furniture is already there, like a page in a catalog.
My life seems pre-furnished these days—everything set, everything there already, everything as predictable as the sunrise.
Sometimes, on days like today, I feel like I’m in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
My new home makes the housing projects of Queens feel as far away as the stars in the night sky. I knew right away, when I went on a tour of the building, that agreeing to live here would be like being an immigrant moving to a foreign country. I’m not just changing locations, I’m changing cultures—new people, new customs, new traditions, and a way of life that still seems so different than the one I knew up until this point.
But I chose this.
This is what comes with the territory when you get involved with a man like Chandler Daniels.
He wasn’t like any man I’d ever met—and it wasn’t just his wealth either. He was sophisticated, educated, and worldly. He took me places and showed me things that I never even knew existed before. It might sound cliché, but he truly swept me off of my feet.
I’m using the past tense because that version of Chandler—the loving, caring, worldly boyfriend—was the guy who walked up to me in the bar two years ago and just started talking. Back then he was just the handsome son of blue bloods who told me about his father’s company, and how he’d be taking it over in a few years when the old man got too old, and how it would make him one of the richest men in New York. He already had money, but he mesmerized me with dreams of having one of the biggest companies in the world. He told me that he was going on a journey most people would never understand, and that he wanted me to be there with him on that journey.
It was the perfect thing to say, and I believed every syllable of it.
But now, two years later, things have changed. That cool ambitious kid in the bar has been replaced by the cold hearted and ruthless businessman who cares more about his company’s merger than he cares about me. The headquarters of his media empire is his real home. He’s there constantly, overseeing all of the changes to guarantee that his social media site gets purchased by one of the biggest companies in the world.
I don’t want to be that girl—I realize that I have no idea the amount of time and dedication it takes to accomplish the things Chandler is doing, and I’d never tell him to put aside a multimillion-dollar opportunity just to be home more for dinner.
But I matter, too.
It was never about the money for me—I grew up dirt poor, never really knowing where my next meal was coming from, but my parents trying to make the best of everything so we didn’t worry. I don’t care how many personal drivers or no limit credit cards I have—I’ll never be one of those women who marries a man for money.
I loved the man Chandler used to be when we were alone—not his money, not his growing fame, and definitely not the limelight that seems to come with every outing nowadays. It was always about the man himself, but I’m starting to believe that man is either gone or, worse yet, that he never existed in the first place.
Lately I just feel less like his fiancé and more like a part of his wardrobe, no different than his expensive shoes or gold-plated belts.
The car pulls up in front, and Monty steps out to open my door for me. I place my foot down onto a busy Manhattan sidewalk, looking up like a tourist walking around Times Square. The building is huge—taller than I remember when he brought me here for the first time, and I stare up at it longer than I probably should.
“This way, miss.”
“Monty, do you know that every time you call me ‘miss’ you make me feel really old, even though I’m younger than you by. . . what?”
“Let’s just call it thirty years so I don’t feel too ancient.”
“I’m sorry, now I’m making you feel old. I guess we’re kind of even then, huh?”
He smiles. Chandler trains his people to be as business-like as possible, but I can get almost all of them to smile if I want to. Sometimes I do it just for fun, to see if I can—and I always can.
Monty takes my bag and walks me through the doors of the building I’ll be calling home for a long time. Inside, everything is larger than life. I only brought a single bag with me because the rest of my things are coming later, and Monty nonetheless offers to take it up for me.
“He can’t be paying you enough to be this attentive to me. You’re really the best.”
“You flatter me. And I don’t know what to call you if I don’t call you ‘miss’.”
“My name works just fine, Monty. Just call me Penelope.”
“If I do that, I’ll be in trouble with the big man. He has a strict rule against that.”
I lean in and whisper, “It’ll be our little secret, whenever you drive me. It’ll be this crazy game of Risk, where you call me by my actual name instead of a generic title and we don’t tell Chandler about it.”
“That is a risky game in this world we’re in. You know that as well as anyone.”
“I do. I also know that worlds are what you make of them and, in my world, you call me Penelope. The rest will work itself out.”
“Very well. But your bag?”
“I think I’ve got it covered. This might surprise you, Monty, not only do I have a first name—which I do like to be called by now and again—but I can also carry my own bag into the elevator that goes to my floor. I’m a big girl like that.”
“Alright,” Monty says grudgingly. “But if he asks. . .”
“Then I’ll tell him that you carried my bag all the way up to our new apartment and offered me any other help I needed. Don’t worry, Monty, I know the drill.”
I get him to smile one more time. “Since we’re playing it fast and loose today, let me say that he’s a lucky man to have you.”
His words are so bittersweet that the look on my face says everything that my lips can’t speak. I love Monty, but I hate that he just said those words to me. “Make sure to tell him that one day, alright?”
I turn around and stare at the elevator as a confused looking Monty heads back to his Lincoln Town Car to run one of the many errands that Chandler needs done today.
And now I’m standing here, in the lobby of a building that still doesn’t feel like my home, my eyes going everywhere and nowhere all at once. I see people coming and going, and I suddenly feel like a stranger in a strange land.
It’s just then, as my eyes are scanning the room, that I feel a hand on my shoulder, followed by a voice so deep that it takes my breath away.
“Excuse me miss, can I help you?”
Whoever this man is behind me, he clearly didn’t hear the lecture that I just gave good old Monty. I turn around, ready to correct him.
Oh. My. God.
That deep, hypnotic voice is coming from a face so gorgeous that I hope I’m not staring. I wasn’t expecting someone so hot to be standing there, calling me miss, and asking me if I need help. He’s tall, beyond good looking, and has an air of pure confidence that I can practically smell.
Looking up into his hypnotic blue eyes, I try to put a few words together. “Um. . . I’m sorry, what did you ask me?”
“I asked if you needed help. You looked a little lost there, and I don’t recognize you. I work in the building.”
If he works in the building, I’m in some real trouble.
I get a better look at him, and how he’s dressed, and he doesn’t seem like a person who would work in this building. On the hand that falls back to his side after touching my shoulder, I see a tattoo peeking out, though I can’t make out what the image is. I’ve been around rich people for long enough to know that they normally don’t have tattoos on their hands like this beautiful man does. And when I see that bright ink peek out from the cuffs of his suit jacket, I go from confused to intrigued.
I need to know who this hot tatted man is.
“Yeah, I’m just moving in. We’re on the fourth floor.” I’m having trouble forming coherent thoughts, so I’m just saying some random information.
“My fiancé and I. You might know him, his name is. . .”
“Chandler Daniels. Yes, Miss Genaro, I know.”
My eyebrow goes up because I’m a little confused. “That’s a nifty trick,” I joke. “How did you know that?”
“Because my boss and your fiancé are business associates—and he told me that Chandler Daniels’ fiancé might be coming in today. I just put two and two together.”
“I see. Then why did you ask me what I meant by ‘we’ a minute ago?”
“Because once I saw you walk past me, I was really hoping that you weren’t the Miss Genaro Graham told me about. I was hoping you were a different, and much more single, woman who just happened to be visiting.”
My heart jumps in my chest. Did this man really just say that to me? I stare into his baby blues and smile.
“Oh, really? And why’s that?”
That’s when he steps close to me—like, really close—and says the words that are going to stick with me for the next few days. “I think it’s probably safer for both of us if I don’t answer that question.”
Wow. This guy is bold. He doesn’t know me, or how I’ll react to what he just said to me, but his confidence is intoxicating. I’m not used to how strongly I feel when he looks at me, and how my body is reacting in places no one can see.
I don’t know what to say next, so I just tell him my name. “I’m Penelope. But I’m guessing you already knew that, right?”
“I know a lot of things, Penelope. It’s my job to know things.”
He’s looking at me so intensely that I’m getting hot and tingly all over. The hairs on the back of my neck are starting to stand up with every word that he speaks to me.
“I feel like I’m at a disadvantage, then, because I don’t know your name.”
“My name is Dylan Murphy. And I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other, Penelope.”
Holy shit. “And why’s that?”
And the next thing he does sends the throbbing between my legs into the stratosphere.
He reaches down, takes my hand, and presses it gently into his chest. I stand there, frozen, with this strange and beautiful man’s hands on my own, not knowing what to do.
“Can you feel that?” he whispers. I nod my head as I get lost in his eyes. “It hasn’t beaten that fast in a very long time.”
I think I just died.
He turns and walks away like nothing even happened, with nothing but one last confident grin to make me melt before the whole encounter is over.
I didn’t just step into a new building, I stepped into an alternate reality.
The scary part is, I think I’m excited about that for the first time yet.