Max’s Magic Rule #1:
The only way to convince people to believe in magic is to first accept it doesn’t exist.
Twenty-two-year-old Max Dalton knocked on his girlfriend Nancy Morrison’s apartment door. As he waited for her to answer, he rubbed the promise ring in his pocket. He’d bought it for her last week and carried it with him ever since, something his identical twin brother, Rhys, took great pains to tease him about.
“Finally, a girl who’s got you whipped,” Rhys crowed before Max left. “Try not to fawn all over her when you see her again. You’ll ruin your heartthrob image. Hell, you’ll ruin our image.”
Max didn’t give a shit about images, his or theirs. He’d missed Nancy the past two weeks. He’d dated plenty of girls before her, but Nancy was the first to truly understand him. To make him feel special, not like an extension of his loving but crazy showbiz family. She was sexy and smart and deep. She understood he was more than a performer or jock. Even though they’d only been dating two months, he’d told her things he’d never told anyone before, including how he sometimes hated performing. How he sometimes wished he’d gone off to live on his own so people wouldn’t constantly be comparing him to his brother.
Now he had something else to share with her: he loved her.
He’d suspected it before, but being away had confirmed it.
He rapped on her door again.
As the minutes ticked by and Nancy didn’t answer, unease morphed into worry. She’d called him less and less lately, and she hadn’t been around to answer most of his calls. Of course, he’d assumed she was just busy with her studies, just like he was busy on the road with the Dalton Family Magic Act, but—
He heard her voice coming down the hallway before he saw her. His heart sped up when she rounded the corner, her blond hair floating around her shoulders and her pretty green eyes sparkling. He grinned—
Until he saw she wasn’t alone. Her arm was around the waist of a dark-haired guy with glasses. She froze when she saw him.
“Max? What are you doing here?” Her brows drew together and she dropped her arm from around the other guy.
But she didn’t move closer.
“I told you I was coming home today. Who’s he?” He jutted his chin toward her companion.
The guy shifted his feet uneasily then said to Nancy, “I’ll catch you later,” before walking away.
Nancy crossed her arms. “Don’t make a scene, Max.”
His eyebrows shot up. “That implies there’s a reason I would. Are you seeing that guy behind my back?” His voice sounded steady. Annoyed. Righteously indignant. But inside his heart hurt and he had to work to make sure his words didn’t quaver.
He gripped the ring in his pocket. This couldn’t be happening. She wouldn’t betray him like this.
“Don’t look so surprised. You knew it could never work between us. I’m just me. And well… you’re Max Dalton. Hot magician. The guy whose magic wand every girl wants.”
He stepped toward her. “I’ve never played around on you.” And he could have. Lots of girls came on to him on the road, but he’d never been tempted, not once, to cheat on her.
“Maybe not yet,” she said. “But it would happen eventually. I know you want to believe you’re more than that, but…”
Her trailing words felt like daggers. She believed all the hype about the Dalton Brothers after all. Believed he was all flash and no substance. “You’re wrong about me,” he said. “The way Rhys and I are on stage, it’s an act—”
“I’m not talking about Rhys. You might look exactly like him, but you’re not your brother. Even though Rhys likes to have fun, he’s solid. He’s dependable. One day he’ll have a wife. A family. But you’ll—”
“You’ll keep having fun. Just like I’m going to have fun while I’m in college. The difference is I’ll move on after I graduate. You’re a professional magician—your whole life’s about fun and games. So go back on the road and don’t act like you want to be chained down.”
A vise squeezed his heart, pain radiating everywhere. “Nancy—”
“Goodbye, Max Dalton.” She shrugged away his touch, slipped inside her apartment then quietly shut the door behind her.
Max stood in the hallway for minutes. Hours. He didn’t know. Finally, he walked away in a daze.
He was twenty-two and they’d only been dating a couple months—it wasn’t like he’d been considering marrying her or anything. But he loved her, he was committed to her, and she… what? Thought fun and games was all he wanted?
Anger built inside him.
Rhys was a professional magician, too. So was his dad. But that obviously didn’t matter. Something about him made girls only want him for a good time.
How often had his family and friends referred to him as “Max, the fun one”? “Max, the chick magnet.” “Max, the charmer.” They never spoke of his intelligence or his ambition, or his ability to care about others.
Maybe that’s because they knew something he didn’t.
Maybe they saw him for what he truly was.
And what he wasn’t.
Unless he wanted to hurt like this again, he needed to start thinking the same way.
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