Counterfeit Bride(10)

By: Sara Craven

'Welcome back, señorita. Are you feeling better?'

She said, 'A little,' and sat up, her hands automatically smoothing some of the creases out of the skirt of her dress. His eyes followed her movements, observing the rounded shape of her thighs beneath the clinging material, and she flushed slightly, thankful that her bag was on the seat between them, an actual physical barricade.

'Where are we?' They seemed to be passing through a town. He mentioned a name, but it meant nothing.

'I had intended to stop here for lunch,' he said, after a pause. 'But as you are unwell, perhaps it would be unwise.’

Nicola groaned inwardly. She could hardly confess the truth, that she was starving. Tension seemed to be giving her an appetite.

'Please don't let my indisposition interfere with your plans, Don Ramon,’ she said meekly. 'While you eat, I can always go for a walk. The—the fresh air might do me good.'

Again she was conscious of the speculative stare, then he said, 'As you wish, señorita.'

The chauffeur, whose name was Lopez, parked in a small square behind the church.

Ramon helped her out. 'Are you sure you will be all right?' He paused. 'It is only a small place, you can hardly get lost.'

'I'll be fine,’ she assured him, reaching for the strap of her bag.

'You don't wish to take that heavy thing with you. Leave it in the car,' he suggested.

Rather at a loss, she said, 'I'm used to carrying it. It—it doesn't worry me.'

'Clearly you are not as frail as you seem,' he murmured.

She waited to see what direction he took with Lopez, and made sure she went the other way. In one of the streets off the square a small market was in full swing, and there were food stalls, she saw thankfully. Black bean soup, she decided with relish, and sopes to follow. She had learned to love the little corn dough boats filled with chili and topped with cheese and vegetables and spiced sausage which were to be found cooking on griddles at so many roadside foodstalls. She ate every scrap, and licked her fingers.

She felt far more relaxed, and in a much better temper as she sauntered back to the car. Ramon de Costanza was standing outside the car, looking at his watch and tapping his foot with impatience as she approached.

'I wondered if I would have to come and find you,' he said silkily. 'Did you enjoy your stroll?'

'Gracias, señor. Did you enjoy your lunch?'

'It was delicious.' He looked faintly amused as he surveyed her and Nicola wondered uneasily whether she had left any traces of black bean soup round her mouth.

As he took his seat beside her in the car, Ramon said, 'I have a business call to make a few kilometres ahead, and then we will find somewhere to stay for the night.'

'Already?' she asked with a frown.

He looked surprised. 'It will soon, be the time for siesta. You don't want to continue our journey through the full heat of the day, or ask Lopez to do so.'

'No, of course not,' she said, feeling a fool. 'I—I wasn't thinking.' That had to count as a slip, she thought. Surely by now she should be used to the way life in Mexico slowed to a crawl in the late afternoon. She was taking too much for granted, losing her edge, and it couldn't happen again, or he might begin to suspect.

They eventually arrived at a motel, a large rambling white building surrounded by lush gardens, fountains and even a swimming pool. Nicola stared at it longingly, and then banished even the thought regretfully. Ladies wearing wigs stayed on dry land. Besides, her bikinis were all in her own cases on the way to Merida by now, and that was just as well, because the prospect of appearing before Ramon de Costanza so scantily clad was an alarming one.

Every time she had as much as glanced in his direction, he had been watching her, she thought broodingly.

And that was putting it mildly. What he had actually been doing was undressing her with his eyes, and in her role as Teresita she couldn't even make a protest, because the innocent Teresita wouldn't have known for one moment what he was doing.

But I know, she thought, grinding her teeth, and longing to embed the delicate heel of her sandal in his shin.

The cabin to which she was shown was spotlessly clean and comfortable, with a tiny tiled bathroom opening off the bedroom. She turned to close the door and found Ramon on her heels. He gave the room an appraising look, which also encompassed the wide bed under its cream coverlet. Then he turned to her, taking her hand and lifting it up to his lips.

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