Counterfeit Bride(2)

By: Sara Craven



Nicola put down the files she was holding, and stared at the other girl with growing concern.

'But of course she will, when she marries Cliff. He won't keep her chained up. Or are you saying you don't think they will get married?' When Elaine nodded, she burst out, 'But that's ridiculous! You've said yourself you've never seen two people so much in love. Why, she's living for him to get back from Chicago, you know she is.'

'Sure,' Elaine said. 'Teresita and Cliff are the year's most heartwarming sight- but marriage?' She shook her head. 'I don't think so. Do you imagine that guardian of hers is going to allow her to throw herself away on a mere chemical engineer?'

'Perhaps he won't care,' said Nicola. 'After all, he doesn't take a great deal of interest in her. He never comes to see her—which is just as well under the circumstances--and his letters are few and far between.'

'True, but that doesn't mean he won't get good and interested if she plans to marry someone he doesn't approve of.'

'But why shouldn't he approve of Cliff? Apart from being one of the nicest guys you could wish to meet, he's well qualified, has a good job, and is more than able to support a wife.'

Elaine shrugged, ‘I have a feeling that he'll need a lot mere than that to be acceptable as husband material for Teresita. Just consider—since we've known her, how many paying jobs has she had?'

'Only one,' Nicola acknowledged. The couple of weeks she spent here as receptionist.'

'Right,' said Elaine. 'And were we surprised that other offers didn't come her way—considering that as a receptionist she was a walking, talking disaster area?'

Nicola grinned, remembering the mislaid messages, misunderstandings, and interrupted telephone calls which had distinguished Teresita's brief sojourn at the reception desk. No one had the least idea how she had ever got the job while the regular girl was on holiday, or how she had lasted in it for longer than five minutes, although Elaine had commented that the management had probably been too dazed by the whole experience to fire her.

'No, we weren't in the least surprised,' she said, and hesitated. 'But she does work.'

'Social work—with the nuns--unpaid,' Elaine pointed out. 'And very estimable too. So, where docs she get the money to pay her share of the rent, and buy all those gorgeous clothes that she has—all those little numbers from the boutiques in the Zona Rosa? Not to mention her jewellery.'

'What about her jewellery? It's rather flamboyant, but...'

'It's entitled to be flamboyant. It's also real,' Elaine said drily.

There was a small, shaken silence then Nicola said, 'You must be joking.'

'I promise I'm not. I have an uncle who's a jeweller in Santa Barbara, and I spent some of my formative years learning to pick the fake from the real stuff. I'm not making any mistake.'

'My God!' Nicola put her hands to her face. 'She lent me--she actually lent me her pearls that time we all went out to dinner.'

'I remember,' Elaine nodded. 'They looked good on you.'

'That isn't the point,' Nicola almost wailed. 'Suppose I'd lost them—or they'd been stolen?'

'You didn't, and they weren't, and they'll be insured anyway,' Elaine said reasonably. 'But we're getting away from the subject here. What I'm saying is that Teresita isn't just a nice girl we met, who shares our apartment and cooks up the greatest enchiladas in Mexico. She's also a rich lady, and if this guardian of hers knows what he's doing, he'll want to marry her money to more money, because that's the way things are, so Cliff and she may have some problems. That's all.'

It was enough, Nicola thought unhappily. She said, 'Teresita's of age, so there's nothing to stop her getting married, if she wants to, and she does want to.'

'Don't sound so fierce! Okay, so she and Cliff are Romeo and Juliet all over again, and she is a very sweet gentle girl. No one would argue. But she's led a very sheltered life. She was practically brought up by nuns, after all, and she'd still be living in that hostel if we hadn't invited her to move in with us. I'm amazed that she ever agreed anyway, and she still trails round to the convent to see if there's any mail for her each day because she's scared her guardian may find out that she's left- because basically she knows in her heart that if he cracks the whip she'll jump, whether she's of age or not.' She paused, giving Nicola a quizzical look. 'And if she dare not tell him she's sharing an apartment in a good part of town with a couple of gringas, then just how is she going to break the news that she's engaged to a norteamericano?'

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