Counterfeit Bride(3)

By: Sara Craven

'It's rather different,' Nicola argued. 'If he'd forbidden her to leave the hostel, she'd have been unhappy perhaps, but it wouldn't have been the end of the world. But if he makes any objection to her marrying Cliff, then it will break her heart. She might have yielded to pressure over the apartment issue, but not over Cliff. I'm sure of it.'

'Well, you have a touching faith in her will power which I don't share.' Elaine turned back to her paper shredding. 'I guess we'd better get on with the packing. The place already looks as if we'd moved out.' 'Yes,' said Nicola with a little sigh. She hadn't expected to enjoy her stay with Trans-Chem. She knew very little about the technicalities of chemical plants and their construction and was happy in her ignorance. She'd just been desperate for some kind of contract which would take her away from Zurich, and ensure that she wasn't there to see Ewan marry the stolid blonde daughter of his company chairman.

Nor had she really expected to get the job, although she knew that the fact that she already spoke Spanish, garnered from an intensive course at the Polytechnic where she'd undergone her secretarial training, would stand her in good stead. Trans-Chem were after all an American company, and most of their personnel were recruited in the States, as Elaine had been.

But the job was offered to her, and she accepted with a growing excitement which helped to alleviate some of the pain and humiliation Ewan had made her suffer. She had fallen so deeply in love with him that it seemed impossible for him not to share her feelings. In fact, he did share them. He admitted as much, but it made no difference to his plans. Ewan intended to marry well, and a mere secretary earning her own living didn't fill the bill as a potential bride at all. Although he did have other plans for her, as Nicola had shamingly discovered when finally he had been forced to tell her that his marriage to Greta was imminent.

She'd sat in the circle of his arms, feeling as if she'd been turned to stone, while part of her mind registered incredulously that he was telling her that his marriage needn't make any difference, that it could even be an advantage. When the promotion which his future father-in-law had promised as a certainty finally materialised, then he would have Nicola transferred to his office as his own secretary. There would be business trips which they would make together, he'd said, and he would help her to find a bigger flat where they could be together as often as possible.

She sat there in silence, listening to his voice, to the confidence in it as he made his sordid plans, and wondered why he should have thought she would ever agree to any such thing, when they had never even been lovers in the generally accepted sense. She had often asked herself what had held her back from that ultimate commitment, and could find no answer except perhaps that there had always been a deep, barely acknowledged instinct which she had obeyed, warning her not to trust too blindly, or to give herself without that trust.

When she was able to think more rationally about what had happened, she knew she ought to feel relief that she hadn't that particular bitterness to add to her disillusionment, but it had seemed cold comfort then, and still did.

She had come to Mexico determined not to make a fool of herself again, and her bitterness had been her shield, not merely against the Mexican men whose persistent attempts to flirt with her had at first annoyed and later amused her, but also against the mainly male American staff of Trans-Chem, many of whom would have shown more than a passing interest in her, if she had allowed them to.

Sometimes she wished she could be more like Elaine, who uninhibitedly enjoyed a series of casual relationships, and wept no tears when they were over. Nicola was aware that some of the men had privately dubbed her 'Snow Queen', and although it had stung a little at the time, she had come to welcome the nickname as a form of protection.

What she hadn't realised was that some men, observing the curve of tawny hair falling to her shoulders, the green eyes with their long fringe of lashes, the small straight nose, and the willful line of the mouth, would still be sufficiently attracted to find her determined coolness a turn-on, forcing her to an open cruelty which she wouldn't have been capable of before Ewan came into her life.

'My God,' Elaine said once, 'You don't fool around when you're giving someone the brush-off! Poor Craig has gone back to the States convinced he has terminal halitosis.'

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