Counterfeit Bride(7)

By: Sara Craven

She said hotly, 'You can't marry him, Teresita. Write to him. Tell him it's all off. He can't make you.'

Teresita almost cowered in her chair. 'I cannot disobey.' Her voice shook. 'Tomorrow I must leave for Monterrey in Ramon's charge. You do not know Don Luis—his anger—how he would be if I wrote him such a letter.'

'But he must know that you don't love him—that you're even frightened of him,' Nicola argued stubbornly.

Teresita sighed. 'My mother would have said that it is a good thing to respect the man that one must marry— and that love can follow marriage,' she added doubtfully.

'When you already love Cliff?'

Teresita's mouth quivered. 'That was craziness, a dream. I must forget him now that Don Luis has spoken at last.'

'Oh, no, you mustn't,' Nicola said forcefully. 'Teresita, you can't let yourself be pushed around like this. Your father may have intended you to marry Don Luis at one time, but if he was here now, and knew Cliff, and realised how you felt about him, I know he'd change his mind.' She looked across at Elaine, who gave a silent shrug. She tried again. 'Why don't you and Cliff elope?'

For a moment, a hopeful light shone in Teresita's eyes, then she crumpled again.

'He is in Chicago.'

'Well, I know that, but we could cable him, tell him it's an emergency and he has to get back right away,' said Nicola.

Teresita shook her head. 'I must leave tomorrow. There is no time for him to return.'

'Then he'll just have to follow you to Monterrey and make Don Luis see reason.'

'It would be no use. Don Luis would not receive him, or allow me to see him.' Teresita spread her hands helplessly. 'Nicky, you do not understand.’

'On the contrary, I understand only too well,' Nicola told her grimly. 'You're not prepared to stand up to this guardian of yours.'

Teresita seemed to shrink. 'Nicky, it is not possible to stand up, as you say. He follows his own will at all times, and always he is obeyed.'

'Oh, is he, indeed?' Nicola said wrathfully. 'I just wish I could meet this lordly gentleman. I'd do anything to stop him getting his own way for once in his life!'

'Then why don't you?’ said Elaine.

'Why don't I what?'

'Stop him.' Elaine gave a shrug. 'Correct me if I'm wrong, Teresita, but you're not very well acquainted with this Ramon, are you?'

'No.' Teresita gave a puzzled frown. 'As I said, he is Don Luis' cousin, and many years ago I met him at La Mariposa and...'

'Right,' Elaine interrupted. 'And all he knows is that tomorrow he has to collect you someplace—the convent, I guess—and escort you to Monterrey. Well, Nicky can go in your place.'

There was a shaken silence, then Nicola said, 'That's the silliest idea I've ever heard.'

'It's not so silly,' Elaine said calmly. 'Stop and think. You speak Spanish like a native, and if we fitted you out with a brunette wig, some dark glasses and a heavier make-up, you could pass for Teresita—especially with a guy who saw her once when she was a kid, for God's sake.'

Nicola gasped, 'But I'd never get away with it! Just supposing I could fool this unfortunate man—which is by no means certain—what would happen when I got to Monterrey? I couldn't hope for the same luck with Don Luis.'

'You wouldn't need it. You take your big leather shoulder bag in which you have one of your own dresses, and your papers and vacation tickets. When you get to Monterrey, you make some excuse to stop off somewhere—a store or a restaurant, and you go to the powder room, where you take off the wig and dump it, change your dress—and—voila. Goodbye, Teresita Dominguez and hello, Nicola Tarrant, leaving Don Luis with egg on his face because his novia has run away. Oh, he'll be looking for her, but he won't be equating her with any blonde English chick, and he won't be searching in Mexico City, where she'll be marrying Cliff, with me as chief bridesmaid. When she's ready, she can write and tell him she's already married, and let him figure out how she did it.'

Nicola was about to tell Elaine that this time she had finally flipped, when she saw Teresita looking at her, with the dawning of a wild hope in her eyes.

She said, 'Teresita, no—I couldn't! It's crazy. It's impossible. It wouldn't work.'

Teresita's hands were clasped tightly in front of her as if she were praying. 'But we could make it work, Nicky, in a wig, as Elaine said, and some of my clothes. It will take two days, maybe even three to drive to Monterrey, because there are business calls which Ramon must make on the way for my guardian. Then when you reach Monterrey, there could be at least one more day while Don Luis searches there . . .' She turned eagerly to Elaine, who nodded.

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