Counterfeit Bride(8)

By: Sara Craven



'We'll cable Cliff right away,' she said. 'Maybe Nicky could play for time in other ways on the trip—pretend to be sick or something.'

‘I wouldn't have to pretend,' Nicola said desperately. 'Stop it, the pair of you. You're mad!'

Elaine gave her a steady look. 'You said you'd do anything to stop this happening. What Teresita chiefly needs is time—time for Cliff to get back here and marry her himself—and this you could give her.'

'Yes,' Teresita said with a little sob. 'Oh, yes, Nicky. If I go to Monterrey, then I shall never see Cliff again. I know it.'

. 'But I really don't think I could get away with it,' Nicola said, trying to hold on to her sanity. 'Oh, I know people congratulate me on my fluency and my accent, but all it would need would be one small mistake and I'd be finished. And I can hardly drive hundreds of miles in stony silence.'

'But why not? Ramon would not expect me, the novia of his cousin, to talk and chatter to him. It would be indecoroso. And if you pretended that the motion of the car was making you ill, then he would not expect you to speak at all. He is much younger than Don Luis, and when I was a child, he was kind to me.' She was silent for a moment, then she said pleadingly, 'Nicky, I beg you to do this thing for me. I could not love Don Luis, and he does not love me. He marries me only because it is time he was married, and because he wishes for a son to inherit this new—empire that he has made. Would you, in your heart, wish to be married for such a reason?'

Nicola was very still. As if it was yesterday, she saw Ewan smiling at her, and heard his voice. 'Of course I'm not in love with her, darling. It's you I care about. But Greta knows what the score is. She understands these things. Once I've married her, there's no reason why you and I shouldn't be together as much as we want, as long as we're discreet.'

She suppressed a little shudder, remembering how, even through the agony of the moment, there had been a flash of pity for Ewan's wife, who would never possess the certainty of his love and loyalty. A marriage of convenience, she had thought bitterly. Very convenient for the man—but heartbreak for the woman.

Teresita didn't deserve such a fate.

She said, 'All right, I'll do it.'





CHAPTER TWO


Nicola stood nervously in the shadow of the portico and stared down the quiet and empty street. Ramon was late, and at any moment the door behind could open and one of the nuns emerge, and ask what she was doing there.

For the umpteenth time she had to resist the impulse to adjust the wig. It was a loathsome thing, totally realistic, but hot and itchy. Orchid pink silky dress, strapped sandals with high heels in a matching kid, and two of Teresita's expensive cases as window dressing. The only thing out of place was the bulky leather bag on her shoulder, but it would just have to look incongruous. It was her lifeline.

She glanced at her watch, biting her lip nervously, thinking how funny it would be if it was all for nothing and Don Luis had changed his mind—and then she saw the car and her stomach lurched in panic.

It was too late now to run for it. She could only cross her fingers that the wig and cosmetics and the large pair of dark glasses would be sufficiently convincing. Swallowing, she adopted an air of faint hauteur as Teresita had suggested and stared in front of her as the car came to a halt in front of the convent steps.

There was a uniformed chauffeur at the wheel, but Nicola barely registered the fact. She was too busy looking at the man who had just emerged from the front passenger seat and was standing by the car watching her.

Young, Teresita had said, or at least younger than Don Luis. Well, he was at least in his mid-thirties, so that figured, but what she hadn't mentioned, either because she'd forgotten or had been too young to notice, was that Ramon was a disturbingly, even devastatingly, attractive man. Tall—unusually so—with black hair, and eyes darker than sin. Golden bronze skin over a classic bone structure that went beyond conventional good looks. A high-bridged aristocratic nose, a firm-lipped mouth, the purity of its lines betrayed only by a distinctly unchaste curve to his lower lip, and a proudly uncompromising strength of chin.

'Ye gods,' Nicola thought, 'and this is only the poor relation! What the Mark II model is like makes the mind reel.' Somehow the image of the plump, pompous grandee didn't seem quite so valid any more.

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