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Counterfeit Bride

By:Sara Craven

Counterfeit Bride
Sara Craven

       CHAPTER ONE


'You know something?' Elaine Fairmont announced. 'I'm really going to miss Mexico.'

Nicola looked up from, the files she was packing into a carton, her lips curving in amusement.

'What's prompted this sudden, if belated, change of heart?' she  enquired. 'I thought nothing in Mexico City could possibly compare with  Los Angeles?'

'Well, I've been giving the matter some thought, and I've decided that  actually they have quite a lot in common,' Elaine said solemnly. She  began to count off on her fingers. 'There's the traffic and the smog-and  the possibility of earthquakes-we mustn't forget those. Of course L.A.  isn't actually sinking into a lake as far as I know, but the San Andreas  fault could change all that.'

'It could indeed,' Nicola agreed, her eyes dancing. 'I suppose there's  no chance that you'll change your mind a step further and come with me  on my sightseeing trip?'

Elaine shook her head. 'No, honey. To me a ruin is a ruin, and who needs  them? I'm no tourist, and besides, I've read about those Aztecs, and  they had some pretty creepy habits. I'm not going back to L.A. with  nightmares.' She paused. 'I suppose you haven't changed your mind  either?'

'About returning to California with Trans-Chem?' It was Nicola's turn to  shake her head. 'No, I've thoroughly enjoyed working for them, but this  contract was really just a means to an end-a way of letting me see  Mexico.' And a way of getting me as far away from Zurich and from Ewan  as possible, she thought with a pang.

'So, sign another contract and see the U.S.A.,' Elaine suggested  amiably. 'Martin's all set to fix you up with a work permit the moment  you say the word, and all my folks are dying to meet you.'

Nicola smiled. 'It's very tempting, I admit. But I'm not sure where I  want to work next time. I think it will almost certainly be Europe  again.'

'Then why not Spain?' Elaine asked. 'Your Spanish is terrific, thanks to  Teresita's coaching. It would be a great chance to make use of it.'

Perhaps.' Nicola gave a slight grimace. 'Actually I'd planned on finding somewhere a little more liberated next time.'

Elaine laughed. 'Don't tell me you've gotten tired of all this guera preciosa as you walk down the street?'

'I hate it.' There was a sudden intensity in Nicola's tone which made  Elaine glance curiously at her before she returned to her task of  feeding unwanted documents into the shredder. 'It's insulting. I haven't  any illusions about my attractions, such as they are, and I don't need  my ego boosted by meaningless compliments from total strangers.  "Precious light-haired one" indeed! It's not even a particularly valid  description,' she added, tugging at a strand of her tawny sun-streaked  hair. 'Surely you of all people can't go along with this incessant  reduction of women to mere sex objects?'

Elaine lifted a negligent shoulder. 'It doesn't really bother me. It's  harmless as long as you don't take it seriously, or respond in any way,  and I quite like being admired. The Women's Lib movement isn't the whole  answer, you know. I've seen what it's done to people-to my own sister,  in fact. She was happily married, or she sure seemed to be until someone  started raising her consciousness. Now she's divorced, the kids cry all  the time, and there's endless hassle with lawyers about alimony, and  who gets the car and the ice-box.'

Nicola closed the carton and fastened it with sealing tape.

That's rather going to extremes,' she said. 'What I can't get used to is  the attitude here that a woman is just-an adjunct to a man.  Industrially, Mexico is making giant strides, but there are some things  still which haven't changed from the days of the conquistadores--and  that's what I find so hard to take. Well, look at Teresita, for  instance.'

'I'm looking,' Elaine agreed. 'What's her problem?'

'Everything.' Nicola spread her hands helplessly. 'There's this guardian  of hers. She's been sharing our apartment for three months now, and she  still hasn't told him. He thinks she's living in that convent hostel,  and from things she's said, I gather even that was a concession.'

Nicola's tone became heated, and Elaine smiled.

'Calm down,' she advised. 'If there was ever anyone who doesn't need our sympathy, then it's Teresita.'

'You mean because she's actually going to escape from the trap?' Nicola reached for another carton. 'I suppose you're right.'

'No, that wasn't what I meant,' Elaine said drily. 'Nor am I too sure she is going to escape, as you put it.'

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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