Charade of the Heart

By: Cathy Williams

"I can do without being known as someone who has a tramp for a secretary."

Now that wasn't fair! Marcos Adrino might have been taken in by Beth's impersonation of her identical twin sister, but neither she nor Laura deserved that label! Beth knew Laura's hare-brained scheme, that she stand in for her twin while Laura had her baby, would be filled with sticky moments, but she hadn't banked on Marcos: either his arrogance or his attractiveness would push Beth too far - and then she and Laura would really be in the soup!



"Just looking forward to my day's work," she said blandly.

"Job satisfaction is a wonderful thing."

Isn't it? And by the way," he added, "What have you done to your hair?"

"Oh, I had it cut." Beth said cautiously. Had her triumph had short-lived? "I fancied a change," she mumbled vaguely when he didn't say anything.

"You've succeeded," he said. "From where I'm standing, you've succeeded very well indeed."


CHAPTER ONE



BETH looked carefully at her sister and counted to ten. It was difficult, but she wanted to find exactly the right words to explain, without resorting to downright exasperation, that there was absolutely no way she was even going to contemplate taking part in this juvenile scheme. They had reached an age when these sorts of escapades should long have been left behind. When on earth was Laura ever going to grow up? It was tiring always being the one to frown and nod sagely and act reasonable.

"Well?" Laura prompted. "What do you think?"

Have you got a few days to spare? Beth asked herself. She looked at her sister's flushed face, framed by the tangle of long auburn hair, and sighed.

"It's the craziest idea you've ever come up with," she said, with what she considered a huge amount of restraint, "and there's no chance that you're going to get me involved with it. I would rather spend the rest of my life in a snake pit. So you can wipe that grin off your face and leave my lunch alone."

They were sitting in her kitchen, a cosy yellow room with pale, speckled wallpaper and matching curtains which had taken Beth ages to make. She tapped her sister's hand, which had been making surreptitious inroads into her plate of salad, and considered the matter resolutely closed.

"Oh, Beth." Laura slipped out of her chair and went around to her sister, folding her arms around her neck.

"It's not that crazy, really it isn't, not when you think about it. And it's the only thing I can think of." Beth could hear the tears in her sister's voice and hardened her heart. Laura had the knack of turning the tears on with alarming ease and she wasn't going to fall for it. Not this time.

She bit into a lettuce leaf liberally soaked with salad cream and didn't say a word.

"You're mad," she muttered finally, disengaging herself from her sister's stranglehold and clearing away the table.

Laura followed her to the kitchen sink and dipped her finger into the basin of soapy water, trailing it into circular patterns, her long hair hanging forward and hiding her face.

"You're so unsympathetic," she muttered. "Here I am, in the worst fix in my life, and you're not prepared to do anything at all to help. I was counting on you, Beth. Why do you think I drove all the way up here in this weather? If I had known that you wouldn't give me the time of day, then I'd have stayed at home and…and…' Her voice trembled, and Beth sighed again.

"I'm not unsympathetic," she said gently. "Stunned perhaps, but not unsympathetic. I mean, how on earth could you have let yourself become pregnant? Don't tell me that it just slipped your mind that there are about a million types of contraceptives available."

She eyed the half-completed washing-up with resignation and led her sister into the lounge.

Like the kitchen, it was small, but imaginatively furnished. Beth's job as secretary-cum-book-keeper in a small electronics company didn't pay that much. It was all she could do to meet the mortgage on her tiny two-bedroomed flat. But it was hers and she had decorated it as tastefully as she could on a minuscule budget.

Whenever she felt like giving up, she told herself that things would improve as soon as she had completed her accountancy course and could find herself a better job. All that studying she had to do in her free time would pay dividends. By nature she was an optimist. Didn't they say that every cloud had a silver lining?

Laura had collapsed on to one of the chairs and was hugging a cushion. A picture of misery. Beth looked at her doubtfully. This didn't seem like any act, although it was hard to tell. Laura had the ability to look woebegone if the weather report began with showers and light snow,

"Look," Beth said calmly, "there's no point weeping and wailing. You're pregnant, with no chance of marrying the father of the child. You'll just have to do what anyone else in your situation would do. Work for as long as you can and then leave. You've said that you can't go back to the job as you haven't been there long enough to qualify for maternity leave. So what? It's hardly the end of the world."

She bit back the temptation to lecture on the sheer insanity of becoming involved with a married man, not to mention becoming pregnant by him. Her sister had enough problems on her plate without that.

From the sound of it, though, Beth could think of a thousand better places to put her loyalty than with a creep who had knowingly involved himself with Laura when his responsibilities lay elsewhere. He didn't know about the pregnancy but she seriously doubted that that would have influenced his actions. He had left her sister high and dry after a three-month fling. A baby on the way was hardly likely to have changed that. Couldn't Laura have suspected the sort of man he was?

"It's the end of the world for me," Laura said, in between sobs. Beth handed her a box of tissues. "Jobs like mine don't grow on trees, you know. I love it there. It pays more than I could ever hope to get in a lifetime of doing secretarial work."

"Then you should have thought about all that before you got yourself into this situation."

"How was I to know that David…' there was another onslaught of weeping and she blew her nose noisily into a tissue '… that David was married? He didn't tell me until he decided to walk out. And by then it was too late. I was already pregnant. And I'm still in love with him," she finished miserably. "Surely not," Beth said, aghast. "I knew you wouldn't understand." There was an edge of accusation in Laura's voice now. "You've never been in love. Not even with Craig. It's easy for you to sit there and sound horrified just because I haven't had the common sense to have acted the way you would have done! You don't know what it's like! You've always been so sensible. When Dad died, you were the one who was strong enough to support Mum, and when she remarried you were the one who told me not to cry because that would only make her unhappy, and, when they both went to Australia to live last year, you were the one who waved them off at the airport and told me that life had to go on!"

Beth felt the prick of tears behind her eyes. Laura had managed to make her sound like a monster, but she was practical, that was all. Was that some sort of crime? As for Craig…she preferred not to dwell on that and pushed it to the back of her mind. Easy enough to do. Laura was right about that, at any rate. She hadn't been in love with him, had felt no fireworks. When he had broken off their relationship she had been upset, but not distraught, had picked up the pieces and carried on. It was the only way, wasn't it?

Now her sister had sprung this latest escapade on her, and had expected… what?

She had spent a lifetime reacting in the only way she had known how to her sister's recklessness. Now that control, that inability to become involved, had become as much part of her as the colour of her hair or the shape of her nose.

"You're being unfair!" she protested uncomfortably.

"No, I'm not. You don't want to understand. In a minute you'll start telling me to pull myself together."

"I just don't know what to do," Beth objected. "I'm not some sort of miracle-worker. I understand, honestly, and I'll help in whatever way I can, you know that. I'll baby-sit, I'll buy things for it, as much as I can afford, I'll even sell my flat and move up to London to be closer to you. What more do you want me to say?"

Silly question. Beth waited for the inevitable response.

"You know how you can help me, if you really want to," Laura insisted stubbornly. There were smudges on her face from where the tears had dried, giving her a fragile, pathetic appearance.

"It wouldn't work," Beth said helplessly, but there was less determination in her voice now, and Laura sensed it, moving in like a shark that had scented blood and was homing in for the kill.

"It could work," she said earnestly, moving forward closer, impatiently sweeping her hair away from her face. "Come with me, I'll show you."

She stood up and held out her hand. Beth reluctantly took it, allowing herself to be led into the bedroom. Like a lamb to the slaughter.

Laura guided her to the tall mirror that stood next to the dressing-table in the bedrpom.. Outside the wind was fierce and relentless, rattling the , window-panes ever so slightly. It was a perfectly dark night, the moon obscured by the dense layers of cloud that had hung over the country for the past few days.

Inside, the bedside lamps threw patterns of light and shadow across the room and the overhead light with its pretty apricot shade picked out the figures of the sisters, illuminating them.

Top Books