Secrets of the Playboy's Bride(3)

By: Leanne Banks

“I’ll talk to her,” Calista said. “I know stepping up to parent my sisters hasn’t been easy.”

“Walter and I love them. We just wish we could better afford them,” Sharon said wryly. “But I knew when I married a carpenter I wasn’t destined for a life of luxury.”

“I think you got a good deal. You got a life of love. That’s more than many of us will ever see,” Calista said, knowing a life of love wasn’t likely in her own future. She couldn’t imagine trusting anyone enough to let down her guard. Look what had happened to her mother, Calista and her sisters when they’d counted on her father.

“Speaking of love life, I can’t believe no men have been asking you out,” Sharon said.

“I may have met someone special recently,” she said, laying the groundwork for the rest of her plan. “Time will tell.”

“Oh, surely you can cough up more than that,” Sharon said. “Is he kind? Funny? Gorgeous?”

She smiled at her cousin’s priorities. Wealth hadn’t even made the list. “It’s too soon. I don’t want to jinx it.”

Hours later, after go-karts, a pedicure for Tami and Tina and ice cream for all, Calista snagged her sister Tami before she disappeared into the house. “Hey, what’s the rush?” she asked, grabbing her sister’s hand. “Sit here on the porch with me before I have to go.”

“Graham is supposed to call,” Tami said, speaking of her latest boyfriend.

“You can talk to him after I leave,” Calista said.

“If Sharon lets me,” Tami muttered, tossing her multicolored bangs from her eyes. “Honestly, I’m going to be eighteen in August, but the way she treats me, I may as well be in preschool.”

“Slight exaggeration,” Calista said in a dry tone she couldn’t conceal.

Tami slid a rebellious sideways glance at her.

“August will be here before you know it and you’ll be off to college.”

“Freedom at last,” Tami said.

“I hate to remind you, but college means more studying than ever,” Calista said, then waved her hand to dismiss the subject. “How are things going for you lately?” she asked.

Tami regarded her suspiciously. “Sharon told you, didn’t she?”

“Told me what?”

Tami sighed and glanced away. “She caught me smoking. I begged her not to say anything to you.”

“Why?” Calista asked, her heart twisting. “I thought you and I were closer than that.”

“We are,” Tami said, fiddling with her hair. “I just didn’t want you to be mad at me.”

“I’m not mad. I’m worried. You know you have asthma, so you shouldn’t stress your lungs by smoking. I just want you to be safe and happy.” Calista gathered her sister into her arms. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.”

“It was just once,” Tami said and closed her eyes. “I’ve been thinking about Mom lately. I wish she hadn’t died.”

“I do too,” Calista said, pulling back slightly and looking into her sister’s eyes. “But we’ve got each other. Don’t you forget that. If you need anything, anytime, give me a call. Just promise me you’ll be safe.”

“Promise,” she said. “Prom is two weeks away. Are you still going to take us shopping for dresses next Saturday?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Calista said.

During the drive back to Philadelphia, she worried about her sister. Tami and Tina possessed diametrically opposed personalities. Tina was easygoing in her personal life, but competitive and intense with sports and grades. She would be eligible for scholarships and aid, but more money would be needed. Tami was intense about her personal relationships and had to be pushed to focus on academics. Fortunately, both her sisters were naturally intelligent and had been accepted at the colleges of their choice. Now, all Calista had to do was come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it happen for them.

Leo glanced at the background information on Calista French for the third time. She hadn’t lied. She was a card-carrying member of the exclusive women’s society who’d sponsored the charity benefit, had graduated with honors from a top Ivy League university, was currently employed as an analyst for an insurance company and was active in local charities. Her mother and father were dead; her two sisters lived a couple hours away.Her background was unblemished with the exception of her father’s financial failure and subsequent death. Apparently her father was a terrible money manager; however, Leo vaguely remembered that Clyde had pulled something over on a man with the last name French.

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