Stand-In Bride's Seduction

By: Yvonne Lindsay

“Rina! Over here!”

Sarina Woodville turned her head to the sound of her twin sister’s voice. A huge smile spread across her tired features as she picked out the vibrant redhead in the crowd of faces in the airport’s arrivals hall. Clearing customs and immigration had been smooth and efficient, a fact she was very grateful for at this stage of her journey. Tugging her suitcase along behind her, Rina crossed the short distance to her sister’s waiting arms.

“It’s so good to see you,” Rina said.

“How was your trip? Absolute hell, I bet. It’s so long, isn’t it?” Sara bubbled along, not really listening for a response.

Despite how obviously happy her twin was to see her, Rina couldn’t help but notice the strain on her face and the dark rings around her eyes.

“Sara, is everything okay? You’re still all right with me staying with you, aren’t you?”

She really hoped Sara hadn’t changed her mind. When Rina’s engagement had unexpectedly come to an ignominious end last week and Sara had suggested she come to Isla Sagrado for some much needed cosseting, she’d jumped at the chance to get away for a while. But now she was afraid she might be in the way. Sara had only recently become engaged herself, to some guy called Reynard del Castillo. Just privately, Rina thought the name a little on the pretentious side but then again, from what she’d heard from Sara, the family was virtually royalty here on this tiny Mediterranean island republic.

The del Castillos had sponsored the equestrian event trials Sara had participated in here after a successful tour in France. Her e-mails had been full of effusive praise for the beauty of the island—and the men on it. It hadn’t taken a Mensa-rated IQ to see where her flighty sister was leading when her e-mails had mentioned Reynard del Castillo on several occasions. Their rapid engagement, though, had come as a huge surprise. This Reynard must be quite a man to have pinned Sara down.

Sara flashed her a weak smile. “Come to the cafe over here and we can talk.”

“Can’t we talk on the way to your place?” Rina asked, confused.

Right now she wanted nothing more than a shower, maybe a hot drink and then about ten or twelve uninterrupted hours of sleep. By tomorrow morning she was certain she’d be feeling human again. The journey between New Zealand and Isla Sagrado, with all its painfully necessary stopovers and airport transfers, was hitting around thirty-seven hours now, and counting. She was ready to drop on her feet.

“It’s complicated and I don’t have much time. I’m really sorry. I will explain later, I promise, but right now I have to get back to France.”

“You what?” Rina’s heart plummeted.

She knew Sara had recently been visiting some friends in the South of France, people she’d met on the event circuit, but had been due back today. Hence Rina’s arrival here, timed to coincide with Sara’s.

“Back to France? But didn’t you fly in just now?”

Sara nodded, and wouldn’t meet Rina’s eyes. Instead she glanced at the departures board against the far wall.

“I did, but I’m just not ready to be back here yet. I thought I would be, but I need more time. Here.” She reached into her handbag to grab an envelope and thrust it across the small, round table at Rina. “I wrote this for you just in case we missed one another this afternoon. Look, I’m really sorry. I wish I wasn’t so strapped for time. I know you came here for support, but I really need your help. I’ve laid it all out in the letter and I promise to be back here for you as soon as I’ve sorted things out.

“Go to the cottage, I’ve given you the key in here.” She tapped the envelope. “Settle yourself in, then when I get back we’ll have a good old bitch-and-gossip session and get all our man-worries out of our systems, okay?”

The public address system suddenly crackled to life, announcing a final call for passengers to Perpignan.

“Oh, that’s me. I’m so sorry, Reeny-bean,” Sara said, using the pet name she’d always used when she needed to cajole or coerce her sister into a favor. “I know I said I’d be here for you but—”

Sara rose from her seat and reached forward to envelop Rina in her arms.

“I’ll make it up to you soon, I promise. Love you!”

And then, she was gone. Stunned, Rina sat at the tiny table and watched as her sister disappeared in the direction of her departure gate. When it finally penetrated her shell-shocked, jet-lagged, sleep-deprived mind that Sara had really gone and left her here, her fingers clenched reflexively around the envelope in her hand. The crinkle of paper reminded her that the only way she was going to get an answer from her sister right now was to open the envelope.