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."