Charade of the Heart(3)

By: Cathy Williams


She was the first to look away, throwing herself on to the bed and staring sightlessly up at the ceiling.

Trading places. It had been a ridiculous game when they were children, but they weren't children now. They were women in their early twenties, and surely the time for ridiculous games was over?

Laura sat on the bed, her knees pulled up to her chin.

"Please, Beth, do it for me. It can work. I'm sure of it. Would I jeopardise my whole life if I didn't believe that?"

You're mad enough, Beth felt tempted to say.

"My boss would never notice," she continued persuasively. "He's hardly ever there. He owns a string of hotels worldwide, not to mention enough other business interests that keep him out of the country for weeks on end. My orders tend to come by phone or fax. And when he is around he's always far too busy to notice me other than in the capacity of the secretary who follows his dictates."

"Sounds a treasure," Beth said drily.

"You know what I mean. He breathes, eats and sleeps work. No, maybe not sleeps. He has enough women around to fulfill him on that score."

"Charming."

"But what I'm saying to you is this: we don't have the sort of close working relationship that would make him notice any difference if you replaced me. He probably wouldn't even see that our hairstyles were different and, if he did, you could tell him that you had had your hair cut."

"And you like working for this man?" Beth sat up, propping her head on her elbow and staring curiously at her sister. The man hardly sounded like a comfortable type to be around.

"I love it. I've never had so much responsibility in a job in my life before. That's why I'm so desperate to hang on to it. As far as I'm concerned, working for Marcos Adrino is the best thing that ever happened to me. That she patted her stomach '—and the baby.

It's all I have left of David, and I'm happy with that."

"Oh, yes, the baby. So I'm to cunningly replace you at the Adrino corporation, not arousing so much as a whisker of suspicion, while you move into my flat and temp until the baby's born, and then what?"

"And then," Laura elaborated, her eyes positively gleaming now that victory was tantalisingly within reach, "and then I move back up to London and take up where you left off. My friend Katie is a professional child-minder. She's already promised to look after it."

"Convenient."

"Yes, it is," Laura agreed, unaware of the oblique sarcasm in her sister's voice.

"And how do I cope with all those little details like knowing the layout of the office? The filing system?" Why, Beth wondered, am I actually allowing my curiosity to encourage Laura in her mad ideas?

‘I’ll fill you in on that. It all runs remarkably smoothly. Marcos told me when I first applied for the job that the secret of a successful office lay in its simplicity. Everything documented and on computer so that no one was indispensable to the company."

"Except him, of course."

"Right." Laura's voice was full of awe.

The man obviously had something, Beth thought, although from where she was sitting that something sounded very much like a healthy dose of arrogance.

"And don't you think that other people might notice our little swap?"

"Not likely. Marcos's office occupies the top floor of the building, and there are only a handful of people there. The two vice-presidents who work for him, and their secretaries, whom I have very little to do with."

She rattled off their names and Beth held up her hand to staunch the flow of information.

"And what about my job?" she asked. "Do I just tell them that I'm taking seven months' leave to help my sister out in a scheme that could have come straight out of a third-rate movie, but to hang on, I'll be back?"

"You quit."

‘I’ll quit."

"Sure. Why not? You know that you're only there because it's convenient and because it helps pay the mortgage. I can get a temp job somewhere and pay your mortgage, and you can use my huge salary for the next seven months to build up that little nest-egg you're always telling me you wish you had."

"I see."

Beth could hardly credit her sister with the forethought she had taken in preparing the ground plan of all this. For every question, she had an answer, and all of the answers were logical in a bizarre way.

"Besides," Laura continued, "you told me how much you'd like to get out of here for a bit, to put a little distance between you and Craig. Here's your chance."

"It was wishful thinking!" Beth objected weakly. "Besides, I've got over all that."

"Have you?"

Beth looked at her sister and sighed. She knew what lay behind this piercing concern for her emotional well-being. It had little to do with the state of her heart and much more to do with the fact that it would fit in very nicely with her plans, thank you very much.