Stand-In Bride's Seduction(2)

By: Yvonne Lindsay

It was bulkier than she’d expected and she ripped away the seal to tip out the letter and a key—and something else that tumbled with a brilliant flash and landed on the coffee-cup-rim-stained table in front of her. Rina reached quickly to pick it up, barely stifling a gasp of shock as she did so. A massive princess-cut diamond solitaire set on an ornately chaste platinum band winked back at her.

It was typical Sara to put something so valuable in something as innocuous and insecure as an envelope. Rina stifled the sudden surge of irritation that flooded through her at Sara’s careless actions, and unfolded the single sheet of paper. As she read her sister’s looped handwriting, her fingers fisted tight around the ring in her hand.

Rina groaned out loud. Sara hadn’t. She couldn’t have. It was beyond belief and way beyond anything her sister had ever done before. No wonder she hadn’t wanted to admit any of this face-to-face and had run the instant she’d had the opportunity. Rina scoured the words again, hoping against hope that she’d misread something, but no.

Darling Rina, I’m so sorry I can’t be there with you. I know it’s a tough time for you but at least you’re away from him—and can take some time to heal. Thing is, I think I’ve made a big mistake and I really need some space to think long and hard about whether I’m doing the right thing. Please, can you be me for a few days while I sort things out? Reynard will never need to know. Just put on my engagement ring and wear some of my stuff—you know, like we used to before we grew up. Well, before you grew up anyway. My maturity is probably still under question.

Sara went on to list a few hints and tips about Reynard, things like how they’d met, what his favorite beverage was, where they’d been together.

Beneath her exhaustion and the shock of her sister’s outrageous request, Rina felt anger begin to swell from deep inside.

How dare Sara ask her to do this? Had she no compassion for anyone but herself? How could she expect her twin, fresh from a painful broken engagement, to slide straight into another and pretend to be someone she wasn’t? It was totally and completely wrong. Let alone what it was expecting of Rina, it certainly wasn’t fair to Reynard del Castillo, either.

Rina crushed the letter in her hand as her anger inflamed and grew. The words Sara had used imprinted on her mind.

I think I’ve made a big mistake.

She heard almost exactly the same words play in her head from when she’d last heard them. Not from Sara, but from her ex-fiancé, Jacob.

Despite the warmth in the airport terminal, Rina felt suddenly and unutterably cold. She was back there in that restaurant. Their favorite. Sitting across from the man she’d planned to spend the rest of her life with and hearing him tell her that he had fallen in love with someone else. How he’d been putting off telling her for months but with their wedding only a week away, he could put it off no longer.

Rina shook her head to rid it of the images lodged there. After the deception Jacob had practiced all those months, the thought of deceiving someone else made her feel physically ill. There was no way she was doing this. Not even for her twin. No way.

She shoved the letter, key and ring into the envelope and pushed them deep inside her handbag before hoisting the bag back onto her weary shoulder and getting up from the table. She reached for the handle on her suitcase and pulled it along behind her. She was going to find a taxi, go to the cottage where Sara had been staying, get showered, get dressed and, somehow, find this Reynard del Castillo and tell him what her sister was obviously too afraid to. No one deserved to be lied to as Sara had suggested. No one.

Reynard del Castillo studied the court report that had sat on his office desk now for six months. He’d kept it there as a reminder to be ever-vigilant of the opportunists who frequently targeted his family as a fast ticket to easy street.

He opened the report and stared at the name marked in bold ink. Estella Martinez. The woman had worked for him here in his office. Vivacious, beautiful and intelligent, he’d almost been tempted into indulging in an affair with her. Almost, but not quite, because instinct warned him she was not what she painted herself to be. When Estella had attempted to stage a scene between them, one where he would be seen to be breaching employer-employee protocols, he’d spun into action to ensure that her claims of sexual harassment and her offers to keep things quiet—both from his family and the tabloids, for several hundred thousand Euros—fell flat in the dust.

Estella Martinez’s pitiful grasping attempt at her moment of fame, her attempts at extortion—all of it had been exposed in the closed court trial. He’d used every one of his contacts and the weight of his family name and position to see that her charges were brought before the Court within the minimum amount of time and that there was no public access to either the proceedings or the results of those proceedings.

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