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November Harlequin Presents 2(6)

By:Susan Stephens

‘You owe me,’ Morgan had pleaded. ‘When Dad was sick I had to use up all my leave to look after him.’

‘I had a fever!’ Tegan had argued. ‘I wanted to come home, you know that, but they wouldn’t let me travel.’

Morgan had been unsympathetic. ‘It doesn’t change the fact I had to look after him by myself. Now I’ve got no leave left, and Maverick insists I sit at my desk all week just in case he wants me to send a fax somewhere. Come on, Tegan, it’s the least you can do. Bryony is my best friend, and the wedding’s only two weeks away. How can I tell her at this stage that I can’t be her chief bridesmaid?’

‘But nobody is going to believe I’m you for an entire week.’

‘Why not? Maverick will be half a world away, and anybody that knows I have a sister thinks she’s still off fighting the good cause in some Third World country somewhere.’

Half a world away. If only.

Tegan had tried to find holes in her sister’s scheme, had tried to find where it could fall down. She sighed as she remembered the countless arguments, the many ‘what if’s as she’d argued her case and why it couldn’t work. But her twin had been convincing, in spite of Tegan’s doubts—‘a piece of cake’, she’d called it. She’d made it sound doable. She’d even managed at times to make it sound logical. Besides, how else would Morgan have been able to get to Bryony’s wedding? Morgan’s boss could not have been allowed to get away with such a mean gesture.

Besides, Morgan had been right about one thing: Tegan owed her sister big time for caring for their father after his sudden stroke, when Tegan had been able to do no more than worry from a distance. In the end, battling against a mystery virus in a dusty African camp hospital, she’d heard the chilling news that her father had suffered another stroke, this time fatal. It was two months before she’d been declared fit enough to travel, too late to see her father one last time, and two months too late to help Morgan.

So, yes, Tegan owed her. And Morgan had made it sound foolproof. Except that neither of them had once considered the possibility that the Italian trip wouldn’t go ahead.

Maverick was here…

And so what that he’d been taken in today; how long could she maintain the deception? Morgan would just have to come home, and the sooner the better. There was nothing else for it.

‘You look deep in thought.’

She jumped at his voice, looking up in panic, hoping the scattered contents of files and paperwork on her desk didn’t betray too much of her inexperience.

If it did, he didn’t comment. He dropped a stack of files topped with a pile of paperwork onto a relatively uncluttered part of her desk.

‘What’s the latest with Phil?’

She schooled her face into something she hoped was approaching coolly professional. ‘I’m just awaiting final confirmation he can make it for ten tomorrow—the lawyers look like falling in if that’s a goer. It shouldn’t be too long now.’

‘Good. I’ll be out talking to our finance people,’ he said, heading towards the lifts. ‘I might be late.’

‘What do you want me to do with these?’ she called out behind him, indicating the stack of material he’d left behind.

He turned, a small furrow marring his noble brow. ‘Exactly what you normally do with them. Is there a problem with that?’

She plastered a bright and hopefully not too false smile on her face. ‘I thought as much,’ she lied, before the scowling personage disappeared into the lift. ‘Just checking.’

He needed a cold beer. If the meeting with a bunch of dry and dusty finance people hadn’t been enough, a trip past his grandmother’s nursing home had certainly given him a thirst. The old lady sure wasn’t getting any easier. Some days she welcomed him like she’d always done, and was full of bright stories about growing up on the family ranch in Montana. And other times she just seemed determined to give him a hard time.

This afternoon had been one of those times.

The lift hummed quietly up through the floors towards his office suite as he tugged loose his tie and undid his top button.

On the way back from the private nursing-home he’d toyed with the idea of calling up someone from his current list of contacts to see if they were interested in going out for dinner, but in the end he’d decided against it. People knew he was supposed to be overseas this week, and somehow a meaningless dinner for the hell of it seemed just that—meaningless. Besides, he hadn’t wanted to give any of his current female companions a reason to think she’d been singled out for special treatment, when all he’d wanted to do was avoid eating alone.