Counterfeit BrideBy: Sara Craven
'You know something?' Elaine Fairmont announced. ‘I’m really going to miss Mexico.'
Nicola looked up from, the files she was packing into a carton, her lips curving in amusement.
'What's prompted this sudden, if belated, change of heart?' she enquired. 'I thought nothing in Mexico City could possibly compare with Los Angeles?'
'Well, I've been giving the matter some thought, and I've decided that actually they have quite a lot in common,' Elaine said solemnly. She began to count off on her fingers. 'There's the traffic and the smog—and the possibility of earthquakes—we mustn't forget those. Of course L.A. isn't actually sinking into a lake as far as I know, but the San Andreas fault could change all that.'
'It could indeed,' Nicola agreed, her eyes dancing. 'I suppose there's no chance that you'll change your mind a step further and come with me on my sightseeing trip?'
Elaine shook her head. 'No, honey. To me a ruin is a ruin, and who needs them? I'm no tourist, and besides, I've read about those Aztecs, and they had some pretty creepy habits. I'm not going back to L.A. with nightmares.' She paused. 'I suppose you haven't changed your mind either?'
'About returning to California with Trans-Chem?' It was Nicola's turn to shake her head. 'No, I've thoroughly enjoyed working for them, but this contract was really just a means to an end—a way of letting me see Mexico.' And a way of getting me as far away from Zurich and from Ewan as possible, she thought with a pang.
'So, sign another contract and see the U.S.A.,' Elaine suggested amiably. 'Martin's all set to fix you up with a work permit the moment you say the word, and all my folks are dying to meet you.'
Nicola smiled. 'It's very tempting, I admit. But I'm not sure where I want to work next time. I think it will almost certainly be Europe again.'
'Then why not Spain?' Elaine asked. 'Your Spanish is terrific, thanks to Teresita's coaching. It would be a great chance to make use of it.'
Perhaps.' Nicola gave a slight grimace. 'Actually I'd planned on finding somewhere a little more liberated next time.'
Elaine laughed. 'Don't tell me you've gotten tired of all this guera preciosa as you walk down the street?'
'I hate it.' There was a sudden intensity in Nicola's tone which made Elaine glance curiously at her before she returned to her task of feeding unwanted documents into the shredder. 'It's insulting. I haven't any illusions about my attractions, such as they are, and I don't need my ego boosted by meaningless compliments from total strangers. "Precious light-haired one" indeed! It's not even a particularly valid description,' she added, tugging at a strand of her tawny sun-streaked hair. 'Surely you of all people can't go along with this incessant reduction of women to mere sex objects?'
Elaine lifted a negligent shoulder. 'It doesn't really bother me. It's harmless as long as you don't take it seriously, or respond in any way, and I quite like being admired. The Women's Lib movement isn't the whole answer, you know. I've seen what it's done to people-to my own sister, in fact. She was happily married, or she sure seemed to be until someone started raising her consciousness. Now she's divorced, the kids cry all the time, and there's endless hassle with lawyers about alimony, and who gets the car and the ice-box.'
Nicola closed the carton and fastened it with sealing tape.
That's rather going to extremes,' she said. 'What I can't get used to is the attitude here that a woman is just—an adjunct to a man. Industrially, Mexico is making giant strides, but there are some things still which haven't changed from the days of the conquistadores--and that's what I find so hard to take. Well, look at Teresita, for instance.'
'I'm looking,' Elaine agreed. 'What's her problem?'
'Everything.' Nicola spread her hands helplessly. 'There's this guardian of hers. She's been sharing our apartment for three months now, and she still hasn't told him. He thinks she's living in that convent hostel, and from things she's said, I gather even that was a concession.'
Nicola's tone became heated, and Elaine smiled.
'Calm down,' she advised. 'If there was ever anyone who doesn't need our sympathy, then it's Teresita.'
'You mean because she's actually going to escape from the trap?' Nicola reached for another carton. 'I suppose you're right.'
'No, that wasn't what I meant,' Elaine said drily. 'Nor am I too sure she is going to escape, as you put it.'