What was shy Los Angeles secretary Laurie Evans doing in Mobile, Alabama, for the weekend? Making good on a promise to meet the future in-laws. Not hers, but her cousin LaRaine’s. Like a fool, Laurie has agreed to masquerade as her cousin after the spoiled aspiring actress lands a movie role. LaRaine’s fiancé, millionaire hotel magnate Rian Montgomery, isn’t going to be there, and the rest of the Montgomery clan will never be the wiser. What could possibly go wrong?
After spending her life in her cousin’s shadow, it’s Laurie’s turn to take a starring role—until Rian unexpectedly arrives at his family’s estate. To Laurie’s surprise, he agrees to the ruse. He has his reasons. Soon, a bride-to-be could be cut from the picture, a love affair will be turned upside down, and for Laurie, the dream of a dazzling romance will be no charade.
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The Americana Series: Alabama
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
THE afternoon sun tried desperately to pierce the hazy smog that lay like a dirty halo over Los Angeles, the City of the Angels. There was nothing angelic about the traffic in the streets, racing about like lemmings on their self-destructive path to the sea. Laurie's cab driver weaved and honked his way through the three lanes of bumper-to-bumper vehicles while she braced herself for the collision that never came. An irate motorist shook his fist at the taxi that cut in front of him and Laurie sank a little deeper in her corner. She knew she could never drive as aggressively as the scowling man behind the wheel, although her cousin LaRaine had no such compunction.
The thought of LaRaine drew a weary sigh from Laurie. Laurie was supposed to have been back at their apartment before noon. Her fiery cousin would be furious with her. It wouldn't make any difference, that she had been helping Aunt Carrie, LaRaine's mother, prepare for her women's organization annual charity bazaar. Nor would it matter that it had been her aunt who had volunteered her services as typist without consulting Laurie. No, her aunt had presented it to her as an accomplished fact with a snide comment that someone should get some benefit from Laurie's secretarial course.
Resentment flared briefly in Laurie. Her own parents had been killed in a car crash when she was only seven. Her mother had no living relatives, which left Paul, her father's brother, with Laurie. She dearly loved her uncle Paul who was so much like the slowly fading recollections of her father. It should have been an ideal solution for her to come to live with Paul Evans, his wife Carrie and their own daughter LaRaine who was only nine months younger than Laurie. It might have been if Uncle Paul hadn't been so wrapped up in his career and Aunt Carrie hadn't devoted every minute to her only daughter.
As a sensitive seven-year-old, Laurie had been quick to realize that their world revolved around LaRaine. Memories of her aunt's parties where LaRaine was paraded in front of the women who gathered came drifting back. Half the time Aunt Carrie had forgotten to mention Laurie except to refer to her in passing as their 'little orphan'. The remark hadn't meant to be unkind, but deprived as she was of the secure world of her parents' love, the constant reminder of her status had hurt. And Laurie had been glad to stay in the background while her vivacious, confident cousin occupied the spotlight.
Although she had gone to the same schools as LaRaine, had an equally beautiful bedroom across the hall from her cousin's, and on the surface had been treated as a member of the family, Laurie had looked forward to her high school graduation. Against the wishes of both her aunt and uncle, she had used the last of her father's money to take a secretarial course and thus have the means of earning her own living without being dependent on what had become the charity of her aunt and uncle.
There had been a few months of sweet success with money she had earned herself in her pocket every week. Then, beautiful LaRaine was out of school, intent on taking a trip to Hawaii. LaRaine was an adult. She wouldn't consider letting her parents accompany her and they wouldn't consider allowing her to go by herself. The compromise was that Laurie should go with her. Feebly Laurie had attempted to protest, knowing her position in the typing pool of the large firm could be filled by someone else at a moment's notice. But the look in her aunt's eyes had plainly said that Laurie owed it to them to give up her job—after all, they had raised her. Laurie had given in, the yoke of forced gratitude bowing her head.
After Hawaii, it had been something else, finally culminating in LaRaine's demand to have an apartment of her own. It was a request that was fulfilled after Laurie had agreed to live there as well. Any display of rebellion by Laurie was always met by the same reproachful looks that reminded her of the everlasting gratitude she owed with an added "How lucky you are not to have to work for a living." A bitter smile flitted across her lips. She was a companion to her cousin, provided with room and board and a clothing allowance, at the mercy of LaRaine's whims and the dictates of her aunt. She was twenty-one-without a life of her own or friends of her own.
"This is it, lady," the cab driver growled over his shoulder.
With a start Laurie realized the taxi had stopped in front of the luxurious high-rise building that housed her apartment. A quick glance at the meter sent her rummaging through her purse for her wallet. The grimace on his face when she handed him the money intimidated her into adding another bill to the tip she had thought adequate. He waited impatiently while she fought the door handle, knowing that if LaRaine had been sitting here she would have ordered the cab driver to open the door for her. But Laurie finally managed it on her own, sending a breathless 'thank you' over her shoulder as she crawled out of the back seat.
Inside the lushly carpeted lobby with its many urns of potted foliage, Laurie was greeted warmly by the security guard. "Good afternoon, Miss Evans."
"How are you today, Mr. Farber?" she returned in equally friendly tones.
"Just fine, miss," he nodded.
"I'm running late today." A wry grimace revealed the twin dimples in her cheeks. "My cousin expected me back before noon and here it is nearly three."
"I believe your cousin is out." Noting the look of surprise on her face, he added, "She swept out of here about an hour after you did this morning and I'm almost certain she hasn't returned."
That meant absolutely nothing had been done since Laurie had left. Now that she had returned before her cousin everything would surely fall on her shoulders, so with a resigned shake of her head, she smiled her thanks to the security guard and hurried towards the lifts.
As Laurie walked out of the lift towards her apartment, she blamed the brief spate of self-pity on the tight, sore muscles in her neck and shoulders, her reward for sitting in front of a typewriter for nearly six solid hours. Her future wasn't bleak. There was a bright spot not too far away. LaRaine was engaged to be married and the tentative wedding date was only four months away. Then she, Laurie, would be free to live her own life as she chose, but she knew the next few months would be hectic.
The sight of dresses, evening gowns, and trouser suits tossed over every available piece of furniture greeted Laurie as she walked into the living room of the apartment. A resigned dullness clouded her eyes as she recognized her cousin's helter-skelter method of choosing clothes from her extensive wardrobe to be packed in the empty suitcases set to the side. There was typically no note telling Laurie where LaRaine was going or when she would be back. LaRaine Evans was a law unto her own self, answerable to no one.
A moment's qualm shuddered through Laurie as she considered her cousin's engagement. It had all begun almost two months ago when LaRaine had attended another one of those elegant Hollywood cocktail parties, secretly nursing her childhood wish to be "discovered" and become a famous movie star. Laurie never went. The artificial atmosphere of surface gaiety underlined by malicious backstabbing revolted her. It had been unusually early when LaRaine returned from this particular party and Laurie had still been up. Her cousin had swept into the apartment, her calculating brown eyes glittering with suppressed excitement.
"I've just met the man I'm going to marry!" she had announced.
Laurie had been astounded, too familiar with her cousin's indifference to her most ardent admirers to take her seriously.
"Don't laugh, darling," LaRaine had smiled wryly. "This man is one in a million and I intend to have him."
"I just can't believe you could fall in love with a man you only met tonight." Laurie had shrugged her shoulders in amusement.
"Oh, I haven't fallen in love with him, but he certainly has everything to ensure that I do," her cousin had replied, tossing her evening wrap on the back of the couch before she curled on its cushions looking like the cat that had stolen the cream.
"You aren't making any sense."
"Aren't I?" LaRaine had replied smugly. "You wait!"
Her cousin had refused to discuss it any further, preferring the cloak of mystery to any childish confidences. The following morning had brought a delivery of a dozen red roses with a note requesting dinner that evening, but unsigned. LaRaine had, strangely enough, been ready the instant the doorbell rang, preventing Laurie from meeting her mysterious caller. Flowers arrived daily after that, and always long-stemmed red roses. Laurie recognized the bold, decisive handwriting on the accompanying cards as the same as the first. None were ever signed nor bore any outpourings of undying love. The messages were always crisp and concise, thanking LaRaine for the previous evening or making arrangements for another.
It was almost two weeks to the day since LaRaine had made her announcement before Laurie had met the man her cousin's whole world had become centred around. Then it had been quite by accident.
Laurie had just washed her hair and had wrapped it in a towel. Cleansing cream was smeared over her face when the doorbell had rang. Grumbling that LaRaine had probably misplaced her key, Laurie had raced to the door, robed in a red caftan, a cast-off of LaRaine's that looked too big for her even in its loosely fitting style.
Without any inquiries as to who might be on the other side of the door, she had flung it open to stare in open-mouthed surprise at the imposing figure framed by the door. The man was over six foot, dressed in an impeccably tailored grey suit that revealed his whipcord leanness while accenting the breadth of his shoulders and the narrowness of his hips. Hair as black as her own hidden locks was combed back from his tanned forehead. The artificial light from the hallway reflected the blue highlights in the thick, slightly curling hair. The arrogant slash of his jawline complemented the aristocratic line of his nose with strength etched in the powerful cheekbones and the bronzed hollow of his cheeks. The cruel set of his mouth drew her attention for a brief moment before her startled gaze raced to meet the hooded look of his dark, nearly black eyes.
"Who ... who are you?" she had stumbled, unnerved to the point of wanting to shut the door in his face.
Dark brows lifted slightly to let the glimmer of arrogant amusement shine from his eyes. "Is Miss Evans in?" His low voice had the decidedly authoritative ring of a man used to commanding and having other people obey.
"LaRaine?" she had asked stupidly before rushing in, "No, no, she isn't here right now. May I tell her who called?"
His eyes had flicked with merciless thoroughness over her dishevelled person. "You are her cousin," he had stated.
The slowly drying cleansing cream had hidden the sudden race of embarrassed pink in her cheeks. Laurie could only swallow and nod that she was LaRaine's cousin.
"Would you tell her that I called and offer my apologies for not being able to keep our engagement this evening." A slender, tanned hand reached inside the breast pocket of his jacket and removed a long narrow green velvet box which he handed to Laurie. His voice was tinged with cynical mockery as he explained, "A gift for Miss Evans."
In that instant it dawned on Laurie that this had to be LaRaine's mysterious suitor, at least mysterious to her because she had never met him. Her cousin had made many insinuations that the man was extraordinarily rich as well as strikingly handsome. Now that she had met him Laurie couldn't think of him as handsome. Striking, yes. Overpowering, definitely. Masculine, undoubtedly, but there was too much hardness and unrelenting strength in his features for him to be handsome, yet possessing a magnetism that couldn't be ignored. Still, he was not the type of man Laurie would ever want as a husband or lover, let alone a friend. And heaven help her if she should ever make an enemy of him, because Laurie knew with certainty that he would be a dangerous man to cross.
The expensive jewellery box in her hand seemed to catch fire, burning her fingers. Laurie wanted no part of him or anything that belonged to him. Hurriedly she tried to shove it back into his grasp.
"You'd better give it to her yourself, Mr.-Mr.—" Wildly Laurie realized that she still didn't know his name.
"Montgomery," he supplied smoothly, with an imperious nod of his head, "Rian Montgomery." The name was vaguely familiar, but as flustered as Laurie was, she couldn't immediately place why. There was a twisted, cynical smile curling one corner of his mouth as he refused to take back the gift meant for her cousin. "I don't think it will matter very much to LaRaine who actually hands her the present, you or I. I don't have time to argue the point with you. Please give her my message and," flicking a finger at the green velvet box clutched in Laurie's hand, "the gift."
Laurie had been left standing in the doorway watching him stride to the lift. Two hours later, LaRaine had returned, furious when Laurie told her of Rian Montgomery's visit, but suitably mollified when she saw the jewellery box. Laurie had tried to explain that she thought LaRaine would have preferred Mr. Montgomery to give it to her himself, but her cousin was already exclaiming over the diamond and ruby-studded bracelet inside the green case.
"What difference does it make who gives it to me?" she had said, laying the bracelet across her wrist and holding it up to the light in silent appraisal, "as long as it came from him."
That was almost an exact echo of his sentiments. In her own case, Laurie knew she would have wanted to receive the gift directly from the giver, especially something as expensive as that bracelet, which considering the cost, she would probably have refused.
"Well, what did you think of Rian?" LaRaine was studying Laurie's thoughtful expression.
Her impression was not what LaRaine would want to hear, so Laurie chose a middle ground. "He was a bit older than I expected."
"Thirty-five isn't old," her cousin had replied scornfully. The dark eyes had returned to the bracelet. "Besides, he's not only rich and powerful, he's also very well known. There isn't a woman born who wouldn't want to marry him."
Laurie knew one—herself. The man she would marry would be gentle and tender, not someone who would dominate anyone in his presence and bend them to his wile "Who is he?" She still hadn't been able to place where she had heard his name before."
LaRaine had laughed, a throaty, sexy laugh she had practised until it no longer contained any amusement although it was pleasing to the ear. "Laurie, you're so incredibly ignorant! Rian Montgomery owns the Driftwood hotel chain, among many other things."
The article in the newspaper had come flooding back to her, touting the news that Rian Montgomery was in town after opening one of his hotels in Mexico and in the process of negotiating the construction of another in some resort area in South America. Laurie also remembered that he was known for his ruthless manipulation of people, as well as the ongoing string of beauties photographed at his side.
When Laurie had realized it was Rian Montgomery her cousin was trying to steer to the altar, she hadn't given her cousin two pins for her chances. During the weeks succeeding Laurie's meeting with him, there had been more presents, each more expensive than the previous, more dates with LaRaine, one more casual meeting with Laurie where Rian Montgomery practically ignored her existence, and finally the stunning news almost a week ago that LaRaine was engaged to Rian Montgomery.
Her cousin could take care of herself, but Laurie still thought she was making a grievous mistake. The very day after her engagement LaRaine had been in a temper that not even the sapphire flanked by diamonds in her engagement ring could assuage, because Rian Montgomery refused any publicity regarding their engagement. And more than anything else, LaRaine wanted to be in the spotlight. Laurie had known that he wasn't the type of man to be swayed by stormy scenes or a woman's tears. LaRaine had been forced to comply with his wishes.
Excerpted from Dangerous Masquerade by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1976 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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