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Scarlett Secret (The Scarletts Book 3)

Scarlett Secret (The Scarletts Book 3)

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It was just for three days.

Terri Scarlett hoped to rescue her friend, Lola Montega, from a life of doom, aka marriage to Prince Hamad Al Jerza. It was a simple plan. Terri would impersonate Lola and convince the old-fashioned monarch to set her free from their arranged marriage. And Lola? She was to stay put in Treasure Beach and not interact with anyone. What on earth could go wrong with such a simple and well-thought-out plan?

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Chapter One

"That was a good party, wasn't it?" Reuben grinned at Terri in the half dark. They were driving home from the party they had to welcome home Troy from the hospital. It was a little past eight o'clock, and the rain was drizzling lightly.
Terri snorted. "Some party. He couldn't wait to be alone with Chelsea. And after they came downstairs, grinning like Cheshire cats, they couldn't wait to kick us out. I didn't even get any of Mama's pudding."
Reuben hooted with laughter. "At least they worked out their differences and are happy again. Child number three should be in the works now."
"Yeah, I am happy for them." Terri sighed and pushed herself back in the car seat.
Reuben glanced at her. "You don't look happy."
"I am happy for them," Terri said tiredly. "Not me…"
"Why? What kinds of issues can a young lady like you have? You are beautiful, talented, have a job that takes you all over the world. You'll meet someone very soon."
Terri laughed dryly. "I doubt that. I quit the job a couple weeks ago. It's just that seeing Troy and Yuri settled is weighing on me. I guess I am just feeling broody. You know how Yuri has always had Marla as his soul mate, and Troy married Chelsea…I have never liked anyone enough to even date them."
Reuben nodded. "Yup. I know. Imagine, I am thirty-eight, Yuri and Troy are my younger cousins, and they are doing all the things that I should have done years ago. But you have no reason to feel broody, Terri. You will not be single for long; I can guarantee that."
Terri grimaced. "There are not many prospects in Treasure Beach, Reuben. No prospects at all. The guys I grew up with are too goofy. The ones who could be even remotely good potential partners, are too old or too young or too crazy, like Ricky."
Terri straightened up and looked at him. "It's a pity you are my cousin; you'd make a fine catch for some lucky girl."
Reuben snorted.
"Seriously, Ru," Terri laughed. "You are handsome and intelligent, and you are very wise in the ways of women."
"Maybe that is why I am single," Reuben grunted. "I know too much about women."
Terri chuckled. "How are Faith, Hope, and Joy these days?"
"Fine." Reuben shook his head. "Faith got herself a boyfriend my mother describes as Satan's helper. Hope got through for law school, and Joy recently opened a hair salon in Junction."
"I must stop by the salon." Terri nodded. "Then again, maybe not. Joy has always had a thing for my hair. She wants to see it black or brown or some other color."
Reuben laughed. "She loves to experiment. Don't let her mess with your hair."
"Maybe I should." Terri sighed. "I’ve had the same style and color for years. I am like one of those people who are stagnant. Nothing changes for me. It was amazing that I ever left the nest to go see the world. Staying at home is encoded in my DNA. See, I quit my job and here I am, in Treasure Beach. I can live anywhere else, but I chose the familiar. Mom and Dad are having more fun than me these days. They are always going off somewhere. This summer they are going to take a tour and what will I be doing? House sitting!"
"Here we go," Reuben muttered. "Terri, you are twenty-four years old. Aren't you a little too young to be feeling like you are stagnating?"
"No." Terri straightened in the seat and gave him one of her assessing looks. "You should feel the same way too. As a matter of fact, you should feel worse than me: you have lived in Treasure Beach all your life with your mother and sisters!"
Reuben smiled dryly. "When my stepfather died, I couldn't move out and leave my mother with three young girls to take care of. I had to stay with them; they needed me. Besides, I don't live with my mother anymore. I bought a house over at Lover’s Leap—nice sea view, good flat land, almost two acres. It is pretty close to the infamous Lover’s Leap attraction. I am spending most of my time over there fixing it up by myself."
"Go Ru!" Terri squealed and clapped her hands. "You’re putting that inheritance to use!"
"And most importantly, I am no longer living with my mother. Please note that little bit of information."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to make it sound like a bad thing. I know Aunt Fan and Faith, Hope, and Joy depend on you."
"No need to apologize." Reuben slowed the vehicle to a crawl behind a market truck that was loaded with cabbages.
"To be honest, I think that living with her contributed to my single state and my lack of female companionship. Nobody in the world is going to be good enough for me, says my mother. Maybe that is why..." His voice petered out, and he looked at her. "Maybe I shouldn't tell you this..."
"No, tell me," Terri pouted, "please, pretty please."
Reuben snorted. "You are so juvenile."
"And you are so secretive." Terri huffed. "Tell me this minute, or I'll just hound you until I reach home, and that's like thirty minutes of straight hounding."
Reuben grinned. "I can withstand your hounding. Anyway, I met a girl online a little before Pops died. I was sort of searching, you know. I began to panic that I was close to forty and still alone.
"So, we moved on from the Internet and started talking to each other over the phone and everything, but after Pops' death, I went a little crazy.
"I got the money, and I thought why not meet my online girlfriend? I am no longer poor farmer Reuben who still lives with his mother. I had options, and I was going to take the world by storm. I was going to follow my dreams and pursue this girl I had grown very attached to."
"What happened?" Terri asked.
"We arranged to meet in Florida."
"And?" Terri prompted. She hated to wait for information. Reuben was telling her the story like he was measuring every word.
"She was a guy," Reuben said quickly. "You are never to tell anybody about this."
"A guy!" Terri pulled her seat belt so that she could turn in her seat fully and face her cousin. "You lie!"
"No." Reuben sighed. "I spoke on the phone to a guy, got close to a guy who was transitioning to a woman. When I found out that Roxy was not born female, I was devastated."
Terri clapped her hand over mouth. "You didn't do anything with her, did you?"
Reuben threw her a nasty glance. "Hell no! I wouldn't compound my mistakes by fornicating with a shemale!"
"Sorry." Terri chuckled and then she laughed loud and long. Her mirth became overwhelming when she imagined her straitlaced cousin meeting a man/woman. For Reuben to even be liberated enough to be on the Internet meeting women was something to remark about, much less meeting one and then finding out something so devastating. She knew she shouldn't be laughing. She should be mature and sensitive and commiserate with Reuben.
Terri gulped back another chuckle and then wiped her eyes.
Reuben glanced at her. "Finished now?"
"No." Terri chuckled again. "I am getting there. Tell me how it went. I promise not to laugh about this particular matter again."
Reuben snorted. "We met at Aunt Sally's house. Roxy was nearby, so she came over. Aunt Sally's was supposed to be a neutral place for the first meeting."
"Grand Aunt Sally Scarlett!" Terri widened her eyes. "And she didn't say anything about you dating a, girl/guy? This should be family news. Aunt Sally doesn't keep quiet for nothing."
"She didn't know." Reuben grimaced. "Roxy is very pretty and feminine..."
"Good Lord." Terri shook her head. "So how did you find out that she was a he?"
"She told me. I freaked out." Reuben grimaced. "I had to later call her and apologize for my behavior. Boy did that catch me off guard. It was not a proud moment for me. I didn't handle it well. I never thought I was capable of going ballistic, you know. I always thought that if something serious was to happen and I witnessed it, that I would be silent, serious and stoic but I turned into a raving maniac. Apparently, I don't know myself as well as I thought."
"Oh Ru," Terri grimaced. "How many of us know ourselves well? I don't know what I would do if somebody deceived me to that extent. As the saying goes, you never know till you are in it. Sorry to laugh at you earlier."
"If you hadn't laughed, I would have thought I was in the car with somebody else," Reuben murmured. "That's what I like about you—your total joy for life. You are lighthearted and fun. Don't you dare change that."
He finally overtook the market truck, and they picked up speed down the hill.
"I need to grow up, Ru," Terri said ruefully. "I've been acting the same since I was five. What you call lighthearted and fun is what somebody else will call immature."
"So we are back to that?" Reuben sighed. "You want my advice?"
"Sure." Terri grinned. "You give good advice sometimes."
Reuben nodded. "I hope this is a good time. You know what I did when I heard that I got the inheritance?"
"Bought that house at Lover's Leap?"
"Yes, and the farm over at Pedro. I am thinking of going into greenhouse farming. That is one area I have always been fascinated with. Anyway, before I did any of those things, I went to the lawyer who read the will. Remember him?"
"Of course, the scrumptious Zachary Lee Chang." Terri licked her lips obscenely.
Reuben shook his head. "I asked him for investment advice. He had quite a few suggestions. I think they were solid. Maybe you should do the same…go to Zachary Lee Chang get some advice."
"I think I'll do that." Terri nodded, "I'll try not to stare at him while he is giving me that advice, though. I will act as if his good looks are a common thing in my world."
Reuben smiled. "You do that. Tell him hello for me. Last time I spoke to him, he said he might have a lead on where my father is."
"Really?" Terri nodded. "That would be good. And your other brothers and sister?"
"No word on that yet," Reuben said. "I heard from Oliver the other day. He sent me a postcard from Kinshasa."
"Cool." Terri nodded. "You know Oliver is sort of like you in temperament and looks."
Reuben nodded. "I noticed. It is nice to have a brother."
"Awww." Terri nodded. "I wish I had a sister."
"No, you don't." Reuben shook his head. He turned on Great Bay Road and headed for the house.
"No, seriously," Terri reached in the back for her bag. "I wish I had a picture of Lola in here."
"Who is Lola?" Reuben asked.
"She was my flatmate in London. I can honestly say she was like a sister to me, a really good friend. Too bad that she is gone into hiding, though."
"Hiding?" Reuben looked at her in alarm. "Is she a criminal?"
"No." Terri sighed. "Just hiding out from her husband or potential husband or betrothed or whatever they call it in that culture. I don’t think he is technically a husband till they do the deed."
"Arranged marriage?" Reuben asked incredulously, "They still do those in this century."
"Yes." Terri nodded. "They are proven to last longer than the marriages in our part of the world so don't knock it. Any-who... Lola's family arranged for her to marry this Arab prince and she is not for it."
"Sounds like a fairytale," Reuben scoffed.
"No, it's true, no fairytale. Poor Lola—after her father died, her mother remarried a very strict Muslim guy. They live in Qatar. Her stepfather arranged for her to be the third wife of a prince without her consent. Contracts were signed because it's the head male of the family who does these things. In their culture, it's a done deal when the dowry money changes hands. I don't even think she has ever seen her husband except for pictures in newspaper articles."
"And you say your life is boring." Reuben snorted. "Who knows anyone who is contracted to be the third wife of a prince?"
"That's why I quit my job." Terri sighed. "The prince is determined to get his contracted wife."
"What does that have to do with you?" Reuben asked as he pulled up at the house.
"I will tell you another time," Terri said, getting out of the car. "I have to go use the ladies badly…"
"Fine." Reuben nodded. "Next week Monday I should be finished with the guest room. If you want to come and stay for a few days, that will be fine with me."
"Next Monday the parents will be away. They are going to spend the beginning of the summer with Grand Aunt Sally."
"I know," Reuben said, "hence the offer. You can help me with my construction work."
"Are you going to pay me, Reuben Scarlett?" Terri opened the door and hopped on one leg and then the other impatiently.
"No," Reuben laughed, "but it will be a break from your boredom. Bet you haven't done something like that before."
"Nope. I am not sure I want to be a construction worker. Building things and that sort of hands-on work is not my cup of tea."
She closed the door hurriedly. "Nature calls... but I'll call you."
"You do that." Reuben tooted and drove off.
Terri could see that her parents had been home for a while—before she could rummage in her bag for the keys her mother opened the door and was almost hopping in excitement.
Terri frowned; she had never seen her mother look so agitated and flushed. She walked to the door cautiously.
"Your friend Lola is here!"
"Here?" Terri was not sure that she had heard her mother right. "Here, here or on the phone?"
"Here, here," Daisy said animatedly; her eyes were beaming. "This is something to behold, she looks a lot like you, as you had said. Lloyd and I can't believe it."
Terri walked into the house to see Lola sitting pretty on her mother's new micro-suede sofa. Lola's hair was dyed in a red shade which was a close match to hers, and she had in her hazel contacts; even Terri had to do a double-take when she saw her friend.