Authors: Dallas Schulze
|Harlequin Enterprises, Limited (1992)|
1992 ISBN 0-373-16430-0 i
Copyright © 1992 by Dallas Schulze. All rights reserved.
onestly, Charity, I don't understand you. You're twenty-five but you act more like you're ninety-five. Look at this place.'' Diane Williams made a sweeping gesture with one manicured hand, indicating her sister's living room.
"What's wrong with it?" Charity's eyes followed the gesture, seeking some fault.
"It's so...so...neat." Diane managed to infuse considerable distaste into the simple word.
"I like it neat," Charity said, not bothering to hide her smile. "After sharing a room with you for fifteen years, a little neatness is a pleasant change."
"A touch of untidiness is a sign of creativity," Diane said, picking up the old argument.
"Or the sign of a congenital idiot."
They grinned at each other, remembering all the times they'd said the same words with more acrimony. From the time Charity was born until Diane left home at twenty, the two sisters had shared a room.
Since they were as different as night and day, the arrangement had made for some memorable conflicts.
"I still say if s unnatural to keep everything so tidy." Diane reached for the pot of tea, pouring herself another cup.
"So I'm a freak of nature." Charity lifted her shoulders in a shrug, not visibly disturbed.
"You needn't think that I've forgotten the original topic," Diane said. She leaned forward and picked up another of the rich butter cookies Charity had bought Specifically for her sister's visit.
Charity suppressed a sigh of envy as she watched Diane bite into it without the least concern about the calories she was consuming. It was one of the great injustices of the world that Diane ate like a stevedore and never gained an ounce.
"What topic?" Charity broke a cookie in half, with the vague thought that if you only ate it half at a time, there were fewer calories.
"Your love life."
"What love life?"
"Exactly my point." Diane finished the cookie and wiped her fingers on a napkin. "You don't have a love life."
"I'm perfectly content," Charity said, aware that it wasn't quite the truth. "Have another cookie." She pushed the tray closer, hoping to distract her sister.
But Diane was capable of eating and keeping to her point at the same time.
"You're twenty-five, Charity."
"I know. You keep saying that like it should mean something." She nibbled the second half of the cookie, wondering if the calories might somehow evaporate if she ate slowly enough.
"A quarter of a century," Diane reminded her ruthlessly.
Charity winced. "You do have a gift for a flattering phrase."
"I'm not trying to be flattering. I'm trying to get you to wake up and smell the coffee before ifs too late."
"Too late? You sound like the maiden aunt in a Victorian novel. Are you about to tell me that I'm in danger of being left on the shelf?" Charity resisted the temptation of another cookie and leaned back in her chair, cradling her teacup in her hands. "I thought you were a little more liberated than that. If marriage is the be-all and end-all, then why haven't you taken the plunge?"
"I'm not talking about marriage." Diane waved her hand dismissingly. "And don't think I couldn't have been married half a dozen times if I'd wanted."
"Half a dozen? Are you aware that there are bigamy laws in this country?"
"Don't try to distract me," Diane told her sternly, putting on her best older-sister expression—the one she rarely had a chance to use. "I'm worried about you."
"Don't be. I'm fine."
"You're not fine. You're...you're stagnant, like an old swamp or something."
"An old swamp? A quarter of a century?" Charity bit her Up against the urge to grin. "Really, Diane, you should be careful about flattering me like this."
"You can laugh if you want to," Diane said huffily, reaching for a cookie. "But you know I'm right. It's not natural that a young, beautiful woman like you never dates."
"I date," Charity protested.
"And I'm not talking about mercy dates with the grandsons of the little old ladies who live in this apartment building."
"They're not mercy dates."
"When was the last time you went out with a man?"
"Last week. Mrs. Willoby's grandson. And he was a perfectly nice man."
"Could he get a cab in the rain? Order a wine? Did he make you feel special?''
"It was a friendly date, not the prelude to an affair," Charity told her, shifting restlessly. "And it wasn't raining and we didn't have wine."
"I'll bet he was either tall, skinny and tongue-tied or short, stout and never stopped talking about himself. He had moist hands and acne scars. He took you to some hole-in-the-wall place where they keep the lights low so you won't be able to look at the food too closely. He either overtipped or undertipped and he either made a clumsy pass or didn't have the slightest idea of how to make a pass if he'd wanted to."
"He didn't have acne scars," Charity mumbled, staring into her nearly empty cup. Why was it that Diane always showed these amazing bursts of "insight just when you didn't need them?
"But I'm pretty close on the rest, right?" Diane fixed her sister with shrewd green eyes, reading the truth in her silence. "You deserve better."
"It's easy for you to talk. You're beautiful. You've got men falling all over themselves to meet you."
"You're hardly chopped liver. You're pretty."
"You know what Mom and Dad always said. Brian got the brains, you got the beauty and I got all the common sense."
"Well, they never meant that you were a dog, Char. I mean, people always comment on how much we look alike. You can't look like me and not be attractive."
It was said without arrogance. Diane Williams had spent the past ten years near the top of the modeling field. She was a stunningly beautiful woman, and it would have been false modesty to pretend she didn't know it.
Charity studied her older sister, trying to place just what it was that set the two of them so far apart when it came to looks.
They were both blond, but where Diane's hair was a miraculous pale gold, Charity's was more of a honey shade. They both had green eyes. But Diane's were electric, heart-stopping green. Charity's were a softer, darker shade. They'd both been blessed with dark brows and lashes but Diane's brows had a natural, elegant curve and her lashes were thicker and longer.
Their short straight noses were nearly identical. In her more desperate teenage moments, Charity had managed to convince herself that she had Diane beat in the nose department. Diane's nose had the faintest bump, a reminder of the time she'd fallen out of a tree and broken it. But somehow the tiny imperfection only emphasized the symmetry of her features.
Diane's mouth was wide, but Charity's was just a fraction wider. And of course there was the fact that when the tall gene was handed out, Charity had been sleeping in the back of the room. Diane was a willowy five foot nine. Her younger sister was a far-from-willowy five feet two and a quarter inches. And while Charity had never been ashamed of her figure, it always seemed just a little too lush next to Diane's elegant slenderness.
Charity sighed and reached for another cookie. The fact was she would never be the beauty Diane was. It had been the bane of her youth. Now it only brought an occasional sigh.
"Face it, Diane, I may look like you but there's some vital element missing."
"You can't tell me that you're so unattractive that men don't want to be seen with you."
"No, it's not that." Charity wondered how she could make her sister understand. "There's something very... motherly about me," she said gloomily.
"Motherly?" Diane widened her perfect green eyes. "You don't look a bit motherly."
"Well then, you explain why men always tell me their troubles. I've heard more stories of romances gone wrong than a therapist. Sometimes I feel like the
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty
? You feel corroded?" Diane wrinkled her forehead, trying to find the connection.
"Not corroded. You know—bring me your tired, your poor. The huddled masses yearning to pour out their problems on some sucker's shoulder."
Diane's endearingly girlish giggle was one of the things that had always made it impossible to hate her. Charity picked up another cookie, biting into it morosely.
"It's easy for you to laugh. When was the last time a man took you out and told you how much he missed his ex-wife?"
"I can't say it's ever happened," Diane admitted. "But they can't all be that bad."
"Maybe not. But I've had it happen often enough that I've gotten a little leery of trying. Besides, I haven't even met a man who's interesting in ages."
"Well, there has to be someone you find attractive."
"You mean, besides Mel Gibson?"
"Come on, Char. You have to know somebody you'd like to date. Even working in that stodgy little jewelry store, you have to have met somebody."
"Nobody." But even as she said it, an image popped into her mind. Diane jumped on the quick flicker of expression.
"Who? Who is it? Come on, I'm your sister. You're supposed to confide in me." She leaned forward, her eyes sparkling with interest.
"There is a guy," Charity said reluctantly. "But I don't really know him. He's a customer, that's all."
"It's as good a start as any. You should ask him put."
"What!" Charity straightened so fast that tea slopped out of her cup and into the saucer. She fixed her older sister with a stunned gaze. "Are you crazy?"
"This is the nineties. Women don't have to wait for men to do the asking anymore."
"How many men have you asked out?" Charity asked suspiciously.
"Well, I would if I met someone I liked and he didn't ask me first. Besides, we're not talking about me. We're talking about you."
"I'm not asking Gabriel London for a date." The very thought made her feel as though she couldn't breathe.
"Gabriel." Diane rolled the name around on her tongue before giving a satisfied nod. "I like it."
"Good. You ask him for a date." Charity set her cup down with a sharp ping.
"I'm not the one who has the hots for him."
"I don't have 'the hots' for him," Charity protested, glaring at her sister.
"Sure you do. I recognize the look. Are you saying he isn't attractive?"
"Of course he's attractive. He's very attractive, which is precisely why I'm not going to ask him out."
"What? You only ask unattractive men out?"
"I don't ask any men out. And I don't care if it's unenlightened."
"We're only talking about asking him to lunch, not asking him to marry you," Diane said, secure in the knowledge that she'd never have to ask a man to do either one.
"Well, I'm not asking him anything except whether he wants to pay with a check or a credit card," Charity said flatly.
Diane shrugged, putting on an air of vague hurt. "Okay. It's your life."
"That's right. Have another cookie." Charity shoved the plate at her with a motion just short of violence, closing the topic.
Imagine suggesting that she ask a man out. Especially a man like Gabriel London. A man who probably didn't even notice that she was female. The idea was enough to make her break out in hives.