Outside, Jayne slung her messenger bag over her shoulder and hopped onto her bicycle with its cheerful red frame. She pedaled energetically, the dull pain in her knee no match for her joy at being reunited with Robert in a few minutes. It was misting outside, making her hair damp, but today she didn’t care.
They lived in a lovely—and rather scandalously expensive to Jayne—rented house only a few blocks away, in the trendy Jericho section of town. Oxford had been an obvious choice once Jayne had decided move to England. It was close enough to London for Robert to travel there on business and to see his parents whenever he—or they—wanted to see each other, but far away enough from high-society and the media humdrum for them to be discovered and asked unwelcome questions.
Jayne slowed her bike down at a “humped zebra crossing,” which is what the Brits call speed bumps. She smiled briefly, because she thought their term for these humps in the pavement was funny. But then she felt anxious again and mentally counted her blessings.
Oxford certainly wasn’t Wichita with its careless, typically small-town American charm, or Nice with its luxuries and ocean breeze. It had taken some getting used to, being surrounded by all those morosely grand, gray gothic buildings and posh stores. The dreary weather with its permanent drizzle could be depressing—especially if one relied on a bicycle or public transport like almost everyone living here. On the other hand, she found it exciting to be living smack in the middle of a one thousand year old university community packed with some of the smartest people in the world.
And Robert had spent many years of his youth here, earning his degree and being shaped into a man of the world. His funny anecdotes and wonderfully educated off-hand comments had helped her with settling down—as had her business relationship with Beatrice.
As she pedaled past Woodstock Road, Jayne’s gaze momentarily fell on a gated driveway, and a memory of the horrific time last summer came rushing back at her, when she “escaped” from Eleanor’s villa in Nice. Her traumatic episode in France with Eleanor and Celeste was something she chose not to dwell on anymore—but her mind had its own agenda. She was still frequently jolted awake by nightmares about it all. In the dreams, she kept replaying the terrifying scene where Eleanor had tried to kill her and Robert at the hotel in Switzerland and had then leaped over the balcony, into the abyss and to her certain death.
Jayne had spent countless hours thinking about the entire ordeal from every possible angle, how she’d become tangled up in it in the first place, asking herself how much of it was her own fault and if she could have done anything differently. Then again, if none of it had taken place, she never would have met Robert Astor. When “Lady” Eleanor Sotheby had simply shown up out of the blue in Wichita and told her that she was Jayne’s biological mother, and that Jayne had a sister in France, how could she have behaved any differently? It had all proved to be true. And then, when Eleanor offered to pay for her ticket to come to France and meet Celeste in person, and to attend Celeste’s wedding later in the year to some young British aristocrat, how could she have known her twin sister had stupidly gotten pregnant from a sleazy one night stand, and that Eleanor already knew about it and had only tracked Jayne down in Kansas to use her?
The late Eleanor Sotheby’s deviousness and malfeasance truly knew no bounds. Jayne still marveled that she herself was the biological daughter of such a wicked, Machiavellian creature. She was equally astounded by the fact that Eleanor somehow managed to make it seem like it was her idea to step in and pose as Celeste until the precious wedding could take place, which was virtually an arranged marriage of convenience, concocted by the ever-scheming Eleanor. The woman was so sneaky and such a master of psychological manipulation that it would have been impossible for Jayne to realize that she was covertly pulling her and Celeste’s strings. The aging bitch was flat broke and saw Celeste’s marriage into the Astor family as her only way out of total financial ruin.
But who could have known that Jayne would fall in love with Robert Astor herself, and that the feeling would be mutual?
When she realized the full extent of the situation and the damage that could be done to Robert and his wealthy, well-respected family, Jayne had put her foot down and refused to go through with the wedding. Celeste had already secretly given birth to the child but was still in hiding, too overweight and exhausted to actually attend the long ceremony and celebrations, so they tried to make Jayne do it, which was the last straw. She had gone straight to Robert and told him the ugly truth, fully expecting never to set eyes on him again. It was a miracle, she thought, as well as a testament to Robert’s inherent good nature, that he’d forgiven her. At that point, Eleanor had gone completely mad and tried to kill them both, but had only succeeded in killing herself.
Fortunately, no one had found out about her impersonation of Celeste except Robert and his parents. In fact, no one else in the world knew that Celeste Sotheby had a sister, let alone a twin, living in America. Robert’s parents were powerful enough to influence the Swiss police before word got out. Only the fact that Lady Eleanor Sotheby had committed suicide had been released to the news media, and everyone believed she had ended her life because she had gone bankrupt.
The only big problem was that before Eleanor had died, when she was furious with Jayne and Robert, she poisoned Lady Astor’s mind with the same story she’d threatened Jayne with when Jayne had backed out of the scheme. Namely, that Miss Jayne Clark from Wichita, Kansas, was nothing but a low-class American gold digger who had rushed over to France on her own when she found out she had a twin sister who was about to marry a rich aristocrat, and sunk her claws into Lady Astor’s unsuspecting son, determined to steal him from Celeste and have him for herself.
After it was all over, Jayne simply went back to her old life in Kansas and tried to pretend it never happened. Robert visited her often, and the love between them only grew stronger. He also endeared himself to Jayne’s adoptive mother, Barbara, who had thought he would be a “stuffy British type” and was greatly surprised at his warmth and down-to-earth nature.
During one of his many visits to Wichita, Robert asked Jayne whether she would be willing to join him in England.
Jayne was completely caught off guard by the question—she didn’t think such a thing was remotely possible. She accepted their long-distance and somewhat secret relationship for the time being and wasn’t sure it would last.
“But what about your parents?” she asked.
“What about them?”
“They despise the ground I walk on, Rob, and you know it.”
“That’s not true, darling.” He shrugged, hugging her close to him. “With time, they’ll come to love you just as much as I do. And I’m sure that we can eventually…”
“Get married, and with their full blessing. In a huge, public wedding, with all the pomp and circumstance that they planned for the one with Celeste.”
“Really?” she said, looking into his eyes, wanting to believe him.
Jayne had her doubts, but she couldn’t resist the offer to live with him and wake up next to him every morning.
Rather than settle in London, Robert and Jayne chose Oxford. It was a quiet university town and relatively far away from the prying eyes of the big city tabloid journalists and paparazzi who might have sniffed something juicy to write about, but close enough so that Rob could visit his parents often. Robert slowly introduced Jayne to all his friends as Celeste Sotheby’s sister who had grown up in Kansas with no knowledge that she had any siblings, let alone a twin sister. The cover story he told everyone was simple: after he called off the wedding with Celeste, and Eleanor committed suicide, he found out through Eleanor’s lawyer that Celeste had an estranged twin sister in Wichita by the name of Jayne Clark who didn’t know that Celeste or Eleanor even existed. The lawyer told Robert that Eleanor had accumulated such massive debt that some of the debtors might try to go after Jayne as a last resort, so Robert flew to Kansas to warn her.
When the two met, it was “love at first sight,” according to Robert.
Jayne always blushed when he told this white lie.
* * *
Jayne pedaled up to the house she and Robert occupied, a two-bedroom “terraced Edwardian” home just across from the Oxford Canal. Over one hundred years old, the brick dwelling was outfitted with lovely antique furniture, had a beautiful sunroom and a pocket-sized, neater-than-neat garden in the back. Jayne was sure it was the most modest house Rob had ever lived in, but as he was no longer part of his father’s company, he had to watch his spending.
Unfortunately, Robert had grossly misjudged both his parents’ feelings about Jayne. When his father found out that she had moved from America to live with him, Robert was summarily kicked out of the family business. Although he’d already left his mark in the industry at not even thirty, this was a throwback. He was forced to go out into the UK market and land a job on his own, without the benefit of nepotism or even a recommendation from his father. His mother refused to speak to him for the first couple of months and then coldly told him that she hoped he would start coming to dinner at their house on Sundays, but that the “American hussy” he lived with in Oxford was not welcome.
The only decent job that Robert could get was one that required him to travel to China often—his prior experience with opening the factory there for his father helped land the position. The drop in pay had been massive and he was under intense pressure to prove himself. Poor Robert didn’t even own a car now and, as he often joked, had to actually stoop to using public transportation and riding a bicycle, like he’d done as an Oxford student. He only took taxis now when he could get his new employer to pay for it.
As Jayne hopped off her bike, she frowned, wondering in a brief moment of self-doubt whether the financial strain would rub off on their relationship and drive him away from her in the long run. Did he miss the carefree times when he didn’t have to worry twice about any decision and used his black Amex card to buy whatever he wanted? Did he sometimes long for a wealthy girlfriend to take to parties and sip champagne with, even if he kept insisting earnestly that those parties were hell to live through?
Just as she unlocked the front door, a taxi pulled up in front of the house.
Rob got out and paid the driver, waving at her while he waited for a receipt so he could be reimbursed. He then jogged over, grinning broadly and lighting the gloomy, cloudy day with his presence. With his impressive height of 6’2”, Rob could have been gangly, but there was just the right amount of muscle definition to his long, lean body to make it clear that this was a businessman who also loved outdoor activities. He caught many women’s eyes with his jet-black, neatly styled hair and his soulful brown eyes—but the slightly crooked, utterly disarming smile that made him look a few years younger was reserved for Jayne only. God, how lucky she was that a man like him had fallen for her. He looked positively delicious in his business suit.
Catching her own thoughts, Jayne blushed and lifted her face happily for a quick yet thorough kiss.
“Hello, darling.” Rob nuzzled her cheek for a moment before guiding her into the building with a hand on the small of her back. Living together had not only influenced her but also had an effect on him. He never hesitated with public displays of affection now, as if she had chipped away at his prim and proper gentleman upbringing with her spontaneous shows of love.
Inside the house, her giggle was cut off when he slammed the door shut and claimed her mouth in a searing kiss. He turned with her in his embrace to back her up against the living room wall, and a moment later their hands were everywhere, groping, stroking, clutching, desperate for more. Rob grabbed her thigh and hoisted her leg up around his hips so he could grind himself against her, making them both moan.
“Let’s go upstairs,” he whispered hoarsely into her ear.
Read Part 2 here
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