DISCLAIMER: RH characters not mine, but all other aspects of the story are, so please do not print, copy or reproduce without my permission. This story is dedicated completely to Celeste. J. Evans for her unwavering support of my writing. Read, enjoy and review. Thanks!
Nigel sat at his desk staring at the letter in his hand and tried not to hyperventilate. What was he going to do? What could he do? She would be furious, he was sure. He'd done everything they asked him, jumped through all their hoops and still he received the notice a second time.
He ran his hand through his hair and glanced towards her office. She had been in a pretty good mood today, of course she was most days. She was a very congenial person most of the time. He did not want to tell her, but he had to tell her. He had a responsibility to tell her, beyond his own panic and sorrow. It was his duty to give her time to find someone else.
He swallowed hard, tried not to crumple the notice in his fist and rose. Better to get it over with. If it was one thing working for her had taught him, it was that it was far to face the music, regardless of the circumstances, then trying to avoid it.
He knocked on her door, watched as she glanced up from the book she was reading, her glasses perched adorably on her nose, and smiled at him.
"Good morning. I didn't see you come in."
"Could I talk to you?"
"Sure." She set her book aside, pulled off her glasses and waved at her chair, only slightly curious when he entered, closed her door and remained standing. He was tense and holding a letter in his hand as if it was a lifeline. "What's wrong?"
"I…Sydney I…I have some…um…bad news."
She rose, concerned. "What is it, Nigel?"
"I…well…it…it seems that there's been…um…an issue with my visa."
"Did someone use it? You can claim fraud, Nigel…"
He shook his head. "Not…not that visa." His fingers went through his hair again and he stepped forward to hand her the notice. "I'm being deported."
"What?" Her eyes widened and she snatched at the letter, skimming over it. "This isn't right. How…" She looked up at him and felt a spike of actual fear shoot through her. "They can't deport you! You work for me. We went through all the right channels and…"
Nigel nodded and dropped down in a chair. "Yes, of course we did, but they do random checks, apparently, and someone there decided that I no longer qualified to work in America."
Sydney perched on her desk in front of him. "Nigel. It's a mistake. I'll call…"
He shook his head, miserably. "I've already called, Sydney. I've spoken to six different people there. I refilled my visa request, provided them with my job acceptance letter, my work statements, my address, everything and…" He indicated the paper that advised he had ten days to report to Immigration for deportation or he would be arrested.
Sydney refused to believe she was going to lose him, her assistant, her best friend. "There has to be a way, someone else we can talk to." Yet she knew that there wasn't. Research was what Nigel was best at and if he said he had done everything he could do, then he had. "Can't you ask for a hearing to prove your right to live and work here?"
"I did," he moaned and hung his head in his hands. "They said they would be sending an investigator at the end of the week, which is tomorrow, to determine if it is needed." He lifted his gaze to her. "Syd, I don't have anything else I can give them. Any more proof that I deserve to stay in this country."
"There must be something we can do." She leaned forward and squeezed his shoulder. "I'm not letting you go, Nigel. We can't give up without a fight."
"You can't fight the American government." He bowed his head again. "What do they expect me to do, hide and become a fugitive or get married to stay in the bloody country?"
"Come on, there has to be…" She paused as his words sank in. "Why not?"
He lifted his eyes to hers again. "Why not what?"
"Get married? People do it all the time to stay here."
He looked at her as if she had gone mad. "Sydney! To start with, it's fraud, and I could be deported and go to jail. To finish, I'm not going to go and marry some woman off the street just to keep my job!"
Sydney rose as she formulated a plan. She'd do anything to keep him with her, pay any price. "Who says it has to be a stranger?"
He stared at her then shook his head. "Sydney, this is serious. I don't know what I am going to do…"
She dropped to her knees beside him and grinned. "Marry me."
"Sorry?" His jaw dropped. "This is hardly the time for jokes!"
"I'm not kidding. If we were married they couldn't deport you, right?"
He stared at her, appalled. "You…you can't be serious!"
"Hey! Some men would consider me quite the catch!"
"I…no! I mean…it isn't that!" He shook his head. "You're twisting my words. You can't…I can't…" He paused and tried to calm himself. He realized she was doing exactly as he had done when he first got the news, panicking.
"Nigel, we don't actually have to get married. You say this guy is coming tomorrow. We tell him we're engaged, he can't prove we're not, and they won't deport you if you're getting married."
"And if he insists we have to be married?"
She shrugged and ignored the sudden cramp of anxiety in her stomach. "We get married."
He regarded her, fascinated that she would be so selfless on his behalf. He covered her hand with his. "Syd…that's very generous of you, really, but I can't let you do that. Besides, it's completely illegal and…"
"Only if we get caught." She turned her hand over and squeezed his. "It wouldn't be the first time we bent the rules and if it keeps you in the country…"
"But, Sydney! I mean…marriage! It's…it's not possible." He shook his head. "They'd never believe it anyway and…and it…it's just crazy!"
"It's not crazy, Nigel." She rose and started to pace. "We've worked together for almost seven years now, and when you think about it we're probably closer than most married couples are." She turned back to him, convinced now that it was the only way to save him. "It doesn't have to be forever, just until they re-approve your visa. We could pretend for a few months then get in annulled, no harm no foul."
He gaped at her, speechless.
"I'm not going to let some idiot at immigration break us up," she insisted moving back to him, catching his hands and pulling him up to face her. "I need you, Nigel. You're the best assistant, best partner, I have ever had, and besides that you're my best friend. Tougher people have tried to separate us and they failed." She smiled. "The US government is nothing compared to the Gural Nataz, right?"
Nigel couldn't believe what she was offering. He had resigned himself to the idea that he would have to go back to London and look for another job. That he would have to leave Sydney and Karen and the University and all of his new friends in America to start over. He had been miserable and broken hearted about it, but he'd been prepared to accept the prospect, before he had even discussed it with Sydney.
Now, here she was offering to…well, offering herself really, to keep him in the country. He didn't know what to say. Could they actually pull off such a sham or would he be risking not only his freedom but Sydney's as well?
"I…Sydney…" He started to reach out and touch her cheek, then pulled back, shyly and squeezed both of her hands instead. "Thank you. Thank you so much for the…amazing offer, but I can't risk it. If they find out you could lose your job. You could go to prison."
Sydney shook her head. "They won't find out, Nigel." She suddenly pulled him into her arms and held him tight. "You can't tell me you want to go back to London."
"No." He wanted to stay here, with her. Of course he didn't want to be deported. "But, Syd…"
"Then this is what we have to do." She pulled back just enough to look at him. "We can do this, Nigel. It will only be to keep you in the country. If we do have to get married it won't be a real one and it wouldn't be any different than the times we've pretended to be married on a hunt."
"It isn't the same thing!"
"It can be if you let it." She hugged him again, hard. "I won't lose you. Say yes. Say yes, Nigel."
Nigel slid his arms around her, he had little choice really, and closed his eyes as their cheeks touched. "Yes." He had to be mad. They both had to be mad.