Lauren's Designs - By Elizabeth Chater

Chapter One

A glistening black limousine drew up in front of the Ocean Passenger Terminal in New York, where the bright star of the Cunard Line, the Queen Elizabeth II, was waiting at Berth 4 to begin her five-and-a-half-day cruise to England. A short, stocky man jumped out of the car and gave a hand to his three female companions. These women, all apparently in their mid-thirties, were so striking that even the crowd of hurrying, preoccupied travelers paused a moment to gape at their beautiful, well-dressed figures. As they stood on the sidewalk, there was a seductiveness about them that claimed the eye as surely as their delicate perfume tantalized the nostrils. The stocky man and the chauffeur began to deal with the suitcases.

Lauren Rose beckoned smilingly to two porters. “Over here, please!”

“Damn it, Lauren, you’ll never get—” began Herbert Masen crossly. Then he paused, mouth open, as the two porters hurried up to the limo and began piling suitcases onto their trolleys.

Lauren twinkled her demure smile at her late husband’s best friend. “You shouldn’t underrate the power of two of L.A.’s most glamorous models, Herbert.”

Herbert grunted. “To say nothing of yourself, Lauren. That’s a damned fetching outfit you’ve got on,” he added, his eyes busy with her lovely figure. Then he spoiled the compliment by adding, “Good idea to have all three of you wearing your designs. It should promote sales.”

Lauren herded her two models, who were weary and yawning from the ordeal of a night flight from Los Angeles, into the elevator that led up to the main floor of the terminal’s vast, crowded reception area. Herbert began fussing about their tickets and passports.

Lauren said firmly, “Herbert, will you entertain Nella and Dani while I get things organized? Give them some Perrier, or a flower or something. Not candy or coffee. I’ll pick them up in the waiting room in twenty minutes, Scout’s honor.”

Herbert gave her his self-conscious little smirk, which usually meant he was up to something. Lauren drew a steadying breath. Her late husband’s oldest friend had insisted upon accompanying her to New York, to the very dockside. His concern for her welfare, however, was of such a fidgety, tense nature that she had wished several times since they left Los Angeles that she’d refused his help at the start. An uncomfortable suspicion had crept into her mind as he continued to suggest actions that invariably delayed or hindered her plans. Was Herbert Masen trying to sabotage the most exciting opportunity Lauren had ever had?

She had been invited to present her whole new collection to that little group of American women who set the trend for all the fashion-conscious females in the country. But why would Herbert wish to place obstacles in her way? He had shares in the company her former husband had started to showcase his wife’s talents. Since her line—the sophisticated and flattering September Song—had firmly found its market in women in their thirties who were tired of buying dresses designed for eighteen-year-olds, Herbert had shared in the slowly increasing dividends.

Still, there had been pressures. Soon after Al’s death, Herbert had urged her to take him into partnership. When she refused, he had been even more insistent that Lauren sell the boutique, the workshop, the name and goodwill she had earned for her line of clothing and accessories—and marry him!

“We’ll put your money and mine into a Swiss account,” he had proposed one evening after he had wined and dined her lavishly at the Los Angeles Bonaventure Hotel. “Then we’ll go and live on the French Riviera.” He wiped gravy from his beef Wellington off his lips after he spoke.

Looking at his puffy face, red and shiny with his enthusiasm for his food, Lauren had finally decided that she must break the connection with him entirely. Herbert had been Al’s friend, never hers. She didn’t even like him. She would gradually stop seeing him.

Easier planned than done. Although she refused all his invitations, Herbert kept dropping in at the house, at the boutique, even at the homes of friends when he learned she would be there. When the New York office of a London publicity firm had asked her to bring her models and her new collection to take part in a glamorous Fashion Cruise on the superb Queen Elizabeth II, Lauren had been both excited by the challenge to her skills as a designer and glad for the opportunity to get away from Herbert Masen until he’d found a new interest.

Pulling herself together