A Girl's Best Friend
By Pat Dale
When Laura Margolin, TV jewelry shopping's latest diva, crosses paths with super spy Hayward Lazarus, she has no idea that before their saga is done, her career will be toast, her hero will have died heroically—and they'll live happily ever after.
The copper-haired beauty, up to her azure eyeballs in the world of jewelry marketing, meets Lazarus on her flight to Amsterdam to introduce herself to the Dutch magnate who's just purchased Sparkles Inc. As a spy, Laz's task is to cut off insurgent funding, but his covert mission is aborted before it begins and he runs for his life. While he hides, determined to come out of this alive, Laura goes happily about her business in the sunny Dutch city until her new boss puts a move on her that has her running too.
Glamour gal and slippery spy ratchet between ecstasy and despair as they try to unravel separate webs of deception; webs that weave into a wild and crazy patchwork. They want to be together but the fates seem to have other plans.
She wondered how she'd learn anything meaningful when the plane lurched twice, settled momentarily and then swayed a third time. In reaction to the roller-coaster motion, her stomach convulsed. Fortunately, there were no other passengers in her row so if she lost it, she wouldn't make a total fool of herself.
Breathe deep, Laura. Relax.
The aircraft had already leveled its climb somewhat and would soon be at an altitude where she could head for the lavatory. She looked back to try to find the flight attendant to get her attention. Instead, her focus locked on a dapper-looking man approaching her up the aisle. She sank back into her seat as he spoke.
"Hallo. Having a nice flight?"
She'd used her reserve to stay calm but the continued swaying motion of the plane had scraped that calm bare. She muttered, "I suppose."
"That doesn't sound very convincing. What could be the problem?"
"I'm afraid it's just me. Flying usually makes me sick."
"I see. Well, the plane is in no trouble. We're just in a buffer layer of heavy air. A few moments more and we'll be at an altitude where it's much smoother. But if you're feeling nauseous, I have a sure cure for that."
"Oh, really?" She was ready to send him on his way when her eyes focused on his; jade green—
polished jade. His handsome rugged face was framed with dark blond hair, no doubt professionally groomed, but with a wealth of curls that gave him a bad-boy look. Her heart did a double pump and she swallowed hard.
"Yes, beautiful lady, I do. Might you be interested?"
Her attention ratcheted from his devastating masculinity to his words. Normally on guard against overly friendly men, she was intrigued by his offer to help. His go-light eyes lasered hers, levering a slightly flushed feeling.
She said, "I'd be interested in about anything that helps me relax in flight."
"Wonderful." He held out his hand. "May I introduce myself? Hayward Lazarus, at your service. I'm deputy director of Hands Round the Globe. Perhaps you've heard of us?"
"No, I don't think so."
He chuckled. "Well to tell you the truth, I'm not surprised. We're a philanthropic foundation. What you might call international do-gooders."
She laughed despite her discomfort. "So is calming finicky little girls a regular part of your do-gooding?"
"Definitely, my dear. One of my specialities."
"Well, Mr. Lazarus, I'd appreciate any secret you have on that subject."
He dropped into the empty seat next to her. "My pleasure. And your name is"—he hesitated, his eyes flashing recognition—"Laura Margolin, is it not?"
"How did you know who I am?"
"I've seen your work on the telly from time to time. You do a marvelous job displaying all those jewelry baubles to your audience."
"Well, thank you. Do you ever buy our products?"
"I haven't so far, but I could be tempted. The fact I haven't is certainly no reflection of your sales ability."
She could hardly believe this suave gentleman in his thousand dollar suit could have any idea who she was. She relaxed ever so slightly, enjoying the glow of his smile. Generally, she didn't let men—any men—get this close to her. Didn't want them; didn't need them. But somehow, this man was different. While friendly and complimentary, he was certainly not a man who'd be after anything from her.
"I have to tell you, I never expected to meet anyone who knew my name. This has never happened to me before."
"I can't imagine that, Ms. Margolin."
"Surely there must be hordes of men at your doorstep, just waiting for an opportunity to impress you."
She laughed, the musicality of her voice triggering him to grin again as she offered, "I hate to admit it, Mr. Lazarus, but there hasn't been a single man at my doorstep for a long time."
He beamed. "No single man, eh? How about a married one?"
"Not one of those, either."
"Well, Ms. Margolin, I am disappointed."
"Laura, Mr. Lazarus. Please call me Laura."
"Gladly, if you'll call me Ward."
"Ward. That's a nice name. Rather unusual."
"The last in a long line." Fleeting hardness melted from his expression as he added,
"Enough about me. I'd like to know what has you seven miles above the Atlantic in spite of your fear of flying."
"I'm on my way to Amsterdam to represent my company. Sparkles Inc. has recently been purchased by VerMeer."
"The world-famous jewelers. I remember reading about that in the Journal. Quite a transaction if one believes the report."
"It was, for sure. Lots of money changed hands. And now I've been chosen to become liaison between the companies during the merger."
"I'm impressed. That is quite a responsibility. No wonder you're worried about discomfort. You no doubt will be making lots of these trips back and forth."
"Yes." She released a sigh. "Lots."
When the man continued to delve into her background and recent history, she relaxed even more, satisfied that he was merely curious. She had to admit, her own curiosity had been piqued regarding this intriguing and dangerously handsome man.
Over six feet with long legs and arms, he gave the impression of being quite fit, though there was no way to tell in his shimmering charcoal suit. If she had to guess, she'd bet he'd been a runner. His face bore a couple of long-healed scars but otherwise seemed very handsome with his straight nose and strong pointed chin.
The most exciting element about him was the aura of trust he exuded. She hadn't been exposed to anything like this since she'd been a child. What was it, this feeling that enveloped her? The pleasant baritone of his voice levered her memory to the distant past where, finally, it came to her. Her father had always left her with this same sense of well being. But, she recalled, that had been only an illusion.
Could this be the same? She shook free of her doldrums. This man was not her father. He had to be no more than in his late thirties. Why did she feel so safe in his presence? She wanted to know more about him.