Proof of Their Sin(2)

By: Dani Collins

No. Lauren locked her knee, surreptitiously putting her foot down.

She allowed the salon receptionist to finish the call she’d used to try to dismiss her. Ingrained manners were a pain that way. Besides, Lauren needed the extra seconds to gather her courage and manufacture a gracious smile for the woman who gave her a strained Still here? smile as she hung up.

“I believe there’s been a miscommunication,” Lauren said with the most warmly modulated yet implacable tone she could muster. “I’m attending the Donatelli Charity Ball this evening.”

The woman, a little younger than Lauren’s nearly twenty-five, widened her eyelash extensions with a fraction of respect. Exactly. Paolo Donatelli was a man who made every woman stand taller and suck in her stomach.

A zing of empowerment swept through Lauren. She was name-dropping, sure, but she’d never before had the gall to try it. Over her mother’s gasp of horror, she heard her grandmother say, Good girl! Clenching her fingers on the strap of her carry-all purse, Lauren added daringly, “You’re certain you have nothing for Bradley? Mrs. Ryan Bradley?”

Her mother would have a stroke over such audacity, but Lauren stood her ground, pronouncing the name with delicate precision because, honestly, what was the use in being Mrs. Bradley if she shrank from all it afforded her?

“Mrs. Bradley...” The salon hostess searched her book while her plucked brows came together in concern. “It sounds familiar—”

A stiletto-thin man appeared from behind the privacy wall of translucent bricks. Groomed to perfection right down to his buffed fingernails, he greeted Lauren with the warmth of an old friend, even though she’d never seen him before in her life.

“Mrs. Bradley, of course we have time for you. So good to see you out during what must be a very difficult time. May I express on behalf of myself, my staff, and in fact our entire country, how sincerely sorry we are for your loss. Captain Bradley was a true hero. If there is anything we can do to ease your pain and make up for his sacrifice, we are at your service.”

Now Lauren did feel like the most conscienceless snake oil salesman in the world, allowing the man to sweep her into the interior of the salon, minions scampering before him to remove traces of previous clients.

Guilt rose to tense her shoulders; there was still time to go back. All she had to do was turn and leave. People would stare but she could be gone in a matter of seconds.

She swallowed and allowed confident hands to seat her. The elastic hoops were peeled off her two thick braids and then her new BFF was fanning his hands through her hair, picking up the strands that fell to her waist.

“This is your natural color, isn’t it? What a treasure. Your husband must have adored this mane.”

Lauren had thought he had adored her. Don’t ever cut it. Promise me, he’d said a thousand times. Everyone in her life had encouraged her to keep her hair long and Lauren, always the good girl, had complied.

“You’re not going to hide it by putting it up? What are you wearing tonight?” He weighed the kinked strands.

“I have a vintage Lanvin-Castillo. And no, I don’t want my hair up. I want you to cut it. Off.” New life. New Lauren.

He sucked in a gasp, meeting her gaze in the mirror with disbelief that slowly dawned into awe. “My dear, if I were straight, I would ask you to marry me.”

Lauren smiled as if men fell for her all the time, which was the furthest thing from the truth. “Sir, if I was the least bit interested in marrying again, I’d say yes.”

* * *

Three hours later Enrique was the best friend Lauren had never had. He insisted on coming to her room with one of the stylists from his salon where they helped her dress and put finishing touches on her hair, nails and makeup.

“I cannot wait to tell people I dressed Frances Hammond’s granddaughter. Look at you! It’s like it was made for you.”

Considering it was the last dress made for her grandmother and that she’d also been three months’ pregnant at the time, it didn’t surprise Lauren that it fit so well. The boned bodice that flattened her tender breasts was severely uncomfortable, but it did wonders for her usually modest bosom. She hid her wince and stepped into the matching satin heels. They weren’t as tall as current fashion dictated, but they were stitched to match the amethyst embroidery on the white silk of the dress and positively adorable.

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