"Don't do this to me, Julie—"
Her fingers loosened on the phone and she smiled because she suddenly sensed that she was going to win. "I can't stop," she said tenderly. "I can't stop loving you. There's only one solution I'm willing to accept, and I gave it to you."
"Christ, that's not—"
"Save your prayers for later, darling," she whispered teasingly. "You're going to wear your knees out when I get there as it is, praying I learn how to cook better, praying I let you get some sleep at night for a change, praying I stop giving you babies…"
"Oh, Julie … don't. God, don't."
He drew in a long, labored breath and was quiet for so long that she thought he wasn't going to reply, and when he finally answered, the words sounded as if they were being wrenched from his chest. "Don't … ever stop loving me."
"I'll promise not to in front of a priest, a preacher, or a Buddhist monk."
That wrung a reluctant laugh from him, and the memory of his dazzling smile made her heart soar as he said, "Are we talking about marriage here?"
"I should have expected you'd insist on that, too."
His attempt to sound disgruntled failed completely, but Julie went along with the game, eager to lighten his mood. "Don't you want to marry me?"
He declared the game over with one solemn word: "Desperately."
"In that case, tell me how to get to you and what ring size you wear."
There was another torturous pause that strung her nerves to the breaking point, and then he began speaking, and she forgot everything but his words and the incredible feeling of elation sweeping through her as he spoke. "All right. I'll meet you in Mexico City at the airport eight days from now, on Tuesday night. Early Tuesday morning, get into your car and drive to Dallas. In Dallas, rent a car in your own name and drive it to San Antonio, but don't turn it in. Leave it in the rental car lot at the airport, they'll find it eventually. With luck, the authorities will think you're driving somewhere to meet me instead of flying and they won't alert the airports as quickly. Altogether, the highway traveling should only take you a few hours. A plane ticket for the four o'clock flight to Mexico City will be waiting for you at the Aero-Mexico ticket counter in the name of Susan Arland. Any questions so far?"
Julie smiled at the realization that he'd expected the call to end like this when he made it, because he'd obviously researched all the logistics already. "One question. Why can't I meet you sooner?"
"Because I have some details to finalize first." Julie accepted that, and he continued, "When you leave your house Tuesday morning, don't take anything with you. Don't pack a suitcase, don't do anything to give anyone the idea that you're leaving. Keep your eye in the rearview mirror and make sure you aren't followed. If you're being followed, do some errand or other, then go back home and wait to hear from me again. Between now and then, watch your mailbox closely. Open everything, even advertisements. If there are any changes in the arrangements, someone will contact you either that way or in person. We can't use your phone at home, because I'd bet my life there's a tap on it."
"Who will contact me?"
"I don't have the vaguest idea, and when he does, don't ask for identification."
"Okay," Julie said as she finished writing down his instructions. "I don't think I'm being watched. Paul Richardson and David Ingram—the two FBI agents who were here—gave up and went back to Dallas last week."
"How are you feeling?"
"No morning sickness or anything?"
Her conscience jabbed at her, but she tried to soothe it by not actually lying to him. "I'm a very healthy female. I think my body was made for motherhood. And it was definitely made for you."
He swallowed audibly at the sexual reference. "Tease me now, and you'll pay later."
He laughed then, a throaty laugh that warmed her, but not as much as his husky words. "I miss you. God, I miss you." As if he were afraid to let either of them relax too much, he said, "You realize that you won't be able to say good-bye to your family? You can leave them a letter somewhere where they won't find it until several days after you've gone. After that, you'll never be able to contact them again."
She squeezed her eyes closed. "I know."
"And you're prepared to do that?"
"That's a hell of a way to start a life together," he said tautly, "tearing your family apart and severing all their connections to you. It's like inviting a curse."
"Don't say things like that!" Julie said, suppressing a shiver. "I'll make them understand in my letter when I tell them good-bye. Besides, leaving them to go with you is practically—biblical!" To distract both of them from the grim mood stealing over the conversation, she said, "What are you doing now? Are you standing or sitting?"
"I'm in a hotel room, sitting on a bed, talking to you."
"Are you staying in the hotel?"
"No. I got the room so I could use the phone in privacy and get a decent connection to the States."
"I want to go to sleep tonight, seeing what you'll be seeing when you lie in bed. Describe your bedroom to me and I'll tell you what mine looks like, so you'll know."
"Julie," he said gruffly, "are you trying to drive me to new heights of frustrated sexual desire?"
She hadn't any such intention, but the notion was gratifying. "Can I do that?"
"You know you can."
"Just by talking to you about bedrooms?"
"Just by talking to me about anything."
She laughed then, as easily and as naturally as she'd been able to laugh with him from the beginning.
"What size is it?" he asked with a smile in his voice.
"Your ring finger."
She drew in a shaky breath. "Five and a half, I think. What size is yours?"
"I don't know. Large, I guess."
"And what color is it?"
"No," she said with a chuckle, "your bedroom."
"Smart ass!" he chided, but he answered and his voice got deep. "It's on a boat right now—teak walls, a brass lamp, a small dresser, and a picture of you I cut out from a newspaper hanging on the wall."
"Is that what you see when you fall asleep?"