Paul stared in disbelief. "He's using a passport with that name?"

"The clerk at the desk didn't ask for a passport. She thought he was a native. Why not, he's dark, he had a Spanish name, and he speaks Spanish—helpful when one lives in California, no doubt. He has a beard now, by the way."

"I take it he's already checked out?"

"Naturally. He paid in advance for one night and was gone the next morning. The bed in his room wasn't used."

"He may go there again to use the phone. Put the hotel under surveillance."

"That's taken care of."

Paul walked back behind his desk and sank into his chair.

"She talked to him for ten minutes," Ingram added. "That's long enough to make plans."

"That's also long enough to talk to someone she feels sorry for and to reassure herself that he's all right. She has a soft heart and she believes the bastard is a victim of cruel circumstances. Don't forget that. If she wanted to join him, she'd have left Colorado with him."

"Maybe he wouldn't agree to take her along."

"Right," Paul said sarcastically. "But now, after weeks without seeing her, he's suddenly so crazy about her, he's going to come out from under cover and come after her."

"Shit," Ingram bit out, "you'd do it. Your ass is already on the line with the man upstairs over your continued defense of that woman, and you still fight for her. She lied through her teeth about what went on in Colorado. We should have read her rights and hauled her in…"

Paul forcibly reminded himself that Ingram was his friend and that most of the other man's anger stemmed from worry for Paul. "There's a little matter of reasonable grounds for suspicion," he reminded Dave tightly. "We didn't have that, let alone any proof."

"We do as of five minutes ago when we got the report on that phone call!"

"If you're right about everything, she'll lead us straight to Benedict. If you're wrong, we haven't lost anything."

"I ordered her put under constant surveillance before I came in here, Paul."

Clamping his jaws together, Paul bit back a senseless and wrongful protest at Dave's action, but he said through his teeth, "May I remind you that I'm in charge of this case until I'm taken off it. Before you do another damned thing, you clear it with me. Got it?" he snapped.

"Got it!" Dave shot back, just as angrily. "Did you find out anything else about the car that was parked out in front of her house last week?"

Shoving a report across the desk at him, Paul said, "It was rented in Dallas from Hertz by Joseph A. O'Hara. Chicago address. No record. He's clean as a whistle. Employed as a chauffeur/bodyguard by the Collier Trust."

"Is that a bank?"

"There's a Collier Bank and Trust in Houston with branches scattered around the country."

"When you called her just now, did you happen to ask Little Miss Muffet about her visitors from Chicago?"

"And alert her that she's being watched, so you can accuse me of favoritism again?"

Ingram breathed a heavy sigh and tossed the report on O'Hara back onto Paul's desk. "Look, I'm sorry, Paul. I just don't want to see you destroy your career over some broad with big blue eyes and great legs."

Relaxing back in his chair, Paul eyed him with a grim smile. "You're going to have to beg her forgiveness on your knees someday, or we won't let you be godfather to our first baby."

With a harsh sigh, Ingram said, "I hope the day comes when I have to do that, Paul. Honest to God, I do."

"Good. Then keep your damned eyes off her legs."

* * *

Julie finished tidying the kitchen, got her coat from the closet, and was ready to leave for the trip to Pennsylvania when there was a knock at her front door. With her coat over her arm, she answered the knock and stared in surprise at the sight of Ted and Katherine standing side by side. "It's been a long time," she said with a delighted grin, "since I saw you two standing together on anyone's front porch."

"Katherine tells me you're leaving for Pennsylvania to play goodwill ambassador or some damned thing for Zack Benedict. What's the idea, Julie?" he demanded, walking past her into the house with a guilty-looking Katherine trailing behind him.

Julie shoved her coat aside and looked at her watch. "I have less than five minutes to explain it, although I thought I already explained it to Katherine last night." Ordinarily Julie would have taken serious exception to their interference in her life, but the knowledge that she'd be leaving them both forever in a few days banished whatever resentment she felt. Without rancor, she said, "Although I love seeing the two of you together again, I wish you'd find some common cause for it other than ganging up on me."

"It's my fault," Katherine said quickly. "I saw Ted in town this morning, and he asked about you. You didn't tell me your trip was a secret…" she trailed off.

"It's not a secret."

"Then explain to me why you're going," Ted insisted, his face taut with worry and frustration.

Closing the door, Julie absently shoved her heavy hair off her forehead, trying to think what to tell them. She couldn't explain that she was superstitiously troubled by Zack's remark about their marriage being cursed from the beginning because of the heartache it would cause. On the other hand, she wanted to tell them enough of the truth so that they'd remember this and it would help them understand everything and forgive her more quickly later. She looked from Katherine's worried face to Ted's annoyed one and said haltingly, "Do you believe in the saying that things go on as they begin?" Katherine and Ted exchanged blank looks, and Julie explained, "Do you believe in the idea that when things begin badly, they tend to end badly?"

"Yes," Katherine said. "I think I do."

"I don't," Ted said flatly, and what he said made Julie suspect he was thinking about his marriage to Katherine. "Some things that begin beautifully have rotten endings."

"Since you're determined to meddle in my life," Julie said, amused, "then I think I have the right to point out that, if you're referring to your own marriage, the real problem is that it has never ended. Katherine knows that, even if you refuse to face it, Ted. Now, to finish answering your question about my trip to Pennsylvania in the minute I have left before I leave: Zack was raised by his grandmother, and he parted with her under very ugly circumstances. Nothing else in his personal life has gone well since then. He's in danger now, and he's alone, but he's starting a whole new part of his life. I'd like him to have luck and peace in that new life, and I have a feeling—call it a superstition, if you prefer—that, maybe, if I mend the bridges he burned a long time ago, he'll have that at last." In the blank silence that followed her announcement, she watched both of them struggle to find an argument and fail, so she reached for the door. "Remember that, will you both?" she added, fighting to keep the emotion from her voice and disguise the import of her next request. "In order to be truly happy, it helps so much to know your family wishes you well … even if you don't do the things they'd like you to do. When your own family hates you, it's almost like a curse."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance