Carrying the tray, she headed into the living room, then stopped at the sight of Ted, sitting on the sofa, hunched forward, with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. It was a posture of such unparalleled despair that she realized instantly it came from much more than weariness.

"It was bad in Mexico City, wasn't it?" she asked quietly.

"Worse than bad," he said, rubbing his hands over his face as she put the tray on the coffee table and sat down at the opposite end of the sofa. Propping his arms on his legs, he turned his head to her and said harshly, "It was a nightmare. The only tiny blessing was that Julie was so hysterical, so overwrought, before it even began that I know she didn't register half of what was going on. Also, Paul Richardson managed to keep her where part of her view was blocked by the chaos, so she couldn't see well. I, however," he said grimly, "had a ringside seat with a clear view, and I was not hysterical. Jesus, it was worse than anything I imagined…"

When he didn't seem to know how to begin to explain, Katherine said, "Do you mean Benedict was violent? Did he try to get at her and hurt her?"

"Violent?" he repeated in an embittered voice. "Hurt her? I almost wish to God he'd tried! It would have been so much better, so much easier on her."

"I don't understand."

With a harsh sigh, he slumped back against the sofa, staring up at the ceiling, and gave a grim laugh. "No, he didn't get violent. The instant he knew what was going down, he froze, he didn't try to move or duck or run, he just stood there without struggling and stared at Julie and shook his head, warning her to stay away and hide. He didn't flinch or say a word, not even when they slapped the cuffs on him and threw him against the wall to frisk him. The Federales—the Mexican police—don't have any compunction about using what we call 'undue force,' and they roughed him up but good under the pretext of frisking him. One of them clubbed him in the kidneys, another one nailed him behind the knees, and he never ever struggled or fought them or made a sound. God, I've never seen a man act like that when he was busted in my life, not when things get violent. It was as if he was so desperate to keep things calm that he didn't care what they did to him. Julie couldn't even see most of what they were doing to him, and she was still screaming at them not to hurt him."

"Drink this, before you tell me more," Katherine said, handing him a glass of orange juice. He straightened and took it with a brief, grateful smile, as if he'd wanted it all along, but didn't have the strength to reach for it. "Was that the end of it?" she asked when he'd finished most of the orange juice.

He shook his head and resumed his former posture, arms on his knees, shoulders hunched forward, and rolled the glass between his hands, staring into it. "No," he said caustically, "that was just the good part."

"What was the bad part?" Katherine asked, her voice filled with dread.

"That came a few minutes later when they were dragging Benedict out. Hadley, the warden from Amarillo State Penitentiary, who also happens to be a sadistic son of a bitch, stopped to congratulate Julie right in front of Benedict."

"Why does that make him sadistic?"

"You had to see the smile on his face to understand. With Benedict standing there, Hadley deliberately made it sound like Julie had conceived the entire plot to join him in Mexico just so she could trap him and turn him in."

Katherine's hand went to her throat and Ted nodded agreement at her unconsciously defensive gesture. "You've got the picture, and Benedict got it, too. Jesus, you should have seen the look on his face. He looked … murderous, that's the only word I can think of, and that doesn't even describe it. He tried to get at her or maybe to turn away, I'm not sure, but either way, the Federales used it as an excuse to start beating the shit out of him right in front of her. That's when Julie went crazy and attacked Hadley. Then she fainted, thank God."

"Why didn't Paul Richardson do something to stop all that from happening in the first place?"

Ted frowned into his glass, then he put it down. "Paul's hands were tied. So long as we were on the other side of the Mexican border, he had to work within their system. The only reason the FBI was involved in the first place was because they had a federal warrant out against Benedict for kidnapping. The Mexican government honored that warrant and agreed to cooperate with surprising speed in the deal at the airport, but the Federales have complete jurisdiction over Benedict until they hand him over at the American border."

"How long will that take?"

"No time at all in this case. Instead of driving him to the border, which is what they'd normally do, Paul talked them into flying him to our border in a small private plane. His plane took off about the same time ours did. Before we left the airport, the Federales developed a belated social conscience," he added sarcastically. "They went around, confiscating all the film they could get their hands on from whomever had cameras. Paul got ahold of a couple videotapes they overlooked, not because he cared about the Federales, but because he was trying to protect Julie from being seen here in the films. I saw one of the tapes they obviously missed on a newscast in the airport, but the camera was on Benedict nearly the entire time. That's one small blessing, at least."

"For some reason, I assumed Paul would come back here with her."

Shaking his head, Ted said, "He had to be at the Texas border to take Benedict into custody from the Federales, then he'll hand him over to Hadley."

Katherine studied his face for a moment. "Is that everything that happened?"

"Not quite," he said tautly, "there was one more detail, one more death blow to her that I left out."

"What was it?"

"This," Ted said, reaching into his shirt pocket. "Benedict had this on him, and Hadley presented it to her with great enjoyment." Opening his fist, he dropped the ring unceremoniously into an unsuspecting Katherine's outstretched hand, watching her eyes widen with shock and then fill with tears.

"Oh, my God," she whispered, staring at the diamond circlet sparkling in her palm, "he obviously wanted her to have something very special. This is exquisite."

"Don't go all sentimental," Ted warned, but his own voice was gruff. "The man's a maniac, a murderer."

She swallowed audibly and nodded. "I know."

He glanced from the ring in her right palm to the enormous rock on her left finger. "It's tiny compared to that boulder you're wearing."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance