She laughed chokingly. "Size isn't everything, and besides, he couldn't have let her wear a ring like this, because it would have drawn attention to them wherever they went. So he got her one like this instead," she speculated softly.

"It's just an ordinary diamond wedding band."

Katherine shook her head in denial. "There's nothing ordinary about this ring. The band is platinum, not gold, and the diamonds go all the way around it."

"So what, they aren't very big," Ted said bluntly, but he was as relieved as she obviously was to digress for a moment from their former subject.

"Size isn't everything," she said again, turning the ring in her fingers. "These stones are exceptionally fine, and they're a very expensive cut."

"They're square."

"Oblong. The way they're cut is called 'radiant.'" In a suffocated voice she added, "He has … beautiful taste."

"He's insane and he's a killer."

"You're right," she said, laying the ring on the table, then she looked up at him and Ted gazed at a beautiful face that used to mesmerize him and numb his mind. She was different now … older, softer, sweeter … concerned, instead of self-absorbed. And five times as desirable. "Don't start blaming yourself for Julie getting hurt," she said gently. "You saved her from a life of hell or worse. Julie knows that."

"Thank you," he said quietly, then he stretched his arm across the back of the sofa, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. "I'm so damned tired, Kathy." As if his body was reenacting a memory without the approval of his exhausted mind, his hand curved around her shoulder and he drew her close. Not until her cheek came to rest against his chest and her hand splayed over his arm, did he realize what he'd done, but even then it seemed harmless enough.

"We were so lucky, you and I," she whispered. "We saw each other, we loved each other, we got married. And then we threw it all away."

"I know." The aching regret he heard in his own voice made his eyes snap open in annoyed surprise, and he tipped his chin down, staring at her. She wanted him to kiss her, it was written all over her somber face.

"No," he said tautly, closing his eyes.

She rubbed her cheek against his chest, and he felt his resistance begin to crumble. "Stop it!" he warned, "or I'll get up and go to bed in the other room." She stopped instantly, but she didn't pull back in anger or lash out at him, and he held his breath, wishing she would. A minute ago he'd been limp with exhaustion; now his mind was numb but his body was stirring to life and his voice seemed to have a will of its own. "Either get up," he warned without opening his eyes, "or else take off that ring you're wearing."

"Why?" she whispered.

"Because I'll be damned if I'll make love to you while you're wearing another man's ring—"

A billion-year-old diamond, appraised at a quarter of a million dollars, bounced unceremoniously onto the coffee table. His voice came out in a half-laugh/half-groan. "Kathy, you're the only woman in the world who would do that to such a diamond."

"I'm the only woman in the world for you."

Ted leaned his head back and closed his eyes again, trying to ignore the truth of that, but his hand was already curving around her nape, his fingers sliding into her hair, tilting her face up. Opening his eyes, he gazed down at her, remembering the months of hell that had been their life together … and the cold emptiness that had been his life without her and he saw the tear trembling at the corner of her eyelid. "I know you are," he whispered, and bending his head, he touched his tongue to the salty tear.

"If you'll give me another chance, I'll prove it," she promised fiercely.

"I know you will," he whispered, kissing the second tear away.

"Will you give me another chance?"

He tipped her chin up and gazed into her eyes, and he was lost. "Yes."

Chapter 63

Still a little disoriented from the drugs she'd been given twenty-four hours ago, Julie held her hand to her aching head and walked unsteadily from her bedroom into the kitchen, then she stopped short, blinking at the unbelievable sight that greeted her: Ted and Katherine were standing near the sink, locked in an embrace that looked definitely passionate. Her mind was a comfortable, fuzzy blur at the moment, and she smiled at the cozy, domestic picture. "The water is running," she said, startling all three of them with her dry, croaking voice.

Ted lifted his head and grinned at her, but Katherine jumped as if she'd been caught in the act of doing something wrong and pulled out of his arms. "Julie, I'm sorry!" she blurted.

"For what?" Julie asked, walking over to the cabinet and taking down a glass that she filled with water. She drank it all, trying to quench the strange thirst she felt.

"For letting you see us like that."

"Why?" Julie asked, holding the small glass under the faucet to refill it, but her head was already beginning to clear and the memories were trying to crowd in.

"Because," Katherine babbled awkwardly, "we shouldn't be doing this in front of you, not when we're supposed to be helping you deal with what happened in Mexico—" she broke off in horror as the glass slid from Julie's hand and crashed to the floor.

"Don't!" Julie burst out, bracing her hands on the counter, trying to shut out the sudden memory of Zack's enraged face just before the Mexican police started hitting him and the sound of his body thudding to the floor at her feet. She shuddered again and again, clenching her eyes closed against the vision, then after a minute, she managed to straighten and turn. "Don't talk about it ever again," she said. "I'm all right," she added with more determination than accuracy. "It's over. I'll be all right if you don't talk about it. I have to make a phone call," she added, glancing at the clock on the wall above the sink, and without realizing she was doing the opposite of what she'd just asked them to do, Julie picked up the telephone, called Paul Richardson's office, and gave the secretary her name.

The last explosion of emotion left her feeling drained and afraid. She was strained to the breaking point she realized, looking at her trembling hands, and it had to stop right now. Life was hard for a lot of people, she reminded herself, and she had to stop reeling from every blow. Right now. Immediately. She could either get a prescription for tranquilizers and turn herself into a zombie, or she could deal with the future in a calm, rational way. Tincture of time would cure the rest. No more tears, she vowed. No more outbursts. No more pain. People depended on her—all her regular students and the women she taught to read at night. They especially looked up to her and she had to show them how she dealt with adversity.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance