Zack's voice was aching and tender, "Julie," he whispered, pulling her tight, "look at you, darling, and see what I see. It was just a ring, a piece of metal and stones. But look at how much it meant to you."

"It was the wedding ring you picked out for me!" she said fiercely. "That's why I was crying."

"Really?" he teased softly. "I thought you were crying because the diamonds were so small."

Her mouth dropped open, and an hysterical giggle slid out even while she blinked back the tears from her wondrous eyes.

"Now watch this," he added with a grin, pulling her tighter. "This is my favorite part. Don't watch what they're doing to me," he said quickly when she started to jerk her gaze away from the Federales' raised clubs. "Watch what you're doing to Hadley on the right of the screen. That," he added admiringly, "is one hell of a right hook you have, lady."

Julie forced herself to watch and was slightly surprised and shamefully pleased to see herself attacking that particular human being. "I don't actually remember much of that," she whispered.

"No, but I'll bet Hadley remembered what comes next. When Richardson dragged you off and you couldn't get at Hadley with your nails or hands, you—"

"Kicked him!" Julie narrated, watching in shock.

"Right in the groin," Zack said proudly with a laugh as Hadley doubled over, clutching himself. "Do you have any idea how many men there are in this world who've longed to do that?"

Julie shook her head in silence, watching the end of the film as a doctor rammed a hypodermic into her arm and Paul held her. Zack let the VCR keep running and sobered as he looked at her. "I'm going to tear Hadley to pieces legally before I'm done. I have a meeting scheduled with the Texas Board of Criminal Justice week after next. When I'm finished with him, he'll be occupying one of his own cells."

"He's a devil!"

"And you," Zack said somberly, tipping her chin up, "are an angel. Do you have any idea how I've felt every time I watched you on that film?"

She shook her head, and he said, "I felt loved. Incredibly, completely, unconditionally loved. Even when you thought I was a deranged murderer, you were still fighting and crying for me." Lowering his mouth to hers, he whispered, "I have never known a woman who has as much courage as you…" He kissed the corner of her eye, dragging his lips across her cheek to the corner of her mouth. "Or as much love to give." His hands slid under her sweatshirt and down the waistband of her jeans. "Give it to me, darling," he whispered, "all of it … now." He opened her mouth with his, deepening the kiss, his hands moving over her soft bare skin, his tongue searching her mouth, driving slowly into it, and when she unbuttoned his shirt with shaking fingers and spread it open and touched him, the moan he heard was his. But the ringing in his ears came from the doorbell, and the pounding in his brain he slowly realized was a fist hammering on the door. Swearing, Zack sat up, intending to take her into the bedroom, and held out his hand.

"Julie!" Ted's voice accompanied the second round of hammering on the door.

"It's my brother!" she said.

"Can't you suggest he go away and come back tomorrow?"

She was about to nod, when Ted's laughing voice called, "Answer this door for your own good. I know you're in there," and she shook her head instead, hastily tugging her shirt back down and trying to restore order to her hair. "I'd better see what he wants."

"I'll wait in the kitchen," Zack said, raking his hands through his hair.

"But I want him to meet you since he's here."

"You want him to meet me now?" He glanced down meaningfully and then at her in amusement. "Like this?"

"On second thought," she said, blushing gorgeously, "you'd better wait in the kitchen," then she headed for the door while he walked in the opposite direction.

Julie pulled it open just as Ted raised his hand to knock again, and his gaze swept over her in a knowing, laughing scrutiny. "Sorry to interrupt. Where's Benedict?"

"In the kitchen."

"I'll bet," he laughed.

"What do you want," she said, exasperated, embarrassed, and beaming at him because she belatedly realized that he had to have given her letter to Paul.

"I might as well tell both of you at the same time," he said, sauntering down the hall, pausing to look in the bedroom, obviously and irrationally enjoying himself hugely.

Zack was drinking a glass of water at the sink when Julie said behind him, "Zack, this is my brother Ted."

Startled by their silent arrival, Zack turned, his eyes riveting on another familiar face.

Ted nodded. "You're right, I was in Mexico City with Julie."

Recovering from his surprise, Zack extended his hand, and said, "I'm happy to meet you under better circumstances."

"But not at this particular moment," Ted joked, shaking his hand, and Zack felt a surprising and instant liking for the younger man. "If I were you," Ted continued to Zack with a grin, "I'd fix myself something stronger to drink than water." Glancing at a puzzled Julie, he explained, "Dad wants to see both of you at the house. Immediately," he emphasized in a comically dire tone. "Katherine is over there now with Mother, helping to convince Dad that it will be so much nicer if he waits there calmly instead of coming over here, which was what he was determined to do when he couldn't reach you on the phone."

"Why is he so anxious to see us?" Julie asked.

Slouching against the wall, Ted shoved his hands in his pockets, lifted his brows, and looked at Zack. "Can you guess why Julie's father might be a little, shall we say … determined … to have a word with you upon your unexpected arrival in town?"

Zack swallowed the rest of the water and filled the glass again. "I think I can guess."

"Julie," Ted ordered with a chuckle, "go and comb your hair and try not to look so … ah … delightfully rumpled. I'll call Dad and tell him we'll be there shortly."

She turned on her heel and fled toward her room, calling over her shoulder that the phone was off the hook in the living room.

When Ted came back into the kitchen after making his phone call, Zack was in the bathroom, shaving. He emerged a few minutes later wearing a fresh shirt, his hair combed, and walked into the kitchen. Ted paused in the act of searching through all the cabinets and said over his shoulder, "I don't suppose you know where Julie put the vodka this time?"

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance