"I like it," Julie said softly, shakily.

"Shall we take it with us and find a place to put it on?"

She nodded wordlessly, he took the ring out, and when they turned, the small crowd of onlookers saw the grin on his face and began to smile. "Up there," Zack said, pulling her toward the ticket booth at the Ferris wheel. "Quick," he said, laughing as the man in the booth called to the crowd in a loud, stunned voice. "That guy—the one who looks like Warren Beatty—just took the biggest damned diamond ring you've ever seen out of his pocket and gave it to her!"

Reverend and Mrs. Mathison were talking to the mayor and his wife and Katherine's parents, who'd flown in for the festivities. They were standing near the Tilt-a-Whirl when Katherine and Ted came running up followed by a group of their own friends. "It's official," Ted said, laughing. "Julie and Zack just got engaged." In a deliberate and successful effort to discomfit his father, he added, "With a ring Zack won in one of the booths."

"That doesn't sound very official to me," Reverend Mathison said, frowning.

"I was kidding, Dad. It's a real ring."

Everyone turned in delighted surprise, looking around for the engaged couple to congratulate them. "Where are they?" Mrs. Mathison said, beaming.

Katherine pointed to the Ferris wheel, which was stopped now, with a crowd cheering uproariously at the base of it. "They're up there," Katherine said, smiling at the uppermost chair, "on top of the world."

By the time they reached the Ferris wheel to offer congratulations, the crowd was chanting, "Kiss her, Zack! Kiss her!" and the photographer from the Keaton Crier was aiming his camera at the couple in the topmost chair and lending his voice to the effort.

With his arm around her, Zack tipped Julie's chin up with his free hand. "They aren't going to let us down until they see us kiss."

She bit her lip, her cheeks flushed with color, her eyes bright with love, her palm protectively covering the diamond ring he'd slipped on her finger. "I can't believe you did this here—in front of everyone. You hate publicity."

Zack tightened his arm, pulling her forward. "Not this publicity, I don't. The whole damned world," he whispered, lowering his head, "has witnessed our misery. Let them see what happens when a hardened escaped convict meets up with an angel who believed in him. Kiss me, Julie."

In the midst of the cheer that went up down below at the sight of the couple locked in an embrace, Mayor Addelson grinned at his wife and looked around at Ted. "Did your father get him to promise?"

Ted's shoulders shook with laughter. "Yep."

"Poor devil," Addelson said, looking up at the long, thorough kiss that Zack was giving his new fiancée. "He's not going to be able to stand much of that then."

"Nope."

"When's the wedding?"

"Zack said something about wanting it to happen in two weeks."

"Not soon enough," John Grayson, one of Ted's friends, put in with a knowing grin. He looked at his wife. "It'll seem like two years. Remember, Susan?"

She nodded, peeking at Katherine. "Your father-in-law is a truly treacherous man."

"And a very wise one," Mayor Addelson added, sobering.

"That's not," Marian Addelson reminded him, "the way you felt before our wedding, dear."

"No, but it was how I felt on our wedding night." Grayson considered the kissing couple for a moment, then added, "I suppose he knows about the cold-shower trick."

Chapter 83

"Julie, don't, darling. I can't stand much more of this," Zack muttered several nights later, reluctantly pulling her arms from around his neck and sitting up on the sofa in her living room. After two days in the Rest Your Bones Motel, Zack had realized Julie's parents were genuinely hurt that he wasn't staying with them, and he'd gratefully checked out of the motel and accepted their invitation. The accommodations were much better and the food was wonderful, but he was sleeping in Julie's old bedroom, surrounded with reminders of her. During the day, while she was at school, teaching her classes, he worked at her house, going over scripts, talking to his staff in California, and discussing potential deals with producers on the telephone, and he was able to think about something besides his increasing sexual frustration. But when Julie came home, he took one look at her and desire inevitably led to foreplay, which invariably led to frustration, and it started all over again.

So fragile was his remaining hold on his self-control that, instead of staying home with her in the evenings, he'd begun preferring to spend them with Julie and her friends at the local dinner and entertainment spots. Two nights ago, he'd actually ended up necking with her in the back row of the local movie theater, where he knew things couldn't go too far, and the night before, he'd suggested they go bowling, where he knew things couldn't go anywhere at all.

Swearing under his breath, Zack set Julie firmly away from him and got up from the sofa. "I should never have let your father talk me into this ridiculous notion of premarital celibacy. It's archaic, it's pointless, and it's juvenile! He did it to get even with me for kidnapping you. The man is clever and he's sadistic! The only time I felt right about this promise was in church on Sunday."

Julie bit back a helpless smile and said with an attempt at gravity, "Why do you suppose that happened?"

"I know why it happened! The hour in church was the only time in the past week I haven't had an erection."

This was not the first time Zack had mentioned the bargain he'd made with her father, but he was so sensitive about it that Julie was almost afraid to tell him that he was not an isolated victim. He had a great deal of pride, and he was essentially a very private person. Because of that, she wasn't certain how he'd react to the discovery that every male in town who'd been married by her father knew exactly what was going on. She looked up as he began to pace in front of her.

"I am thirty-five years old," he informed her bitterly. "I am a reasonably sophisticated man with an above-average IQ, and I not only feel like a sex-starved, randy eighteen-year-old, I'm behaving like one! I've taken so many cold showers, your mother must think I have a cleanliness obsession. I am becoming irritable."

Julie shoved her hair off her forehead, stood up, and looked at him with exasperated amusement. "I would never have noticed."

With an irritated sigh, he stacked the scripts he'd been reading on the table and said, "What do you think we should do tonight?"


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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