"Oh, my God!"

The clerk at the desk, a middle-aged woman with wiry gray hair and the face of an irate bulldog, had been listening to the Mathisons' conversation about Julie while simultaneously filling out an arrest warrant and watching for an assistant deputy to arrive in a black and white patrol car. Now, she glanced up and her gaze riveted on a shiny red BMW convertible that pulled up beside Ted's patrol car across the street. When a beautiful blond woman of about twenty-five stepped out of the car, Rita's eyes narrowed to slits and she swung around on her chair to the two men in the office. "It never rains, but it pours," she warned Ted, and when both men glanced at her, she tipped her head toward the window and explained. "Look who's back in town—Miss Rich Bitch herself."

Despite his effort to feel and show no reaction to the sight of his ex-wife, Ted Mathison's face tightened. "Europe must be boring this time of year," he said as his gaze ran insolently over the blonde's perfect curves and long, graceful legs. She disappeared into the seamstress shop across the square as Rita added, "I hear that Flossie and Ada Eldridge are going to make her wedding dress. The silk and lace and all the geegaws are coming in from Paris, France, on a plane, but Miss High and Mighty wanted the dress made by the Eldridge twins because nobody's handwork is as fine as theirs." Belatedly realizing that Ted Mathison might not want to hear the details of his former wife's extravagant wedding plans involving another man, the loyal woman swung back to the paperwork on her desk and said, "I'm sorry. That was dumb of me."

"Don't apologize. It doesn't matter a damn to me what she does," Ted said, and he meant it. The knowledge that Katherine Cahill was planning to remarry, this time to a fifty-year-old Dallas socialite named Spencer Hayward, was of no interest to Ted, nor did it come as a surprise. He'd read about it in the newspapers, including the glowing account of Hayward's jet planes, twenty-two-room mansion, and alleged friendship with the president, but none of that evoked any feelings of jealousy or envy in Ted. "Let's go talk to Mother and Dad," he said, shrugging into his jacket and holding the door open for Carl to proceed him. "They know Julie didn't get back last night and they're worried sick. Maybe they've thought of some detail about her plans that I don't know."

They had just crossed the street when the door to the Eldridge sisters' shop swung open and Katherine stepped forward. She halted in midstep when she found herself a sidewalk's width from her former husband, but Ted merely nodded at her with the sort of distant courtesy one bestows on a total stranger of no importance whatsoever, then he opened the driver's door on his black and white. Katherine, however, apparently had other—more socially correct—notions about how divorced couples ought to behave when meeting each other in public for the first time since their divorce. Refusing to be ignored, she stepped forward and her cultured voice reached Ted, forcing him to pause. "Ted?" she said. Pausing to smile briefly and with impeccable courtesy at Carl, who'd stopped with one foot already in the car, she turned back to her ex-husband and added, "Were you really going to drive off without saying hello to me?"

"I intended to do exactly that," he replied, his face impassive, even as he registered a new softer and more somber quality to her voice.

She walked forward in a cherry red wool suit that hugged her narrow waist, her long blond hair spilling over her shoulders, her hand held out. "You look … well," she finished a little lamely when Ted ignored her hand. When he refused to respond, she sent a look of appeal at Carl. "You look well, too, Carl. I hear you married Sara Wakefield?"

In the shop behind her, Ada Eldridge's eyeball appeared in the crack between the shutters, and in the beauty shop next door, two of the town's biggest gossips were standing in the window with rollers in their hair, blatantly spying. Ted's patience snapped. "Are you finished with what you learned in Social Interaction 201?" he asked sarcastically. "You're causing a scene."

Katherine glanced at the window of the beauty shop, but she persevered despite the flush of humiliation staining her cheeks at his contemptuous attitude. "Julie wrote me that you finished law school."

He turned his back on her and opened the car door.

Her chin came up. "I'm getting married—to Spencer Hayward. Miss Flossie and Miss Ada are making my gown."

"I'm sure they're glad of any business, even yours," Ted said, climbing into the car. She put her hand on the door to stop him from closing it.

"You've changed," she said.

"You haven't."

"Yes, I have."

"Katherine," he said with deadly finality, "I don't give a damn whether you've changed or not."

He closed the door in her face, started the engine, and drove away, watching in the rearview mirror as her shoulders straightened with the haughty dignity that wealthy, privileged people seemed to be born with, then she turned and glowered at the faces in the beauty shop window. If he didn't despise her so thoroughly, Ted would have admired her spunk in the face of such public humiliation, but he felt no admiration nor any jealousy at the thought of her marrying again. All he felt was a vague sort of pity for the man who was about to get himself a wife who was nothing but an ornament—beautiful, hollow, and brittle. As Ted had already learned to his agonized disappointment, Katherine Cahill Mathison was spoiled, immature, selfish, and vain.

Katherine's father owned oil wells and a cattle ranch, but he preferred to spend much of his time in Keaton where he'd been born and where he enjoyed a position of unquestioned prominence. Although Katherine had grown up there, she'd been away at fancy boarding schools since she was twelve years old. Ted and she had never really met until she was nineteen years old, when she came home after her sophomore year at a ritzy eastern college to spend the summer in Keaton. Her parents, who were spending two months in Europe, had insisted she remain in Keaton as a punishment, she'd later told Ted, for her having cut so many of her college classes that she'd nearly flunked out of school. In a typically childish tantrum of the sort that Ted was later to become accustomed to, Katherine had retaliated against her parents by inviting twenty friends from her college to spend a month, partying at her family's mansion. It was during one of those parties that gunshots were fired and the police were called.

Ted had arrived with another local sheriff to check on the disturbance, and Katherine herself had answered the doorbell, her eyes wide with fear, her body scantily clad in a revealing string bikini that showed off nearly every tanned centimeter of her beautiful, curvaceous young form. "I called you," she burst out, gesturing toward the back of the house where French doors opened onto a swimming pool and terraces that overlooked the town of Keaton. "My friends are out there, but the party's getting a little wild, and they won't put my father's guns away. I'm afraid someone will get hurt!"


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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