30. Stoned

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"YES!" Valerie said in a voice louder than intended. "Oh, God, yes."

"Splendid! — I'm sorry I don't have a ring. I didn't know your size. Nor what style of mounting you'd prefer, nor what cut. Wouldn't have been time, anyway — but I did bring an assortmmm —"

Valerie broke out of her stunned shock, smothering the rest of Lorne's flood of words with a deep kiss. Chloe looked on with intense interest as mouths and hands explored and bodies shuddered.

When they finally parted lips, Valerie asked, "How long have you been planning this?"

"Since we parted in the hotel lobby Monday afternoon." He shrugged. "A day and a bit, I guess. First time in many years I've felt lonely. Such an empty feeling during the ride home. Sat in a trance in my office for God knows how long until a plan evolved."

Valerie pulled him in for another long kiss, her mind lost in a jumble of disjointed thoughts. This is happening. It really is. But is it real? Infatuation? His? Mine? Both? No, we're beyond that now. So far beyond. Then she allowed her mind to go blank as she demonstrated her mounting passion.

She hadn't realised the kiss had ended until Lorne said, "You seem to be in a trance. Are you really okay with this?"

"Yes! Most definitely, yes. Are you?"

"Irrevocably." Lorne nodded as he blew out a deep breath. "I had hoped I had read the signs correctly." He pulled a rectangular velvet box from his computer case, opened it and held it toward her. "I brought along a selection of unmounted diamonds, hoping one might catch your fancy."

Valerie trembled, fighting a losing battle to prevent tears from spilling

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Valerie trembled, fighting a losing battle to prevent tears from spilling. She wiped her eyes, then blinked a few times to clear the blurriness. "These are all breathtaking, but I love the simplicity of the emerald cut. It's like looking into a bottomless pool of water. Into a wishing well."

"I'm pleased. It's my favourite as well." He set the case on the table, then picked up the rectangular stone in one hand, took her left hand in his other and placed the diamond against her ring finger. "We'll have to pretend it's mounted." They merged in another kiss.

The changing sound of the engines prompted them back to the present. Lorne put the stone back into its fitted place in the case and pointed to their plates. "We should finish our breakfasts. We've begun our descent."

They resumed eating, then a few bites later, Valerie nodded toward the open case. "That's a spectacular selection. How had you assembled it so quickly?"

"I collect them. After the De Beers monopoly collapsed, major stones became a sound investment; one that's now market-driven, rather than being manipulated. And with the emergence of ethical diamonds from Canada, I became far more serious."

Valerie nodded. "Yeah, one of my accountants suggested I look at it. Never got around to doing so."

"It's been a good diversion for me. I enjoy dabbling in the affordable stones; the five to fifteen price range." He pointed to the selection. "These sizes, not the huge stones where the market is rather small."

Chloe picked up the large round and tilted it back and forth in the light. "I like this one. It looks as if it's on fire."

"That's called a brilliant cut. It's the usual image of a diamond to most people, so it's the easiest to sell."

"So, how much for this one?"

"That one is just over sixty-five carats, internally flawless, and it would likely fetch between thirteen and fourteen in a quick sale, fifteen or more at auction."

"That's much less than I would have guessed." She placed it against her ring and middle fingers. "This would be a two-finger ring for me. I had thought big diamonds such as this would be much more expensive. Mummy paid almost three times that for your new bed."

Lorne chuckled. "I look even more forward to sleeping in it, then. A forty million pound bed should be very comfortable."

"No, Daddy, it was forty..." She paused to study the diamond again, slowly nodding. "You were talking millions, weren't you? That makes much more sense." She grinned up into his eyes. "Are you as wealthy as Mummy?"

"Maybe, maybe not. But I do know she's far more beautiful than I."

Chloe picked up the emerald-cut. "And how much is Mummy's?"

"Priceless, like you, Sweetheart." He chuckled and pointed to her plate. "Finish your breakfast."

Oh, God! Well over a hundred million, and he treats it like a box of chocolates. "Are you not worried — carrying this with you?

"You're worth the risk." He shrugged. "Besides, they're all certified, registered and easily traceable."

"And what about getting them through Customs?"

"I filed declarations of intentions with them. Both South Africa and the UK. Coming and going."

"You did all this on impulse, didn't you? To pull yourself out of your lonely funk?"'

"Yeah. Didn't want to get stuck in one again." He nodded as he picked up her hand and took it to his lips. "There wasn't much time, so it's all been a bit of a jumble and maybe a tad klutzy. Seemed to be the quickest way of letting you know I want to share my forever with you."

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