Julie choked on her wine.

"You may as well explain that remark," Matt said irritably after exchanging a glance with his wife, "before Julie decides Zack has entrusted his future to a complete imbecile."

"I thought everybody already knew the story—it was all over the newspapers and everything," Joe said, but when Julie looked blank, he said, "Y'see, Matt and Meredith had gotten married and divorced when Meredith was still eighteen, only no one knew it, not even me. Then, twelve years later, Meredith finds out they'd had a bogus divorce lawyer and they weren't actually divorced, so she invites him to lunch and they talk for the first time in all those years, and she lays the news on him. Jesus, was Matt mad! Meredith was already engaged to somebody else, and the three of them had to give a news conference and try to look friendly, and Matt tried to make it seem like a funny joke—"

"I do know the story," Julie uttered as everything suddenly snapped into place. "That's why you both seemed familiar when I first saw you tonight! I saw that news conference." She shifted her startled gaze to Matt Farrell and added, "I remember that you and Meredith's fiancé joked about the whole mess and seemed rather like friends. And then … just a few days later, you—you hit him! Didn't you? There was a picture of the fight in the newspapers."

"We are all very good friends now, however," Matt said, grinning slightly at her thoughtful expression.

It was after eleven o'clock when the party reluctantly broke up. Julie excused herself to get something from her bedroom. By the time she returned with the green sweater and slacks she'd worn home from Colorado, Joe O'Hara had already gone outside to warm the car up, and Matt and Meredith were waiting near the door.

In accordance with his wife's whispered request to speak to Julie in private, Matt smiled at Julie, said good-bye, and added, "I'll wait in the car with Joe while you and Meredith say your farewells."

She leaned up on her toes to kiss him, and Matt hugged her tightly, surprised by the raw fear he felt for her and for Zack. "If it will make you feel any better," he told her against his better judgment, "my corporation owns an international investigation agency, and for the last three weeks, I've had their people running cross-cheeks on everyone who'd been to Dallas to work on Zack's film."

Instead of cheering. Julie said, "But why didn't you do that sooner?" Belatedly realizing what she'd said, she apologized, "I'm sorry—that was incredibly rude and ungrateful."

Matt smiled at her and shook his head, admiring her devotion to Zack. "It sounded desperate and concerned, not rude. And the answer is that Zack paid an agency with a reputation as good as ours to do the same thing before his trial began, and they couldn't turn up anything that was meaningful. Also, he told me then that he didn't want or need my help beyond what I was doing for him. Since his pride was already in shreds because of the pretrial publicity, I acceded to his request and let him handle his own case."

"Your investigators—" Julie said anxiously, seizing on some indefinable thread of encouragement she thought she heard in his voice, "they've discovered something new, haven't they?"

After a reluctant hesitation, Matt decided telling her probably couldn't do any harm, not when she'd already decided to share Zack's exile. "Part of it concerns Tony Austin," he began, but Julie interrupted.

"Tony Austin killed her?"

"I didn't say that," Matt warned firmly. "If there was any proof of that, I wouldn't be here, I'd be blasting it all over the media so the legal authorities would have to take action."

"Then what did you find out?"

"We found out that Austin apparently lied on the witness stand. During the trial, he stated that his affair with Rachel Evans had been going on for months and that they were 'wildly in love with each other.' The truth is that he was also involved with another woman."

"Who was she?" Julie demanded breathlessly. "She may have put the real bullets in the gun because she was jealous of Tony and Rachel."

"We don't know who she was. All we know is that two weeks before the murder, a bellboy heard a woman's voice in Austin's suite late at night when he brought up some champagne. That same bellboy had just delivered a late dinner to Zack's suite, and Rachel had answered the door, so whoever was in Austin's bedroom, it wasn't her. In any case, I don't think any woman switched those bullets, I think it was Austin."

"But why do you think so?"

"Possibly because Zack has always insisted Austin was involved, and now it's rubbing off on me," Matt admitted with a harsh sigh. "The thing is, Rachel couldn't have supported herself and Austin in style unless she kept working and got a fat divorce settlement from Zack through the California courts. However, she was never a big favorite with the public unless Zack directed her, and from the moment the press got ahold of the fact that she'd been caught cheating on him, her popularity in films—and her earning power—were going to plunge.

"Now that we know Austin was having an affair with someone else at the same time he was having one with Rachel, it pretty much negates his testimony that he was insane about her. That leaves us with the possibility that his main interest in her was financial and that when she blew her financial future by getting caught with him in Zack's suite, he decided to get rid of her. It's also possible he never wanted to marry her in the first place, and he killed her because she was pressuring him. Who knows. Furthermore, Austin was the only one who had physical control of that gun during the scene they were filming. Even if Zack hadn't changed the script so that Austin, not Rachel, fired the first shot, Austin was strong enough to make certain the gun was pointed at her, not him, when it went off."

Julie shivered at the macabre conversation and its real implications. "Does Zack know this?"

"Yes."

"What did he say? I mean, is he excited or happy about it?"

"Happy?" he repeated with a bitter laugh. "If you'd been convicted of a crime someone else committed and you were completely helpless to alter the situation, would you be happy to finally discover the person you most despise in the world is probably the person who caused it all to happen to you? There's another complication," he added. "We also uncovered some minor information about other people who were on the set in Dallas that could point to them instead of Austin."

"What sort of information?"

"For one thing, Diana Copeland had a fling with Austin years before, which was supposedly over. However, she was still jealous enough of Rachel to tell people, after the furor of the trial died down, that she was glad Rachel was dead. Maybe she was jealous enough to have made it happen. Then there's Emily McDaniels, who had to be put on all sorts of medication for a year after the murder, which seems rather an excessive reaction for someone who was supposedly an innocent bystander. Tommy Newton, the assistant director on the film, couldn't get his act together for a long time after the murder either, although it's no secret how he felt about Austin. So there you are," he finished grimly, "new evidence that points simultaneously at everyone and is completely useless because it does."


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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