"Oh, but, Ada," Flossie protested, holding the slip of paper with the license number written on it behind her back. "I don't think we should spy on Julie, not even for the FBI."

"We aren't spying!" Ada said, marching around her and pulling the slip of paper out of Flossie's hand. "We're helping him protect Julie from that—that heathen monster who kidnapped her. Him and his disgusting dirty movies!" she added, picking up the phone.

"They aren't dirty! They're good movies, and I think Zachary Benedict is innocent. So does Julie. She told me so last week, and she said so on television. She also said he didn't do one thing to hurt her, so I can't see why he would try now. I think," Flossie confided, "that Julie is in love with him."

Ada paused in the act of punching out the numbers for a collect call to Dallas. "Well if she is," Ada declared with disgust, "she is as big a romantic fool as you are, and she'll end up pining away for that good-for-nothing movie star, just like you've pined away for that useless Herman Henkleman, who isn't worth an hour of your time and never was!"

Chapter 52

The phone call Julie had been waiting and praying for came four days later at the last place she expected to receive it. "Oh, Julie," the principal's secretary called out when Julie walked into the office to turn in her attendance report at the end of the day. "A Mr. Stanhope called you this afternoon." Julie glanced up a split second before the name hit her, and when it did, she froze. "What did he say?" she asked, alarmed by the breathless desperation in her own voice.

"He said something about wanting to enroll his son in your handicapped physical ed classes. I told him we're full."

"Why in heaven's name did you tell him that?"

"Because I heard Mr. Duncan say something about us being overcrowded. Anyway, Mr. Stanhope said it was something of an emergency and that he'd call you back at seven tonight. I told him it was no use because our teachers don't work here that late."

In a flash, Julie realized Zack was wary of calling her at home in case her phone was tapped, that he hadn't gotten through to her when he tried here, and that he might not try again, and it was all she could do to keep her frustration and temper from lashing out at the principal's lazy, nosy secretary. "If he said it was an emergency," Julie shot back with unprecedented fury, "why didn't you page me in my classroom?"

"Teachers are not supposed to take personal calls during school hours. That is Mr. Duncan's rule. His very specific rule."

"It was clearly not a personal call," Julie said, her nails biting into her palms. "Did he say whether he intended to call me here or at home tonight?"

"No."

At six forty-five, Julie was sitting alone in the school's administration office, staring at the telephone on the desk where the main line would light up if a call came through. If she'd guessed wrong, if Zack was going to phone her at home tonight instead of here, she was terrified he might think she'd changed her mind about joining him and then he wouldn't call back. Beyond the glass walls that surrounded the administration office, the halls were dark and eerie, and when the janitor poked his head in the door, she jumped guiltily. "You're workin' awful late tonight," Henry Rueheart said with a grin that displayed a missing front tooth.

"Yes," Julie said, hastily pulling a blank tablet in front of her and picking up a pen. "I have some … some special reports to write. Sometimes it's easier to think here than it is at home."

"You ain't doin' much writing, gazin' off into space like you've been," he said. "I thought mebbee you was waiting for a phone call or somethin'."

"No, not at all—"

The phone rang shrilly at her elbow, and she grabbed for it, jabbing the button that lit up. "Hello?"

"Hi, sis," Carl said. "I kept calling you at home and decided to take a shot you were still at school when I couldn't reach you anywhere else. Have you had dinner yet?"

Julie raked her hand through her hair, trying to remember if Zack would get a busy signal or if the lines transferred automatically. "I have a lot of work to finish," she said, tossing a harassed look at Henry, who'd decided to shuffle into the office and empty trash cans instead of finishing sweeping the halls. "I'm trying to write some reports, and I'm not making much progress."

"Is everything okay?" he persisted. "I saw Katherine in town a few minutes ago, and she said you've wanted to stay home alone every night this week."

"Everything is great! Terrific! I'm throwing myself into my work just like you advised me to, remember?"

"No, I don't."

"Oh, well it must have been someone else then. I thought it was you. I have to hang up now. Thanks for calling. Love you," she said and hung up the phone. "Henry," she burst out in distraction, "can't you leave cleaning the office for last? I can't think straight if you're going to bang trash cans around," she added somewhat unfairly, describing the minor noise he was making.

His face fell. "I'm sorry, Miss Julie. I'll just finish sweeping the hall then. Is that okay?"

"Yes it is. I'm sorry, Henry. I'm a little … tired," she finished with an overbright smile that looked anything but sleepy. She watched him shuffle off down the hall and saw the lights at the far end of it come on. She had to stay calm, she warned herself fiercely, and not do or say things that were unusual for her and that might evoke suspicion.

At exactly seven o'clock the phone rang again, and she snatched it out of the cradle and answered it.

Zack's voice sounded even deeper on the telephone, but it was cold, curt, and clipped: "Are you alone, Julie?"

"Yes."

"Is there anything in this world I can say to dissuade you from your insane idea of joining me?"

It wasn't what she wanted to hear, it wasn't the way she wanted him to talk to her, but she concentrated on the words he'd written in his letter, refusing to let him trick or intimidate her with his voice. "Yes, there is," she replied softly. "You can tell me that the things you wrote in your letter were lies."

"Fine," he said. "They were all lies."

Julie squeezed the phone in her hand and closed her eyes. "Now, tell me that you don't love me, darling."

She heard him draw a ragged breath, and his voice dropped to a tortured plea. "Don't make me say that. Please."

"I love you so much," Julie whispered fiercely.


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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