"I have only one grandson," the other woman bit out, "and he lives here in Ridgemont."

"Mrs. Stanhope," Julie said calmly, "you've only allotted me five minutes. Please don't make me waste them caviling over technicalities because I'm afraid I'll end up leaving here without having explained what I came here to tell you—and I think you're going to want to hear it." The woman's white brows snapped together at Julie's tone, and her mouth thinned, but Julie forged bravely ahead. "I'm aware that you do not acknowledge Zack as your grandson, just as I'm aware that you also had another grandson who died tragically. I'm also aware that the breach between you and Zack has remained during all these years because of his stubbornness."

Her face twisted with derision. "He told you that?"

Julie nodded, trying to ignore the older woman's unexpected sarcasm. "He told me a lot of things in Colorado, Mrs. Stanhope, things he's never told anyone before." She waited, hoping for some sign of curiosity, but when Mrs. Stanhope continued to regard her stonily, Julie had no choice except to continue without encouragement. "Among other things, he told me that if he had his life to live over again, he would have reconciled with you long ago. He admired you very much and he loved you—"

"Get out!"

Julie stood up automatically, but her temper was rapidly igniting and she fought it down with all her strength. "Zack admitted you and he were very much alike, and when it comes to stubbornness, he was clearly telling the truth. I am trying to tell you that your grandson regrets the breach between the two of you and that he loves you."

"I said get out! You should never have come here!"

"Apparently not," Julie agreed tautly, reaching for the purse she'd left beside the chair. "I had no idea a grown woman, facing the end of her life, could still harbor some absurd grudge against her own flesh and blood for something he did when he was still a boy. How bad could it possibly have been that you can't forgive him?"

Mrs. Stanhope's laugh was bitter. "You poor fool! He duped you, too, didn't he?"

"What?"

"Did he actually ask you to come here?" she demanded. "He didn't, did he? He would never have dared!"

Sensing that a negative reply would somehow play right into the woman's hands and harden her even further against Zack, Julie threw all her pride away and gambled everything on this last chance to reach the woman's heart. "He did not ask me to come here and tell you how he felt about you, Mrs. Stanhope. He did something that is even more revealing about the respect and love he still has for you." Drawing a fortifying breath, Julie ignored the woman's freezing expression and said, "I hadn't heard from him until I received his letter a week and a half ago. He wrote to me because he was afraid I was pregnant, and in his letter, he implored me not to have an abortion if I was. He asked me instead to bring his baby to you to raise, because he said you had never shirked a responsibility in your life, and you wouldn't shirk that one. He said he would write you a letter first to explain—"

"If you are pregnant by him and you have any comprehension of genetics," his grandmother interrupted furiously, "you'll have an abortion! Regardless of what you do, I wouldn't have his misbegotten brat in my house."

Julie stepped back from the evil of those remarks. "What kind of monster are you anyway?"

"He is the monster, Miss Mathison, and you are his dupe. Two people who loved him have already died violent deaths at his hand. You're lucky you weren't the third!"

"He did not kill his wife, and I don't know what you're talking about when you say two people—"

"I'm talking about his brother! As surely as Cain killed Abel, that demented monster killed Justin. He shot him in the head after a quarrel!"

Confronted with such vicious lies, Julie lost her control. Shaking with fury and shock, she said, "You're lying! I know exactly how Justin died and why! If you're saying these things about Zack because you're trying to justify turning away his baby, you're wasting your breath! I'm not pregnant, and if I was, I wouldn't leave you alone in the same house with my baby! No wonder your own husband couldn't keep loving you and took up with other women. Oh, yes, I know all about that!" she burst out when shock momentarily cracked Mrs. Stanhope's contemptuous glower. "Zack told me everything. He told me that his grandfather said you were the only woman in the world he'd ever loved, even though everyone thought he'd married you for your money. Your husband told Zack he just couldn't meet your high standards, and he finally quit trying to do it soon after you were married. What I can't understand," Julie finished with contempt, "is why your husband loved you or why Zack admired you! You don't have standards—what you have is ice instead of a heart! No wonder poor Justin couldn't tell you he was gay! Zack isn't the monster, you are!"

"And you," Mrs. Stanhope countered, "are the monster's pawn!" As if Julie's loss of control was contagious, the rigidity drained from the older woman's face and her autocratic voice was suddenly edged with weariness. "Sit down, Miss Mathison!"

"No, I'm leaving."

"If you do," she challenged, "then you're afraid of the truth. I agreed to see you because I watched you plead for him on television, and I wanted to hear what could possibly have brought you here. I thought you must be some sort of opportunist, desperate to remain in the limelight and that you'd come here to dredge up something that might do that for you. Now, it is obvious to me that you are a young woman of considerable courage and strong convictions and that it is your misguided sense of justice that sent you here. I respect courage, Miss Mathison, especially in my own sex. I respect yours enough to discuss things with you that are still intensely painful to me. For your own sake, I suggest you listen to me."

Stunned by the drastic change in the tone of conversation, Julie hesitated beside her chair but remained stubbornly standing.

"I gather from your expression that you've decided not to take my word for anything," Mrs. Stanhope said, watching her. "Very well. Were I as deluded and loyal as you clearly are, I wouldn't listen to me either." She picked up the bell on the table beside her chair and rang it, and a moment later the butler appeared in the doorway. "Come in here, Foster," she ordered, and when he complied, she turned to Julie and said, "How do you think Justin died?"

"I know how he died," Julie corrected fiercely.


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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