"Pleasant…" She draped herself across his chest and smiled teasingly into his eyes as she threaded her fingers through the mat of hair on his chest. Based on her body language, Zack expected her to say something suggestive, but the topic she chose startled a surprised chuckle from him: "Let's see … I know you hate horses, but you like motorcycles and fast cars. Why?"

"Because," he teased, threading his fingers through hers, "they do not gather into herds with their friends when you leave them parked and then try to run you down when you turn your back. They go where you point them."

"Zack," she whispered, lowering her mouth to his, "Motorcycles aren't the only things that go where you point them. I do, too."

Zack knew exactly what she meant. He pointed. She moved lower and bent her head.

* * *

The next morning, she cooked him breakfast. "I'd like to make one more picture—a big one—to prove to the world I can really act," she said while she popped English muffins into the oven.

Sated and relaxed, Zack watched her moving around his kitchen in pleated slacks and a shirt knotted at the midriff. Devoid of sexy clothes and extravagant makeup, she was far more appealing and infinitely lovelier to him. As he'd already discovered, she was also intelligent, sensual, and witty. "Then what?" he asked.

"Then I'd like to quit. I'm thirty. Like you, I want a real life, a meaningful life with something more to think about than my figure and whether or not I'm getting a wrinkle. There's more to life than this glossy, superficial fantasyland we inhabit and perpetrate on the rest of the world."

An unprecedented statement like that from an actress made Rachel an unexpected breath of fresh air to him. Moreover, since she was planning to stop working, it seemed as if he'd actually met a woman who was interested in him, not in what he could do for her career. He was thinking of that when Rachel leaned over his kitchen table and softly said, "How do my dreams compare with yours?"

She was making him an offer, Zack realized, and doing it with quiet courage and no games. He studied her in silence for a moment and then made no attempt to hide the emphatic importance he was placing on his next question. "Do you have children in your dreams, Rachel?"

Sweetly and without hesitation, she said, "Your children?"

"My children."

"Can we start now?"

Zack burst out laughing at her unexpected reply, then she plopped onto his lap and his laughter faded, replaced by stirrings of tenderness and a vibrant hope, emotions he thought had died when he was eighteen. His hands slid under her shirt, and tenderness merged with passion.

They were married in the graceful gazebo on the lawn of Zack's Carmel estate four months later, while a thousand invited guests, including several governors and senators, looked on. Also present, although uninvited, were dozens of helicopters that hovered overhead, their blades creating cyclones on the lawn that whipped up women's gowns and dislodged toupees, while the reporters who occupied the choppers aimed cameras at the festivities below. Zack's best man was his neighbor in Carmel, industrialist Matthew Farrell, who came up with a solution to the invasion of the press: Glowering at the helicopters hovering frantically overhead, he said, "They ought to repeal the damned First Amendment."

Zack grinned. It was his wedding day, and he was in a rare mood of utter conviviality and quiet optimism, already envisioning cozy evenings with children on his lap and the sort of family life he'd never known. Rachel had wanted this big wedding, and he had wanted to give it to her, although he'd have preferred flying to Tahoe with just a couple of friends. "I could always send someone to the house for some rifles," he joked.

"Good idea. We'll use the gazebo for a bunker and shoot the bastards down."

The two men laughed, then they fell into a companionable silence. They'd met three years ago when a group of Zack's fans climbed the security fence around his house and set off the security systems at both residences as they fled. That night, Zack and Matt had discovered they shared several things in common, including a liking for rare Scotch, a tendency toward ruthless bluntness, an intolerance of pretension, and, later, a similar philosophy toward financial investments. As a result, they were not only friends, they were also partners in several business ventures.

* * *

When Nightmare was released, it didn't receive an Oscar or even a nomination, but it made a healthy profit, received excellent reviews, and completely revived Emily's and Rachel's faltering careers. Emily's gratitude was boundless and so was her father's. Rachel, however, abruptly discovered she was not at all ready to give up her career, nor was she ready to have the baby Zack had wanted so badly. The career she'd claimed she didn't want was, in fact, an obsession that consumed her. She could not bear to miss an "important" party or ignore an opportunity for publicity no matter how minor, and she kept Zack's household staff, his secretary, and his publicist in an uproar as they tried to cope with her social demands and cover up her more outrageous publicity ploys. She was so desperate for fame and acclaim that she despised any actress who was better known than herself and so pathetically insecure about her own ability that she was afraid to work in any picture unless Zack directed it.

The optimism Zack had experienced on his wedding day collapsed under the weight of reality: He'd been gulled into marriage by a clever, ambitious actress who believed that he alone held the key to fame and fortune for her. Zack knew it, but he blamed himself even more than he blamed Rachel. Ambition had caused her to marry him, and Zack could empathize with her motive, even if he didn't admire her methods because he, too, had once felt driven to prove himself. He, on the other hand, had been compelled to commit matrimony out of an uncharacteristic and embarrassingly naive streak that had actually let him believe, albeit briefly, in a cozy picture of devoted spouses and rosy-cheeked, happy children clamoring for bedtime stories. As he should have known from his own youth and experience, such families were a myth perpetrated by poets and movie producers. Faced with that realization, Zack's life seemed to stretch before him like a monotonous plateau.

Among those in Hollywood afflicted with a similar case of ennui, the prescribed solution was a line of coke, a variety of drugs, legal and otherwise, or else a bottle of liquor taken twice daily. Zack, however, possessed his grandmother's contempt for weakness, and he scorned such emotional crutches. He solved his problem in the only way he knew how: Each morning, he immersed himself in his work, and he kept at it until he finally dropped into bed at night. Rather than divorcing Rachel, he rationalized that, although his marriage was not idyllic, it was far better than his grandparents' had been and no worse than many other marriages he'd seen. And so he offered her a choice: She could either get a divorce, or she could curb her ambitions and settle down, and he in turn would grant her wish and direct her in another picture. Rachel wisely and gratefully accepted the latter offer, and Zack increased his hectic schedule in order to keep his part of the bargain. After his success directing Nightmare, Empire was eager to let him star in and direct any film of his choice. Zack found a script he loved for an action thriller called Winner Take All, with starring roles for himself and Rachel, and Empire put up the money. Using a combination of patience, cajolery, acid criticism, and an occasional show of icy temper, he manipulated Rachel and the rest of the film's cast until they gave him what he wanted, and then he manipulated the lighting and camera angles so they captured it.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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