Firmly dismissing her from his mind, Zack looked out at the increasing crowd gathering for the afternoon festivities. Glenn Close was talking to Julia Roberts. She looked up, saw him standing at the window, and waved.

Zack lifted his hand to her in a salute. On his lawn, most of them available to him at the crook of a finger, were some of the most beautiful women in the world. Bracing his hand high against the window frame, Zack studied them, searching for one who especially stood out and appealed to him—one with particularly fine eyes, a romantic mouth, and piles of sexy, healthy hair … someone with warmth and wit and goals and ideals … someone who'd thaw the ice inside of him. He shoved away from the window and headed into the master suite to change clothes. There wasn't a big enough blow torch in the world to thaw him out and make him feel the way he had in Colorado, and even if it were possible, he'd never let it happen to him again. Behaving like a lovestruck ass was not his style. He must have been insane in Colorado. No doubt it had been a combination of the time and place. Under normal circumstances, he'd never have felt that way about any woman alive.

He was going to be more attentive to his guests than he'd been so far today, he vowed. He didn't know why, after only six weeks, some of his delight in his renewed career was already beginning to fade. He was exhausted, he decided, unbuttoning his shirt. In six short weeks, in addition to meeting with six producers, five studio heads, and countless other business associates, he'd also read dozens of scripts, managed to bargain the tenants out of both his houses, hire new staffs, rehire part of his old staff, buy two cars, and order a plane. He needed to relax and enjoy the taste of success now that it was his again, he decided, tossing his shirt onto the bed. Behind him the door opened, and he turned, his hands on his belt.

"I've been looking everywhere for you, Zack," the redhead said with an inviting smile as she walked purposefully forward, her breasts swelling invitingly from her halter top, hips swaying in their long silk pants, jewels sparkling on her wrists and fingers. "And I've found you just as you're getting undressed. Isn't that an amazing coincidence."

"Amazing," he lied, trying to remember who the hell she was. "But then that's what bedrooms are for, isn't it?"

"That's not all they're for," she whispered, sliding her hands up his chest.

Gently, he took her hands between his. "Later," he said, turning her around heading her firmly toward the door. "I need a shower, and then I have to get out there and play host."

Chapter 73

"Great party, Zack," an unmistakable voice whispered teasingly in his ear, "but where'd you find so many monkeys willing to wear fancy clothes?"

Grinning, Zack turned away from the group talking to him beside the pool and looped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to his side. "I was hoping you'd come."

"Why, to relieve your monotony?" she said, surveying the party that was getting into full swing at one o'clock in the afternoon.

When she started to move away, he tightened his grip. "Don't abandon me," he joked. "Irwin Levine is bearing down on us and he's going to pounce on me about a film Empire wants me to do. Stay by my side for the rest of the day."

"Coward, I'll show you how to handle this." Ignoring his warning squeeze, she held out her long fingers with their lacquered nails. "Irwin, darling," she purred, kissing his cheek, "Zack wants you to go away and let him enjoy his party in peace."

"Bitchy as always, aren't you, Barbra," he snapped.

"Nice work," Zack said dryly, watching the other man stamp away in affront after a minute. "My agent has that same effect on a lot of people these days when he starts talking about money."

"Never mind your agent. Why didn't you answer my letters, you jerk? I don't send care packages to prisons for just anyone, you know."

"Because I was ashamed and I didn't want charity. Now shut up and hum something pretty to me while we circulate."

Laughing, she looped her arm around his waist and began softly singing, "'People—people who need people are the luckiest people'…"

Chapter 74

"That does it!" Meredith jumped up from the sofa in the living room where she and Matt and Joe O'Hara had watched the videotapes that the FBI agent had handed over. Brushing the tears from the corners of her eyes, she shoved all the 'evidence' into its envelope. "I'll make Zachary Benedict look at these if I have to tie him up first!"

"Meredith," Matt said gently, grabbing her wrist. "You were right about Julie, I can see that, but I know Zack. You can't make him watch those until and unless he's ready to do it."

She hesitated, thinking, then a resolute smile dawned across her face. "Yes I can—and I know how!"

He stood up. "If you're determined to try, I'll go with you and hold him down while you tie him up."

"That won't work," she said. "You'll lose your temper, but if you aren't there, I can use you very effectively to shame him into doing it."

"I doubt it."

"Let me try," she said, leaning over and kissing his forehead. "If I need your help, I'll come and get you."

Before he could object, which he looked to be on the verge of doing, Meredith slid open the patio doors and headed across the back lawn. Spotting Zack standing by the pool surrounded by a group of movie stars and studio heads, she lifted her chin and struck off in that direction, her Italian sandals slapping softly against her bare heels as she wended her way purposefully around white-coated waiters passing trays and throngs of guests gossiping about each other.

Zack was laughing at a joke when he caught sight of Meredith walking across the yard with a large brown envelope in her hand and his smile abruptly faded. "Excuse me a minute," he said to Barbra, his eyes narrowing on that envelope.

"I wondered where you and Matt were," he said with his most deliberately disarming smile as he carefully avoided the sight of the envelope in her hand. "You haven't changed clothes yet."

"We were in the living room, watching something on the television set," she said, and Zack realized her eyes looked as if she'd been crying. "May I speak to you alone?"

"There's a party going on," he pointed out evasively. "Come with me and I'll introduce you to Kevin Costner. He asked to meet you last night."

"Later," she persisted stubbornly. "This really can't wait."

With no choice left, Zack nodded and followed her into the house and down the hall to the library. "What's on your mind?" he said curtly, perching on the edge of his desk and turning on a lamp as she drew the curtains over the windows, throwing the room into almost total darkness.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance