"It looks exactly as I imagined it when—"

Julie watched the tension on his face and ended his unfinished sentence for him, her voice somber: "When you were lying in bed on your boat, you mean, imagining me here in this room because I asked you to do that on the phone. When," she continued with brutal honesty, "you still believed I was going to be there with you … when you never believed I would trick you into coming for me and betray you to the FBI and get you beaten and sent back to prison."

He looked at her, a grim smile touching his mouth and eyes. "When all that was true."

She sank down onto the bed, her face turned up to his, eyes honest and searching. "Could we lie here for a little while and talk first?"

Zack hesitated. On the one hand, he longed to put the past behind them and spend the present making love with her on that frilly, virginal white canopied bed, which seemed absurdly exciting when she was sitting on it. On the other hand, she was clearly upset and they couldn't very well begin again until the past was dealt with. "For a little while," he agreed.

She propped up a pile of pillows against the headboard for both of them and he stretched his arm out, curving it around her shoulders as soon as she moved next to him. When she cuddled close, her hand resting atop his chest, he remembered the mornings they'd spent in bed in Colorado, sitting exactly like this, and he smiled. "I forgot how perfectly you fit me."

"You're thinking about the mornings in Colorado, aren't you?"

It was a statement, not a question, and he tipped his head down and smiled. "I also forgot how perceptive you are."

"Not perceptive, really. I was thinking about the same thing." She smiled, and then made a hesitant attempt to open the dangerous discussion of their most recent past. "I don't know where to begin," she said, "And I'm … I'm almost afraid to begin. I don't even know what finally brought you back here today."

Zack's brows drew together in surprise. "What brought me back here today was Richardson. Didn't you know he was going to come to see me?" When she gaped at him in shocked silence, he added, "He appeared at my house in California this morning, all decked out in his Brooks Brothers suit, Armani tie, and genuine, authentic FBI badge."

"Paul came to see you?" she said, stunned. "Paul Richardson? You can't mean my Paul."

Zack stiffened. "Evidently, I do mean 'your Paul.'" It hit Zack then that although he'd told her he loved her, she had said only that she'd missed him. In a carefully expressionless voice, he added, "Somewhere I got the idea that you would want me to come here for more reasons than just to make peace with you. Now that I think about it, that was purely a conclusion I drew from what I saw on those videotapes. I think," he said tightly, making a move to withdraw his arm, "this discussion might be better held in the living room. Or maybe tomorrow, in the lobby of my hotel, wherever that is."

"Zack," she said shakily, tightening her hand on his arm, "don't you dare leave this bed! If you ever shut me out again without giving me a chance to explain, I'll never forgive you. Paul is my friend. He was here for me when I was desperately unhappy and lonely."

His head fell back against the pillow and he wrapped his arms tightly around her, his voice heavy with irony and relief. "What is it about you that demolishes my mind. In Colorado, you made me feel like an emotional yo-yo, and it's happening again."

Reverting to their original topic, he said, "I came here today because Richardson barged into my house this morning, flashing his badge and slapping a large envelope on my desk containing two videotapes and a letter." His lingering jealousy over Richardson's friendship with Julie and his own guilt made him continue in a sarcastic tone, "In between expressing doubts about my legitimacy and trying to get into a fistfight with me, he also managed to tell me that, contrary to what Hadley wanted me to believe in Mexico City, you had not come up with the idea of joining me there as a way to entrap me. He also explained that it was a visit to Margaret Stanhope combined with Austin's death that finally drove you to turn me in."

"What was in the videotapes and the letter?"

"One videotape was the news conference you gave when you got back from Colorado. The letter was the one you wrote to your parents when you were planning to join me. The other videotape was from the FBI files—it was of both of us in the airport in Mexico City, showing everything that happened."

Julie shuddered in his arms at the mention of the airport. "I'm sorry," she whispered brokenly, turning her face into his chest. "I'm so sorry. I don't know how either of us is ever going to forget that."

Zack registered her reaction and made a decision, but he withheld that for a few minutes. Instead, he tipped her chin up and said, "What in God's name ever possessed you to go to see Margaret Stanhope?"

The doorbell rang and they both ignored it.

With a sigh, Julie explained, "You said in your letter that you wished you'd reconciled with her long ago. You even suggested that I give her our baby to raise. And on the phone you said you felt like we were inviting a curse by leaving so much unhappiness behind us. So I decided to go to her and explain to her that you loved her and regretted the estrangement."

"And she laughed in your face."

"Worse. Somehow, the subject of Justin came up, and the next thing I knew she was telling me that you murdered him after a fight over a girl and handing me a file full of news clippings where you admitted shooting him. And I—" She drew a shaking breath, hating to accuse him. "I realized you'd lied to me, Zack. I tried to tell myself you lied to her, not me, but when Tony Austin was murdered, that was three people whom you'd quarreled with, and all of them had died at your hands, or so it looked. I thought … I started to believe, as your grandmother believed, that you were insane. I betrayed you. I thought it was for your own good."

"I did not lie to you about Justin, Julie," Zack said with a harsh sigh. "I lied to the police in Ridgemont."

"But why?"

"Because my grandfather asked me to, because a suicide brings down an investigation as to possible causes, and my grandfather and I wanted to protect that vicious old woman from having to face Justin's homosexuality when the cops discovered it. I shouldn't have bothered," he added tightly. "I should have let her wallow in what she would have felt was disgrace. Justin couldn't have been hurt by it."


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
Source: www.StudyNovels.com