The idea of trying to make a run for South America and then vanish revolved around in Zack's mind, but it was a lousy idea, and he knew it. For one thing, if he ran, then the jury would decide he was guilty even if they'd been going to acquit him. Second, his face was so well known, particularly now with all the press coverage of the trial, that he'd be spotted within minutes wherever he went. The only good thing he could count on was that Tony Austin would never work in films again, now that all his vices and perversions had come out in the trial and made headlines.

* * *

By the next morning when there was a knock at the door, frustration and suspense had twisted every muscle of his body into knots. He yanked the door open and frowned at the only friend he had ever trusted implicitly. Zack hadn't wanted Matt Farrell at the trial, partly because he was humiliated and partly because he didn't want the taint Zack now carried to rub off on the famous industrialist. Since Matt had been in Europe until yesterday negotiating for a company he was buying, it had been easy for Zack to sound optimistic when his friend phoned. Now, Zack took one look at his friend's grim features and knew that he'd already discovered the dire truth and had obviously flown to Dallas because of it.

"Don't look so happy to see me," Matt said dryly, walking into the suite.

"I told you there was no reason to come here," Zack countered, closing the door. "The jury's out right now. Everything is going to be fine."

"In which case," Matt replied, undeterred by his unenthusiastic greeting, "we can while away the hours playing some poker. O'Hara's putting the car away and arranging for our rooms," he added, referring to his chauffeur/bodyguard. He shrugged out of his suit coat, glanced at Zack's haggard features, and reached for the telephone. "You look like hell," he said as he ordered an enormous breakfast for three sent up to the room.

* * *

"This sure is my lucky day," Joe O'Hara said six hours later as he scooped a handful of winnings from the center of the table. A huge man with a prizefighter's battered features and a wrestler's physique, he hid his private worry over Zack's future behind an attitude of boisterous optimism that fooled no one, but somehow made the tense atmosphere in the suite more bearable.

"Remind me to cut your salary," Matt said wryly, looking at the pile of money accumulating at his chauffeur's elbow. "I shouldn't be paying you enough to sit in on a game with these stakes."

"You always say that whenever I beat you and Zack at cards," O'Hara replied cheerfully, shuffling. "This is like the good old days in Carmel when we used to do this a lot. Except it was always nighttime."

And Zack's life wasn't hanging in the balance…

The unspoken thought swelled in the heavy silence, broken by the shrill ring of the telephone.

Zack reached for it, listened, and stood up. "The jury's reached a verdict. I have to go."

"I'll go with you," Matt said.

"I'll bring the car around." O'Hara put in, already reaching for the car keys in his jacket pocket.

"It's not necessary," Zack said, fighting down his panic. "My attorneys are picking me up." He waited until O'Hara had shaken his hand and left, then he looked at Matt and walked over to the desk. "I have a favor to ask of you." He took a formal document out of the drawer and handed it to his friend. "I had this prepared just in case something goes wrong. It's a power of attorney granting you the absolute right to act on my behalf on anything that pertains to my finances or assets."

Matt Farrell looked down at it and his color drained at this proof that Zack obviously thought there was at least a fifty–fifty chance he'd be convicted.

"It's just a formality, a contingency plan. I'm sure you'll never need to use it," Zack lied.

"So am I," Matt said just as untruthfully.

The two men looked at each other, nearly identical in their height, build, and coloring and in their matching expressions of proud, false confidence. As Zack reached for his suit coat, Matt cleared his throat and reluctantly said, "If … if I were to need to use this, what do you want me to do?"

Looking in the mirror, Zack knotted his tie and said with a shrug and a lame attempt at humor, "Just try not to bankrupt me, that's all."

An hour later, in the courtroom, standing beside his attorneys, Zack watched the bailiff hand the judge the jury's verdict. As if the words were spoken in a faraway tunnel, he heard the judge say,

"—guilty of murder in the first degree…"

Then after a brief trial to assess punishment, Zack heard another verdict more excruciating than the last: "Punishment is assessed at forty-five years to be served in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at Amarillo… Bail pending appeal is denied on the basis of sentence exceeding fifteen years… Prisoner is remanded into custody…"

Zack refused to wince; he refused to do anything that might reveal the truth: He was screaming inside.

He stood rigidly straight, even when someone grabbed his wrists, yanked them behind his back, and slapped handcuffs around them.

Chapter 10

1993

"Look out, Miss Mathison!" the shrill warning from the boy in the wheelchair came too late; Julie was dribbling the basketball down center court, laughing as she whirled to make the shot, then she caught her ankle in a footrest of a wheelchair and went flying backward, landing squarely and ignominiously on her rump.

"Miss Mathison! Miss Mathison!" The gymnasium reverberated with the alarmed shouts of handicapped kids in the gym class Julie supervised after school, when her regular teaching duties were over. Wheelchairs gathered around her along with kids with crutches and leg braces. "You okay, Miss Mathison?" they chorused. "You hurt, Miss Mathison?"

"Of course I'm hurt," Julie teased as she shoved herself up on her elbows and scooped the hair out of her eyes. "My pride is very, very hurt."

Willie Jenkins, the school's nine-year-old macho jock who'd been acting as observer and sideline coach, shoved his hands in his pockets, regarded her with a puzzled grin, and remarked in his deep, bullfrog's voice, "How come your pride hurts when you landed on your bu—"

"It's all in your perspective, Willie," Julie said quickly, laughing. She was rolling to her feet when a pair of wing tip shoes, brown socks, and tan polyester pants legs entered her field of vision.

"Miss Mathison!" the principal barked, scowling ferociously at the scuff marks all over his shiny gymnasium floor. "This hardly looks like a basketball game to me. What sort of game are you playing?"


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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