The two elderly ladies watched the Blazer back out of the driveway, then Miss Flossie gave a wistful little sigh. "Julie leads such an adventurous life. She went to Paris, France, with all those teachers last summer, and she went to the Grand Canyon the year before. I declare, she travels all the time."

"So do hobos," said Ada in an acid voice. "If you ask me, she ought to stay home and marry that assistant pastor who's sweet on her while she's still got the chance."

Rather than put herself through the pointless misery of a verbal confrontation with her strong-willed twin, Flossie did what she always did: She simply changed the subject. "Reverend and Mrs. Mathison must be very proud of all their children."

"They won't be if they discover their Ted spends half the night with that girl he's going around with now. Irma Bauder said she didn't hear his car pull away until almost four o'clock in the morning two nights ago!"

Flossie's expression turned dreamy. "Oh, but, Ada, they may have lots to talk about. I'll bet they're already in love!"

"They're in heat!" Ada snapped back, "and you're still a romantic fool, just like your mama. Papa always said so."

"She was your mama, too, Ada," Flossie cautiously pointed out.

"But I'm like Papa. I'm nothing like she was."

"She died when we were babies, so you can't be sure."

"I'm sure because Papa always said so. He said you were a fool, like her, and I was strong, like him. That's exactly why he gave me control of his estate, if you recall—because you couldn't be trusted to look out for yourself, so I had to look out for both of us."

Flossie bit her lip, then she cautiously changed the subject again. "Mayor Addelson's house is going to be a showplace. I heard he's going to have an elevator."

Ada put her foot against the porch and gave the swing an angry shove that set it rocking and creaking. "With Herman Henkleman on the premises, the mayor will be lucky if his elevator isn't wired to his commode!" she countered with stinging contempt. "That man is a hopeless good-for-nothing, just like his daddy was, and his daddy's daddy, too. I told you he would be."

Flossie looked down at her plump little hands lying folded in her lap. She said nothing.

Chapter 14

Zack was standing before a small shaving mirror above the sinks in the showers, staring blindly at his reflection, trying to tell himself that Hadley wouldn't change his plans again today, when Sandini hurried in wearing a look of suppressed excitement and threw a cautious look over his shoulder into the hall behind him. Satisfied that no one was lurking within hearing, Sandini moved close and said in an elated whisper, "Hadley sent word he wants to leave for Amarillo at three o'clock! This is it!"

Tension and impatience had been eating Zack alive for so long that he could hardly adjust to the fact that the payoff was actually here: Two long years of pretending to go along with the system, of becoming a model prisoner so they'd make him a trustee with all the attendant freedoms—all the months of planning and scheming—they were finally coming to fruition. In a few hours, if the delay hadn't caused irreparable damage to his arrangements, he'd be on the road in a rented car with a new identity, a minutely planned itinerary, and plane tickets that would lead the authorities on a wild-goose chase.

At the sink beside him, Sandini said, "Jesus, I wish I could go with you. I'd sure like to be at Gina's wedding!"

Zack bent down and splashed water on his face, but he heard the suppressed excitement in Sandini's voice and it scared the hell out of him. "Don't even consider it! You'll be out of here in four weeks," he added, yanking a towel off the rack.

"Yeah," he said. "You're right. Here, take this," he added, holding out his hand.

"What is it?" Zack asked, wiping his face. He tossed the towel down and looked at the piece of paper in Sandini's outstretched hand.

"This is Mama's address and phone number. If things don't work out like they should, you get your ass to Mama, and she'll get you to my uncle. He has connections everywhere," he boasted. "I know you've had your doubts about whether he'll come through for you, but in a few hours, you'll see that everything's waiting in Amarillo, just like you want. He's a great guy," Sandini added proudly.

Zack absently rolled down the sleeves of his rough white cotton prison shirt, trying not to think about anything now except each moment as it happened, but his hands were unsteady when he tried to button his shirt cuffs. He warned himself to calm down and concentrate on the conversation. "There's something I've wanted to ask you for a long time, Dom," Zack said cautiously. "If he's such a 'great guy' and he's got so many 'connections,' why the hell didn't he pull some strings to keep you from doing hard time in here?"

"Oh. That. I made an innocent mistake, and Uncle Enrico thought I needed to learn a lesson."

Sandini sounded so chagrined that Zack glanced up at him. "Why?"

"Because one of the cars I stole the last time belonged to him."

"Then you're lucky you're still alive."

"That's what he said."

Tension strangled Zack's laugh.

"He'll be at Gina's wedding. I sure hate to miss that." Changing the subject, he said, "It's a good thing Hadley likes people to recognize you when you drive him around. If you had to keep your hair as short as the rest of the cons, you'd be a lot more conspicuous when you're outside. That little bit of extra hair you've got is gonna—"

Both men started as another trustee walked into the showers and jerked his thumb to the door. "Get a move on, Sandini," he snapped. "You, too, Benedict. The warden wants his car in five minutes."

Chapter 15

"Good morning, Benedict," Hadley said when Zack knocked on the door of the warden's residence, near the gates of the prison compound. "You're looking as grim and unpleasant as usual, I see. Before we go," he added, "take Hitler for his walk around the yard." As he spoke, he handed Zack a leash that was attached to a large Doberman.

"I'm not your damned butler," Zack snapped, and a slow, gratified grin spread across Hadley's smooth face. "You tired of enjoying my beneficence and the freedom of a trustee? Are you getting an itch to spend some time in my conference room, Benedict?"

Mentally cursing himself for letting his hatred show on a day when he had so much to lose, Zack shrugged and took the leash. "Not particularly." Although Hadley was only 5'6" tall, he had a giant-size ego and an urbane manner that disguised a streak of sadistic, psychopathic viciousness that was known to everyone except, apparently, the State Board of Corrections, who either didn't know or didn't care about the high mortality rate attributed to "prisoner fights" and "attempted escapes" at his facility. The "conference room" was the prison acronym for the soundproof room that adjoined Hadley's office. Prisoners who displeased him were brought there kicking and sweating in real terror, when they left, they were carried out either to solitary, the infirmary, or the morgue. He got a sadistic thrill from making men squirm and grovel; in fact, it wasn't Zack's good behavior that caused Hadley to make him a trustee, it was Hadley's ego. The little warden got a big kick out of having Zachary Benedict at his beck and call, waiting on him. Zack thought it pleasantly ironic that it was Hadley's ego that was finally providing him the means for his escape.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance