Julie would have dropped all further attempts at conversation, but she'd just thought of an excuse to disappear more often from his view and she instantly put it to use, shamelessly inventing her own facts as she went along: "I mean, in those cultures where snow and ice figures are considered meritorious art forms, there's much more to a snowman than just three big balls of snow. You build an entire little scene around the snowman using branches and berries and rocks," she said, pulling on a pair of waterproof ski gloves she'd found at the bottom of the closet. Glancing over her shoulder with a bright smile as she stood up and closed the closet door, she added, "Isn't that interesting?"

He took a knife out of the cutlery drawer and opened a cabinet. "Fascinating," he mocked.

"You don't sound very fascinated," Julie complained, determined to goad him into telling her to go outside and leave him alone, which was exactly what she wanted to do. "I mean, the least you could do is try to concentrate on the project. You could have some input. Think of how much fun and satisfaction you would get when the snowman scene is—"

He slammed the cabinet door with a crash that made Julie lurch around, and her gaze riveted on the knife in his fist. "Julie," he warned, "shut the hell up!"

His sudden mood swing would have been enough to remind her that Zachary Benedict was a dangerously unpredictable foe, but with a knife blade flashing in his hand and his eyes glittering with menace, he looked fully capable of committing cold-blooded murder.

Zack saw the color drain from her face, he saw the way she was staring at the knife, and he knew exactly what she was thinking about him. His simmering anger built to a fury. "That's right," he taunted. "I'm a convicted murderer."

"B-but you said you didn't do it," she reminded him, trying very unsuccessfully to sound calm and convinced.

"I said that," he jeered in a silken voice that sent chills up her spine, "but you know better, don't you, Julie?"

She swallowed convulsively and started backing down the short hallway. "Can I go outside?" Without waiting for him to answer, she grabbed blindly for the door and opened it.

Behind her, Zack stood perfectly still, fighting to calm himself and to block out the horror he'd seen in her face. He told himself it didn't matter what she thought or that she'd looked adorable chattering about snowmen or that she was sweet and good and clean and that, compared to her, he felt inhuman and filthy.

A few minutes later, the news came on the radio and his mood lifted considerably: According to the newscaster, Sandini was no better, but he was no worse either. He was holding his own. Zack changed radio stations and finally found one that was all news and no music. He'd just started into the living room when the commentator announced that a man whom Canadian officials now believed to be Zachary Benedict had crossed the border into Canada at Windsor two nights ago driving a rented black sedan.

Chapter 26

"Damn," Julie said softly as she slid out of the Blazer, which was still parked at the back of the house, out of sight of the picture windows at the front and sides. In the fifteen years since she'd had her first and only lesson on hot-wiring a car, the wiring systems in them had obviously changed or else she hadn't been a very adept student, because she hadn't the slightest idea which of the fistful of wires she'd pulled from beneath the dashboard were the right ones.

Shivering convulsively, she bent down and gathered up the armload of pine boughs she'd collected and raced through the wind and snow to the side of the house. For the entire fifteen minutes that she'd been outside, he'd remained at the windows, watching her like an expressionless stone statue. The alleged need for "props" for the imaginary snowman scene enabled her to vanish from view for a few minutes at a time without rousing his suspicions, exactly as she'd hoped it would, but she was afraid to be gone too long. So far, she'd made three short trips of increasing duration, returning each time with pine boughs after trying to hot-wire the Blazer. She was counting on the hope that he'd soon decide she was actually idiotic enough to spend her time building a snowman in freezing weather, and he'd grow bored with sentry duty.

Raising her arms, Julie pulled the knitted ski cap she'd taken from the closet down over her frozen ears, then she began to roll the bottom ball of the snowman's body, while she reviewed her remaining alternatives for escape: To try to escape on foot would be suicidal insanity in this weather, and she knew it. Even if she didn't get lost trying to go cross-country down the mountain, she'd likely freeze to death long before she reached the main road. If by some chance, she did make it, she'd surely die of exposure before a motorist came along. On the way here, they hadn't passed another car for the last two hours. The possibility of finding out where he'd hidden the keys to the Blazer seemed equally remote, and she couldn't start the car without them.

"There has to be a way to get out of here!" Julie said aloud as she pushed and shoved the ball of snow closer to the pile of pine boughs. There was a padlocked garage at the back of the house, which Zachary Benedict had told her was used for storage and thus couldn't accommodate the Blazer. Maybe he was lying. Maybe he didn't know for certain. One of the keys in her pocket looked like it was meant to fit a padlock, and the only padlock she'd seen anywhere was on the side door of that garage. The possibility that the homeowner had left a car in there did little to elevate her spirits right now. Assuming she could find the car's keys and get it started, the Blazer was blocking the garage door.

That left her with only one likely option: Even without seeing the interior of the garage, she had a hunch what she was going to find inside of it: Skis.

There were ski boots in the bedroom closet, but no skis in the house, which meant they were probably in the garage.

She'd never skied in her life.

She was prepared to try. Besides, it didn't look very hard whenever she saw people skiing on television and in the movies. How hard could it possibly be? Children could ski. Surely she could, too.

And so could Zachary Benedict, she remembered with a thrill of raw fear. She'd seen him skiing in one of his movies, a mystery set in Switzerland. He'd looked as if he were an expert skier in that film, but probably a stuntman had done the hard stuff.

Grunting as she rolled the heavy ball through the snow, making it fatter and fatter, Julie finally maneuvered it into position ten minutes later—no mean feat, given that she could scarcely bend her knees in her tight jeans. Finished with the first one-third of the snowman, she quickly scattered the pine boughs around it in a half circle as if she had some plan in mind, then she stopped and pretended to contemplate her handiwork. From the corner of her eye, she stole a sidelong glance at the windows, and saw that he was still there, immobile as a stone sentry.


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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