He was pouring himself a cup of coffee when the news commentator said, "Ten minutes ago, an unnamed source at Amarillo State Penitentiary infirmary phoned NBC News with the information that Dominic Carlo Sandini, who attempted to escape two days ago with his cell mate, Zachary Benedict, died this morning at 11:15 while being transferred by ambulance to St. Mark's Hospital. Sandini, who was a nephew of reputed underworld figure Enrico Sandini, died as a result of injuries he sustained when he attacked two guards during his second escape attempt yesterday…

Julie was walking out of the bedroom, the ski clothes hidden behind her back, when she heard the announcer's words followed by a bellow of rage from her captor and an explosion of shattering glass as he hurtled his coffee mug against the glazed tile floor of the kitchen.

Out of his direct line of vision, she stood, momentarily paralyzed with terror, while Zachary Benedict hurtled everything he could pick up against the walls and floor, shouting vivid obscenities and violent threats. The toaster crashed against the floor, followed by a blender and the coffee pot, then he swept his arm along the counter sending dishes, cups, and glass canisters crashing into shattered heaps atop mangled appliances. He was still cursing when the counters were clear, and then, as quickly as it had erupted, the explosion of maddened wrath seemed to come to an abrupt end. As if he'd exhausted both his rage and his strength, he braced his flattened hands against the counter top. His head fell forward and he closed his eyes.

Snapping out of her mesmerized horror, Julie wisely abandoned all hope of getting the snowmobile key out of the drawer beside his hip and sidled down the hall, her back pressed to the wall. As she opened the door, the eerie silence in the kitchen was split by his tortured groan: "Dom … I'm sorry, Dom. I'm sorry!"

Chapter 27

The frightening scene she'd witnessed rolled around and around in Julie's head as she raced through the swirling snow to the garage and stumbled through the doorway at the side. Her fingers fumbling in their haste, she changed into the snowmobile suit, yanked on the gloves and helmet, then she began dragging the snowmobile toward the door, afraid to turn the motor on for fear of whatever noise it was going to make. Outside, she swung her leg over the seat, fumbled with the chin strap on the helmet, and turned the ignition key. The motor sprang to life with much less noise than she expected it to make, and moments later, she was flying over the snow toward the woods at the far edge of the yard, struggling to keep her balance, praying that the snowmobile wasn't loud enough to be heard inside the house.

Shaking with a combination of exhilaration and fear, Julie careened through the trees, fighting for control of the machine beneath her, sideswiping pine branches and skirting boulders beneath the snow. When she was well out of sight of the house and certain he wasn't following her, she'd turn the snowmobile toward the winding road and follow that down to the highway, but for now, she was glad of the need to keep in the woods. Beyond their shelter, the wind had risen to a howl and the snowstorm was working itself into a full-fledged blizzard.

Five minutes became ten, and a sense of success and freedom gave her courage, but its joy was unexpectedly diminished by the memory of the grief she'd witnessed in the man she'd left behind. The thought occurred to her that it seemed incongruous, in fact, almost impossible, that a cold-blooded murderer would feel such anguish at the death of his cellmate.

She glanced over her shoulder to make certain she wasn't being followed, then cried out in alarm as she nearly hit a tree, swung wildly to avoid it and almost overturned the snowmobile.

* * *

Shoving himself upright, Zack looked listlessly about him at the mangled appliances and broken glass on the kitchen floor. "Shit," he said dully and reached for the brandy decanter. He poured some of the fiery liquid into a glass and tossed it down, trying to numb the ache in his chest. He kept hearing Dom's cheerful voice as he read that last letter from his mother, "Hey Zack, Gina's getting married! I sure hate to miss that wedding." He remembered other things too, like Sandini's unorthodox advice and knowledge. "You want a fake passport, Zack, you don't go to some guy named Rubin Schwartz that no one's ever heard of. You come to me and I put you in touch with Wally the Weasel. He's the best picture book man in the country. You gotta start letting me help you Zack…"

Zack had let him help, and now Dom was dead because of it.

"Hey Zack, you want some more of Mama's salami? I got plenty of Rolaids."

Standing at the windows, drinking the brandy and staring blindly at the snowman Julie had been building, Zack could almost feel Dom's cheerful presence beside him. Dom had found such delight in stupid little things. He'd probably have been out there with Julie, building the snowman…

Zack froze, the brandy glass suspended partway to his mouth, his gaze searching the yard. Julie!

"Julie!" he shouted, stalking toward the back door and jerking it open. A blast of snow hit him in the face and he had to put his shoulder to the door to force it open in the rising wind. "Julie, get in here before you freeze your—" The wind hurtled his voice back in his face, but Zack didn't notice. His gaze had riveted on the deep footprints already filling up with snow and he was running beside them toward the garage at the back of the house.

"Julie!" he thundered as he slammed the side door of the garage open. "What the hell do you think you're doing in here—"

Zack drew up short, momentarily unable to believe the answer he saw with his own eyes as his gaze ricocheted from the snowmobile sticking out from beneath a tarpaulin to the doorway. There, a set of snowmobile tracks began and led straight into the woods.

A few minutes ago, he would have sworn that he was incapable of feeling any angrier or more desolate than he had at the news of Dom's death, but the explosion of fury and foreboding he felt at that moment eclipsed even that.

* * *

Cold. Minutes after she left the protection of the forest and pointed the snowmobile down the steep, tree-lined lane they'd taken in the Blazer, Julie felt a deep, bone-freezing cold that was nearly unbearable. Droplets of ice were clinging to the corners of her eyes; snow was driving into her face, blinding her, her lips and arms and legs were stiff. The snowmobile flew over a rut and slid sideways, but when she tried to slow the vehicle down, her limbs were so numb that it took precious moments before her body could obey her brain's frantic command to react.

The only thing that wasn't numb from cold was her sense of fear, fear that Zack would catch her and prevent her from escaping and a new, debilitating fear that if he didn't, she would likely die out here, lost in a blizzard, buried beneath the snow. In her mind, she conjured up a vision of a search party in the spring locating her perfectly preserved remains beneath a mound of thawing snow, her body and head still clad in this chic navy blue little snowmobile suit and matching helmet, which also coordinated—not by chance, she was sure—with the snowmobile she rode. A "perfect" ending, she thought with grim misery, for a girl from the Chicago slums who wanted to be perfect.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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