Now, she had the distinct feeling that fate was calling in her debts for a lifetime of unearned rewards. Zachary Benedict was as innocent of cold-blooded murder as she was, and she couldn't shake the feeling that she was expected to do something about it.

Rolling over onto her side, she tucked her arm beneath the throw pillows, watching the flames leaping in the grate. Until the real murderer was discovered, no one in the world, including her parents, was going to condone anything she did from now on. Of course, once her family realized that Zack was innocent, they'd approve completely of everything she'd done and might yet have to do. Well, probably not everything, Julie thought. They wouldn't approve of her falling in love with him so quickly, if what she felt for him was actually love, and they definitely wouldn't approve of her sleeping with him. With a mixture of quiet acceptance and nervous anticipation, Julie realized that loving him was actually out of her hands; sleeping with him was virtually a foregone conclusion unless he'd drastically changed his wishes since last night. Although, she rather hoped he'd give her a few days to know him better.

Beyond that, all she could do was try to guard her heart from needless pain and to refrain from doing or saying anything that would make her even more vulnerable to being hurt by him than she already was. She wasn't an utter fool, after all. Long before Zachary Benedict had gone to prison, he'd lived in an elite world of luxury populated by glamorous, sophisticated people with notoriously loose morals and no code of personal conduct or ethics. She'd read enough about him in magazines before he went to prison to know that the man she was with in this secluded mountain retreat had once possessed fabulous homes and villas of his own, where he gave lavish parties attended not only by famous movie stars, but by international business tycoons, European royalty, and even the president of the United States

He was not a comfortable, genial assistant pastor of a small town church.

Compared to him, Julie knew she was as naive and unsophisticated as the proverbial newborn babe.

Chapter 30

It was after 10 P.M. when she woke up with a confused start, a sofa pillow clutched to her chest. A slight movement off to her left caught her attention, and Julie quickly turned her head at the same time an amused male voice remarked, "A nurse who abandons her patient and falls asleep while on duty does not get paid her full rate."

Julie's "patient" was standing with his shoulder propped casually against the fireplace mantel and his arms crossed over his chest, watching her with a lazy smile. With his hair still damp from a shower and a cream chamois shirt that was open at the throat and tucked into fawn-colored trousers, he looked incredibly handsome, completely recovered … and very amused about something.

Trying to ignore the treacherous leap her heart gave at the sight of that enthralling, intimate smile, Julie hastily sat up. "Your friend—Dominic Sandini—he didn't die," she told him, wanting to put his mind at ease about that immediately. "They think he's going to be all right."

"I heard that."

"You did?" Julie said cautiously. It occurred to her that he might have heard it on the radio while he was dressing. If not—if he remembered her telling him that—then it was mortifyingly possible he might remember the other things she'd said in those unguarded minutes when she thought he was beyond hearing. She waited, hoping he'd refer to the radio, but he continued watching her with that smile tugging at his lips, and Julie felt her entire body grow warm with embarrassment. "How do you feel?" she asked, hastily standing up.

"Better now. When I woke up, I felt like a potato being baked in its own skin."

"What? Oh, you mean the bedroom got too hot?"

He nodded. "I kept dreaming I'd died and gone to hell. When I opened my eyes, I saw the fire leaping around me, and I was pretty sure of it."

"I'm sorry," Julie said, anxiously searching his face for any sign of lingering ill effects from his exposure to the elements.

"Don't be sorry. I realized very quickly that I couldn't really be in hell."

His light-hearted mood was so infectious and so utterly disarming that she reached up to lay the back of her hand against his forehead to test his body temperature without realizing what she was doing. "How did you know you weren't in hell?"

"Because," he said quietly, "part of the time, an angel was hovering over me."

"You were obviously hallucinating," she joked.

"Was I?"

This time, there was no mistaking the husky timbre in his voice, and she pulled her hand away from his head, but she couldn't quite free her gaze from his. "Definitely."

From the corner of her eye, Julie suddenly noticed that a porcelain duck was turned the wrong way on the mantle beside his shoulder, and she reached out to straighten it, then she rearranged the two smaller ducks beside that one.

"Julie," he said in a deep, velvety voice that had a dangerous effect on her heart rate, "look at me." When she turned to look at him, he said with quiet gravity, "Thank you for saving my life."

Mesmerized by his tone and the expression in his eyes, she had to clear her throat to stop her voice from shaking. "Thank you for trying to save mine."

Something stirred in the fathomless depths of his eyes, something hot and inviting, and Julie's pulse tripled even though he didn't attempt to touch her. Trying to switch the mood to one of safe practicality, she said, "Are you hungry?"

"Why didn't you leave?" he persisted.

His tone warned her that he wouldn't allow a change of subject until he'd gotten answers, and she sank down onto the sofa, but she looked at the centerpiece on the table because she couldn't quite meet his searching gaze. "I couldn't leave you out there to die, not when you'd risked your life thinking I'd drowned." She noticed that two of the white silk magnolias in the centerpiece were bent at awkward angles and she obeyed the automatic impulse to lean forward and fix them.

"Then why didn't you leave after you got me back here and into bed?"

Julie felt as if she were wandering through a field filled with land mines. Even if she had the courage to look at him and blurt out exactly how she felt about him, she couldn't be certain the announcement wouldn't blow up in her face. "For one thing, I honestly didn't think of it, and besides," she added on a note of relieved inspiration, "I didn't know where the car keys were!"

"They were in my pants pocket—the pants you took off me."

"Actually, I … I didn't think of looking for the car keys. I suppose I was simply too worried about you to think clearly."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance