That had been his old life, and even though he'd lost everything, she had no doubt that he would prove his innocence, now that he was free to search out the real killer—with her inexpert but willing help, if possible. Once he did that, he'd be free to return to his former life, to resume his brilliant career in Hollywood. His need of her would cease to exist then. And when that happened, when she was reduced to the status of an "old friend" of his, she knew the pain was going to be terrible.

He wasn't going to fall in love with her and make undying declarations of love. He simply needed her now, and for some reason God had meant for her to be here for him. All she could do was live each moment as it came, savor it, and memorize it for the years ahead. That meant never asking him for more than he could give, never burdening him with her feelings, and keeping as much of her heart intact as she possibly could. That meant finding a way to keep things as light and frivolous as possible. She wished she were sophisticated and experienced with men; that would have been a tremendous help to her now in accomplishing those things and a lot of others.

"What are you thinking about?" Zack asked.

She turned her head and found him studying her with a concerned frown. "Nothing too profound," she hedged with a bright, artificial smile. "Life in general."

"Tell me about it."

Trying to avoid both his searching gaze and the entire discussion, Julie moved out from under his arm and drew her knees up, wrapping her arms around them. "It really wasn't worth discussing."

"Why don't you let me decide that."

She shot him a dark look. "Have you always been so persistent?"

"It's one of my most unattractive qualities," he replied smoothly and impenitently. "What were you thinking about—specifically?"

She rolled her eyes at him in laughing exasperation, but when he continued to regard her in waiting silence, she gave in and told him a part of the truth. Perching her chin on her knees to avoid his gaze, she said, "I was thinking how strange life is. Everything can seem completely predictable, and then in one short minute—in the time it takes to decide to pull off the interstate for some coffee—everything can change."

Zack leaned his head back against the pillows, closed his eyes, and swallowed with relief. He'd thought she was reflecting on the more logical and accurate fact that he was ruining her life.

From the corner of her eye, Julie stole a quick look at his tense face and her heart sank. Laughter and lightness and sensuality were what he wanted and needed, not philosophy or anything with emotional intensity, and she resolved not to let him corner her into a discussion like this again.

He gave a deep sigh and without opening his eyes, he asked in a flat voice, "Do you want to stay here with me, Julie?"

"Are you giving me a choice?" she teased, adhering to her decision to keep things light. As soon as she said it, she saw the imperceptible tightening of his jaw, and she had the strange feeling that she hadn't given him the sort of answer he wanted this time either.

"No," he said, after a long pause, "I'm afraid not."

"Do you think I'd tell the authorities where you are if you let me go? Is that it?"

"No. If you gave me your word not to do that, I'd accept it."

"Then why?"

"Because I don't think you could stand up to the kind of relentless interrogation they'd put you through. Even if you told them I blindfolded you until we got here, they'd keep badgering you, trying to 'help' you remember something significant, and sooner or later, you'd slip without meaning to or even realizing you did."

Julie struggled to strike a balance between sincerity and humor this time. "Okay. Then I guess I'll just have to stay here in this drab little cottage and spend a few days with this exasperating, dictatorial, moody man I met who has an insatiable sexual appetite. I'll probably leave here unable to walk or stand unaided."

His eyes remained closed, but his lips quirked in a half-smile. "I am not moody."

"Exasperating, dictatorial, and insatiable though," she countered, chuckling, feeling much better and more in control of the situation and herself. "I know, let's go outside."

The grooves beside his mouth deepened into a full smile that was lazy, complacent, and smug. "Not a chance. You'll freeze your ass off out there."

"I intended to put clothes on it first," Julie primly informed him, then was dumbstruck by how easily she'd heard and responded to the lewd remark. "Fresh air and physical activity," she hastily added as his shoulders rocked with laughter at her obvious discomfiture, "cure almost everything."

"Except frostbite."

She smacked him with a pillow, laughing because she'd caught him with his eyes closed, and started to disentangle her limbs from the bedding. "Do you always have to have the last word?"


"Then you'll have to carry on both sides of the conversation, because I'm going to go outdoors," she told him, pulling her robe on. "Despite the sybaritic delights of staying in here with you, I need to get some sunlight and fresh air. If I were home, I'd be outdoors with my class now for noon recess."

"Sybaritic delights," he repeated, chuckling. "A very nice turn of phrase. I like that."

"You would," she flipped back with a smile, heading for the bathroom in her room to shower and dress. Behind her he said, "Use this bathroom, it's much nicer."

Chapter 33

Julie stood on one side of the huge room mirror, beneath the twinkling brass lights that framed it, blowing her hair dry, while Zack shaved on his side of the mirror. Instead of using her smaller bathroom, which was what she thought he'd intended to do, he'd used this one, too. There was a strange sort of intimacy involved in sharing a bathroom with a man, Julie decided, even a bathroom that was the size of half her house and afforded complete privacy so long as one stayed on one's side of the mirrors. Still, the sounds were there—the sound of his shower being turned on while she was in hers, and now the sound of water running in the sink while he shaved. When she'd gotten into the shower, she'd carefully draped one of the huge fluffy towels over the clear glass door so that she wouldn't be on display if he passed by, a precaution that had proved to be wise.

Wrapped in another of the green towels, she was heading for her bedroom to get her jeans when Zack called out behind her, "Wear something from the closet in here."

Startled because they hadn't spoken since their joint occupancy of the bathroom, she turned around and saw him standing at the sink, a towel like hers knotted around his slim hips, half of his face covered with shaving cream. "No," she said, "I did that last night, and it didn't feel right." Helplessly enthralled, she watched him tip his head back and stroke the razor up his neck and jaw as he said, "Somehow, I knew you were going to argue about that."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance