Julie gave him a smug smile. "It's nice to win a debate with you for a change."
She walked into the bedroom and over to the chair where she'd put her clothes yesterday. They were gone. For a split second she gaped stupidly at the printed fabric on the chair as if her clothes were going to materialize, then she caught herself up short, rounded on her heel, and marched back into the bathroom, a militant look in her eye. "I am not going to wear any of the clothes in that closet!"
He slanted her an amused look before he continued stroking the razor over his cheek. "Now there's a thought to titillate an insatiable male such as myself—having you around here all day wearing absolutely nothing."
She used her teacher's voice—the cool, warning one that said, "You are pushing me too far young man."
"Zack, I am trying very hard not to lose my temper—"
Zack swallowed a shout of laughter because he thought she was utterly adorable and refused to reply.
"Zack!" she said darkly, her tone growing more firmly authoritarian as she advanced on him. "I expect you to get my clothes from wherever you've hidden them this very minute."
His shoulders starting to shake with laughter, Zack leaned down and splashed water on his face, then he pulled the towel from around his neck and dried it. "And if I don't, Miss Mathison?" he said behind the towel, "Then what—do I get a detention?"
Julie had dealt with enough adolescent rebellion to know better than to show her frustration and lose valuable ground. With lofty, emphatic firmness, she stated very clearly to his face towel, "I am not negotiable on this issue."
He tossed down the towel and turned, a glamorous white smile sweeping across his rugged face. "You have a wonderful vocabulary," he said with sincere admiration. "Why don't you have a Texas drawl, by the way?"
Julie hardly heard him. She was staring in blank shock at the living, breathing image of the sexy, charismatic male she'd watched for years on giant movie screens and television sets. Until that moment, Zachary Benedict the man had never quite looked to her like Zachary Benedict the movie star, so it had been easy to ignore who and what he had been. Five years inside a prison had hardened his face and etched lines of strain at his eyes and mouth, making him look older and harsher, but all that had changed in one night. Now that he was well rested, sexually satisfied, and freshly shaven, the resemblance was so striking that she stepped back in nervous surprise, as if from a stranger. "Why are you looking at me like I have hair sprouting out of my ears?"
The voice was familiar. She knew the voice. That was reassuring. With a mental shake, Julie forced herself to stop these ridiculous fantasies and return to the discussion under way. More determined than ever to win, she crossed her arms over her chest and said stubbornly, "I want my clothes."
He perched a hip on the edge of the long marble vanity and, mimicking her posture, he crossed his own arms over his chest, but he was grinning, not glowering. "Not a chance, sweetheart. Pick something out of the closet."
The endearment coming on the heels of his sudden change in persona from convict to movie star sounded casual and meaningless to Julie. She was so frustrated and off balance that she felt like stamping her foot. "Damn it, I want my—"
"Please," he interrupted quietly. "Wear something from the closet." When she opened her mouth to argue, he said flatly, "I tossed your clothes in the fireplace."
Julie knew she was outmaneuvered, but the thoughtless way he'd gone about it hurt and angered her. "They may have seemed like dispensable rags to a former movie star," she fired back, "but they were my clothes. I worked to pay for them, I bought them, and I liked them!"
She spun on her heel and headed for the closet, unaware that her parting shot had hit its mark with more deadly accuracy than she could ever have hoped. She marched into the closet, ignoring the dresses and skirts hanging on twenty-foot racks on both sides of her and headed for the back where she snatched down the first pair of slacks and sweater she came across. Holding them up to her waist to see if they'd possibly fit, she decided they would and unceremoniously pulled them on. The slacks were soft emerald green cashmere and the matching turtleneck sweater had delicate violets with dark green leaves woven into the full sleeves. Leaving the sweater on the outside of the slacks, she grabbed a green leather belt on her way out of the closet, paused to put it on, turned around, and almost collided with Zack's chest.
He was standing in the doorway, his hand braced high on the door frame, blocking the exit.
"Excuse me," she said, trying to walk around him without giving him the courtesy of looking up.
His voice was as implacable as his stance. "It's my fault you've had to wear the same clothes for the past three days. I just wanted you to have something else to wear so I wouldn't feel guilty every time I looked at your jeans." Wisely leaving out the fact that he'd also been longing to see her in something beautiful and fine that was worthy of her face and figure, he said, "Would you please look at me and let me explain."
Julie had more than enough stubborn courage to withstand the force of his persuasive tone, but she wasn't so angry that she couldn't understand his logic, nor was she unmindful of the idiocy of spoiling what little time they had with a pointless argument.
"I hate it when you ignore me and stare at the floor like that," he said. "It makes me feel like you think my voice is coming from some cockroach down there, and you're wondering where it is so you can step on it."
Julie had intended to graciously look up at him in her own good time, but she was no match for such humor, and she ended up collapsing against the clothes behind her and shaking with laughter. "You are completely incorrigible," she said, giggling and raising eyes swimming with mirth to his.
"And you are completely wonderful."
Julie's heart missed a beat at his solemn expression, but he was an actor, as she'd just been forcefully reminded, and it would only hurt her more later if she started treating what were only casual pleasantries to him as if they were avowals of deep affection.
When she didn't respond, Zack smiled and headed for the bedroom. Over his shoulder, he said, "Let's put on jackets and go outside if that's what you still want to do."
She gaped at him in utter disbelief, followed him, and spread her arms out wide, looking down at her clothes and making him look too as she said, "In these clothes?! Are you crazy? These cashmere slacks must have cost … at least two hundred dollars!"