Despite her casual attitude, Zack had the uneasy feeling he'd somehow hurt her feelings. A few moments later, he walked out of the bedroom and joined her at the hall closet where she was putting on the snowmobile suit she'd worn yesterday. "I'd forgotten about this outfit," she explained. "It will protect what I'm wearing. I got the other one out of my closet for you," she added, nodding toward the larger snowmobile suit hanging on the door.

Reaching for it and starting to pull it on, Zack decided their conversation in the bedroom still needed some clarification. "Look," he said with quiet sincerity, "I don't want to quarrel or spar with you, that's the last thing in the world I want to do. And I most definitely do not want to discuss my future plans or present concerns with you. I'm trying my damnedest not to worry about them myself and to simply enjoy the surprise gift of having you here. Try to understand that these next few days, here in this house with you, are going to be the last "normal" days of my life. Not that I have the slightest idea of what normal really is," he added bluntly. "But the point is, even though we both know all of this is a fantasy that's going to come to an abrupt end, I'd still like to have it—an idyllic few days up here with you to remember and look back on. I don't want to spoil it with thoughts of the future. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"

Julie hid the sympathy and sorrow his words evoked behind a warm smile and nodded. "Am I allowed to know how long we're going to be here together?"

"I—haven't decided. No more than a week."

She tried very hard not to think of how little time that was and resolved to do exactly as he asked, but she voiced the question that had been unnerving her since she left the bedroom: "Before we can drop the entire discussion about the police and everything, there's something I have to ask you. I mean, clarify."

Zack watched a gorgeous blush creep up her cheeks, and she hastily bent her head, concentrating fiercely on shoving her heavy hair into a blue knitted cap. "You said you wanted me to tell the police everything. You can't honestly mean you expect me to tell them that we—you—I—"

"You've given me all the pronouns," Zack teased, guessing exactly what she was getting at, "could you toss me a verb to go with them?"

She pulled on her gloves, plunked her hands on her slim hips, and gave him a look of comic disapproval. "You're entirely too glib, Mr. Benedict."

"I have to be to keep up with you."

She shook her head in mock disgust and turned toward the back door at the end of the short hall. Regretting his timing, if not his reply, Zack caught up with her just as she stepped outdoors. The sky was a bright, blinding blue overhead, it was cold but not bitterly so, and the world outside looked like an arctic wonderland, with high snow drifts and low craters created by the wind. "I didn't mean to treat your last question with indifference," he explained, closing the door behind him, pulling on his gloves, and stepping carefully onto a wind-created path with a five-foot-high drift next to it. She turned and waited for him to walk the few paces to her and he lost his train of thought at the sunlit wonder of her face. With all her hair tucked severely under that cap and no makeup on except lipstick, she was a breathtaking marvel of clear porcelain skin and huge, jewel-bright sapphire eyes framed with dark lashes and graceful brows. "Of course I didn't mean you should volunteer the information that we've been intimate; that's no one's business but our own. On the other hand," Zack added, recovering his composure, "considering the fact that I was convicted of murder, they're going to assume I wouldn't hesitate to coerce or force you to have sex with me. Given the gutter mentality of most cops, when you deny I forced you, they're going to ponder and pry and try to get you to reveal that maybe you wanted me to screw you, and so I did."

"Don't say it that way!" she said, looking like a prim, outraged virgin, which, Zack realized with an inner smile, she was.

"I'm saying it the way they'll think of it," he explained. "They'll come at the subject from a dozen different, seemingly unrelated ways, like asking you to describe the house I used for a hideout, ostensibly so they can locate and identify it and search it for clues. Then they'll ask about the bedrooms and then the decor of all the bedrooms. Who knows how they'll get at you, but the minute you reveal too much knowledge—or too much feeling—about something that concerns me personally, they'll assume the worst and pounce. When I brought you here, I never imagined they'd have such good reason to think you might have become an ally. And they wouldn't have if that damned truck driver hadn't—" He broke off and shook his head. "When you nearly got away at that rest stop, I didn't think about anything beyond the immediate need to stop you. I didn't think the truck driver got a good enough look at us to recognize us later. Anyway, the harm is done and there's no point dwelling on what I can't fix. When the cops ask you about that episode, just tell them exactly what happened. They'll think you were heroic. And you were." Putting his hands on her arms for emphasis, he said, "Listen closely to me and then I want to drop the subject once and for all: When the police are questioning you about our relationship here, if you do happen to slip in some way that reveals we were intimate, I want you to promise me something."

"What?" Julie said, desperate now to end the discussion before their mood was beyond salvaging.

"I want you to promise me that you'll tell them I raped you."

She gaped at him, open-mouthed.

"I've already been convicted of murder," he emphasized, "believe me, my reputation isn't going to be besmirched one bit by the added charge of rape. But your reputation can be saved by it, and that's all that matters. You understand, don't you?" he said studying the extremely odd look she was giving him.

Her voice was soft and very, very sweet. "Yes, Zack," she said with uncharacteristic meekness. "I understand. I understand that you are out of … your … mind!" Her hands hit him squarely on the shoulders, catching him by surprise and sending him flying backward, landing spread-eagle in a five-foot snowdrift.

"What the hell was that for!?" he demanded, as he struggled to get out of the deep hole he'd made in the drift.

"That," she told him smiling her most angelic smile, her hands on her hips, her legs braced slightly apart, "was for daring to suggest that I would even consider telling anyone that you raped me!"

Chapter 34

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance