"Yes, but you evidently don't. Why?"

"Why?" he said, sounding amused. "I'll tell you why. You said he reminded you of me, and I wouldn't settle for such a puny offering. Not now. Not anymore. I'd make him regret the day he ever tried to thwart me, and when I'd accomplished that, I'd drive a bargain on my terms—a bargain he'd choke on!"

The words sent a chill of apprehension up her spine. "Nevertheless," she persisted, "before I agree to take over, I want your word that he'll have his zoning request approved as soon as he petitions again for it."

He hesitated, then he nodded. "I'll attend to it."

"And you'll also give your word not to interfere in anything else he does if he'll agree to a swift, quiet divorce?"

"You have my word. Parker," he said, bending down to retrieve his hat from the sofa, "have a good trip."

When he left, Meredith looked at Parker. He grinned at her as she said softly, "My father couldn't say he was sorry or that he was wrong, but conceding to everything I asked for was his way of making amends. Don't you agree?"

"It probably was," Parker said without complete conviction.

Meredith didn't notice; she threw her arms around him in sudden, exuberant glee. "I'll manage everything —the presidency, the divorce, and our wedding plans," she promised gaily. "You'll see!"

"I know you will," he said, smiling and linking his hands behind her back, drawing her close.

Seated at the kitchen table with her feet propped up on the seat of a chair, Lisa had decided Puccini's opera wasn't just boring, it was intolerable, when she looked up and saw Meredith standing in the doorway. "Are Parker and your father gone?" she asked, switching off the radio. "God, what a night," she added when Meredith nodded.

"It happens to be a wonderful, marvelous, fantastic night!" Meredith declared with a dazzling smile.

"Has anyone ever told you that you have alarming mood swings?" Lisa demanded, eyeing her in amazement. She'd heard Philip's raised voice in the living room a few minutes ago.

"Kindly address me with a little more respect."

"How do you wish to be addressed?" Lisa asked, studying Meredith's face.

"How about Madam President?"

"You're joking!" Lisa cried with delight.

"Only about the way you should address me. Let's open a bottle of champagne. I feel like celebrating!"

"Champagne it is," Lisa agreed after giving her a hug. "And afterward you can tell me what happened with you and Farrell yesterday."

"It was awful!" Meredith cheerfully declared, taking a champagne bottle from the refrigerator and stripping off the foil.

Chapter 31

In the week that followed, Meredith threw herself into her role as interim president; she made decisions with caution and skill, she met with the executive committee, listening to their opinions, suggesting new ideas, and within a few days they began to respond to her with confidence and enthusiasm. At the same time, she managed to keep up with much of the work she'd handled as operations vice president—something that was made far easier by Phyllis's competence, her unflagging loyalty, and her willingness to work long hours beside Meredith.

After several days of successfully fulfilling her dual role, Meredith had learned to pace herself, and her earlier exhaustion gave way to euphoria. She even managed to devote some time to her wedding plans; she ordered invitations from Bancroft's stationery department, and when the bridal salon called to say they had some new designs, she went down to see them. One of the designs, a glorious sheath of pearl-encrusted ice-blue silk with a deep, wide V carved out of the back was exactly what she'd been looking for and hadn't been able to find. "It's perfect!" she exclaimed, laughing and hugging the sketch while the staff in the bridal salon, caught up in her unaffected, contagious delight, beamed at her.

With the sketch in one hand and a sample of the wedding invitation in the other, she sat at the ornate desk that had belonged to her father and grandfather. Sales at all of Bancroft's stores were at a record high, she was dealing well with every matter that crossed her desk, no matter how complicated, and she was marrying the finest, the best of men—the man she had loved since she was a child.

Leaning back in the swivel chair, she grinned at the portrait of Bancroft's founder that hung in a wide, heavily carved frame on the opposite wall. Suddenly bursting with sentimentality and happiness, she looked at the bearded man with the twinkling blue eyes, and fondly whispered, "What do you think of me, Great-grandfather? Am I doing all right?"

As the week spun out, she continued to feel challenged and happy and absorbed. Success smiled upon every task she took on ... except one: Before her father left on his cruise, he'd kept his promise about Matt's rezoning request, but she could not get through to Matt to tell him that.

No matter when she called his office, his secretary curtly informed her that he was either out of the office or out of town. On Thursday afternoon, when he still hadn't returned her phone calls, Meredith tried again. This time his secretary relayed a message from Matt: "Mr. Farrell," she announced in a clipped frosty voice, "instructed me to tell you that you are to deal with his attorneys, Pearson and Levinson, not with him. He will not take your phone calls now or in the future, Miss Bancroft. He also told me to say that if you persist in calling him here, he will take legal action for harassment." And then the woman hung up!

Meredith held the phone away from her ear, glaring at it. She considered going to Matt's office and insisting on seeing him, but there was every possibility that in his present mood he'd simply have her forcibly escorted out of the building by his security people. Realizing that it was imperative for her to remain unemotional and objective, she calmly reviewed her alternatives—exactly as she would have were this a business problem. She knew it would be futile to call Matt's attorneys. They represented the opposition, and they'd try to intimidate her for the sheer fun of it. Furthermore, she'd known from the beginning that she was ultimately going to need an attorney to draw up the legal papers once Matt had agreed to proceed with an amicable divorce. Obviously, she needed one sooner than she'd anticipated—one who would go through the irritating formality of relaying her peace offering to Pearson & Levinson so they could relay it to their client.

But she couldn't choose just any competent attorney, not when Matt was being represented by a firm as powerful and prestigious as Pearson & Levinson. Whoever she chose had to have as much political clout and as much skill as Matt's renowned lawyers possessed; otherwise his lawyers would intimidate hers into submission with the sort of legal muscle-flexing and out-of-court game-playing that lawyers seemed to especially enjoy. Secondly, and equally important, whoever she chose had to be someone who would guard her privacy as well as he guarded her legal interests; someone who wouldn't discuss her case with his friends over drinks at the Lawyers' Club ... someone she could trust implicitly.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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