"Then what?"

"Then I will ask him to have his client sign some nice papers, which I will draw up and send over to him."

Meredith smiled with a mixture of hope and uncertainty. "Is that all there is to it?"

"Could be."

Late the next afternoon, Stuart finally called.

"Did you speak to Pearson?" Meredith asked, her stomach churning with anticipation and apprehension.

"I just hung up a minute ago."

"Well?" she prodded eagerly when he didn't go on. "Did you tell him about my father's offer? What did he say?"

"He said," Stuart replied sardonically, "that the entire matter between you and Farrell is a highly personal one, which his client wishes to first deal with from that aspect and later—when his client is ready—his client will dictate the terms under which a divorce will be obtained."

"My God," she breathed. "What does that mean? I don't understand!"

"In that case, I shall endeavor to strip away the polite legalese and translate for you," Stuart offered. "Pearson was telling me to go fuck myself."

The profanity, which was completely out of character for Stuart, told Meredith that he was far more annoyed than he was letting on, and that alarmed her almost as much as the incomprehensible attitude of Matt's lawyer. "I still don't understand!" she said, lurching forward in her chair. "Matt was very cooperative that day at lunch —until he got the phone call about the Southville rezoning thing. Now I'm offering to see that his rezoning request is approved, and he won't even listen."

"Meredith," Stuart said firmly. "Did you hold anything back when you described your relationship with Farrell to me?"

"No, nothing. Why do you ask?"

"Because," he replied, "from everything I've read and heard about him, Farrell is a logical, intelligent man— coldly, almost inhumanly logical according to some people. Logical, busy men don't go out of their way to get revenge for petty grievances. It's a waste of their time, and in Farrell's case, his time is worth a great deal of money. But every man has a limit to what he's willing to take. It's as if Farrell's been pushed past that limit, and he wants a fight, he's spoiling for it! And that makes me very, very uneasy."

It made Meredith more than uneasy. "Why would he want a fight?"

"I have to assume he wants the satisfaction of revenge."

"Revenge for what?" Meredith implored in an alarmed cry. "Why would you say such a thing?"

"It was something Pearson said—he warned me that any attempt on your part to push this divorce through court without prior and complete approval from his client would result in what he called even more unpleasantness for you."

"More unpleasantness?" she repeated, flabbergasted. "Why would he want that now? When I had lunch with him last week, he tried to be nice. He honestly did. He joked with me even though he really despises me—"

"Why?" he interrupted intently. "Why would he despise you? What makes you think he does?"

"I don't know. It's just something I sense." Dismissing that unanswerable question, she continued. "He's understandably furious over the Southville thing, and he was undoubtedly offended by the things I said to him in the car after lunch. Could that be what got under his skin and 'pushed him past the limit'?"

"Could be," Stuart replied, but he sounded unconvinced.

"What are we going to do now?"

"I'll think about it over the weekend. I'm leaving for Palm Beach in an hour to spend the weekend with Teddy and Liz Jenkins on their yacht. We'll work out our strategy when I get back. Try not to worry too much."

"I'll try," Meredith promised, and when she hung up she made a herculean effort to thrust Matthew Farrell out of her mind by immersing herself in work. She'd succeeded reasonably well two hours later when Sam Green asked to see her right away. As he'd promised, Sam had rushed his staff to complete the project that was preventing him from going to Houston and negotiating with Thorp for the Houston property. Three days ago, Sam had called them, hoping to arrange a meeting this week, only to have Ivan Thorp tell him there was no point in coming down until next week.

Smiling, Meredith watched him heading toward her desk. "Are you ready for your Houston trip?"

"Thorp just called me and canceled our meeting," he said, and sank into the chair across from her, looking angry and harassed. "It seems that they accepted a twenty-million-dollar contract on that land. The purchaser wanted the deal kept confidential until now, which is why Thorp stalled about meeting with me. The property is now owned by the real estate division of a large conglomerate."

Sick with disappointment and adamantly unwilling to accept defeat, Meredith said, "Contact the new owners, and find out if they'll sell it."

"I already have, and they're perfectly willing to sell," Sam said, his voice edged with sarcasm.

Surprised by his tone, Meredith prodded, "Then let's stop wasting time and start negotiating with them."

"I've already tried. They want thirty million and that figure isn't negotiable."

"Thirty million! That's ridiculous!" Meredith exclaimed, half rising from her chair. "It's insane! The property is worth twenty-seven million, tops, in today's economy and they paid only twenty for it!"

"I pointed that out to the director of their real estate division, but his attitude is take it or leave it."

Meredith got up and restlessly walked over to the windows, trying to decide what to do next. The Houston property, with its location near The Galleria, was the most desirable site for a Bancroft's branch that she'd ever seen anywhere. She wanted that store built there, and she wasn't going to relent. "Are they planning to develop it themselves?" she asked, returning to her desk and leaning on the edge, her arms crossed over her chest, lost in thought.

"No."

"You said a conglomerate owns it. Which one?"

Sam Green, like nearly everyone else at Bancroft's, was obviously aware that Meredith's name had been linked with Matthew Farrell's in the gossip column, and he hesitated several seconds before he answered. "Intercorp."

Disbelief and fury made her lurch upright and glare at him. "Are you joking!" she exploded.

His scowl turned ironic. "Do I look like a man who's joking?"

Aware that Sam's reluctance to mention Intercorp made it unnecessary to pretend this was purely a business battle, Meredith said furiously, "I'll kill Matthew Farrell for this!"


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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