Given the incredible injustices done to him, Meredith could understand why he was retaliating in ways that had seemed so extraordinarily vicious. Considering everything he believed she'd done years before, it was amazing that he'd tried to be friendly at the opera and at lunch. In his place, Meredith wouldn't have been able to be civil, let alone friendly.

The thought struck her that Matt might have sent himself that telegram so that he could acquit himself to his father for abandoning Meredith, and, just as quickly, she discarded it. Matthew Farrell did as he damned well pleased and offered excuses to no one. He had gotten her pregnant, married her, and then confronted her father's wrath without concern or apology. He had built a business empire with nothing but sheer daring and strength of will. He wouldn't have cowered before his own father and sent himself a telegram. The telegram she'd received, telling her to get a divorce, had obviously been sent in bitter response to the obscene one he'd received. And even so, he'd flown home to try to see her before sending it....

Tears stung her eyes, and she accelerated without realizing it. She had to get to him, to talk to him, to make him understand. She needed his forgiveness and he needed hers, and she didn't think it was the least bit odd or in any way threatening to her future with Parker that she felt such piercing regret and aching tenderness for Matt now. Visions of how the future would be paraded across her mind: Next time, when Matt extended his hand, as he had at the opera, and smiled at her and said, "Hello, Meredith," she would smile at him and put her hand in his. Their friendship wouldn't have to be limited to chance social encounters either, they could be business friends too. Matt was a brilliant tactician and negotiator; in the future, she decided warmly, perhaps she might call him for advice occasionally. They'd meet for lunch and smile at each other; she'd tell him her problem, and he'd offer advice. Old friends were like that. The warmth within her built to a rosy glow.

The country roads were treacherous, but Meredith scarcely noticed. Her delightful imaginings of future friendly meetings with Matt had been obliterated by the reality that she had absolutely no proof to offer him that what she was going to tell him was the truth. He already knew how badly she wanted a quiet divorce. If she walked into the house and went straight to the point about the miscarriage, he'd undoubtedly think she'd invented the entire tale to play on his sympathy and get him to agree to the divorce. Worse, he'd bought the Houston land she wanted for twenty million dollars, and he was holding Bancroft & Company in a ten-million-dollar financial vise by demanding thirty million for it. No doubt he'd assume her tale about the miscarriage was nothing but a desperate, transparent ploy to trick him into loosening the screws on that vise. Therefore, her only choice was to first smooth things over with him by telling him that his rezoning request would now go through. Once he understood that her father had agreed never to interfere with Matt again, then Matt would surely be as reasonable about the divorce as he'd tried to be at lunch—before he got that phone call. Then and only then—when he would know she had nothing more to gain—she could explain what really happened to their baby. He'd surely believe her at that point, because there'd be no reason to doubt her.

The wooden bridge across the creek on his property was covered in snow several inches deep. Meredith accelerated to prevent herself from bogging down, and held her breath. The BMW plowed across it, tires skidding, rear end slipping sideways, then it plunged ahead toward the front yard of the farmhouse. In the reflected light from the snow-covered fields and the moon overhead, the barren trees in the yard were eerie, distorted versions of what they had been that long-ago summer. Like forbidding skeletons, they cast twisted shadows on the white frame house, warning her away, and Meredith felt a shiver of foreboding as she cut the headlights and turned off the engine. A light shone dimly through a curtain in an upper window; Matt was here, and he was still awake. And he was going to be infuriated when he saw her.

Leaning her head back against the seat, she closed her eyes, trying to gather the courage she needed to get through whatever was going to happen in the next few minutes. And at that moment, alone in the car, facing an impossibly difficult and desperately important task, Meredith asked for help for the first time in eleven years. "Please," she whispered to God, "make him believe me."

Opening her eyes, she sat up, pulled her keys out of the ignition, and picked up her purse. Eleven years ago her prayers that Matt would come to her at the hospital had been answered, only she hadn't known it, and she'd stopped praying after that. No doubt God was now thoroughly hacked off at her for that. It was amazing, she thought with a bubble of hysterical laughter as she got out of the car, that she'd managed to make everyone angry with her, when she'd tried so hard to be a nice person.

The light on the porch suddenly snapped on, and her laughter vanished; her heart leapt into her throat, and she looked up to see the front door opening. In her preoccupied alarm, she lost her footing in the deep snow, grabbed the car fender for balance and dropped her keys into the snow beside her right tire. She bent down to reach for them, but she realized she had another set in her purse, and didn't see the point of digging around in the snow. Not at a time like this, when she was facing the most important confrontation of her life.

The porch light spilled into the yard, and Matt stood in the doorway, staring in disbelief at the disconcerting scene before him: A woman had just gotten out of her car, a woman who looked impossibly like Meredith, and then she had ducked down and disappeared. She reappeared again, walking around the front of her car through the swirling snow. Groping for the door frame, he clutched it, trying to keep the weakness and dizziness at bay. He stared at her, half convinced that his fever was causing him to hallucinate, but when the woman reached up and pushed her heavy mane of snow-dusted hair off her forehead, the gesture was so achingly familiar to him that his heart contracted almost painfully.

She walked up the porch steps and lifted her face to his. "Hello, Matt."

Matt decided he was definitely hallucinating. Or else he was dreaming. Possibly, he was dying upstairs in his bed. He didn't know which of the three it was, but he did know that the chills that had racked his body in the house were coming with alarming frequency now. The apparition before him smiled—a sweetly tentative smile. "May I come in?" she asked. She looked and sounded like an angelic version of Meredith.

A furious blast of arctic wind threw snow into his face and snapped him out of his daze. This was no damned apparition, this was Meredith, and the realization belatedly sent adrenaline pumping furiously through his veins. Too ill to march her back to her car or freeze to death arguing with her about leaving, he straightened, stepped back from the doorway, and rudely turned his back, leaving her to follow him inside. Grateful that the shock of finding her on his doorstep was giving him a burst of strength, he walked into the darkened living room. "You must have the instincts of a bloodhound and the tenacity of a bulldog to come all the way out here after me," he informed her as he reached out in the dark and switched on the overhead light. His voice sounded hoarse and strange to his own ears.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance