Her mind made up, Meredith shoved her hands into her pockets, affected an expression which she hoped looked like well-bred confusion, and walked back into the bedroom.
The moment he saw her, Matt had to bite back a fresh onslaught of laughter. Despite her furious blush, she was sauntering toward him with her hands in her pockets, trying to look as if she didn't have the slightest idea why he'd laughed. All she needed to do to complete the comic picture of blank innocence she was trying to effect was to gaze up at the ceiling and start whistling.
In the midst of that thought it suddenly hit him why she was there, and the smile that had been lurking at the corner of his mouth abruptly vanished. Obviously, Meredith had discovered he'd bought the land she wanted in Houston and that it was now going to cost her ten million dollars more. She'd come racing out there to wheedle and cajole and do whatever else it took to make him change his mind—even if that meant fixing him a bed tray and hovering solicitously at his bedside. Disgusted by her clumsy, transparent attempt to manipulate him, he waited for her to speak, and when she didn't he curtly demanded, "How did you find me?"
Meredith was instantly aware of an alarming change in his mood. "I went to your apartment last night," she admitted. "About the tray—"
"Forget that," he snapped impatiently. "I asked you how you found me."
"Your father was at your apartment, and we talked. He told me you were here."
"You must have put on one hell of an act to convince him to help you," he said with unconcealed contempt. "My father wouldn't give you the time of day."
So desperate was Meredith to make him listen and believe, she sat down on the bed beside him without thought as she began, "Your father and I talked, and I explained some things to him. And he believed me. After we—understood each other—he told me where you were so that I could come here and explain to you too."
"Then start explaining," he said tersely, leaning back against the pillows. "But keep it short," he added, so astonished that she'd been able to wheedle her way around his father that he was suddenly curious to witness a little of whatever performance she'd given last night.
Meredith looked at his cold, forbidding face, and drew a steadying breath, forcing herself to meet his eyes. Moments ago those eyes had been warm with laughter, now they were like shards of ice. "Are you going to talk," he snapped, "or sit there studying my face?"
She flinched at his tone, but didn't drop her eyes. "I'm going to talk," she said. "The explanation is a little complicated—"
"But hopefully convincing," he jeered.
Instead of retorting with that haughty fury she'd used on him in the past, she nodded and smiled wryly. "Hopefully."
"Then get on with it! But just stick to the salient points—what you want me to believe, what you're offering, and what you want from me in return. In fact, you can skip the last part, I know what you want, I'm just interested to see how you plan to get it."
His words flicked against her lacerated conscience like whips, but she kept her eyes on his and began to speak with quiet sincerity. "What I want you to believe is the truth, which I'm about to tell you. What I'm offering are some peace-offerings which I'd intended to make to you last night when I went to your apartment. And what I want from you in return," she continued, ignoring his order to skip that part, "is a truce. An understanding between us. I want that very much."
Sardonic amusement twisted his mouth when she said the last part. "And that's all you want—a truce and an understanding?" The biting irony in his voice gave her the uneasy feeling that he was referring to the Houston land. "I'm listening," he prodded rudely when she hesitated. "Now that I understand your purely altruistic motives, let's hear what you're willing to offer."
He made it sound not only as if he doubted her motives, but as if he doubted she could offer anything that wasn't paltry and insignificant, so Meredith played her trump card, presenting him with the most important concession she had to give—and one that she knew was vitally important to him. "I'm offering you the approval of your rezoning request by the Southville zoning commission," she said, and saw his momentary surprise at her frank admission that she knew about the situation. "I know my father had it blocked, and I'd also like you to understand that I never agreed with that. I quarreled with him about it long before you and I had lunch."
"How fair-minded you've suddenly become."
Her lips turned up into a funny little smile. "I thought you'd react like that. In your position, so would I. However, you can believe this, because I can prove it: The Southville zoning commission will approve your request just as soon as you resubmit it. My father has given me his word that he'll not only stop blocking it, he'll reverse his position and use his influence to get it approved. In turn, I give you my word to make certain he keeps his."
He gave a short, unpleasant laugh. "What makes you think I'd take your word, or his, for anything? Now I'll make you a deal," he added in a silky, threatening voice. "If my rezoning request is approved by five o'clock Tuesday night, without being resubmitted, I'll call off the lawsuits my attorneys are preparing to file on Wednesday—a lawsuit against your father and Senator Davies for illegally attempting to influence public officials, and another lawsuit against the Southville zoning commission for deliberately failing to act in the best interest of their community."
Meredith's stomach lurched sickly at the discovery he'd planned to do that—and at the incredible speed with which he mobilized the forces for revenge. What had Business Week said of him—A man who's a throwback to the days when an eye for an eye was regarded as justice, not cruel and inhuman revenge. Suppressing a shudder of fear, Meredith reminded herself that despite all that had been written of him, despite the fact that Matt had every reason to despise her, he had still tried to treat her cordially at the opera, and had been willing to try again that day at lunch. Not until he'd been pushed past all bounds of endurance was he turning his power against her father and her. The knowledge restored her courage and it did something more—it sent a shaft of piercing tenderness through her for this angry, dynamic man who had shown so much restraint.
"What else?" Matt snapped impatiently and was stunned by the soft expression in her eyes when she raised them to his and said, "There wil1 be no further acts of vengeance on my father's part—petty or large."