Meredith knew he was probably right, and losing the Houston property didn't matter so very much at that moment; she was overjoyed because she had already won something just as important as a lawsuit: Somehow, some way, she'd actually diverted this proud, dynamic man from fury to laughter, she'd made him accept a truce. Determined to cement that truce and lighten the atmosphere even more if possible, she teasingly confided, "Actually, I was thinking more of suing you for restraint of trade, or something like that. What do you think of my chances then?"
He pretended to give that consideration, then he shook his head. "That won't hold up in court either. However, if you're absolutely determined to sue, I'd sue me for collusion and conspiracy."
"Could I win that one?" she asked with a widening smile.
"No, but it would be a more entertaining trial."
"I'll give that some thought," she promised with sham gravity.
"You do that."
He grinned at her. Meredith smiled back at him. And in that prolonged moment of warmth and understanding, the eleven-year barrier of anger and sorrow between them began to crumble, and then it collapsed. Slowly, uncertainly, Meredith lifted her hand and held it out to him in a gesture of truce and friendship. Overwhelmed with the poignancy of the moment, she watched Matt's hand reach out for hers, felt his long fingers sliding across hers, his palm grazing her palm, and then his fingers, strong and warm, curled tightly, engulfing her hand. "Thank you," she whispered, lifting her eyes to his.
"You're welcome," he quietly replied, holding her hand for a moment longer, and then letting go. Letting go of the past.
Like two strangers who've accidentally shared something more profound than they intended or expected, they both sought at once to withdraw to safer ground. Matt leaned back into the pillows and Meredith quickly turned her attention to her neglected tray of food and medicine. From the corner of his eye Matt watched her as she picked up the offending red rubber item with the tips of thumb and forefinger only, and in an excess of fastidious modesty, she put it on the floor out of sight. When she turned back to him and put the tray on the table beside the bed, she'd recovered her smiling composure. "I didn't know how you'd feel this morning, and I didn't think you'd be very hungry, but I brought you some breakfast."
"It all looks very tasty," Matt lied, surveying the items on the tray. "Castor oil is a great favorite of mine—as an appetizer, of course. And I gather that smelly goo in the blue jar is the main course?"
Meredith burst out laughing and picked up a plate with a bowl upended on it. "The castor oil was a joke," she promised.
Now that the emotional battle between them was over, Matt felt himself beginning to lose the battle to stay awake. Waves of drowsiness were sweeping over him, pulling him down, making his eyelids feel as heavy as boulders. He no longer felt ill; he felt exhausted. Obviously, those damned pills were partly the cause of it. "I appreciate the gesture, but I'm not hungry," he told her.
"I didn't think you would be," she said, studying his features with the same gentleness that had softened her luminous turquoise eyes all morning. "But you have to eat anyway."
"Why?" he denuded a little testily, and then it belatedly dawned on him that Meredith had actually made up a tray for him—Meredith, who hadn't known how to turn on a stove eleven years ago, and hadn't wanted to try. Touched by her thoughtfulness, he forced himself back into a sitting position, resolved to eat whatever she had prepared.
She sat down beside him on the bed. "You have to eat in order to keep your strength up," she explained, then she reached out and picked up the glass of white liquid from the tray, holding it out to him.
He took it, turning it in his hand, eyeing it warily. "What is this?"
"I found a can of it in the cupboard. It's warm milk."
He grimaced, but obediently raised it to his lips and swallowed.
"With butter in it," Meredith added when he choked.
Matt thrust the glass into her hand, leaned his head back against the pillows, and closed his eyes. "Why?" he whispered hoarsely.
"I don't know—because it's what my governess used to give me when I got sick."
His lids opened, and humor flickered briefly in his gray gaze. "To think I used to envy rich kids—"
Meredith sent him a laughing look and started slowly to lift the cover off the plate of toast.
"What's under there?" he demanded warily.
She swept off the cover then, revealing two slices of cold toast, and Matt sighed with a mixture of relief and weariness; he didn't think he could possibly stay awake long enough to chew it. "I'll eat it later, I promise," he said, making a superhuman effort to keep his eyelids from slamming shut. "Right now I just want to sleep."
He looked so tired and drained that Meredith reluctantly agreed. "All right, but at least take these aspirin. If you take them with milk, they're less likely to bother your stomach." She handed them to him along with the glass of buttered milk. Matt grimaced at the warm white liquid, but he obediently took the aspirin and chased the tablets down with it.
Satisfied, Meredith stood up. "Can I get you anything else?"
He shuddered convulsively. "A priest," he gasped.
She laughed. And the musical sound lingered in the room after she left, drifting through his sleep-drugged mind like a soft melody.
By noon the pills had worn off, and Matt felt vastly better, although he was surprised to discover how weak he was after doing nothing more strenuous than take a shower and put on a pair of jeans. Behind him the bed beckoned invitingly, and he ignored it. Downstairs, Meredith was evidently making lunch, and he could hear her moving about in the kitchen. He took the tiny electric travel shaver he'd bought in Germany out of its case, plugged it into the current converter, looked in the mirror, and forgot the shaver was running quietly in his hand. Meredith was downstairs ...
Impossible. Inconceivable. But true nonetheless. Fully awake now, her motives for being here and her calm acceptance of his verdict about Houston seemed improbable at best. Matt knew it, but as he began to shave, his mind skated away from reexamining her behavior too closely. No doubt the reason was that it was far more pleasant not to do that right now. Outside, it was snowing again, and cold as the Arctic, judging from the icicles clinging to the tree limbs. But inside there was warmth, and unexpected companionship, and the simple truth was he wasn't fit to resume his packing tasks and he wasn't sick enough to be contented lying in bed staring at the walls. Meredith's company, although not restful by any wild stretch of the imagination, was going to be a pleasant diversion.