The answer hit him like a bucket of icewater, leaving him dumbstruck by his own stupidity: I wanted that Houston property for Bancroft's, she'd said, but we can't afford to pay thirty million.

Christ, she was like a narcotic! She completely drugged his mind. Meredith wanted that Houston land for the original price, and she was obviously willing to do anything to get it, including pandering to him. Her abject apology, her alleged desire for a truce, her wifely vigilance this weekend—it was all a sham designed to lull him into capitulating! Thoroughly revolted by her duplicity and his gullibility, Matt walked over to the window and shoved the curtain aside, looking out at the snow that had piled up in the drive, while in his mind he saw her standing meekly beside his bed:I'll accept that as a sort of penance...

Penance? he thought furiously. Meekness? Meredith didn't have a meek bone in her body; she and her father ran roughshod over anyone who got in their way, and they did it as if it were their divine right! The only thing that had changed in Meredith was that she'd learned tenacity. No doubt, she'd climb into that bed with him if she thought it would get her that land, he thought with revulsion, not lust.

Turning on his heel, Matt picked up his briefcase from the floor, opened it, and yanked out the cellular phone he always kept in it. When Sue O'Donnell answered his call at the neighboring farm, Matt impatiently replied to her inquiries about his family, then he said, "I'm snowed in over here. Would you ask Dale to plow the drive right away?"

"You bet I will," she agreed at once. "He's due home this afternoon, and I'll have him come right over."

Angry with the delay, but unable to come up with an alternative, Matt hung up and treaded into the bathroom for a shower. Before his lust drove him to do something that would cost him what little pride and self-respect he had left, he was going to get Meredith out of there! All he had to do now to accomplish that was find her keys. He had a dim recollection of seeing her get out of her car the night she arrived, and then bend down near the car's front tire on the driver's side. He'd find her keys near there. The prospect of groping around in the snow was far less distasteful than having her under his roof for another day. Or another night. If he couldn't find them, he'd hot-wire her car to start without the damned keys. Reaching into the tub, he turned on the water, wondering if she had an electronic alarm on the car that would disable the vehicle if he tried that. If she did, he'd think of something else, but one way or another, he was getting her out of there. As soon as the drive was plowed, he was going to give her five minutes to pack up and get out.

Chapter 38

Still buttoning his shirt, Matt strode purposefully down the stairs. Meredith whirled around as he stalked past the kitchen doorway, pulling on a leather flight jacket, heading for the front door. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going outside to find your keys. Do you remember where you dropped them?"

Her lips parted in surprise when she saw the granite determination that hardened his jaw. "I—I dropped them as I walked around the front of the car, but there's no reason for you to go out there now—"

"Yes," he said flatly, "there is. This charade has gone on long enough. Don't look so surprised," he snapped. "You're as bored with this pretense at marital bliss as I am." She drew in a sharp breath as though he had slapped her, and Matt added coldly, "I admire your tenacity, Meredith. You want the Houston property for twenty million, and you need a quick, congenial divorce with no publicity. You've spent two days catering to me so that I'll be more agreeable to both. You tried and you failed. Now, go back to the city and behave like the competent executive you are. Take me to court over the Houston property and file for divorce, but knock off this nauseating farce! The role of humble, loving wife doesn't suit you, and you must be as sick of it as I am."

He turned on his heel and strode out the front door. Meredith stared at the place where he had stood, her heart twisting with panic, disappointment, and humiliation. He'd suddenly decided these last two days were a boring charade! Blinking away frustrated tears, she bit down on her lip and turned back to the frying pan. She'd obviously passed up her best opportunities to tell him she hadn't had an abortion, and she didn't have the slightest, the vaguest idea why his mood had suddenly turned so hostile. She hated that volatile unpredictability that was Matt; he'd always been that way. You never knew what he thought or what he was going to do next! Before she left this house, she was going to tell him the truth about what had happened eleven years ago, but now she wasn't certain he was going to care, even if he believed her. She picked up an egg and hit it so hard against the side of the frying pan that the yolk slid down the outside.

For ten minutes Matt pawed through the snow near the BMW's front tire in a futile effort to find Meredith's damned keys; he dug and sifted until his gloves were soaked and his hands were frozen, and then he gave up and checked out her alarm system, looking through the window. There was no sign of a keypad, which probably meant hers could be disabled only with her car key. Even if he jimmied her door lock and got in to hot-wire the damned car, an alarm system like hers was designed to disable the vehicle so it couldn't be driven.

"Breakfast is ready," Meredith said uneasily, walking into the living room when she heard the front door slam. "Did you find the keys?"

"No," Matt said, striving to keep his temper under control. "There's a locksmith in town, but he isn't open on Sunday."

Meredith served the scrambled eggs she'd made, then she sat down across from him. Desperately trying to restore some semblance of the relationship they'd shared yesterday, she asked in a quiet, reasonable voice, "Do you mind telling me why you've suddenly decided this whole weekend has been a boring plot on my part?"

"Let's just say my faculties have returned along with my health," he said shortly. For ten minutes, while they ate, Meredith tried to engage him in conversation, only to have him rebuff her attempts with curt, brief replies. The moment he was finished eating, he got up and said he was going to start packing up the things in the living room.

With a sinking heart, Meredith watched him go, then she automatically began to tidy up the kitchen. When the last dish had been washed and put away, she went into the living room. "There's a lot to pack," she said, determined to find a way to make him more receptive. "What can I do to help?"

Matt heard the soft plea in her voice and his body responded with a fresh surge of lust as he straightened and looked at her. You could go upstairs with me and offer me that delectable body of yours. "Suit yourself."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance