After an hour's deliberation that morning, Meredith had finally decided to wear a jonquil-yellow wool dress with a contrasting navy coat trimmed in jonquil, for the sole reason that she'd read somewhere that men interpreted yellow as being assertive but not hostile. In hopes of carrying that assertive impression one step further, she'd twisted her hair into a chignon instead of wearing it loose.

"Farrell will take one look at you and give us anything we ask for," Stuart gallantly predicted as they walked toward the elevators. "How could he resist?"

It was the fact that Matt's last look at her had been when she was naked in bed with him that was making Meredith so excruciatingly uneasy about confronting him now. "I don't have a good feeling about this," she said shakily, stepping into the elevator in front of Stuart.

She stared blindly at the shiny brass doors, trying to concentrate on the memory of the laughter and quiet conversation she'd shared with Matt at the farm. It was wrong to think of him as her adversary now, she reminded herself. She'd cried in his arms over the loss of their baby, and he'd held her, trying to comfort her. That's what she needed to remember, so she wouldn't be so foolishly nervous. Matt was not her adversary.

The receptionist on the sixtieth floor stood up as soon as Stuart gave her their names. "Right this way, please. Mr. Farrell is expecting you both. The others are already here."

The poise Meredith was clinging to took a minor blow when she walked into Matt's office and didn't completely recognize it. The wall at the left end had been slid back so that his office opened into a conference room the size of an indoor tennis court. Two men were seated at the conference table, talking desultorily with Matt. He glanced up, saw her, and instantly arose, starting toward her with long, purposeful strides, his expression warm and relaxed. He was wearing a beautiful dark blue suit that fit him to perfection, a gleaming white shirt, and a handsome maroon and blue silk tie. For some reason, his formal business attire made her feel even more uneasy about this meeting. "Let me help you with your coat," he said, ignoring Stuart, who shrugged out of his own coat.

Too nervous and self-conscious to meet his gaze, Meredith obeyed automatically, turning slightly, trying to stop the compulsive shiver that ran through her as he lifted her coat and his fingers brushed her shoulders. Afraid he'd noticed her reaction, she bent her head and concentrated on stripping off her navy kid gloves and transferring them to the hand with her navy handbag. Stuart had walked over to the conference table to shake hands with the opposing counsel, so Meredith headed toward him, but when he would have introduced her to the other two attorneys, Matt suddenly arrived at her elbow and began to act incongruously, as if this were an intimate social gathering being hosted by him in her honor. "Meredith," he said with a smile in his eyes as he looked at her, "I'd like you to meet Bill Pearson and Dave Levinson."

Aware of the subtly possessive, protective way Matt was standing beside her, Meredith tore her startled gaze from his and looked at the two men, extending her hand to each of them. They were both over six feet tall, impeccably dressed in tailor-made three-piece suits with an aura of confident elegance and decisiveness about them. In comparison to their height and distinguished looks, Stuart, who was standing opposite them, appeared small in stature and insignificant in appearance, with his thinning brown hair and studious horn-rimmed eyeglasses. In fact, Meredith thought nervously as Stuart introduced himself to Matt, Stuart looked outnumbered, outflanked, and outclassed.

As if he sensed her thoughts, Matt said, "Bill and Dave are here to safeguard your interests as much as my own." That remark caused Stuart to pause in the act of sitting down, and to give Meredith a look of unabashed derision that warned her not to believe that for an instant. Meredith saw the look and felt vastly reassured. Stuart might be younger and shorter than the other two, but he was neither fooled nor outflanked.

Matt saw the look too, but he ignored it. Turning to Meredith, who was about to sit down, he put his hand under her elbow to stop her, beginning to execute his plan. "We'd just decided to have a drink when you arrived," he lied when she was standing again, looking at him in confusion. He glanced pointedly at his attorneys. "What will you have, gentlemen?"

"Scotch and water," Levinson promptly replied, understanding that he'd just been told to have one whether he wanted it or not, and obediently shoving aside the folder he'd been about to open.

"The same," Pearson echoed, taking his cue and relaxing back in his chair as if they had all the time in the world.

Turning to Stuart, Matt said, "What would you like to drink?"

'Perrier," he said succinctly. "With a lime, if you have it."

"We have it."

Matt looked to Meredith, but she shook her head and said, "I don't care for anything."

"In that case, will you help me carry the drinks?" he countered, determined to get the chance to speak privately with her. "These three men have faced one another across conference tables before, I'm told. I'm certain they'll be able to find something to talk about while we get their drinks." Having thus instructed Levinson and Pearson to keep Stuart occupied, he put his hand under Meredith's elbow. Behind him, Levinson was already launching into an animated dialogue about a controversial trial in the newspapers, with Pearson contributing additional remarks—all of it done in sufficiently loud voices to give Matt the cover of privacy they understood he wanted with Meredith.

The bar was a deep half circle made entirely of narrow, vertical strips of beveled mirror, and because it was recessed into a wall, Matt was out of sight of the men at the conference table the moment he stepped around the counter. Meredith, however, was stubbornly hovering on the opposite side of the counter, gazing fixedly at the beveled mirrors as if hypnotized by the reflection of colored light dancing off crystal glasses. Removing the top of the ice bucket, Matt put ice into five glasses, then he pulled the stopper out of a crystal decanter and splashed scotch into three glasses, and vodka into another. Glancing at the refrigerator that was beneath the counter on his side, he casually said, "Would you mind getting me the Perrier?"

She nodded, and he watched her move with visible reluctance around the bar to do as he asked. Scrupulously avoiding his gaze, she took out a bottle of Perrier and a lime, and put both on the counter, then she started to turn. "Meredith," Matt said quietly, putting a detaining hand on her arm, "why can't you look at me?"


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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