"And I was right to try," she said ferociously, and Matt bit back a smile of pride. She was splendid—already recovering her composure, her chin up, her shoulders square. She wasn't able to look the lawyers in the face yet, though, so he glanced over her shoulder at them. His own lawyers were heading out with their coats and briefcases, but Meredith's lawyer stubbornly remained where he stood, arms crossed over his chest, watching Matt with a mixture of antagonism, suspicion, and blunt curiosity. "Meredith," Matt said. "Would you at least ask your attorney to wait in my office. He can see everything from there, but he doesn't need to hear any more than he has."
"I have nothing else to hide," she said wrathfully. "Now, let's get this over with. What exactly do you want from me?"
"Fine," Matt said, deciding he didn't give a damn what Whitmore heard. Sitting down on the edge of the conference table, he crossed his arms over his chest. "I want a chance for us to get to know each other for the next eleven weeks."
"And just how do you intend for us to do that?" she demanded.
"The usual ways—we'll have dinner together, go to plays—"
"How often?" she interrupted, looking angrier than ever.
"I hadn't thought about it."
"I'm sure you were too busy refining your blackmail and thinking up ways to ruin my life!"
"Four times a week!" Matt snapped out the answer to her question about how often. "And I am not trying to ruin your life!"
"What days of the week?" she fired back.
His anger died, and he fought back another smile. "Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and—Wednesday," he said after a moment's thought.
"Has it occurred to you that I have a career and a fiance?"
"I don't want to interfere with your career. Your fiance will have to back off for eleven weeks."
"This isn't fair to him—" Meredith cried.
The harsh word, his cold tone and implacable features, were so eloquent of his entire ruthless personality, Meredith finally realized nothing she said or did would dissuade him from accomplishing his goal. She was his latest target for a hostile takeover. "Every rotten thing they say about you—it's all true, isn't it?"
"Most of it," he bit out, looking like she'd slapped him again.
"It doesn't matter who you hurt or what you have to do to get what you want, does it?"
His face tightened, "Not in this case."
Her shoulders sagged, her bravado fleeing. "Why are you doing this to me? What have I done to you— deliberately, I mean—to make you try to tear my life to pieces like this?"
Matt couldn't think of an answer he could give her now that she'd accept without either laughing in his face or getting furious. "Let's just say that I think there's something between us—an attraction—and I want to see how deep it goes."
"God, I cannot believe this!" she cried, wrapping her arms around her stomach. "There is nothing between us! Nothing but a horrible past."
"And last weekend," he pointed out bluntly.
Meredith hid her chagrin in anger. "That was—that was sex!"
"You ought to know!" she shot back, remembering something she'd overlooked of late. "If half of what I've read about you is true, you hold the world's record for cheap affairs and meaningless flings. God, how could you sleep with that rock star with the pink hair?"
"Yes! Don't bother denying it! It was all over the front page of the National Tattler."
Matt swallowed a shout of laughter, watching her pace slowly back and forth, loving the way she moved, the way she clipped her words when she was angry, the way she clutched him when she was close to a climax—as if she weren't certain she could count on one. Maybe she wasn't always able to count on one with her other lovers.. .. She was gorgeous and innately passionate; he knew better than to hope she hadn't been to bed with dozens of men. He settled for hoping they'd all been selfish, inept, or dull. Preferably, all three. And impotent.
"Well?" she said, rounding on him. "How could you sleep with that—that woman?"
"I've been to a party in her home. I have never slept with her."
"Am I supposed to believe that?"
"It doesn't matter," Meredith said, giving herself a mental shake. "Matt, please," she implored him, trying for one last time to make him abandon his insane plan. "I'm in love with someone else."
"You weren't on Sunday when you and I were in bed—"
"Stop talking about that! I'm in love with Parker Reynolds, I swear to you I am. I've been in love with him since I was a girl. I was in love with him before I met you!"
Matt was about to brush that off as highly unlikely for the same reason he thought it was unlikely now, when she added, "Only he had just gotten engaged to someone else, and I'd given up."
That information cut him deeply enough to make him stand and brusquely say, "You heard my offer, Meredith, take it or leave it."
Meredith stared at him, aware that he'd suddenly turned aloof and hard. He meant it—the discussion was over. Stuart realized it too, and he was already putting on his coat and walking toward Matt's office, pausing in the doorway to wait for her. Deliberately turning her back on Matt, she walked over to get her purse, taking vengeful pleasure in making him think she was scorning his bargain, but her mind was whirling in panic. She picked up her purse from the conference table, feeling his eyes boring holes through her back, then she walked purposefully to the sofa to get her coat.
Behind her, Matt spoke in an icy, ominous voice. "Is this your answer, Meredith?"
Meredith refused to reply. She swallowed, trying for one last moment to think of some way to reach him, to touch his heart. But he had no heart. Passion was all he was capable of; passion and ego and revenge were what he was made of. She picked up her coat from the sofa and draped it over her arm, leaving Matt in the conference room without so much as glancing over her shoulder at him. "Let's go," she told Stuart, wanting Matthew Farrell to think, at least for a minute or two, that she'd thrown his ultimatum in his face .. . hoping against hope that he would call out to her that he'd only been bluffing, that he wouldn't do this to her father or her.
But the silence behind her was unbroken.
Matt's secretary had evidently gone home for the day, and when Stuart had closed the connecting door behind the two offices, Meredith stopped and spoke for the first time. In a suffocated voice, she said, "Can he do what he's threatening to do to my father?"