Meredith slumped back against the wall. "I'm not as worried about this summer as I am about three months from now."

Lisa knew she was referring to the battle she was having with her father over which college to attend.

Several universities had offered Lisa full scholarships, and she'd chosen NorthwesternUniversity because Meredith was planning to go there. Meredith's father, however, had insisted she apply to MaryvilleCollege, which was little more than an exclusive finishing school in a Chicago suburb. Meredith had compromised by applying to both, and she'd been accepted by both. Now she and her father were in a complete standoff on the issue. "Do you honestly think you're going to be able to talk him out of sending you to Maryville?"

"I am not going there!"

"You know that and I know that, but your father is the one who has to agree to pay the tuition."

Sighing, Meredith said, "He'll give in. He's impossibly overprotective of me, but he wants the best for me, he really does, and Northwestern's business school is the best. A degree from Maryville isn't worth the paper it's written on."

Lisa's anger gave way to bafflement as she considered Philip Bancroft, a man she'd come to know and yet could not understand. "I realize he wants the best for you," she said. "And I admit he's not like most of the parents who send their kids to school here. At least he gives a damn about you. He calls you every week and he's been here for every single major school event." Lisa had been shocked their first year at Bensonhurst when she realized most of the other girls' parents seemed to live wholly apart from their children, and that expensive gifts that arrived in the mail were usually a substitute for parental visits, phone calls, and letters. "Maybe I should talk to him privately and try to convince him to let you go to Northwestern."

Meredith shot her a wry look. "What do you think that would accomplish?"

Bending over, Lisa gave a frustrated yank on her left sock and retied her shoe. "The same thing it accomplished the last time I stood up to him and took your side—he'd start thinking I'm a bad influence on you." In order to prevent Philip from thinking exactly that, Lisa had, except once, treated Philip Bancroft like a beloved, respected benefactor who'd gotten her admitted to Bensonhurst. Around him she was the personification of deferential courtesy and feminine decorum, a role that was so opposite to her blunt, outspoken personality that it chafed on her terribly and usually made Meredith laugh.

At first Philip seemed to regard Lisa as some sort of foundling he'd sponsored and who was surprising him by acquitting herself well at Bensonhurst. As time passed, however, he showed in his own gruff, undemonstrative way that he was proud of her and perhaps felt a modicum of affection for her. Lisa's parents couldn't afford to come to Bensonhurst for any school functions, so Philip had assumed their role, taking her out to dinner when he took Meredith out, and generally showing an interest in her school activities. In the spring of the girls' freshman year Philip had even gone so far as to have his secretary call Mrs. Pontini and ask if there was anything she wanted him to take to Lisa when he flew to Vermont for Parents' Weekend. Mrs. Pontini had eagerly accepted his offer and arranged to meet him at the airport. There, she presented him with a white bakery box filled with cannoli and other Italian pastries, and a brown paper bag containing long, pungent rolls of salami. Irritated at having to board his flight looking—he later told Meredith—like a damned hobo boarding a Greyhound bus with his lunch in his arms, Philip nevertheless delivered his parcels into Lisa's hands, and he continued to act as surrogate parent to her at Bensonhurst.

Last night, in honor of graduation, he presented Meredith with a rose topaz pendant on a heavy gold chain from Tiffany's. To Lisa, he gave a much less expensive, but unquestionably lovely, gold bracelet with her initials and the date artfully engraved among the swirls on its surface. It, too, had been purchased at Tiffany's.

In the beginning, Lisa had been completely uncertain of how to respond to him, for although he was unfailingly courteous to her, he was always aloof and undemonstrative—much as he behaved to Meredith. Later, upon weighing his actions and discarding his surface attitude, Lisa cheerfully announced to Meredith that she'd decided Philip was actually a soft-hearted teddy bear who was all bluff and no bite! That wholly erroneous conclusion led her to try to intercede for Meredith during the summer after their sophomore year. On that occasion Lisa had told Philip, very courteously and with her sweetest smile, that she truly thought Meredith deserved a little more freedom during the summer. Philip's response to what he called Lisa's "ingratitude" and "meddling" had been explosive, and only her abject and instantaneous apology prevented him from carrying out his threat to put an end to Meredith's association with her and to suggest to Bensonhurst that her scholarship there be given to someone "more deserving." The confrontation had left Lisa staggered by more than just his incredibly volatile reaction. From what he said to her, she finally realized that Philip had not merely suggested that the scholarship be given to her, but that the scholarship came from the Bancroft family's private endowment to the school. The discovery made her feel like a complete ingrate, while his explosive reaction left her in a state of angry frustration.

Now Lisa felt again that same impotent anger and bewilderment at the rigid restrictions he imposed on Meredith. "Do you really, honestly believe," she said, "that the reason he acts like your watchdog is because your mother cheated on him?"

"She didn't cheat on him just once, she was a total slut who slept with everyone from horse trainers to truck drivers after they were married. She purposely made a laughingstock out of my father by having flagrant affairs with sleazy nobodies. Parker told me last year, when I asked him, what his parents knew about her. Evidently, everybody knew what she was like."

"You told me all that, but what I don't understand," Lisa continued bitterly, "is why your father acts like lack of morals is some kind of genetic flaw you might have inherited."

"He acts that way," Meredith replied, "because he partially believes it."

They both looked up guiltily as Philip Bancroft walked back into the room. One look at his grim face and Meredith forgot her own problems. "What's wrong?"

"Your grandfather died this morning," he said in a dazed, gruff voice. "A heart attack. I'll go and check out of the motel and get my things. I've arranged for both of us to get on a flight that leaves in an hour." He turned to Lisa. "I'll rely on you to drive my car back home." Meredith had talked him into driving instead of flying so that Lisa could ride back with them.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance