"Really?" Stuart retorted, smiling to himself. As he walked over to the bar to get his briefcase, he was already debating what to tell Meredith and how to do it. "What makes you think so?"
"Because," Farrell replied calmly behind him, "from the moment you realized Meredith slept with me last weekend, you haven't been completely certain about anything—particularly how she feels about me." He walked forward, angling toward his office and politely escorting Stuart out.
Stuart suddenly remembered the indescribable look on Meredith's face earlier, when she'd stood with her hand in Farrell's. Hiding his growing uncertainty behind a convincing shrug, he said, "I'm her lawyer—it's my job to tell her what I think, even when it's a hunch."
"You're also her friend and you were in love with her once. You're personally involved, and because you are, you're going to hesitate and contemplate, and in the end you'll decide to let this run its course. After all, if nothing comes of this, she's lost nothing by doing what I've required of her, and she gains five million dollars."
They'd reached his desk and Farrell walked behind it, but he remained politely standing. Thoroughly annoyed by the probable accuracy of Farrell's psychological summation, Stuart looked around for something to say to shake him up, and his gaze fell on the framed picture of a woman on Farrell's desk. "Are you planning to keep that picture there while you're trying to court your wife?"
Something in the way he said that made Stuart revise his original impression that the woman was a girlfriend or mistress. "Who is she?" he asked bluntly.
Farrell was watching him with that same infuriating calm, so Stuart shrugged, and with a deliberate effort to be offensive, he said, "Nice smile. Nice body too."
"I'll ignore the last part of that," Farrell said, "and politely suggest that the four of us have dinner when she's in town next time. Tell Meredith I'll pick her up tomorrow night at seven-thirty. You can phone my secretary in the morning and give her the address."
Summarily dismissed and duly cut down to size, Stuart nodded and opened the door, then he walked out and closed it. Outside Farrell's office he began to wonder if he was doing Meredith a favor by not warning her to ran, not walk, from the agreement she'd signed, whether she was in love with her husband or not. The man was like a machine; unyielding, detached, uncompromising, and completely unemotional. Not even a slur against his sister could rile the bastard.
On the opposite side of the connecting door, Matthew Farrell sank heavily into his chair, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. "Christ!" he whispered, heaving a long, shaking breath of relief. "Thank you."
It was the closest he'd come to a prayer in more than eleven years. It was the first easy breath he'd drawn in over two hours.
"How did it go with Farrell?" Parker asked the minute he walked into Meredith's apartment to take her out for what he'd predicted would be a dinner to celebrate her almost-divorced status. His smile faded as she raked her hair off her forehead and mutely shook her head. "Meredith, what happened?" he said, putting his hands on her arms.
"I think you'd better sit down," she warned him.
"I'll stand," he said, already looking upset.
Ten minutes later, when she'd finished telling him the whole thing, he no longer looked upset, he looked furious—with her. "And you agreed to that?"
"What choice did I have?" Meredith cried. "I didn't have anything to bargain with. He was holding all the cards, and he handed out the ultimatum. It's not so very bad," she said, trying to smile and make him feel better. "I've had a couple hours to think it over, and it's more of a gross inconvenience—an annoyance—than anything else. I mean, when you're objective."
"I'm damned objective, and I disagree," Parker said harshly.
Unfortunately, Meredith was so overwrought, so guilt-stricken, she failed to consider that Parker might feel better if she felt worse about having to go out with Matt. "Look," she said with another encouraging smile, "even if I could have flown somewhere and gotten a divorce, I'd still be all snarled up in the property issues after the divorce because they have to be settled separately. As it stands now, everything will be completely settled and finished in six months—the divorce, the property, the works."
"Right," Parker snapped furiously. "And three of those six months are supposed to be spent with Farrell!"
"I told you, he specifically said that we wouldn't have to be intimate. And—and that still leaves almost half of every week for us to be together."
"That's certainly fair-minded of the son of a bitch!"
"You're losing your perspective!" Meredith warned, stunned at the belated realization that everything she was saying was angering him more. "He's doing this to retaliate against my father, not because he wants me!"
"Don't bullshit me, Meredith! Farrell's not gay or blind, and he intends to have a piece of you whenever and however he can get it. As you pointed out to me three times in your recitation of the meeting, that bastard's lawyers repeatedly said that Farrell regards himself as your husband! And do you know what I find the most infuriating about all this?"
"No," she said, feeling frustrated tears in her throat, "suppose you tell me, if you can do it without being vulgar and overbearing—"
I'm vulgar and overbearing, am I? Farrell flips you a proposition like this, and I'm the one who's being vulgar and overbearing? I'll tell you what I find the most painful, the most disgusting, about all this—it's that you aren't particularly upset about it! He offers you five million dollars for rolling in the hay with him four times a week, and I'm vulgar? That's what—a hundred thousand dollars or so per time?"
"If you want to get all technical and precise," Meredith flung back as her exhaustion and frustration built to a mindless fury, "he is technically my husband!"
"What the hell am I technically—a wart?"
"No, you're my fiance."
"How much do you intend to charge me?"
"Get out, Parker." She said it quietly. She meant it utterly.
"Fine." He snatched up his coat from the back of the chair, and Meredith tugged her engagement ring off her finger, fighting back tears.
"Here," she said hoarsely, thrusting it at him, "take this with you."