"That statement is an outrageous exaggeration, and you damned well know it!" In skeptical silence she raised her brows. "Dammit!" Matt swore, angrily shoving a hand through the side of his hair. "I didn't expect this. Not this." He walked away from her, then he turned on his heel, his voice ringing with harsh irony. "Will it help convince you if I admit that you haunted me for years after our divorce? Well, you did! Would you like to know why I worked myself into the ground and took insane gambles, trying to double and triple every cent I made? Would you like to know what I did the day my net worth actually reached one million dollars?"
Dazed, incredulous, and unwillingly enthralled, Meredith stared at him, and without meaning to she nodded slightly.
"I did it," he snapped, "out of some obsessive, demented determination to prove to you I could do it! The night an investment paid off and put me over the one-million-dollar mark, I opened a bottle of champagne, and I toasted you with it. It wasn't a friendly toast, but it was eloquent in its way. I said, To you, my mercenary wife—may you long regret the day you turned your back on me."
"Shall I tell you," he continued bitterly, "how I felt when I finally realized that every woman I took to bed was blond, like you, with blue eyes, like yours, and that I was unconsciously making love to you?"
"That's disgusting," Meredith whispered, her eyes wide with shock.
"That's exactly how I felt!" He walked back to stand in front of her, and he softened his voice, but not much. "And since we're having confession time here, it's your turn."
"What do you mean?" Meredith said, unable to believe everything he'd said, and yet half convinced that somehow he was telling her what he believed was true.
"Let's start with your incredulous reaction when I said I think there's been something between us all this time."
"There is nothing between us!"
"You don't find it odd that neither of us remarried during all these years?"
"And, at the farm, when you asked for a truce, you weren't feeling anything for me then?"
"No!" Meredith said, but she was lying and she knew it.
"Or in my office," he demanded, firing questions at her like an inquisitor, "when I asked you for a truce?"
"I didn't feel anything, either of those times, except ... except a casual sort of friendship," she said a little desperately.
"And you're in love with Reynolds?"
"Then what the hell were you doing in bed with me last weekend?"
Meredith drew a shaky breath. "Well, it was something that just happened. It didn't mean anything. We were trying to comfort each other, that's all. It was... pleasant enough, but no more than that."
"Don't lie to me! We couldn't get enough of each other in that bed, and you damned well know it!" When she remained stubbornly, resistantly silent, he pushed her harder. "And you have absolutely no desire to make love with me again, is that it?"
"How would you like to give me five minutes to prove you're wrong?"
"I wouldn't," Meredith flung back.
"Do you honestly think," he said more quietly, "I'm naive enough not to know you wanted me as badly as I wanted you, that day in bed?"
"I'm sure you're experienced enough to gauge how a woman feels to within a fraction of a sigh!" she shot back, too angry to realize what she was admitting as she added, "But at the risk of wounding your damnable confidence, I'll tell you exactly how I felt that day! I felt like I've always felt in bed with you—naive, clumsy, and gauche!"
He looked ready to explode. "You what?"
"You heard me," she said, but her satisfaction at his stunned reaction was short-lived, because instead of being enraged at his overestimation of her feelings, he put his hand against the mantel for support and started to laugh. He laughed until Meredith got so angry that she tried to move away, and then he sobered abruptly.
"I'm sorry," he said contritely, a strange, tender light in his eyes. Lifting his hand, Matt laid it against her smooth cheek, amazed and shamelessly delighted that for all her innate sensuality, she obviously hadn't slept around very much. If she had, instead of feeling gauche in bed with him, she'd surely know she turned his body into an inferno with a simple touch. "God, you are lovely," he whispered. "Inside and out." He bent his head, intending to kiss her, but she turned her face away, so he kissed her ear.
"If you'll kiss me back," he whispered huskily, brushing his lips along the curve of her jaw, "I'll make it six million. If you'll go to bed with me tonight," he continued, losing himself in the scent of her perfume and the softness of her skin, "I'll give you the world. But if you'll move in with me," he continued, dragging his mouth across her cheek to the corner of her lips, "I'll do much better than that."
Unable to turn her face farther because his arm was in the way, and unable to turn her body because his body was in the way, Meredith tried to infuse disdain in her voice and simultaneously ignore the arousing touch of his tongue against her ear. "Six million dollars and the whole world!" she said in a slightly shaky voice. "What else could you possibly give me if I move in with you?"
"Paradise." Lifting his head, Matt took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and forced her to meet his gaze. In an aching, solemn voice he said, "I'll give you paradise on a gold platter. Anything you want— everything you want. I come with it, of course. It's a package deal." Meredith swallowed audibly, mesmerized by the melting look in his silver eyes and the rich timbre of his deep voice. "We'll be a family," he continued, describing the paradise he was offering while he bent his head to her again. "We'll have children ... I'd like six," he teased, his lips against her temple. "But I'll settle for one. You don't have to decide now." She drew in a ragged breath and Matt decided he'd pushed matters as far as he dared for one night. Straightening abruptly, he chucked her under her chin. "Think about it," he suggested with a grin.
Meredith watched in a stupor of shock and disbelief as he turned and headed to the door without another word. It closed behind him, and she stared at it, riveted to the spot, her mind trying to absorb everything he'd said. Reaching blindly for the back of a chair, she walked around it and sank into it, not sure whether to laugh or cry. He had to be lying. He had to be crazy. That alone would explain his resolute pursuit of a foolish goal he'd evidently set for himself eleven years earlier—of proving he was good enough to be married to her, to a Bancroft. She'd read articles about his occasional business clashes with competitive companies or takeover targets, and they'd implied that he was almost inhumanly single-minded.