Evidently, Meredith realized with a hysterical, panicky giggle, she really was Matthew Farrell's newest "takeover target." She could not—would not—let herself believe he'd actually been hung up on her for years after their parting. My God, he'd never even said I love you to her when they were married—not even at the height of passion or the afterglow.

She did, however, believe some things he'd told her tonight: He probably had spent those early years working himself into the ground to prove to her, and undoubtedly her father, that he could make a fortune. That sounded just like Matt, she thought with a wry smile—and so did the champagne toast he said he drank to her the night he was worth a million dollars. Vengeful to the very end, she decided with amusement. No wonder he'd become such a force to be reckoned with in the business world! It occurred to her that her thoughts were a little mild, given the circumstances, and she reluctantly faced the reason for that: One other thing that Matt had said was true— there had always been something between them. From the very first night she'd met him, there'd been an immediate and inexplicable rapport that had sprung up between them, a bond that swiftly drew them closer together during those long-ago days at the farm. She'd felt it then, but it came as a shock to discover that Matt had been aware of it too. That same inexplicable rapport had already been struggling to resurface the day of their ill-fated lunch when he had teased her about not knowing what she wanted to drink. It had burst into bloom again at the farm, when she put her hand in his and asked for a truce, then grown stronger, more vibrant, when they sat together in the living room that night, talking about business. In a way, it was almost as if they'd been born friends. It was impossible for her to truly hate Matt for anything.

With a baffled sigh Meredith got up, turned out the lamp, and started toward her bedroom. She was standing beside her bed, unbuttoning her blouse, when the rest of his words, the ones she was adamantly trying not to remember, whispered forcefully through her mind, and her hands stilled on the buttons. Go to bed with me tonight and I'll give you the world. Move in with me, and 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.

Mesmerized by the memory, Meredith stood still, then she gave her head a hard shake and finished unbuttoning her blouse. The man was absolutely lethal. No wonder women fell at his feet. Just the memory of his voice whispering those things in her ear was making her hands tremble! Really, she decided as she tried to suppress a halfhearted smile, if he could bottle all that awesome sex appeal, he wouldn't need to work to make money. Her smile faded as she wondered how many other women he'd offered his paradise to, and then she realized the answer had to be none. In all the rabid press coverage of his personal life, she'd never seen a single piece of information that implied he lived other than alone. She felt unaccountably better now that she'd remembered that. And she was too exhausted from the emotional turmoil of the past two days to wonder if that wasn't a little odd.

When she got into bed, her thoughts turned to Parker and her spirits plummeted. She'd hoped all day that he would call. Despite the way they'd parted, she knew in her heart that neither of them wanted to end their engagement. It dawned on her that perhaps he was waiting for her to call. Tomorrow, she decided, she'd call him tomorrow and try again to make him understand.

Chapter 43

"Mornin', Matt," Joe said as Matt slid into the back seat of the limo at 8:15 the next morning, then he glanced uneasily at the folded newspaper in Matt's hand and added, "Is—is everything okay? With you and your wife, I mean?"

"Not exactly," Matt replied dryly. Ignoring the Chicago Tribune, which he normally read in the car every morning, Matt stretched his legs out in front of him and gazed out the side window. A faint smile played about his mouth as the limo pulled into traffic, and his thoughts drifted to Meredith. Several minutes had passed before Matt noticed that his car was not making its usual daring assault on traffic this morning. Puzzled, he looked up and saw Joe watching him in the rearview mirror. "Something on your mind?" Matt asked.

"No, why?"

"You passed up a chance to cut off that delivery track." Wordlessly, Joe withdrew his gaze from the mirror, stepped on the accelerator, and Matt let his thoughts return pleasurably to Meredith. He let them linger on her until he arrived at Haskell's building, then he forced himself to start thinking of the business day that lay ahead as he got out of the car in the underground garage.

"Good morning, Eleanor," he said with a grin as he walked through his secretary's office and opened his door. "You're looking very well this morning."

"Good morning," she managed to say in an odd, shocked voice. In accordance with their usual morning ritual, she followed him into his office and stood beside his desk with a notepad in one hand, his mail and phone messages in the other, ready to write down his instructions for dealing with each item. Matt saw her gaze ricochet to the newspaper when he tossed it onto his desk, but his attention was diverted by the thick stack of phone messages she was holding. "Who are those calls from?"

"The news media," she replied with disgust as she began flipping through them. "The Tribune has called four times and the Sun-Times has called three. UPI is on hold on my desk right now, and the Associated Press is downstairs in the main lobby, along with the reporters from the local television and radio stations. All four of the major networks have called, so has CNN. People magazine wants to talk to you, but the National Tattler wanted to talk to me—they said they 'want to know the dirt from a secretary's point of view.' I hung up on them. You've also had two crank calls from anonymous individuals who inferred you must be homosexual, and one from Miss Avery, who said to tell you that you are a deceitful bastard. Tom Anderson called to ask if he can do anything to help, and the guard in the lobby phoned for reinforcements to stop the press from barging up here." She paused and glanced at him. "I've already handled that."

Frowning, Matt mentally sorted through the business activities of Intercorp's various companies, trying to think which would have caused a public furor. "What's happened that I don't know about?"

She nodded grimly to the folded newspaper lying on Matt's desk. "Have you opened that paper yet?"

"No," Matt said, reaching for the Tribune and irritably snapping it open, "but if something happened last night to cause an uproar in the press, Anderson should have called me at ho—" He glanced at the front page of the paper and froze, momentarily unable to absorb the shock: Pictures of Meredith, himself, and Parker Reynolds were staring back at him beneath a headline that screamed:

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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