"Of course I will, Mr. Bancroft," Lisa said quickly. "And I'm very sorry about your father."

When he left, Lisa looked at Meredith, who was staring blankly at the empty doorway. "Mer? Are you okay?"

"I guess so," Meredith said in an odd voice.

"Is this grandfather the guy who married his secretary years ago?"

Meredith nodded. "He and my father didn't get along very well. I haven't seen him since I was eleven. He called though, to talk to my father about things at the store, and to me. He was—he was—I liked him," she finished helplessly. "He liked me too." She looked up at Lisa, her eyes glazed with sorrow. "Besides my father, he was my only close relative. All I have left are a few fifth or sixth cousins who I don't even know."

Chapter 7

In the foyer of Philip Bancroft's house, Jonathan Sommers hesitated uneasily, searching through the crowds of people who, like himself, had come to pay the obligatory condolence visit on the day of Cyril Bancroft's funeral. He stopped one of the caterer's staff who was carrying a tray of drinks and helped himself to two that had been destined for other guests. After tossing down the vodka and tonic, Jonathan deposited the empty glass in a large potted fern, then he took a swallow of the scotch in the second glass and wrinkled his nose because it wasn't Chivas Regal. The vodka, combined with gin he'd drunk from a flask in the car outside, made him feel slightly better fortified to face the funeral amenities. Beside him, a tiny elderly woman was leaning on a cane, studying him with curiosity. Since good manners seemed to require that he speak to her, Jon cast about for some sort of polite conversation pertinent to the occasion. "I hate funerals, don't you?" he said.

"I rather like them," she said smugly. "At my age, I regard each funeral I attend as a personal triumph, because I was not the guest of honor."

He swallowed a bark of laughter, because loud laughter on this austere occasion would be a severe breach of the etiquette he'd been taught to observe. Excusing himself, he put the unfinished scotch down on a small table beside him and went off in search of a better drink. Behind him, the elderly lady picked up the glass and took a dainty sip. "Cheap scotch!" she said in disgust, and put it back where he'd left it.

A few minutes later Jon spotted Parker Reynolds standing in an alcove off the living room with two young women and another man. After stopping at the buffet table to get another drink, he walked over to join his friends. "Great party, isn't it," he remarked with a sarcastic smile.

"I thought you hated funerals and never went to them," Parker said when the chorus of greetings was over.

"I do hate them. I'm not here to mourn Cyril Bancroft, I'm here today to protect my inheritance." Jon took a swallow of his drink, trying to wash away the bitterness he felt over what he was about to say. "My father is threatening to disinherit me again, only I think the old bastard really means it this time."

Leigh Ackerman, a pretty brunette with a lovely figure, looked at him in amused disbelief. "Your father is going to disinherit you if you don't attend funerals?"

"No, my lovely, my father is threatening to disinherit me if I don't 'straighten up' and make something of myself immediately. Translated, that means I am to appear at funerals of old family friends such as this one, and I am to participate in our family's newest business venture. Or else I'm cut off from all that lovely money my family has."

"Sounds dire," Parker said with an unsympathetic grin. "What new business venture have you been assigned to?"

"Oil wells," he said. "More oil wells. This time my old man has cut a deal with the Venezuelan government to carry out exploration operations over there."

Shelly Fillmore glanced at the small gilt-framed mirror over Jon's shoulder and touched a finger to the corner of her mouth, smoothing a tiny smudge of vermilion lipstick. "Don't tell me he's sending you to South America?"

"Nothing as essential as that," Jon scoffed bitterly. "My father is turning me into a glorified personnel interviewer. He put me in charge of hiring the crews to go over there. And then you know what the old bastard did?"

His friends were as accustomed to Jon's tirades against his father as they were to his drunkenness, but they waited to hear his newest complaints, anyway. "What did he do?" Doug Chalfont asked.

"He checked up on me. After I picked out the first fifteen able-bodied, experienced men, my old man insisted on meeting everyone I'd interviewed personally so that he could rate my ability to choose men. He rejected half of my choices. The only one he really liked was this guy named Farrell, who's a steelworker and who I wasn't going to hire. The closest Farrell's ever been to an oil rig was two years ago, when he worked on a few little ones in some damned cornfield in Indiana. He's never been near a big rig like we'll have in South America. Furthermore, Farrell doesn't give a damn about oil drilling. His only interest is the one-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollar bonus he'll get if he sticks it out for two years over there. He told my father that right to his face."

"So why did your father hire him?"

"He said he liked Farrell's style," Jon sneered, tossing down the rest of his drink. "He liked Farrell's ideas about what he planned to do with the bonus when he gets it. Shit, I half expected my father to change his mind about sending Farrell to Venezuela and offer him my office instead. As it is, I have been ordered to bring Farrell in next month and 'acquaint him with our operation and introduce him around.'"

"Jon," Leigh said calmly, "you're getting drunk and your voice is getting loud."

"Sorry," he said, "but I've had to listen to my father singing this guy's praises for two damned days. I'm telling you, Farrell is an arrogant, ambitious son of a bitch. He has no class, no money, no nothing!"

"He sounds divine," Leigh joked.

When the other three remained silent, Jon said defensively, "If you think I'm exaggerating, I'll bring him to the Fourth of July dance at the club and you can all see for yourself what sort of man my father thinks I ought to be."

"Don't be an idiot," Shelly warned him. "Your father may like him as an employee, but he'll castrate you if you bring someone like that to Glenmoor."

"I know," Jon said with a tight smile, "but it would be worth it."

"Just don't dump him on us if you bring him there," she warned after exchanging glances with Leigh. "We aren't going to spend the evening trying to make small talk with some steelworker just so you can spite your father."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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