He snatched up the paper, scanning the accompanying story, his jaw clenching.

Last night, police in Belleville, Illinois, arrested Stanislaus Spyzhalski, 45, on charges of fraud and practicing law without a license. According to the Belleville police department, Spyzhalski has confessed to duping hundreds of clients over the past fifteen years by falsifying judges' signatures on documents that he never filed, including a divorce decree which he claims to have been hired to obtain a decade ago for department store heiress Meredith Bancroft from her alleged husband, industrialist Matthew Farrell. Meredith Bancroft, whose impending marriage to financier Parker Reynolds was announced this month ...

With a savage curse Matt looked up from the story, rapidly calculating the possible consequences of all this, then he looked at his secretary, and began issuing rapid-fire instructions: "Get Pearson and Levinson on the phone, then find my pilot. Call Joe O'Hara in the car and tell him to stand by for instructions, and get my wife on the phone."

She nodded and left, and Matt finished scanning the article.

Officials say they were originally alerted to Spyzhalski by a Belleville man who tried to obtain a copy of his marriage annulment from the St. Clair County courthouse. Belleville police have already recovered some of Spyzhalski's files, but the suspect has refused to turn over the rest prior to his hearing tomorrow, where he plans to represent himself. Neither Farrell, Bancroft, nor Reynolds were available for comment tonight. ... Details of the alleged Bancroft-Farrell divorce remain undivulged, but a spokesman for the Belleville police department said that they are confident that Spyzhalski, who they describe as flamboyant and unrepentant, will provide them ...

Matt's heart froze at the thought of the details of the divorce being divulged. Meredith had divorced him on grounds of desertion and mental cruelty, which, respectively, would make his proud young wife look pitiful and helpless when the press got through with her. Neither image was anything but devastating for the temporary president of a national corporation who hoped to be permanently appointed to that post when her father retired.

The story was continued on page three, and Matt yanked the page over and ground his teeth at what he saw. Beneath a bold caption that read Menage à Trois? there was a picture of Meredith smiling at Parker as they danced at some Chicago charity affair, and a similar picture of Matt—dancing with a redhead at a charity ball in New York. Beneath those was a story that began with a report about Meredith having snubbed Matt at the opera a few weeks before, and then went into the details of their individual dating habits. Matt punched the intercom button just as Eleanor hurried into his office. "What the hell's happening with those calls?" he demanded.

"Pearson and Levinson aren't expected in until nine," she recited. "Your pilot is doing a check flight right now with the new engine, and I left word for him to call the instant he lands, which should be in about twenty minutes. Joe O'Hara is on his way back here with the car. I told him to wait in the parking garage, to avoid the reporters in the lobby—"

"What about my wife?" Matt interrupted, unaware that he'd automatically called her that for the second time in five minutes.

Even Eleanor looked tense. "Her secretary says she's not in yet, and that even if she was, Miss Bancroft's instructions were to tell you that all future communications between the two of you are to be handled through your lawyers."

"That's changed," Matt said shortly. Reaching up, he ran a hand around his nape, absently rubbing the tense muscles, wanting to get to Meredith before she tried to deal with the press on her own. "How did her secretary sound when you talked to her—did she sound like everything was normal over there?"

"She sounded like she was under siege."

"That means she's getting the same calls you've gotten this morning." Moving out from behind his desk, Matt grabbed his coat, and headed for the door. "Have the attorneys and the pilot call me at her number," he ordered. "And call our public relations department. Tell whoever's in charge to keep the press on ice here and not to antagonize them. In fact, treat them very nicely and promise them a statement this afternoon at—one o'clock. I'll call from Meredith's office and notify P.R. where to tell them to assemble this afternoon. In the meantime, give them a damned brunch or something while they're waiting."

"You're serious about the food?" she said, knowing his normal method of dealing with the press when they intruded on his private life was either to avoid them or to tell them, in slightly different words, to go to hell.

"I'm serious," Matt gritted out. He paused at the door for one last instruction. "Get through to Parker Reynolds. He'll be surrounded by press too. Tell him to call me at Meredith's office, and in the meantime tell him he is to tell the press exactly what we're telling them here."

At 8:35 Meredith stepped off the elevator and headed toward her office, glad of the chance to work and escape the thoughts of Matt that had kept her awake most of the night and then made her oversleep. Here, at least, she'd be forced to put her personal problems aside and concentrate on business.

"Good morning, Kathy," she said to the receptionist, then she glanced around at the nearly deserted area. The executives, who worked late hours, rarely came in before nine o'clock, but the clerical staff was normally in evidence long before now, ready to go to work promptly at 8:30. "Where is everyone? What's going on?" she asked.

Kathy gaped at her and swallowed nervously. "Phyllis went downstairs to talk to security. She's having your phone calls held at the switchboard. Nearly everyone else is in the coffee room, I think."

Frowning, Meredith listened to the persistent ringing of unanswered telephones up and down the corridor. "Is it someone's birthday?" she asked. It was a ritual for everyone on the two administrative floors to wander up to the coffee room sometime during the day to have coffee and cake on the occasion of an employee's birthday, but never before had that created such an unusual and unacceptable dearth of needed personnel. Her own birthday was two days away on Saturday, Meredith realized, and for a split second she wondered if there was some sort of early surprise party being given for her.

"I don't think it's a party," Kathy said uneasily.

"Oh," Meredith said, dumbfounded by this unprecedented negligence on the part of a normally conscientious clerical staff. Stopping in her office to drop off her coat and briefcase, she headed directly for the coffee room. The minute she walked over to the coffeepots, two dozen pairs of eyes riveted on her. "It sounds like a fire drill out there, ladies and gentlemen," Meredith said with a matter-of-fact smile, dimly surprised by the taut silence and gaping stares of the assembly, who all seemed to be clutching newspapers. "How about answering some of those phones?" she added—needlessly, because they were already stampeding out of there, mumbling "good morning" and "excuse me."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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