His deliberate, congenial use of Parker's and Meredith's first names caused a momentary startled silence, but the anticipated pandemonium erupted almost instantly with questions being shouted from everywhere—the loudest from a CBS reporter in the front row: "Mr. Farrell, why was your marriage to Miss Bancroft kept secret?"
"If you're asking why you didn't know about it at the time," Matt replied smoothly, "the answer is that neither Meredith nor I were of any particular public interest eleven years ago."
"Mr. Reynolds," a Chicago Sun-Times reporter called out, "will your marriage to Miss Bancroft be postponed?"
Parker's smile was brief and cool. "As you heard in the statement that was read, Meredith and F—and Matt," he corrected himself trying to smile pleasantly at Matt, "will have to go through the process of a legal divorce. Naturally, our marriage will have to be postponed until that's final. To do otherwise would make Meredith guilty of bigamy."
The word bigamy was a mistake, and the instant he said it, Meredith could sense Parker's anger with himself. She could also feel the reporters' collective mood switch from the relaxed one Matt had tried to create to one of businesslike intensity. Even the questions changed in tone: "Mr. Farrell, have you and Miss Bancroft filed for a divorce yet?" a reporter demanded. "If so, on what grounds and where?"
"No," Matt said, smoothly stepping in. "We haven't yet."
"Why not?" a woman from WBBM demanded.
Matt gave her a look of comic chagrin. "My confidence in attorneys is a little low right now. Would you care to recommend one?"
Meredith knew how hard he was trying to keep the mood light, and when the next question was fired at her, she swore to help him by doing her share. "Miss Bancroft," a man from USA Today was shouting, "how do you feel about all this?" She saw Matt lean slightly forward and open his mouth to try to fend the question off, but she stepped in herself. "The truth is," she said with an unconsciously endearing smile, "I haven't felt this painfully conspicuous since I had to walk onstage in the sixth-grade nutrition play, dressed up like a prune."
Her unexpected reply startled shouts of laughter from the crowd, but Matt's unguarded reaction caused flashes to explode all over the room as he turned his head and gazed down at her with a startled, beaming grin.
The question Meredith had dreaded came next: "Mr. Farrell, on what grounds did you two file for divorce eleven years ago?"
"We aren't certain," Matt joked with the woman reporter, giving her a disarming smile. "We've discovered that the documents we each received from Spyzhalski don't match."
"For Miss Bancroft," a Tribune reporter said, and when Meredith looked at her she said, "Could you tell us why your marriage broke up?"
Meredith knew this was one question Matt couldn't answer for her and desperation provided inspiration. In what she hoped was an amused voice, she said ruefully, "At the time, I seemed to think that life with Mr. Farrell might be ... boring." While they were still laughing, she added more seriously, "I was a city girl, and very young, and Matt left for the wilds of South America just a few weeks after we were married. Our lives were on very different courses."
"Is there any chance of a reconciliation?" an NBC newsman asked.
"Of course not," Meredith replied automatically.
"That's ridiculous after all these years," Parker added.
"Mr. Farrell?" the same newsman prodded. "Would you care to answer that question?"
"No," he said implacably.
"Is that your answer, or are you declining to answer?"
"Take it whichever way you'd like," Matt replied with a slight smile that didn't reach his eyes, then he nodded to another reporter to ask his question. They came fast and furious, but the worst ones had already been asked, and Meredith let the noise swirl around her, feeling at the audience and said, "Our time is about up. We all hope that you've had your questions answered. Parker," he said with an admirable imitation of conviviality, "do you have anything to add?"
Parker matched his smile. "I think everything has already been said that needed to be, Matt. Now let's clear out of here and let Meredith get back to running this place."
"Before you go," one woman called out imperatively, ignoring the attempt to close the conference, "I'd like to say that you—all three of you are handling this with extraordinary grace. Particularly you, Mr. Reynolds, since you're rather caught in the middle of something you had no control over—then or now. One might expect you to be feeling a certain amount of antagonism for Mr. Farrell for partially causing the delay of your marriage to Miss Bancroft."
"There's no reason for antagonism," Parker said with a killer smile. "Matt Farrell and I are civilized men and we're handling this in the friendliest of ways. We—all three of us—are caught in unusual circumstances that can and will be easily remedied. In fact, this whole problem is little different from a business contract that wasn't properly executed originally and now has to have the T's crossed."
Lisa was waiting in the wings to catch Meredith's hand and give her a hug. "Come upstairs with us," Meredith whispered, hoping Lisa's presence might force Matt and Parker to behave more civilly to each other. As they rode upstairs in the same elevator that was crowded with shoppers, a woman in the back nudged the woman beside her. "That's Meredith Bancroft with her husband and her fiancé," she said in a carrying whisper. "One of each—isn't that something? And that's Matthew Farrell, the husband. He dates movie stars!"
Meredith's color rose at the first sentence, but no one said anything until they were safely within the privacy of Meredith's office. Lisa broke the silence by giving Meredith another hug and a laughing look. "You were wonderful, Mer! Brilliant!"
"I wouldn't go that far," Meredith said weakly.
"No, you were! I couldn't believe it when you said you'd had to dress up like a prune in the sixth grade. That's not at all like your usual proper self." Turning to Matt, she added, "You have an excellent effect on her."
"Don't you have something you're being paid to do?" Parker snapped.
Lisa, who worked incredibly long hours, often after the store was closed, shrugged. "I put in more hours here than I'm paid for as it is."
"I do have things I have to do," Meredith said wryly. Parker stepped forward and kissed her cheek. Smiling into her eyes, he said, "I'll see you Saturday night."