His question pulled her back to less pleasant thoughts: "Would you rather try to forget about the day?"

"I feel guilty about burdening you," Meredith said, though she was longing for his advice and perhaps reassurance.

His lips quirked, and there was a decidedly sensual note in his eyes. "Having you burden me again is a fantasy that kept me awake until dawn." He watched the telltale glow of knowledge and memory in her eyes and he smiled, but he didn't try to distract her further. Sobering, he said, "Let's hear about your day."

With a conscious effort Meredith pulled herself from the sensual spell of his fantasy. "Actually, it's easy to sum up," she said, curling her legs beneath her and twisting toward him. "Last but not least, our stock closed down three points this afternoon."

"It'll come back up once the bomb thing dies down," Matt said.

Nodding, she continued. "This morning, the chairman of the board called. They want an explanation from me about the fight Saturday night. I was talking to him when the first bomb call came through, so we never finished our conversation."

"The bomb scares will distract them for a while."

With a weak attempt at humor, she added, "I guess every cloud really does have a silver lining." Averting her gaze from Matt's quiet scrutiny, she stared out the windows.

"What else is bothering you?"

It was obvious from his insistent tone that Matt knew there was something else and that he fully intended to hear about it. Feeling excruciatingly self-conscious, she looked at him and said, "Could I have more time to arrange financing to buy the Houston land from you? Parker had arranged for another lender to make us the loan since his bank couldn't. Today, when that lender heard about the bomb threats, they called Parker and pulled out of the deal. They said they want to wait and see what happens at Bancroft's for a couple of months."

"It was nice of Reynolds to unload all that on you today," Matt said sarcastically.

"He called to be certain I was all right and to apologize for what happened Saturday. The rest—the part about the money—came up because we'd had a meeting scheduled to negotiate the terms of the loan tomorrow with the new lender. Parker had to tell me the new lender had called off the meeting—" A loud beeping noise from her pager made Meredith stop talking and reach for the purse she'd put down beside the sofa. She removed the pager, looked at the message on it, and with a silent, frustrated moan she let her head fall back against the sofa, her eyes closed. "This is all I needed to make today perfect."

"What's wrong?"

"It's my father," she sighed, reluctantly looking at Matt. The warmth had left his eyes at the mention of her father, and his jaw was rigid. "My father wants me to call him. It's two or three a.m. in Italy. Either he's calling to say hello in the middle of the night, or else he's finally seen a newspaper. May I use your phone?"

Her father was in Rome at the airport, waiting for a flight home, and when his voice exploded over the phone, Matt scowled and Meredith flinched. "What in the living hell are you doing!" he shouted the moment the operator connected him.

"Calm down, please," Meredith began, but there was no calming him.

"Have you lost your mind!" he thundered. "I leave you alone for a couple of weeks and your face is plastered all over the newspapers next to that bastard's face and then we have bomb threats—"

Ignoring the issue of Matt for the time being, Meredith tried to soothe him about that day's bomb scares, which she thought he'd discovered. "Don't give yourself a stroke over them," she pleaded, holding on to her temper and her strained nerves. "All three bombs were found and removed with no harm to anyone—"

"Three!" he roared. "Three bombs? What are you talking about?"

"What were you talking about?" she asked, but too late.

"I was talking about the fake scare in New Orleans," he said, and she could feel him striving for control. "There were three bombs found? When? Where?"

"Today. In New Orleans, Dallas, and here."

"What's happened to our sales?"

"The inevitable happened," she said, trying to sound both matter-of-fact and encouraging. "We had to close down for the day, but we'll make it up later. I'm already working on some sort of special sale—Advertising wants to call it a bomb sale in lieu of a fire sale," she tried to joke.

"What happened to our stock?"

"It was down three points at closing today."

"And Farrell?" he demanded with renewed fury. "What's happening with him? You stay the hell away from him. No more press conferences—nothing!"

He was talking so loud that Matt could hear him, and Meredith looked at him in helpless consternation, but instead of giving her an encouraging smile, or any form of moral support, Matt waited for her to refuse her father's orders, and when she didn't do it immediately, he turned on his heel and walked over to the windows, standing with his back to her.

"Now, listen to me," Meredith pleaded with her father in a shaky, calming voice, "there is no point in working yourself up and having another attack over any of this."

"Don't speak to me like an idiot invalid!" he warned, but his voice was straining and she was certain she heard him pause to swallow a pill. "I'm waiting for an answer about Farrell."

"I don't think we should discuss this on the phone."

"Stop stalling, dammit!" he raged, and Meredith realized that it was probably better to deal with the issue now instead of trying to delay it, since he seemed to be getting more worked up over her evasiveness.

"All right, fine," she said quietly, "we'll deal with it now, if that's what you want." She paused, thinking madly for the best way to go about it. It seemed wisest to first try to relieve him of the anxiety he'd undoubtedly have over whether or not she'd discovered his duplicity eleven years before, so she started there. "I realize you love me and you did what you believed was best eleven years ago..." Taut silence followed that, so she cautiously added, "I'm talking about the telegram you sent Matt telling him I'd had an abortion. I know about it—"

"Where the hell are you right now?" he demanded suspiciously.

"I'm at Matt's apartment."

His voice shook with rage and something that sounded to Meredith like fear. Panic. "I'm coming home. My plane leaves in three hours. Stay away from him! Don't trust him. You don't know that man, I tell you!" Reverting to blazing sarcasm, he added, "See if you can manage to keep us out of bankruptcy until I get there."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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