"What did you tell them?" he asked impassively, and Meredith grasped at his question as a tiny bit of encouragement to continue.
"I told them," she said with a proud tilt of her chin, "what you said they should be told!"
His expression didn't change. "You told them to fuck off?"
"No, not exactly," she said a little contritely. "I told them to go to hell."
He didn't say a word, and her heart was sinking when she suddenly saw it—the amused gleam in his beautiful eyes, the faint quirk of a smile dawning at his lips. "And then," she continued as hope burst in her like sunshine, "your attorney called to tell me that if I didn't file for a divorce within six days, he was going to file in your behalf on the seventh day. And I told him ..."
She trailed off, and with warm humor in his voice, Matt asked helpfully, "And you told him to go to hell too?"
"No, I told him to fuck off!"
He waited for her to say more, his eyes looking deeply into hers. "And?" he prodded quietly.
"And I'm thinking of taking a trip," she said. "I—I'm going to have a lot of time on my hands now."
"You took a leave of absence?"
"No, I resigned."
"I see," he said, but his voice had suddenly softened to a caress, and she wanted to drown herself in the look in his eyes. "What kind of trip did you have in mind, Meredith?"
"If you're still willing to take me there," she said, swallowing almost painfully, "I thought I'd like to see paradise."
He didn't move or speak, and for a horrible moment Meredith thought she'd been wrong, that she'd only imagined he still cared.
And then she realized he was holding out his hand for hers.
Tears of joy and relief sprang to her eyes as she laid her hand in his palm, feeling his fingers engulf hers in their warm strength, closing tightly on her hand, and then abruptly yanking her forward into arms that wrapped around her like steel bands.
Shielding her from view with his shoulders, he turned her face up to his. "I love you!" he whispered fiercely an instant before he seized her mouth in a smoldering kiss. A flash exploded somewhere as a photographer raised his camera, followed by another, and another. Someone started to clap, and the clapping became bursting applause, and the applause was joined with laughter, and still the kiss went on.
Meredith didn't notice. She was kissing him back, melting against him, utterly oblivious to all of it... the cheering, the clapping, the laughter, the white flashes from raised cameras. She was already halfway to her destination.
With her eyes closed and a smile on her lips, Meredith awakened slowly in Matt's bed, letting memories of the previous night drift lazily through her mind like soft music. Together they had mingled with their guests, enduring the good-natured jibes about their prolonged kiss and obvious reconciliation, and she had loved playing the part of his hostess. After the party, in bed with him, she'd loved playing the part of his wife a thousand times more. Trust and commitment, she sleepily decided, evidently had a very profound effect on lovemaking, because last night's stormy lovemaking had completely eclipsed everything else that had gone before.
Sunlight filtered through the draperies across the room, and she rolled over onto her back, opening her eyes. Matt had kissed her good-bye a while ago, and said he was going out to get some sweet rolls for their breakfast. He'd left a cup of coffee on the table beside the bed for her, and she eased up onto the pillows.
She'd just taken a sip when he walked into the room with a white bakery bag in his hand, a folded newspaper under his arm, and an odd, tense expression on his handsome face. "Good morning," she said, smiling as he bent over to kiss her. "What's that?" she added, noting the tabloid-size paper.
Matt had promised her last night never to keep things from her, but at that moment he'd have preferred a public flogging to showing her that newspaper. "It's the Tattler, "he said. "I saw it when I was paying for the sweet rolls. Somehow," he added as he reluctantly held it toward her, "they discovered the terms of our eleven-week agreement, and they've interpreted them in their own inimitable fashion." He watched her reach for it, remembering her disgust at the kind of sensational publicity he'd gotten over the years, knowing that this sort of treatment was going to continue to plague her in the future, partly because she was married to him, and partly because of the public fascination with their aborted divorce. Bracing himself for some sort of condemnation, or an explosion of justifiable outrage, he watched her unfold it and look at it.
Meredith's gaze riveted on the lurid headline:
HEIRESS CHARGES HUSBAND $113,000 A NIGHT FOR SEX
"I couldn't figure at first how they came up with that figure," Matt said. "Then it hit me. They multiplied four dates a week times eleven weeks and divided that into the five million 1 promised you. I'm sorry," he said. "If I could control it, I—"
Suddenly she pulled the newspaper against her face and let out a shriek of laughter that drowned out his apology. She laughed so hard that she slid limply down the pillows while the room filled with her musical hilarity. "One hundred and th-thirteen th-thousand dollars," she choked, her shoulders lifting off the bed, and Matt broke into a grin of profound relief that turned to tenderness, because he knew what she was doing: She was confronting something she hated and finding a way to deal with it so it couldn't harm them.
"Have I ever told you," he whispered huskily, leaning down and bracing his hands on either side of her heaving shoulders, "how proud I am of you?"
She shook her head hard, still laughing, and he pulled the paper away from her face and kissed her flushed cheeks, silencing her giggles with his mouth.
"Are y-you sure," she whispered, overcome with a fresh surge of hilarity even while she put her arms around his shoulders and pulled him down to her, knowing he wanted to make love again, "that you can a-afford to do this again?"
"I think it's within my budget," he tried to tease, but his hand trembled as he reverently smoothed a strand of golden hair off her cheek.
"Yes, but now that I've accepted this as a permanent job, do I get periodic wage increases too—over and above the one hundred thirteen thousand?" she joked, her hands cradling his face, her swimming eyes looking into his, "and a benefits package, with medical insurance and guaranteed bonuses?"
"Absolutely," he promised, turning his face into her hand and kissing her palm.