It had taken nearly a year and two long consultations with her obstetricians, who specialized in problem pregnancies, to convince Matt that whatever the outcome of her pregnancy might be, if Meredith followed their instructions and treatments impeccably, including staying in bed for part of her pregnancy, the risk to Meredith herself would be only slightly more than to any woman. It had taken another nine months to hear the words she'd finally heard today: "Congratulations, Mrs. Farrell. You're pregnant."
On an impulse she crossed the street and bought a fistful of roses from a florist shop, then she walked down the block to where Joe was waiting with the car, surprising him by arriving from a different direction. She opened the door herself and slid into the backseat.
Joe looped his arm over the back of the seat and twisted toward her. "What'd the doc say?"
Meredith looked up at him, her face glowing with wonder and awe. And she smiled.
A broad answering grin split Joe's face. "Matt's gonna be one happy man!" he predicted. "After he gets over bein' one very scared man!" Turning back, he put the limousine into gear.
Meredith braced herself to be thrown against the back of the seat when he blasted away from the curb in his usual fashion, but Joe passed up three opportunities to charge into traffic and two more perfectly reasonable chances to do it at moderate speed. Not until there was no one behind them for a block did he finally pull out, and then he did it ever so slowly, as carefully and tenderly as if he were pushing a baby carriage. In the backseat Meredith burst out laughing.
Matt was waiting for her, pacing back and forth across the living room windows, raking his hand through his hair, berating himself for ever agreeing to let her try to get pregnant. He knew she thought she was, and he was half hoping she was wrong, because he didn't know how he was going to endure the fear if she was right.
He lurched around as the front door opened, watching her as she walked toward him with one hand behind her back. "What did the doctor say?" he demanded when he couldn't stand the suspense anymore.
She produced a dozen long-stemmed roses from behind her and held them out to him, her smile bursting out like sunshine. "Congratulations, Mr. Farrell. We're pregnant!"
He yanked her into his arms, crushing the roses between them. "God help me!" he whispered raggedly.
"He will, darling," she promised, kissing his taut jaw.
"Told you we'd make it in time," Joe O'Hara said as he brought the limousine to a screeching stop in front of Bancroft & Company. For once Matt appreciated his driving, because Meredith was late for a very important meeting with the board. Their plane had been late getting in from Italy, where they'd stopped to visit Philip and Caroline on their way back from skiing in Switzerland.
"Here," Matt told O'Hara, handing the chauffeur the briefcase he'd brought to the airport with Meredith's meeting notes in it. "You take Meredith's briefcase, and I'll take Meredith."
"You'll what?" Meredith asked, looking over her shoulder as she reached into the backseat for the crutch she had to use until her sprained ankle healed.
"You don't have time to hobble all the way to the elevators," Matt said, and swept her into his arms.
"This is very undignified," Meredith protested, laughing. "You can't carry me through the store like this!"
"Watch me," he said, grinning.
And he did.
Shoppers turned to gape as he strode toward them. At one of the cosmetic counters, a middle-aged woman exclaimed to her friend, "Isn't that Meredith Bancroft and Matthew Farrell?"
"No, it can't be them," a shopper at the counter across the aisle replied. Meredith turned her face into Matt's chest, her shoulders shaking with embarrassed mirth as the woman continued. "I read in the Tattler that they're getting a divorce! She's going to marry Kevin Costner and Matt Farrell is in Greece with some movie star."
When they reached the elevators, Meredith lifted her laughing eyes to Matt's. "Shame on you," she joked. "Another movie star?"
"Kevin Costner?" he retorted, brows raised in amused challenge. "I didn't even know you liked Kevin Costner!"
In Meredith's office he put her down so that she could limp into the meeting on her own two feet.
"Lisa and Parker said they'd meet us here with the baby and have lunch with us," she added, looking a little anxiously toward the empty reception area outside.
"I'll wait here for them," Matt promised, handing her the briefcase.
A few minutes later Matt turned as Lisa appeared in the doorway, a baby in her arms. "Parker dropped us off in front," she explained. "He'll be up in a few minutes."
"You're looking," Matt teased with a grin, "very pregnant, Mrs. Reynolds," but his eyes were on the six-month-old baby in her arms, and he was already reaching out to take her.
"I'll go watch for Parker," Lisa said.
When she left, Matt looked down at the baby girl that Meredith had risked her life to bring into the world.
Marissa opened her eyes just then and started to cry. With a tender smile Matt touched his finger to her soft cheek. "Shhh, darling," he whispered. "Future presidents of major corporations don't cry—it's bad corporate protocol. Ask your mommy," he suggested.
She quieted, and after a moment she grinned at him and gurgled something that sounded profound. "I knew it!" he said, grinning back at her. "Aunt Lisa's been teaching you Italian right along with Uncle Parker, hasn't she?"
With time on his hands before Meredith finished her meeting, Matt took his daughter to the eleventh floor to show her his favorite department. It was a new department that Meredith had created for all the Bancroft & Company stores, and it contained articles from all over the world, from jewels to clothing to handmade toys. The only thing they had in common was that they met Meredith's requirement: Each article had to be rare, and it had to be perfect before it was allowed to bear the exclusive new logo that was already famous for symbolizing perfection.
With Marissa in his arms, Matt looked up at the logo above Meredith's special department, and he felt the same constriction in his throat that he felt whenever he stood here. The logo was a pair of hands; a man's hand reaching out for a woman's hand, their fingers touching.
Meredith had named the department Paradise.