When she handed him the bill, he tossed it aside and regarded her with an expression that made her stomach cramp. "Really?" he jeered. "And just how do you plan to pay your tuition? I've told you I won't pay it, and you can't touch a cent of your inheritance until you're thirty. It's too late to try for a scholarship now, and you'll never qualify for a student loan, so you can forget about it. You will live here at home and go to Maryville. Do you understand me, Meredith?"

Years of suppressed resentment came spilling out, bursting past Meredith's dam of control. "You're completely irrational'!" she cried. "Why can't you understand—"

He stood up slowly, deliberately, his gaze slicing over her with savage contempt. "I understand perfectly!" he sneered furiously. "I understand there are things you want to do—and people you want to do them with— that you know damned well I wouldn't approve of. That's why you want to go to a big university and live on campus! What appeals to you most, Meredith? Is it the opportunity to live in coed dorms with boys swarming through the halls and crawling into your bed? Or is it—"

"You are sick!"

"And you are just like your mother! You've had the best of everything and all you want is the chance to crawl into bed with the scum of the world—"

"Damn you!" Meredith had blazed, stunned by the force of her own uncontrollable rage. "I'll never forgive you for that. Never." Pivoting on her heel, she had headed for the door.

Behind her, his voice boomed like a thunderclap. "Where do you think you're going!"

"Out!" she had flung over her shoulder. "And another thing, I won't be home by midnight. I'm through with curfews!"

"Come back here!" he shouted. Meredith ignored him and walked down the hall and out the front door. Her fury only intensified as she flung herself into the white Porsche he'd given her on her sixteenth birthday. Her father was demented. He was sick! She spent the evening with Lisa and deliberately stayed out until almost three a.m. Her father was waiting up for her when she returned, pacing in the foyer. He roared and called her names that tore at her heart, but for the first time in her life Meredith wasn't intimidated by his wrath. She endured his vicious verbal attack, and with every cruel word he said, her resolve to defy him increased.

Protected from interlopers and sight-seers by a tall iron fence and a guard at the gatehouse, the Glenmoor Country Club sprawled across acres of majestic lawns dotted with flowering shrubs and flower beds. A long, curving drive lit by ornamental gas lamps meandered through stately oak and maple trees to the front door of the club, then curved back again to the main road. The club itself, a rambling three-story white-brick structure with wide pillars marching across its stately facade, was surrounded by two championship golf courses and rows of tennis courts off to the side. At the back, French doors opened onto wide terraces covered with umbrella tables and potted trees. Flagstone steps descended from the lowest terrace to the two Olympic-size pools below. The pools were closed to swimmers tonight, but thick, bright yellow cushions had been left on the chaise longues for those members who might desire to watch the fireworks display from a prone position, or recline between dances when the orchestra came outside to play after that.

Dusk was just beginning to fall as Meredith drove past the main doors where attendants were busy helping members out of their cars. She pulled into the crowded parking lot on the side of the building and parked her car between a gleaming new Rolls belonging to the wealthy founder of a textile mill and an eight-year-old Chevrolet sedan belonging to a much wealthier financier. Normally there was something about dusk that lifted her spirits, but as she got out of her car, she was thoroughly depressed and preoccupied. Other than her clothes, she owned nothing she could sell to raise the money she needed to pay her own college expenses. Her car was in her father's name and her inheritance was under his control. She had exactly $700 in her bank account, $700 to her name. Racking her brain for some way to pay her own tuition, she walked slowly toward the club's main doors.

On special nights like this the club's lifeguards did double duty as parking attendants. One of them hurried up the front steps to hold the door open for her. "Good evening, Miss Bancroft," he said, flashing her a killer smile. He was muscular and good-looking, a med student at the University of Illinois. Meredith knew all that because he'd told her last week when she was trying to sunbathe. "Hello, Chris," she said absently.

In addition to being Independence Day, the Fourth of July also marked the founding of Glenmoor, and the club was alive with laughter and conversation as members with cocktails in their hands wandered from room to room, clad in the tuxedos and evening dresses that were mandatory attire for tonight's dual celebration. The interior of Glenmoor was far less imposing and elegant than some of the newer country clubs around Chicago. The Oriental carpets that covered the polished wood floors were fading, and the sturdy antique furniture in the various rooms created an aura of stuffy complacency rather than glamour. In that respect, Glenmoor was like most of the other premier country clubs in the nation. Old and intensely exclusive, its prestige and desirability came not from its furnishings or even its facilities, but from the social standing of its membership. Wraith alone could not gain one a coveted membership at Glenmoor unless it was also accompanied by sufficient social prominence. On those rare occasions when an applicant for membership met those two standards, he was still required to have the unanimous approval of all fourteen men on Glenmoor's membership committee before submission for comments to the general membership. Those rigid requirements had, in the last few years, scotched the membership aspirations of several newly successful entrepreneurs, countless physicians, innumerable congressmen, a number of players for the White Sox and Bears, and a state supreme court justice.

Meredith, however, was impressed by neither the club's exclusivity nor by its members. They were simply familiar faces, some of whom she knew fairly well, others not well at all. As she walked down the hallway, she nodded and smiled automatically at those people she knew, while she looked into the various rooms for the people she was supposed to meet. One of the dining rooms had been turned into a mock casino for the evening; the other two had been set up for a lavish buffet. All of them were crowded. Below, on the ground floor, an orchestra was tuning up in the club's main banquet room and, judging from the volume of noise coming up the stairwell as she passed it, Meredith assumed there was a crowd down there as well. As she passed the card room, she glanced warily in it. Her father was an inveterate cardplayer, as were most of the other people in the room, but he wasn't there and neither was Jon's group. Having checked out all the rooms on this floor except the club's main lounge, Meredith went there next.

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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