Matt reluctantly dragged his hand from her bared breast. His family. He'd forgotten about all that. Downstairs it had been obvious that his father had leapt to the correct conclusion as to the reason for their sudden marriage—and the wrong conclusions about the sort of woman Meredith was. He needed to go downstairs and straighten that out, he did not need to reinforce his father's opinion that Meredith was a rich slut by staying up in this bedroom with her right now. He was amazed he'd forgotten that; he was more amazed by his unparalleled lack of control where she was concerned. Slow, gorgeous lovemaking hadn't been what he'd intended just then—swift, total possession had been his goal, and that had never happened to him before.

Tipping his head back, Matt drew a steadying breath and got off the bed, removing himself from the proximity of temptation. Leaning a shoulder against the bedpost, he watched her scoot up into a sitting position. She glanced uneasily at him, hastily straightening her clothes, and he grinned as she modestly covered the breasts he'd been kissing and caressing a moment before. "At the risk of sounding outrageously impulsive," he remarked casually, "I'm beginning to find the notion of a marriage in name only not only gothic, but impractical. It's obvious we have a strong sexual attraction to each other. We've also made a baby together. Maybe we ought to consider taking a shot at living like married people. Who knows," he added, lifting his broad shoulders in a shrug, a smile tugging at his lips, "we might like it"

Meredith wouldn't have been more surprised if he'd grown wings and started flying around the room, then she realized he was merely tossing the idea around as a possibility, not making a suggestion. Torn between resentment at his offhand attitude and an odd kind of pleasure and gratitude that he'd even brought the idea up, she said nothing.

"There's no hurry," he added with a roguish grin as he straightened. "We have a few days to make up our minds."

When he left, Meredith stared at the closed door in exhausted disbelief, completely dazed by the speed with which he reached conclusions, gave orders, and switched directions. There were very distinct and startlingly different sides to Matthew Farrell, and she wasn't at all certain who he really was. The night she met him, she'd seen a chilling harshness in him; yet, that same night, he had smiled at her jokes, quietly talked to her about himself, kissed her into insensibility, and made love to her with demanding passion and exquisite tenderness. Even so, she had a feeling that the gentleness he nearly always showed her wasn't necessarily his norm, and that he wasn't to be underestimated. She had an even stronger feeling that whatever Matthew Farrell chose to do with the rest of his life, someday he was going to be a force to be reckoned with. She fell asleep thinking he already was a force to be reckoned with.

Whatever Matt had said to his father before Meredith came down to dinner was evidently effective, because Patrick Farrell seemed to accept without further challenge the fact that they were getting married. Even so, it was Julie's determined chatter that kept the meal from being a nerve-racking ordeal for Meredith. Matt was generally silent and thoughtful during most of it. At the same time, he seemed to dominate the room and even the conversation, simply by being present and listening to what was being said.

Patrick Farrell, who should have been the head of the household, had clearly abdicated that role to Matt. A slender, brooding man with a face that bore traces of dissipation and tragedy, he deferred to Matt whenever a question came up about who ought to do what. Meredith thought him both pitiful and somehow frightening, and she continued to feel that he didn't particularly like her either.

Julie, who seemed to have willingly accepted the role of cook and housekeeper to the two men, was like a Fourth of July sparkler, every thought she had burst from her lips in a torrent of enthusiastic words. Her devotion to Matt was obvious and total; she jumped up to get him coffee, asked his advice, and listened to whatever he said as if God Himself were rendering an opinion. Meredith, who was trying desperately not to think about her own problems, wondered how Julie had kept her enthusiasm and optimism here; she wondered how any girl who seemed as bright as Julie could willingly forsake some sort of career for a future of looking after her father, which Meredith assumed was what she planned to do. Immersed in her thoughts, it took Meredith a moment to realize Julie was talking to her.

"There's a department store in Chicago called Bancroft's," Julie told her. "I see their ads in Seventeen sometimes, but mostly in Vogue. They have fantastic stuff. Matt brought me a silk scarf from there once. Do you ever shop there?"

Meredith nodded, her smile unconsciously warming at the mention of the store, but she didn't elaborate. There hadn't been time to tell Matt of her connection to Bancroft's, and Patrick had already reacted so negatively to her car that she didn't want to do it there. Unfortunately, Julie gave her no choice.

"Are you any relation to those Bancrofts—the people who own the department store, I mean?"


"A close relation?"

"Pretty close," she said, helplessly amused by the excited glee in Julie's big gray eyes.

"How close?" Julie asked, putting her fork down, peering at her. Matt paused, his coffee cup halfway to his mouth, staring at her. Patrick Farrell leaned back in his chair, frowning at her.

With a silent sigh of defeat, Meredith admitted, "My great-great-grandfather founded the store."

"That's fantastic! Do you know what my great-great-great grandfather did?"

"No, what?" Meredith asked, so drawn into Julie's contagious enthusiasm that she forgot to look at Matt to see how he'd reacted.

"He immigrated to this country from Ireland and started a horse ranch," Julie told her, standing up and beginning to clear the table.

Meredith smiled and got up to help her. "Mine was a horse thief!" Behind her, both men picked up their coffee cups and took them into the living room.

"Was he really a horse thief?" Julie asked as she filled the sink with soapy water. "Are you sure?"

"Positive," Meredith averred, adamantly refusing to turn to watch Matt walk away. "They hanged him for it."

They worked in companionable silence for a few moments, then Julie said, "Dad's working double shifts for the next few days. I'm going to spend tonight with a girlfriend, studying. I'll be back in the morning in time to make breakfast though."

Distracted by Julie's remark about studying, Meredith overlooked the fact that she was evidently going to be alone with Matt tonight. "Studying? Aren't you on summer vacation?"

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance