Matt spread his fingers over her abdomen, and smiled against her neck because Meredith had no idea how he actually felt about their child. Or how he felt about her because she hadn't tried to get rid of it—and him. That first day when she'd itemized her options, the mention of the word abortion had made him feel like throwing up.
He wanted to talk about the baby with her and tell her exactly how he felt about all this, but for one thing, he felt like a selfish bastard for being so happy about something that distressed her so much. For another thing, she was dreading the confrontation with her father, and any mention of her pregnancy seemed to remind her of what was ahead.
The confrontation with her father ... Matt's smile faded. The man was a son of a bitch, but somehow he'd raised the most amazing woman Matt had ever met, and for that Matt was profoundly grateful to him. He was so grateful that he was willing to do whatever he could to ease things between Meredith and her father when he took her to Chicago on Sunday. Somehow he was going to keep remembering that Meredith was Philip Bancroft's only child, and that for reasons that could be clear only to Meredith, she loved that arrogant bastard.
"Where's Meredith?" Matt asked Julie when he came home from work the next afternoon.
She looked up from the dining room table, where she was doing her homework. "She went riding. She said she'd be back before you got home, but you're two hours early." With a grin, she added, "I wonder what the attraction could be here?"
"Brat," Matt said, rumpling her dark hair as he headed for the back door.
Meredith had told Matt yesterday that she enjoyed riding, so Matt had called their neighbor that morning and arranged for Meredith to ride one of Dale's horses.
Outside, he walked across the yard, past the overgrown patch that had been his mother's vegetable garden, while he searched the fields off to the right for a sign of her. He was halfway to the fence when he saw Meredith coming, and the sight sent fear curling up his spine. The chestnut horse was at a smooth, ground-eating gallop, running along the fence line, and Meredith was leaning low over its neck, her hair tossing wildly about her shoulders. As she came nearer, he realized she was going to turn and head the horse toward their barn. Matt changed direction, heading there, too, watching her while his pulse rate slowed to a more even tempo and his fear receded. Meredith Bancroft rode like the aristocrat she was— light and lovely in the saddle and in complete control.
"Hi!" she called, her face flushed and glowing as she brought the horse to a stop in the barnyard beside a bale of rotted hay. "I'll have to cool him down," she said as Matt reached for the horse's bridle, and then everything happened at once: Matt's heel clipped the tines of an old rake left lying on the ground just as Meredith started to swing her leg over the horse's back, and the handle of the rake flew up and hit the horse in the nose. With an outraged snort, the horse lurched and reared. Matt let go of the bridle and made a futile grab for Meredith, and she slid backward, landing on her rump on the hay, then sliding to the ground.
"Goddammit!" he burst out, crouching down and clutching her shoulders. "Are you hurt?"
The bale of hay had broken Meredith's short fall, and she wasn't hurt, she was just mortified and confused about what had happened. "Am I hurt?" she repeated with a look of comic shock as she pushed herself to her feet. "My pride is worse than hurt. It's demolished— destroyed—"
He watched her, his eyes narrowed with concern. "What about the baby?"
Meredith paused in the act of brushing hay and dirt off the seat of Julie's borrowed jeans. "Matt," she informed him with a wry, superior look, letting her hands rest on the seat of her pants, "this is not where the baby is."
He finally realized where her hands were and where she'd fallen. Amusement and relief washed through him, and he feigned a perplexed look. "It isn't?"
For several minutes Meredith sat contentedly, watching him cool the horse, then she remembered something and grinned. "I finished crocheting your sweater today," she called.
He stopped short and stared at her, his expression dubious. "You . . . made that long ropy thing into a sweater? For me?"
"Of course not," Meredith said, managing to look hurt. "That long ropy thing was only a practice project. I made the actual sweater today. It's a vest, though, not a sweater. Want to see it?"
He said he did, but he looked so uneasy that Meredith had to bite down on her lip to stop from laughing. When she emerged from the house several minutes later, she was carrying a bulky-knit beige vest with her crochet hook stuck into it, and the skein of beige yarn from yesterday.
Matt was just walking out of the barn, and they converged near the bale of hay. "Here it is," she said, producing everything from behind her back. "What do you think?"
His eyes shifted with unconcealed dread to her hands, riveted on the sweater, then rose to her innocent face. He was stunned, and he was impressed. He was also visibly touched that she'd made it for him. Meredith hadn't expected that, and she felt a little uneasy about her joke. "That's amazing," he said. "Do you think it will fit?"
Meredith was certain it would. She'd checked the sweaters in his drawers to make sure she bought the right size. When she brought this one home, she'd carefully removed the labels. "I think so."
"Let me try it on."
"Right here?" she asked, and when he nodded, she tugged the crochet hook loose, fighting down her increasing guilt. Slowly and with infinite care, he lifted it from her hands and put it on, smoothing it over his striped shirt, tugging his collar into the right position. "How do I look?" he asked, posing with his hands on his hips and his feet planted slightly apart.
He looked absolutely wonderful—broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, ruggedly handsome, and lethally sexy, even in faded jeans and an inexpensive sweater.
"I like it, especially because you made it for me yourself."
"Matt," she said uneasily, prepared to confess.
"About the sweater . .."
"No, sweetheart," he interrupted, "don't apologize because you didn't have time to make more of them for me. You can do that tomorrow."
Meredith was still reeling from the heady thrill of hearing his deep voice call her "sweetheart" when his words registered, and she saw the amusement gleaming in his eyes. In a deliberately threatening gesture, he bent down and grabbed a stick from the ground, then he started toward her and Meredith started backing up, laughing helplessly. "Don't you dare!" she giggled, scooting around the hay bales and backing toward the barn. Her shoulders collided with the side of the building and she made a wild sideways lunge, but Matt caught her wrist, jerking her up short and pressing his body against the full length of hers.