Patrick frowned at her, but as he headed off to work he stopped and looked up the stairway. Meredith was on her way down with a sweater, but she hesitated on the top step. Without a great deal of hope that she would, he said, "If you prove me wrong, Meredith, you'll make me a very happy man."
It was a tentative offer of a truce, and she accepted it with a nod.
"You're carrying my grandchild," he added. "I'd like to see him grow up with two parents who are still married to each other when he finishes college."
"So would I, Mr. Farrell."
That almost startled a smile from him.
Sunlight slanted through the windshield, and Meredith watched it gleaming on the gold wedding band that Matt had slid onto her finger the previous day during a simple civil ceremony performed by a local judge and witnessed only by Julie and Patrick. In comparison to the lavish formal church weddings she'd attended, her own had been brief and businesslike; the "honeymoon" that followed it in Matt's bed had been anything but that. With the house to themselves, he had kept her awake until dawn, making love to her again and again—trying to atone, she suspected, for not being able to take her on a proper honeymoon.
Meredith thought about that as she idly rubbed her ring against the sundress she'd borrowed from Julie. In bed, Matt always gave, and he gave, and he gave—yet he seemed not to want or need her to do anything to please him in return. Sometimes when he was making love to her, she longed to give him the same soul-destroying pleasure that he was lavishing on her, but she was hesitant to take the initiative without some form of encouragement from him first. It bothered her that he seemed to give more than he received—but when he shifted on top of her and drove deeply into her melting body, Meredith forgot about it. She forgot the world.
This morning, when she was still half asleep, he had put a breakfast tray on the nightstand and sat down beside her. For as long as she lived, Meredith knew she would remember the boyish glamour of his white smile as he leaned over her and whispered, "Wake up, sleeping beauty, and give this frog a kiss."
She looked at him now, and there was nothing boyish about that square jaw and tough chin, but there were other times—times when he laughed, or when he was sleeping and his dark hair was tousled, that his features were absolutely endearing, rather than rugged. And those eyelashes! The other morning she'd noticed those thick, spiked eyelashes lying against his cheek while he slept, and she'd had an absurd impulse to lean down and tuck him in because he looked like a little boy.
He caught her studying him and teased, "Did I forget to shave this morning?"
That startled a laugh from her because it was in such conflict with the direction of her thoughts. "Actually, I was thinking that you have eyelashes that a girl would kill for."
"You'd better watch it," he warned, shooting her a mock scowl. "I beat up a kid in the sixth grade for saying I had eyelashes like a girl's."
Meredith laughed, but as they neared her house and the confrontation with her father, the lighthearted mood they'd both tried to preserve began to disintegrate. Matt had to leave for Venezuela in two days, so their time together was quickly running out. And although he'd agreed not to tell her father about her pregnancy yet, he was personally opposed to the idea.
Meredith didn't like it either. It added to her feeling of being a child bride, and she hated that feeling. While she waited to join Matt in South America, she intended to learn to cook. In the past few days, the idea of being a real wife, with a husband and a place of their own, had taken on an enormous appeal despite the daunting description he'd given her of what that place of their own would probably be like.
"Here we are," Meredith said a few minutes later as they turned into the drive. "Home sweet home."
"If your father loves you as much as you think he does," Matt told her with quiet reassurance, helping her out of the car, "he'll try to make the best of this once he gets over the shock." Meredith hoped he was right, because, if he wasn't, it meant she would have to live at the farm while Matt was gone, and that she didn't want to do—not with Patrick Farrell feeling about her the way he did.
"Here goes," she said, drawing a deep breath as they walked up the steps to the front door. Since she'd called this morning and asked Albert to tell her father she'd be home in the early afternoon, Meredith assumed her father would be waiting.
She was right. The moment she opened the door, he stalked out of the living room, looking like he hadn't slept in a week. "Where in the hell have you been?" he thundered, looking ready to shake her. Unaware of Matt, who was standing a few steps behind her, he raged, "Are you trying to drive me out of my goddamned mind, Meredith?"
"Just be calm for a minute, and I'll explain," Meredith said, lifting her hand in Matt's direction.
He glanced to the left and saw who Meredith had been with. "Son of a bitch!"
"It's not what you're thinking," Meredith cried. "We're married!"
Matt answered the question in a calm, implacable voice. "Married."
In the space of three seconds Philip Bancroft arrived at the only possible reason that Meredith would marry someone she didn't know. She was pregnant. "Oh. Christ!" The ravaged look on his face, the anguished fury in his voice, hurt Meredith more than anything he could have done or said to her. And just when she knew it couldn't get worse, she discovered it was only beginning. Rage had replaced his shock and sorrow. Turning on his heel, Philip ordered them both into his study, then he slammed the door behind them with a crash that shook the walls.
Ignoring Meredith completely, he prowled back and forth across the study like a maddened panther, and every time he looked at Matt, his eyes flashed with murder and hatred. For what seemed like hours, he swore at Matt, he accused him of everything from rape to assault, and he grew more incensed when Matt endured his vicious tirade in an impassive, tight-lipped silence that resembled indifference.
Shaking with nerves and drowning in shame, Meredith sat beside Matt on the sofa where they'd made love. She was so overwrought that it took several minutes before she finally realized that her father was less infuriated by her pregnancy than he was by her marriage to an "ambitious, low-class degenerate." When he finally ran out of words, he flung himself into the chair behind his desk and sat there in ominous silence, his gaze riveted on Matt, tapping the end of a letter opener on the desk.
Her throat aching with unshed tears, Meredith realized that Matt had been wrong. This was not something her father would adjust to or get over. She was going to be cast out of his life, just as her mother had been, and despite all their disagreements, she was utterly shattered. Matt was still a virtual stranger, and from this day forward her father would be a stranger too. There was no point trying to explain or defend Matt, because whenever she'd interrupted her father's tirade to do that, he'd either ignored her or gotten angrier.