"I read Sally Mansfield's column," Phyllis replied. "And when she wrote that you gave him the 'cut direct' in front of everyone, I figured he must be a world class jerk. I mean, I've seen you deal with men you couldn't stand and you managed to smile at them and be polite."

"Actually Sally Mansfield misunderstood the whole episode. I hardly know the man." Deliberately changing the subject, Meredith said, "If your car's still in the shop, I can give you a ride home."

"No thanks. I'm going to my sister's for dinner, and she lives in the other direction."

"I'd give you a ride to her place, but it's late and this is Wednesday—"

"And your fiancé always has dinner at your apartment on Wednesday, right?"

"Right."

"It's a lucky thing you like routine, Meredith, because it would drive me crazy knowing the man in my life always did particular things on particular days, day after day ... year after year ... decade after—"

Meredith burst out laughing. "Stop it. You're depressing me. Besides, I like routine and order and dependability."

"Not me. I like spontaneity."

"Which is why your dates rarely show up on the right night, let alone on time," Meredith teased.

"True."

Chapter 22

Meredith would have liked to forget about Matthew Farrell entirely, but Parker arrived at her apartment with the newspaper in his hand. "Did you see the article about Farrell?" he asked after kissing her.

"Yes. Would you like a drink?"

"Please."

"What would you like?" she asked, walking over to the nineteenth-century armoire she'd had converted to a liquor cabinet and opening its doors.

"The usual."

Her hand stilled in the act of reaching for a glass, while Lisa's remark ran through her mind, followed by Phyllis's comment today. You need someone who'll make you do something really adventurous, like voting for a Democrat.... It would drive me crazy knowing the man in my life always did a particular thing on a particular day.... "Are you sure you wouldn't like something different?" Meredith said hesitantly, looking at him over her shoulder. "How about a gin and tonic?"

"Don't be silly. I always drink bourbon and water, honey, and you always have white wine. It's practically a custom."

"Parker," Meredith said hesitantly, "Phyllis said something today, and Lisa had made a remark a week ago, that make me wonder if we're ..." She trailed off, feeling silly, but she nevertheless took out the gin and tonic for herself.

"Made you wonder if we're what?" he asked, sensing her dismay and coming up behind her.

"Well, in a rut."

His arms slid around her. "I like ruts," he said, kissing her temple. "I like routines and predictability, and so do you."

"I know I do, but don't you think that—in years to come—too much of that might make us bored, and boring, people. I mean, don't you think excitement can be nice too?"

"Not particularly," he said, then he turned her in his arms and said with gentle firmness, "Meredith, if you're angry with me for asking you and your father to put up personal collateral for the Houston loan, then say so. If you're disappointed in me because of it, say so, but don't go blaming it on other reasons."

"I'm not," Meredith promised sincerely. "In fact, I got my stock certificates out of the safe to give to you. They're over there in that big folder on my desk." Ignoring the folder for the moment, he studied her face, and Meredith added reluctantly, "I'll admit it's frightening to hand over everything I have, but I believe you when you say you couldn't convince your board to forgo the extra collateral."

"You're sure?" he asked, looking handsome and worried.

"I'm positive," she averred with a bright smile, and turned to finish fixing his drink. "Why don't you look over the certificates and make certain they're in order while I set the table and see what Mrs. Ellis left us for dinner." Mrs. Ellis no longer worked for her father, but she came to Meredith's apartment on Wednesdays to clean and do the marketing, and she always left a meal ready for them to eat.

Parker walked over to her desk while Meredith spread pale pink linen place mats on the dining room table.

Are they in here?" he asked, holding up a manila envelope.

She glanced over her shoulder at the envelope. "No. That's my passport, birth certificate, and some other papers. The stock certificates are in a larger envelope."

He held one up, looking at the return address on the outside, and frowning with confusion. "In this one?"

"No," she said with another glance over her shoulder. "That's my divorce papers."

"This envelope has never been opened. Haven't you ever read them?"

She shrugged as she took out linen napkins from the side table. "Not since I signed them. I remember what they say, though. They say that in return for a ten-thousand-dollar payoff from my father, Matthew Farrell grants me a divorce and relinquishes all right to any claims on me or anything I ever have."

"I'm certain they aren't worded exactly like that," Parker said with a grim chuckle, turning the envelope over in his hand. "Do you mind if I have a look?"

"No, but why would you want to?"

He grinned. "Professional curiosity—I am an attorney, you know. I'm not entirely the boring, fastidious banker your friend Lisa likes to think I am. She needles me about that all the time, you know."

It was not the first time Parker had made a remark that indicated Lisa's joking jibes got under his skin, and Meredith made a mental note to tell Lisa, very firmly this time, that it had to stop. Parker had much to be proud of. Taking all that into consideration, she decided it was unwise and unnecessary to add to his pique by reminding him that he had specialized in tax law, not domestic law. "Look all you like," she replied, and leaning forward, she pressed a kiss on his temple. "I wish you didn't have to go to Switzerland. I'm going to miss you every day."

"It's only for two weeks. You could go with me."

He was scheduled to address the World Banking Conference there, and she would have loved to watch him do it, but it wasn't possible. "You know I'd love to. But this season is—"

"Your busiest time of the year," he finished without resentment. "I know."

In the refrigerator Meredith found a beautifully arranged platter of cold, marinated chicken and a salad of hearts of palm. As usual, there was little for her to do except open a bottle of wine and put the platter in the center of the dining room table—which was about the extent of her culinary abilities anyway. Cooking was something she'd tried to do a few times and failed, and since she didn't enjoy it anyway, she was content to spend her time working and leave domestic chores to Mrs. Ellis. If food couldn't go directly to the table via the microwave or oven, Meredith had no desire whatsoever to bother with it.


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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