As they walked through his secretary's office, Matt stopped to talk to the gray-haired woman. "Tom Anderson is at the Southville zoning commission hearing," he told her. "If he gets back while I'm at lunch, give him the number at the restaurant and have him call me there."
A silver limousine was waiting at the curb for them. Standing beside it was a burly chauffeur with a broken nose and the physique of a buffalo, who held the back door open for her. Normally, Meredith found riding in a limousine restful and luxurious, but as they charged away from the curb, she grasped the armrest in uneasy surprise. She managed to keep her alarm from showing as the chauffeur hurtled the limo around corners, but when he ran a red light and bluffed out a CTA bus, her gaze darted nervously to Matt.
He responded to her unspoken comment with a mild shrug. "Joe hasn't given up his dream of driving at Indy."
"This isn't Indy," Meredith pointed out, clutching the armrest tighter as they swerved around another corner.
"And he isn't a chauffeur."
Determined to imitate his nonchalance, Meredith pried her fingers loose from the padded armrest. "Really? What is he, then?"
Her stomach lurched at this proof that Matt had done things to make people hate him enough to do him physical harm. Danger had never attracted her, she liked peace and predictability and she found the idea of a bodyguard a little barbaric.
Neither of them spoke again until after the car lurched to a stop at the canopied entrance of Landry's, one of Chicago's most elegant, exclusive restaurants.
The maitre d', who was also a part owner of the restaurant, was stationed at his usual post near the front door, clad in a tuxedo. Meredith had known John ever since her boarding school days, when her father used to bring her there for lunch and John sent soft drinks to her table, fixed up like exotic bar drinks, with his compliments.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Farrell," he intoned formally, but when he turned to Meredith, he added with a twinkling smile: "It's always a pleasure to see you, Miss Bancroft." Meredith shot a swift look at Matt's unreadable face, wondering how he felt at the discovery that she was better known at the restaurant he'd chosen than he was. She forgot about that as they were escorted toward their table, and she realized there were several people whom she knew dining there. Judging from their shocked stares, they recognized Matt and were undoubtedly wondering why she was lunching with a man she'd publicly shunned. Sherry Withers, one of the biggest gossips in Meredith's circle of acquaintances, lifted her hand in a wave, her gaze leveled on Matt, her brows raised in amused speculation.
A waiter led them past banks of fresh flowers and around a fanciful white trellis to a table that was far enough away from the ebony grand piano in the center of the room to enjoy the music, but not so close that it hindered conversation. Unless you were a regular patron of Landry's, it was nearly impossible to reserve a table with less than two weeks notice; reserving a good table, which this one certainly was, was virtually impossible, and Meredith wondered idly how Matt had accomplished it.
"Would you like a drink?" he asked her when they were seated.
Her mind shifted abruptly from aimless conjecture over how he got reservations to the very dire confrontation that lay immediately before her. "No, thank you, just ice water—" Meredith began, then she decided a drink might help steady her nerves. "Yes," she corrected herself. "I would."
"What would you like?"
"I'd like to be in Brazil," she mumbled on a ragged sigh.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Something strong," Meredith said, trying to decide what to drink. "A Manhattan." She shook her head, negating that drink. It was one thing to be calmed, another to be lulled into saying or doing something she shouldn't. She was a nervous wreck, and she wanted something to soothe her tension. Something she could sip slowly until it did its job. Something she didn't like. "A martini," she decided with an emphatic nod.
"All of that?" he asked, straight-faced. "A glass of water, a Manhattan, and a martini?"
"No .. . just the martini," she said with a shaky smile, but her eyes were filled with frustrated dismay and an unconscious appeal for his patience.
Matt was temporarily intrigued by the combination of startling contrasts she presented at that moment. Wearing a sophisticated black dress that covered her from throat to wrist, she looked both elegant and glamorous. That alone wouldn't have disarmed him, but combined with the faint blush that was staining her smooth cheeks, the helpless appeal in those huge, intoxicating eyes of hers, and her girlish confusion, she was nearly irresistible. Softened by the fact that she had asked for this meeting to make amends, he abruptly decided to follow the same course of action that he had tried to follow the night he spoke to her at the opera—and that was to let bygones be bygones. "Will I throw you into another bout of confusion if I ask what kind of martini you'd like?"
"Gin," Meredith said. "Vodka," she amended. "No, gin—a gin martini."
Her flush deepened and she was too nervous to notice the glint of amusement in his eyes as he solemnly asked, "Dry or wet?"
"Beefeater's, Tanqueray, or Bombay?"
"Olives or onion?"
"One or two?"
"Valium or aspirin?" he inquired in that same bland voice, but a grin was tugging at the corner of his mouth, and she realized he'd been teasing her all along. Gratitude and relief built inside her, and she looked at him, returning his smile. "I'm sorry. I'm, well, a little nervous."
When the waiter had departed with their drink order, Matt considered her admission about being nervous. He looked about him at the beautiful restaurant where a meal cost as much as he used to make in an entire day working at the mill. Without actually intending to, he made an admission of his own: "I used to daydream about taking you to lunch in a place like this."
Distracted by how best to open the subject on her mind, Meredith's glance skimmed over the magnificent pink floral sprays in massive silver containers and the tuxedo-clad waters hovering solicitously at linen-covered tables agleam with china and crystal. "A place like what?"
Matt laughed shortly. "You haven't changed, Meredith; the most extravagant luxury is still ordinary to you."
Determined to maintain the fragile goodwill that had begun while she debated over what to drink, Meredith said reasonably, "You wouldn't know whether I've changed or not—we spent only six days together."