It has cost you more than you know, Meredith thought miserably. It has cost you a factory you want to build in Southville, but somehow I will make that right. I'll force my father to rectify the damage he's done and make him agree never to interfere with you again. "Matt, listen to me," she said, suddenly desperate to make things right between them. "I'm willing to forget the past and—"
"That's gracious of you," he jeered.
Meredith stiffened, sorely tempted to point out that she was the injured party, the abandoned spouse, but then she squelched the impulse and continued doggedly. "I said I was willing to forget the past, and I am. If you'll agree to a quiet, congenial divorce, I'll do everything I can to smooth things over for you here in Chicago."
"Just how do you think you can smooth things over for me in Chicago, princess?" he asked, his voice reeking with sarcastic amusement.
"Don't call me princess! I'm not being condescending, I'm trying to be fair."
Matt leaned back and regarded her, his eyes shuttered.
"I apologize for being rude, Meredith. What is it that you intend to do for me?"
Relieved by his apparent change in attitude, she said quickly, "For a start, I can make certain you aren't treated like a social outcast. I know my father blocked your membership at our club, but I will try to make him change that—"
"Let's forget about me," he suggested smoothly, revolted by her wheedling and hypocrisy. He'd liked her better when she'd stood her ground at the opera and haughtily insulted him. But she needed something from him now, and Matt was glad it was desperately important to her. Because she wasn't going to get it. "You want a nice, quiet divorce because you want to marry your banker and because you want to be president of Bancroft's, right?" When she nodded, Matt continued. "And the presidency of Bancroft's is very, very important to you?"
"I want it more than I've ever wanted anything in my life," Meredith averred eagerly. "You—you will cooperate, won't you?" she said, searching his unreadable face as the car pulled to a stop in front of Bancroft's.
"No." He said it with such polite finality that for a moment Meredith's mind went blank.
"No?" she repeated in angry disbelief. "But the divorce is—"
"Forget it!" he snapped,
"Forget it? Everything I want hinges on it!"
"That's too damned bad."
"Then I'll get one without your consent!" she flung back.
"Try it and I'll make a stink you'll never live down. For starters, I'll sue your spineless banker for alienation of affection."
"Alienation of—" Too stunned to be cautious, Meredith burst out with a bitter laugh. "Have you lost your mind? If you do that, you'll look like an ass, like a heartbroken, jilted husband."
"And you'll look like an adulteress," he countered.
Fury erupted through Meredith's entire body. "Damn you!" she raged, her color rising. "If you dare to publicly embarrass Parker, I'll kill you with my own two hands! You're not fit to touch his shoes!" she exploded. "He's ten times the man you are! He doesn't need to try to bed every woman he meets. He has principles, he's a gentleman, but you wouldn't understand that because underneath that tailor-made suit you're wearing, you're still nothing but a dirty steelworker from a dirty little town with a dirty, drunken father!"
"And you," he said savagely, "are still a vicious, conceited bitch!"
Meredith swung, palm open, then swallowed a gasp of pain as Matt caught her wrist an inch from his face, holding it in a crushing grip, while he warned in a silky voice: "If the Southville Zoning Commission doesn't reverse their decision, there will be no further discussion of a divorce. If I decide to give you a divorce, I'll decide the terms and you and your father will go along with them." Increasing the pressure on her wrist, he jerked her forward until their faces were only inches apart. "Do you understand me, Meredith? You and your father have no power over me. Cross me one more time, and you'll wish to God your mother had aborted you!"
Meredith jerked her arm free of his grasp. "You are a monster!" she hissed. Rain spattered on her cheek and she snatched up her gloves and purse and threw a quelling look at the chauffeur/bodyguard, who had opened the door for her, and was watching their altercation with the enthusiastic intensity of a spectator at a tennis match.
As she climbed out of the car, Ernest rushed forward, belatedly recognizing Meredith, ready to defend her from whatever peril she might be in. "Did you see the man in that car?" she demanded of the Bancroft doorman. When he said that he had indeed, she said, "Good. If he ever comes near this store, you are to call the police!"
Joe O'Hara pulled the car over to the curb in front of Intercorp's building, and before it came to a complete stop, Matt flung open the door and climbed out.
"Tell Tom Anderson to come up here," he ordered Miss Stern as he stalked past her on the way into his office after having lunch with Meredith. "And then try to find me some aspirin."
Two minutes later, she appeared at his desk with a glass of cold water and two aspirin. "Mr. Anderson is on his way up," she said, studying his face as he tossed down the tablets. "You have a very busy schedule. I hope you aren't getting the flu. Mr. Hursh is out sick with it, and so are two of the vice presidents and half the word processing department. It starts with a headache."
Since she'd never shown any overt interest in his personal well-being, Matt naturally assumed her only concern was that he be able to stick to his working schedule. "I am not getting the flu," he said shortly. "I never get sick." He ran a hand around the back of his neck, absently massaging the aching muscles. The headache that had been only a minor, nagging discomfort this morning was beginning to pound.
"If it is the flu, it can last for weeks and even turn into pneumonia. That's what happened to Mrs. Morris in advertising and Mr. Lathrup in personnel, and they're both in the hospital. Perhaps you ought to plan on resting instead of going to Indiana next week. Otherwise your schedule—"
"I do not have the flu," Matt enunciated tightly. "I have a common, garden-variety headache."
She stiffened at his tone, turned on her heel, and marched out, bumping into Tom Anderson on the way.
"What's Miss Stern's problem?" Tom asked, glancing over his shoulder.
"She's afraid she'll have to reschedule my appointments," Matt said impatiently. "Let's talk about the zoning commission."