Despite his angry tone, her father looked uneasy. "I kept him out of the club to protect you from having to see him there. I got his rezoning request denied because I want him to get the hell out of Chicago so we don't have to see him everywhere we go. That's beside the point, what's done is done."

"It's going to have to be undone," Meredith informed him flatly.

Philip ignored that. "I don't want you talking to him again. I went along with it today only because I let Parker convince me there was no other way. He should have volunteered to go with you. Frankly, I'm beginning to think Parker is weak, and I don't like weak men."

Meredith choked on a laugh. "In the first place, Parker is not at all weak, and he was intelligent enough to know his presence would only have complicated a difficult situation. In the second place, if you ever met anyone as strong as you, you'd hate him."

He had started to pick up his coat from the back of the chair where he'd tossed it, and he glowered at her over his shoulder. "Why would you say a thing like that?"

"Because," Meredith said, "the only man I've ever known who can equal you for sheer, fearless strength of will is Matthew Farrell! It's true, you know," she said gently, "in some ways he's very much like you—shrewd, invulnerable, and willing to go to any lengths to get what he wants. In the beginning you hated him because he was a nobody, and because he dared to sleep with me. But you hated him even more because you couldn't intimidate him—not that first night at the country club when you had him evicted, and not later, after we were married and I brought him home." She smiled, a sad smile devoid of anger, as she finished calmly, "You despise him because he's the only man you've ever met who is as indomitable as you are."

As if indifferent to her answer, he said coolly, "You don't like me, do you, Meredith?"

Meredith considered that with a mixture of fondness and wariness. He had given her life and then tried to direct every breath she took, every day of that life. No one could ever accuse him of not caring for her, or of neglecting her, for he had hovered over her like a hawk since she was a child. He had spoiled so much for her, and yet he had acted out of love—a possessive, strangling love. "I love you," she answered with an affectionate smile to take the sting out of her words, "but I don't like many of the things you do. You hurt people without regret, just as Matt does."

"I do what I think needs to be done," he replied, pulling on his coat.

"What needs to be done at the moment," Meredith reminded him, standing up so that she could walk him to the door, "is for you to immediately reverse the damage you've done to him at Glenmoor and the Southville zoning commission. Once you have, I'll contact him again and smooth things over."

"And you think he'll settle for that and agree to the divorce you want?" he replied with sarcastic disbelief.

"Yes, I do. You see, I have one advantage here: Matthew Farrell doesn't want to be married to me any more than I do to him. Right now he wants revenge, but he isn't insane enough to complicate the rest of his own life for the sake of retaliating against you and me. I hope. Now," she finished, "will you give me your word to get on the phone tomorrow and get the zoning commission moving on his request?"

He looked at her, his will on a collision course with her needs. "I'll look into the matter."

"That's not good enough—"

"It's as far as I'm willing to go."

He was bluffing, Meredith decided after studying his set face, and she placed a relieved kiss on his cheek. When he left, she wandered back to the sofa and sat down. She'd been staring blankly into the dying embers of the fire for a quarter of an hour before she remembered that Parker had told her tonight that Bancroft's board was meeting tomorrow to try to decide on an interim president. He would not be voting on this particular issue because of his involvement with Meredith. Tonight, however, she was too exhausted to feel much suspense or excitement over a meeting that might be inconclusive.

The television's remote controller was on the coffee table, and as she reached for it, she suddenly thought of Barbara Walters's interview with Matt. They'd talked about his success and the famous women he'd been with, and Meredith wondered how she could have ever believed she and Matt could be happy together. She and Parker understood each other, they came from the same social background, the same class—a class of people who endowed hospitals with new wings and donated their time to charity or civic causes. They did not discuss their wealth on public television—or talk about their tawdry little affairs there either!

No matter how much money Matthew Farrell made, she thought bitterly, or how many beautiful, famous women he slept with, he would still be what he had always been—ruthless, arrogant, and vicious. He was greedy, unscrupulous and ... She frowned at the television screen in blank confusion—he was all of that and yet, today, she'd had the feeling he harbored an equally low opinion of her! When she thought of the way she'd attacked his family and called him a dirty steelworker, she didn't have a very high opinion of herself. That had been a cheap shot, and the truth was that she had a kind of tacit admiration for people with enough strength of body and spirit to do hard physical labor, it took a lot of courage to return, day after day, to a job that offered no mental challenge—only a paycheck. She'd attacked Matt's background because it was his only vulnerable spot.

The phone jarred her out of her thoughts, and Meredith answered it. Lisa's worried voice came out in a rush. "Mer, what happened with Farrell today? You said you'd call me after you'd met with him."

"I know, and I had you paged after I got back to the office, but you didn't answer."

"I left the building for a few minutes. So, what happened?"

Meredith had told the whole story twice already, and she was too weary to tell it again. "It wasn't a successful meeting. Could I tell you the details tomorrow instead?"

"I understand. How about dinner?"

"Okay. But it's my turn to cook."

"Oh, no!" Lisa teased. "I still have indigestion from the last time you did that. Why don't I pick up some Chinese food on my way over?"

"All right, but I'll pay for it."

"Fair enough. Should I bring anything else?"

"If you want to hear about my meeting with Matt," Meredith replied with bleak humor, "you'd better bring a full box of Kleenex."

"That bad?"

"Yep."


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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