Paradise by Judith McNaught

  “Thirty million! That’s ridiculous!” Meredith exclaimed, half rising from her chair. “It’s insane! The property is worth twenty-seven million, tops, in today’s economy and they paid only twenty for it!”

  “I pointed that out to the director of their real estate division, but his attitude is take it or leave it.”

  Meredith got up and restlessly walked over to the windows, trying to decide what to do next. The Houston property, with its location near The Galleria, was the most desirable site for a Bancroft’s branch that she’d ever seen anywhere. She wanted that store built there, and she wasn’t going to relent. “Are they planning to develop it themselves?” she asked, returning to her desk and leaning on the edge, her arms crossed over her chest, lost in thought.


  “You said a conglomerate owns it. Which one?”

  Sam Green, like nearly everyone else at Bancroft’s, was obviously aware that Meredith’s name had been linked with Matthew Farrell’s in the gossip column, and he hesitated several seconds before he answered. “Intercorp.”

  Disbelief and fury made her lurch upright and glare at him. “Are you joking!” she exploded.

  His scowl turned ironic. “Do I look like a man who’s joking?”

  Aware that Sam’s reluctance to mention Intercorp made it unnecessary to pretend this was purely a business battle, Meredith said furiously, “I’ll kill Matthew Farrell for this!”

  “I consider that threat to be privileged lawyer-client communication so I won’t have to testify against you if you do.”

  Emotions ran riot through her entire body; she stared at Sam in rage and disbelief while Stuart’s prediction that Matt was out for vengeance banished any doubt that Intercorp’s purchase of the land had been a coincidence. Obviously this was some of the unpleasantness Pearson had warned Stuart about today.

  “What do you want to do next?”

  Her stormy blue eyes snapped to his. “Next, after I kill him? Then I want to feed him to the fish! That vicious, scheming—” She broke off, schooling her features into a semblance of calm, and walked behind her desk. “I’ll have to think this over, Sam. Let’s discuss it on Monday.”

  When Sam left, Meredith began to pace. She paced the length of her office, back and forth across the windows, trying to conquer her fury so that she could be objective and effective. It was one thing for Matt to make her personal life a nightmare; she could deal with that through Stuart somehow. But now he was attacking Bancroft & Company, and that panicked and infuriated her more than anything he might have tried to do to her personally. He had to be stopped—and now. God knew what else he planned to do—or worse, what schemes he’d already put into motion.

  Angrily, she shoved her fingers through the hair at her nape, and continued to pace until slowly she calmed down and began to think. “Why is he doing this?” she said aloud to the empty room. The answer was clear—it had to be his way of retaliating for having his Southville zoning request turned down. Matt had been pleasant at lunch last week—until he got that phone call about Southville. Her father’s interference with Matt’s zoning request was obviously the cause of this battle.

  But it was all so unnecessary now! Somehow she had to make him listen to her, had to make him understand that he’d won his battle, and her father was conceding it. All Matt had to do to get his rezoning request approved was to resubmit it to the commission! Since Stuart wasn’t available to advise her not to do it, Meredith took the only course open to her: She marched over to the desk and dialed Matt’s office.

  When his secretary answered his phone, Meredith deliberately deepened her voice, trying to disguise it. “This is—Phyllis Tilsher,” she lied, using her secretary’s name. “Is Mr. Farrell in?”

  “Mr. Farrell has gone home. He won’t be in until Monday afternoon.”

  Meredith glanced at her watch, surprised to see it was already five o’clock. “I didn’t realize it was so late. I don’t have his home phone number with me at the moment. May I have it please?”

  “I am not permitted to give out Mr. Farrell’s home number to anyone,” she said. “Those are Mr. Farrell’s instructions.”

  Meredith hung up. She couldn’t bear to wait until Monday before trying again, and calling him at the office was a waste of time anyway. Even if she gave a false name, his secretary would undoubtedly insist on knowing what she wanted before putting her through. She could go to his office on Monday, but in the mood he was in, he’d probably refuse to see her and then have his security people toss her out of the building. If she couldn’t make him listen to her at his office, and she didn’t dare wait until Monday to try, she had to get to him at . . . “Home!” she said aloud. Reaching him at home was a much better plan; he wouldn’t have a secretary at his home who’d already been told to refuse to let her talk to him. On a wild chance that he might have a listed phone number, she picked up the phone and called information.

  The operator was sorry to inform her that his number was unpublished.

  Disappointed but not defeated, Meredith hung up. Now that she’d decided to talk to him at his home, she wasn’t going to give up. With a viable plan in mind, and the opportunity to see it through, Meredith possessed a calm, iron resolve that was in complete contrast to her delicate appearance and soft voice. Trying to think of someone who might know his private number and be willing to give it to her, she closed her eyes and concentrated. Matt had escorted Alicia Avery to the opera, and Stanton Avery had sponsored Matt as a prospective member at the Glenmoor Country Club. Smiling with satisfaction, she looked up Stanton Avery’s number in her private phone directory and dialed it.

  According to the Avery butler, Mr. Avery and his daughter were staying at their St. Croix residence and were not expected to return for another week. Meredith considered trying to pry their phone number in St. Croix out of the servant, but on quick reflection she realized Stanton wouldn’t be likely to give her Matt’s number. He’d be more likely to guard Matt’s privacy from the woman who’d insulted him at the opera, and whose father had blackballed Matt’s membership at Glenmoor. Meredith hung up, and then called Glenmoor, intending to ask the club’s manager to get Matt’s phone number from his application for membership.

  But Timmy Martin had already left for the day. And the office was closed.

  Biting her lip, she accepted the fact that she now had no choice but to go to Matt’s apartment. The prospect of confronting an infuriated Matthew Farrell, especially on his own ground, was chilling. A shiver ran down her spine when she recalled the savage look on his face when she’d called his father a dirty drunk. Tipping her head back, she closed her eyes, while within her regret mingled with fear and anger. If only her father hadn’t interfered with Matt’s zoning request . . . or humiliated him by blackballing him at Glenmoor. If only she hadn’t lost her temper in the car . . . then their lunch would have concluded as pleasantly as it had begun, and none of this would be happening.

  Regrets, however, weren’t going to solve her monumental problem, and she opened her eyes, bracing herself for what she had to do. She didn’t know Matt’s phone number, but she knew exactly where he lived. So did everyone else who read the Chicago Tribune. Last month’s Sunday supplement had contained a four-page color layout of the fabulous penthouse apartment that Chicago’s newest and richest entrepreneur had bought and furnished in the Berkeley Towers on Lake Shore Drive.


  Lake Shore Drive traffic was moving at a crawl, and Meredith found herself hoping nervously that the weather, which was turning foul, wasn’t a portent of events to come. Rain mixed with sleet had started falling when she pulled out of the parking garage, and the wind was howling like a banshee as it buffeted her car. Ahead of her was a vast sea of glowing red taillights; to the east, Lake Michigan was undoubtedly churning like a boiling pot.

  In the warmth of her car, Meredith tried to concentrate on exactly what she would say to Matt when she first saw him—something that would soothe his fury and convin
ce him to let her stay. Something diplomatic. Very diplomatic. Her sense of humor, which hadn’t had much reason to assert itself lately, chose that unlikely moment to present her with a sudden vision of herself, knocking on his apartment door, and when he opened it, waving a white handkerchief in his face in a request for a truce.

  The image was so preposterous that she smiled, but her next thought made her groan in dismay: Before she could reach his door, she’d undoubtedly have to get past the inevitable security desk and security guard which all of the luxury buildings provided to protect their tenants. If her name wasn’t on their list of expected guests, they’d never let her get to the elevators.

  Her hands tightened reflexively on the steering wheel; panic and frustration started to overwhelm her, and she made herself draw a long, calming breath. Traffic had started to move, and she accelerated. Somehow, some way, she would just have to bluff her way past the guards. If Berkeley Towers’ security system was anything like that of other luxury residences, it wasn’t going to be easy. A doorman would probably admit her to the lobby, where a security guard would ask her name. He would look at a list that contained the names of everyone who was expected by the various tenants, and when he didn’t find her name on it, he would offer to let her use the phone to call Matt. And that was the problem. . . . She didn’t know Matt’s phone number and, even if she did, she was certain now that he’d refuse to see her. Somehow, she was going to have to bluff her way past the guards and up to the penthouse without alerting Matt in advance that she was there.

  Twenty minutes later, when Meredith braked her car to a stop at the curb in front of Matt’s building, she still wasn’t certain how she was going to manage it, but she had the beginnings of a plan.

  A doorman met her with an umbrella to shield her from the rain, and she handed him her car keys, then reached into her briefcase and took out a large manila envelope that contained some mail for her father.

  From the moment she stepped into the luxurious lobby and walked over to the reception desk, everything went exactly as she’d feared and anticipated it would. The uniformed security guard asked her name, then he checked the list on his desk and, failing to find her name, he gestured to the ivory and gold phone on his desk. “Your name doesn’t seem to be on tonight’s list, Miss Bancroft. If you would like to use this phone, you can call Mr. Farrell. I’ll need clearance from him to let you up. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

  He was only twenty-three or twenty-four, she noted with relief; therefore more likely to fall for her performance than an older, hardened security guard. Meredith gave him a smile that could have melted brick. “There’s no need to apologize.” She glanced at the name tag on the breast of his uniform. “I understand perfectly, Craig. I have the number in my address book.”

  Aware of his admiring stare, Meredith dug through her Hermès handbag, searching, ostensibly, for her little address book. With another apologetic smile, she rifled through her handbag again, then she patted her coat pockets, and finally she looked in the manila envelope. “Oh, no!” she burst out, looking devastated. “My address book. I don’t have it with me! Craig, Mr. Farrell is waiting for these papers.” She fluttered the large manila envelope. “You have to let me go up.”

  “I know,” Craig murmured, his gaze roving over her beautiful, stricken face, then he checked himself. “But I can’t. It’s against the rules.”

  “I really have to go up there,” she pleaded, and then, because she was desperate, she did something she’d never normally do. Meredith Bancroft, who prized her privacy and hated name-droppers, looked the young man straight in the eye and said with a sudden smile, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere? I know I have. Yes, of course—in the store!”

  “What—what store?”

  “Bancroft and Company! I’m Meredith Bancroft,” she announced, cringing inwardly at the breathy enthusiastic sound of her voice. Pompous. Disgustingly pompous, she thought.

  Craig snapped his fingers. “I knew it! I knew I recognized you. I’ve seen you on the news and in the papers. I’m a big fan of yours, Miss Bancroft.”

  Her lips twitched at the exuberant, naive admiration that caused him to act as if she were a movie star. “Well, now that you know for certain that I’m not some criminal, couldn’t you make an exception for me just this once?”

  “No.” When she opened her mouth to argue, he explained. “It wouldn’t do you any good anyway. You can’t get off the elevators at the penthouse because the elevator doors won’t open there unless you have a key or unless someone up there buzzes you through.”

  “I see.” Meredith was disheartened and frustrated, but his next offer nearly made her faint with alarm.

  “Tell you what I’ll do,” he said, picking up the phone and pressing a series of buttons. “Mr. Farrell instructed us not to call him about unlisted guests, but I’ll call up there myself and tell him you’re here.”

  “No!” she burst out, knowing what he was likely to hear from Matt. “I—I mean, rules are rules and you probably shouldn’t break them.”

  “For you I’ll break a rule,” he said with a grin, then he spoke into the phone. “This is the security guard in the lobby, Mr. Farrell. Miss Meredith Bancroft is here to see you. Yes, sir, Miss Meredith Bancroft. . . . No, sir, not Banker. Bancroft. You know—the department store Bancroft.”

  Unable to bear seeing his face when Matt told him to throw her out, she closed her purse, intending to beat an ignominious retreat.

  “Yes, sir,” Craig said. “Yes, sir, I will. Miss Bancroft,” he said as she started to turn away, “Mr. Farrell said to tell you—”

  She swallowed. “I can imagine what he said to tell me.”

  Craig drew the elevator keys out of his pocket and nodded. “He said to tell you to come up.”

  Matt’s chauffeur/bodyguard answered Meredith’s knock, wearing rumpled black trousers and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up on his thick forearms. “This way, ma’am,” he said in a gravelly, Bronx-accented voice that was right out of a 1930s gangster movie. Quaking with tension and determination, she followed him across the foyer, past pairs of graceful white pillars, down two steps, and halfway across an immense living room with white marble floors, to a trio of light green sofas that formed a broad U around a huge glass cocktail table.

  Meredith’s gaze bounced nervously from the checkerboard and checkers that rested on the table’s surface to the white-haired man who was seated on one of the sofas, then back to the chauffeur, who she assumed had been playing checkers with the other man when she arrived. That assumption was reinforced when the chauffeur walked around the cocktail table, sat down on one of the sofas, spread his arms across the back of it, and eyed her with an expression of fascinated amusement. In uneasy confusion Meredith glanced at the chauffeur and then at the white-haired man who was watching her in wintry silence. “I—I’ve come to see Mr. Farrell,” she explained.

  “Then open your eyes, girl!” he snapped, standing up. “I’m right in front of you.”

  Meredith stared at him in blank confusion. He was slim and fit, with thick wavy white hair, a neatly trimmed mustache, and piercing pale blue eyes. “There must be some mistake. I’ve come to see Mr. Farrell—”

  “You sure have a problem with names, girl,” Matt’s father interrupted with biting contempt. “My name is Farrell, and yours isn’t Bancroft, it’s still Farrell, from what I hear.”

  Meredith suddenly realized who he was, and her heart skipped a beat at the hostility emanating from him. “I—I didn’t recognize you, Mr. Farrell,” she stammered. “I’ve come to see Matt.”

  “Why?” he demanded. “What the hell do you want?”

  “I—I want to see Matt,” Meredith persisted, almost unable to believe this towering, robust, angry man could possibly be the same brooding, dissipated person she’d met at the farmhouse.

  “Matt isn’t here.”

  Meredith had already been through a great deal this afternoon, and she had no intention of bein
g thwarted or bullied by anyone else. “In that case,” she replied, “I’ll stay until he returns.”

  “You’ll have a long wait,” Patrick said sarcastically. “He’s in Indiana at the farm.”

  She knew that was a lie. “His secretary said he was at home.”

  “That’s his home!” he said, advancing on her. “You remember it, don’t you, girl? You should. You walked around, looking down your nose at it.”

  Meredith was suddenly very frightened of the rage that was gathering force behind his rigid features. She backed away as he started toward her. “I’ve changed my mind. I—I’ll talk to Matt another time.” Intending to leave, she turned on her heel, then gasped in terror as Patrick Farrell gripped her arm and spun her around, his thunderous face only inches from hers. “You stay away from Matt, do you hear me! You almost killed him before, and you’re not going to walk back into his life now and tear him to pieces again!”

  Meredith tried to jerk her arm free, and when she couldn’t, fury overcame her fear. “I don’t want your son,” she informed him contemptuously, “I want a divorce, but he won’t cooperate.”

  “I don’t know why he wanted to marry you in the first place, and I sure as hell don’t know why he’d want to stay married to you now!” Patrick Farrell spat out, flinging her arm away. “You murdered his baby rather than have a lowly Farrell in that hallowed womb of yours!”

  Pain and rage ripped through Meredith, slashing at her like a thousand knives. “How dare you say a thing like that to me! I miscarried!”

  “You had an abortion!” he shouted. “You had an abortion when you were six months pregnant, then you sent Matt a telegram. A goddamned telegram, after it all was done!”

  Meredith’s teeth clenched against the hurt she’d kept bottled inside her for so many years, but it couldn’t be contained any longer. It exploded from her, aimed at the father of the man who had caused all her suffering: “I sent him a telegram all right—a telegram telling him that I’d miscarried, and your precious son never even bothered to call me!” To her infuriated horror, she felt tears leap to her eyes.

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