Like the rich boy trying to win the girl, Qwest has upped its offer yet again for rival MCI to a staggering $9.9 billion - nearly a quarter more than the $7.6 billion that MCI has accepted from Verizon.

The latest offer - its "best and final" Qwest swears - comes a fortnight after MCI formally rejected Qwest's $8.9 billion offer. That offer came after a bidding war with Verizon that has seen MCI twice accept Verizon, only to be forced to reconsider when Qwest came in with a higher offer. Verizon petulantly insisted MCI chose between love and money, and MCI chose love.

Qwest said at the time it was considering its options and appealed to shareholders to put pressure on the MCI Board. It has clearly decided that a further $1 billion might just be enough impetus.

The new offer raises the cash portion of Qwest's bid by $2.50 per share, to $16 per share, said Richard Notebaert, Qwest's chairman and chief executive officer, in a letter to MCI's board of directors.

Qwest has set a deadline of 5pm Eastern Time Saturday. "We are confident that this revised proposal fulfills the MCI Board's description on 5 April of an offer it was prepared to find a Superior Proposal," Notebaert wrote.

Verizon had previously signaled that it would not fight Qwest if MCI decided to accept the $8.9 billion offer. But on Thursday, the company spoke of its commitment to closing the deal with MCI.

"Notwithstanding the latest Qwest proposal, we continue to believe Verizon is the best partner for MCI. As we move through the proxy process, we will continue to assess the situation and intend to take the necessary steps at the appropriate time to secure shareholder approval and complete our pending transaction," it said in a statement.

So which will MCI run off with its true love or seek a life of luxury in the arms of its rich lover? Only time will tell.