“Sure,” the man said, holding onto Samantha’s hand in spite of her tugs as he pulled her forward. “I’d like you to meet…” Turning, he looked at her in question.
Samantha looked away from him; she didn’t want to look in his face again. No mirror was needed to tell her that her own face was brilliant red with embarrassment. “Samantha Elliot,” she managed to whisper.
“Oh, yeah?” the man holding her hand said, then looked back at the three men, who were now nudging each other at this new knowledge that Mike didn’t know the woman he had moments before been kissing as though he meant to swallow her whole.
“I’d like you to meet my tenant,” the man said with a grin. “She’s going to be living in my house with me.” The pride and delight in his voice came through clearly.
Giving a sharp jerk on her hand, Samantha freed herself from his grip. She would have thought her mortification could not deepen, but at the realization of who this man was, it did. Horror, humiliation, panic, revulsion were all emotions that crowded into her, and she wanted to flee. Or die. Or preferably both.
“Some roommate!” Laughing in a vulgar way, one of the men looked her up and down.
“You wanta live with me, baby, just let me know,” the second man said.
“With you and your wife,” the third man said, hitting the second one in the ribs. “Honey, I’m not married. I’ll take real good care of you. Better than Mike would—or could.”
“Get out of here!” Mike yelled back good-naturedly, no animosity in his voice, just good humor as he picked up the football and tossed it to them.
One of the men caught the ball, and the three of them went down the street, punching each other and laughing as they walked.
The man turned to her. “I’m Mike.” Putting out his hand to shake, he didn’t seem to understand when Samantha only stared at him. “Michael Taggert.” When she still didn’t respond, he began to explain. “Your landlord. You wrote me a letter, remember?”
Not saying a word, Samantha walked past him, careful not to touch him, and went up the stairs. Her luggage was in her hands before he was beside her.
“Wait a minute while I open the door. I hope the apartment’s all right for you. I had a crew come in and clean the place and put clean sheets on your bed. I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you arrived, but I lost track of the time and—Hey! Where are you going?”
A suitcase in each hand, Samantha had gone down the stairs and was three houses down the block by the time he got the door unlocked.
Bounding down the stairs two at a time, Mike came to a stop in front of her and reached out to take her bags, but she jerked them away from him, trying to walk around him, but he wouldn’t let her pass.
“You’re not mad because I was late, are you?”
Giving him a quick, hard glare, Samantha again tried to move around him. After three pivots and his blocking of every one of them, she turned and started walking in the other direction, but he blocked her that way too. Finally, she stopped and glared at him. “Would you please let me pass?”
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Where are you going?”
Intelligent stupid people, she thought. Was this city full of them? Still glaring at him, she said, “Mr. Taggert, I am going to find a hotel.”
“A hotel? But I have your apartment ready for you. You haven’t even seen it yet, so you can’t dislike it. It’s not me, is it? I told you I was sorry I was late. I’m not usually late, but my watch got wet last week and it’s in the shop and I couldn’t tell what time it was. And those bozos I was with probably couldn’t tell time if they had a watch and could figure out how to buckle it on.”
Giving him a look that was meant to wither him on the spot, Samantha moved around him.
He wasn’t to be put off so easily as he stepped back in front of her and started walking backward. “It’s the guys, isn’t it? Pretty crude, aren’t they? I apologize for them. I only see them when I want to toss a ball around with someone and at the gym. I mean, I don’t see them socially, if that’s what’s worrying you. You won’t have to see them in our house. I promise.”
Halting for a moment, Samantha had to marvel at the man. How could he be so very beautiful and understand so very little? She forced herself to look away from him. It was his beauty that had gotten her into trouble in the first place.
When she started walking again, he was beside her. “If it’s not that I was late and it’s not the guys, then what’s the problem?” he asked.
At the corner of the block, she stopped. Now what was she to do? she wondered. She had no idea where she was or where she was going, but she saw lots of yellow taxis driving by. In the movies people hailed taxis by standing on the curb and lifting their arms, so she hoisted her tote bag onto her shoulder and raised her arm. Within seconds a taxi came to a halt in front of her. Acting as though this was something she’d done a thousand times, she put her hand on the car door.
“Wait a minute!” Mike said as she started to open the door to the cab. “You can’t leave. You’ve never been in the city before, and you don’t know where you’re going.”
“I am going as far away from you as I can get,” she answered, not looking at him.
Mike’s face was the embodiment of surprise. “But I thought you liked me.”
With a gasp of exasperation, Samantha started to get into the cab.
But Mike stopped her by taking her suitcase, then her arm, both of which he held firmly. “You’re not leaving,” he said; then, glancing into the cab at the driver, he said, “Beat it.”