At that Samantha picked up her tote bag and reached for her suitcase, but putting his hand on it, he wouldn’t let her have it.
“All right,” he said again, this time with a sigh of defeat. “I apologize again. Couldn’t we start over?”
“No,” she said. “It’s not possible. Would you please release my bag so I can leave?”
Mike wasn’t going to let her leave. Besides the fact that he wanted her so badly there was sweat running down his chest even though it was a cool day, there was his promise to her father. He was aware that she knew nothing about how close he had been with her father, didn’t know that Dave and Mike had spent quite a bit of time together until Dave had told him Samantha was coming home. After that announcement Dave had confined their friendship to letters, which had been sent to the attorney, because for some reason, Dave hadn’t wanted Mike and Samantha to meet, at least not while Dave was alive. Then, two days before Dave died, he had called Mike, although by then Dave had been too weak for Mike to hear all of what he had to say, but Mike had understood the essence of it. Dave had said he was sending Samantha to him in New York and he had asked Mike to take care of her. At the time Mike hadn’t felt he’d had any other choice, so he’d given his word that he’d protect her and watch out for her. But so far, Mike didn’t think these last few minutes were what Dave had in mind.
Mike looked down at Samantha’s two bags. “Which one has your overnight things in it?”
Samantha thought that was a very odd question, but then the last few minutes had been the oddest of her life.
Not waiting for her answer, he picked up her tote bag and opened the door to the house. “Five minutes, that’s all I ask. Give me five minutes, then ring the bell.”
“Would you please give me back my bag?”
“What time is it now?”
“Quarter after four,” she answered automatically after a glance at her watch.
“Okay, at twenty after ring the bell.”
Shutting the door behind him, he left Samantha standing alone on the stoop, half of her luggage missing. When she pressed the doorbell, there was no answer. She was tempted to take her large case and leave, but the fact that her remaining money was hidden in her tote bag made her sit down on her suitcase and wait.
Trying not to think of her father, trying not to ask herself why he had done this to her, and especially trying not to think of her husband—correction, ex-husband—she forced herself to look at the sidewalks and the street before her, forced herself to look at the people, at the men dressed in jeans and the women in outrageously short skirts. Even in New York, the air seemed to be full of the laziness of a Sunday afternoon.
This man, this Michael Taggert, had said he wanted to start over, she thought. If she could, she’d like to start her life over, like to start from the morning of the day her mother died, because after that day nothing in h
er life had ever been the same. Today, having to be here, was part of all the pain and trauma that had started that day.
Looking at her watch again, her first thought was that maybe she could pawn it, but the watch had cost only thirty dollars new, so she doubted that she could get much for it. Noticing that it was twenty-five after four, she thought that maybe, if she rang the bell now, Michael Taggert would answer and maybe he’d give her back her bag so she could find a place to stay. The sooner she got started on this year-long sentence the sooner she could get out of this dreadful city.
Taking a deep breath, smoothing her skirt, making sure her hair was tightly in place, she put her finger on the doorbell.
When the man opened the door promptly at Samantha’s ring, she stood for a moment blinking at the change in him. He was wearing a clean blue dress shirt, partly unbuttoned but still neat, a loosened silk tie, dark blue tropical weight wool trousers, and perfectly polished loafers. His thick growth of black whiskers was gone and the black curls of his hair had been tamed into a conservative, neatly parted style. Within minutes he had gone from resembling the sexy, rather dangerous leader of a gang of hoodlums to looking like a prosperous young banker on his day off.
“Hello, you must be Miss Elliott,” he said, extending his hand. “I’m Michael Taggert. Welcome to New York.”
“Please give me back my bag.” She ignored his outstretched hand. “I want to leave.”
Smiling, acting as though she hadn’t spoken, Mike stepped aside. “Won’t you please come in? Your apartment is ready for you.”
Samantha did not want to enter this man’s house. For one thing, she found it disconcerting that he could change his looks so quickly and so completely, that within minutes he could go from looking like a muscle-bound jock who’d never done anything more intelligent than memorize a few football plays to looking like a young professor. If she had met this man first, she wouldn’t have guessed what he was really like. As it was now, she wasn’t sure which man was the real one.
When Samantha saw her tote bag at the foot of the stairs, she stepped inside the house to get it, but as her hand touched the handle of the case, she heard the door close behind her. Turning toward him in anger, her lips were tight, but his glance didn’t meet her eyes.
“Would you like to see the house first or just your apartment?”
She didn’t want to see either, but he was standing in front of the door, blocking her exit, as big as a boulder in front of a cave entrance. “I want to get out of here. I want—”
“The house it is, then,” he said cheerfully, as though she’d answered positively. “The house was built in the twenties, I don’t know the exact year, but you can see that the rooms have all the original moldings.”
Refusing to move away from her bag, she stood where she was.
But Mike forced her to participate, however reluctantly, as he put his hand on her elbow and began to half pull, half push her out of the foyer, propelling her toward the living room. She saw a large room, with big, comfortable-looking black leather chairs and a couch strewn about, a rough, hand-woven carpet on the floor, folk art from all over the world tastefully scattered about the room, as well as two enormous palm trees in the corners by the windows. Several masks hung on the walls, as well as Chinese tapestries and Balinese paintings. It was a man’s room, with dark colors, leather, and wooden objects—the room of a man of taste and discrimination.
The room didn’t look much like a bordello as she would have thought from her first impression of him. In fact, the man beside her, the one wearing the banker’s clothes, looked more at home in this room than the jock she had first met.