Samantha put her spoon down with a clatter. “My grandmother ran away when I was eight months old. There is no photo of the two of us.”
Leaning on his elbow, he looked at her intently, without blinking, as though trying to relay some message to her.
“Oh,” Samantha said. “That picture.” It had taken her a while to remember, not that she remembered the incident, but her grandfather had told her what happened. “Brownie,” she said at last. “I was staying with my grandmother, and I crawled into a pipe in a ditch in the backyard.”
“And you got stuck, and your grandmother called the fire department.”
“And a bored newspaper reporter looking for a story happened to be at the station that day so he came with the firemen, but it was Brownie who saved me.”
“Your dog crawled into the pipe, bit into your soggy diaper, and pulled you out of that pipe. The reporter took a picture of you, your grandmother, and Brownie, the wire services picked the photo and story up and sent it around to papers all over the country, where it was seen by my uncle Michael Ransome as well as the rest of the world. Uncle Mike cut the photo out and wrote Maxie in the margin. All through his notes a woman named Maxie is mentioned.” He looked up at her, studying her.
“Maxie was Barrett’s mistress.” When Samantha didn’t jump out of her skin at this news, as he was hoping she would, he leaned back on the bed and put his hands behind his head. “I think Maxie and your grandmother are one and the same.”
When Samantha didn’t say anything, just kept cleaning out the dish of mousse as though he’d said nothing, he looked back at her. She was looking sleepy again. “Well?” he asked impatiently.
She put down the empty dessert bowl. “Are you finished? Have you told me what you wanted to tell me? You think my grandmother was the mistress of a gangster. Okay, you’ve told me, now go.”
For a moment, he could only blink at her. “You don’t have an opinion on this?”
“I have an opinion on you,” she said softly. “You have been reading too many of those gangster books. I didn’t know my grandmother, but she was a regulation grandmother, cookie baking, that sort of thing. And her name was Gertrude. She was not a gangster’s moll—is that the right term?” She put her hand up when he started to interrupt her. “And besides that, what does it matter if she was? Now will you leave?”
Rolling over to his side, he frowned at her. “It matters because I think your grandmother was in love with Barrett and bore him a child. Tony Barrett just may be your real grandfather.”
At that Samantha very slowly, very carefully, set the tray to one side, got out of bed, and walked to the door. “Out,” she said as though talking to someone who didn’t understand English. “Get out. In the morning I will find another place of residence.”
As though she hadn’t spoken, Mike rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. “Your father thought Barrett was his real father.”
“I don’t want to hear anymore,” she said louder. “I want you to leave.”
“I’m not going to leave,” he said without looking at her.
Samantha didn’t say a word, but if he wouldn’t leave, she would. Stepping out of the room, she started down the stairs.
Mike caught her in his arms before she reached the bottom of the stairs. She struggled against him, but he held her easily, his arms about her body, her back against his front, and as she struggled against him, Mike felt his desire for her growing. He could feel her body against his, her hips, her breasts, her thighs, all touching him. “Be still, Sam,” he whispered, sounding desperate, which he was. “Please, please be still.”
There was something odd in his tone that made Samantha stop struggling and go perfectly still in his arms.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, his voice ragged, his lips near her ear lobe. “You have nothing to fear from me. All of this was your father’s idea, not mine. I told him he should ask you to help me find Maxie, not force you to do it.” Still holding her close to him, he moved his face to touch her neck, not kissing her, but feeling her softness, smelling her skin.
With a sharp jerk, Samantha pulled away from him, then leaned back against the stair rail. Her heart was pounding in her breast, her breathing deep and irregular. When she looked at him, she saw that his heart was pounding too and his skin was flushed.
“You want to sit down somewhere and talk about this?”
“No,” she answered. “I don’t want to talk about anything, nor do I want to hear anything you have to say. I don’t want to hear your made-up stories about my father or my grandmother or about anything else for that matter. All I want to do is leave this house and never see you again.”
“No,” he said, pleading, but there was something else in his eyes. “I can’t allow you to leave. Your father gave me the care of you and I mean to be worthy of his trust.”
Samantha blinked at him several times before she was able to speak. “ ‘Gave you the care of me?’ You mean to be ‘worthy of his trust’?” She didn’t know whether to laugh or run away. “You sound like something from the past, something from the Middle Ages. I am an adult woman and I—”
Abruptly, Mike’s face changed. “Oh the hell with it. You’re right. Who am I to take any of this seriously? I told Dave this was a dumb idea. I told him he should give you your inheritance with no strings attached, but he insisted that this was the only way. He wanted you to find out the truth.”
Mike threw up his hands, palms up in surrender. “I give up. I’m not a good jailer. First I let you stay alone in a room until, as far as I can tell, you’re on the point of suicide, then I play the heavy and try to make you do what you don’t want to do. You are an adult and you can make your own decisions. You’re not interested in any of this, so go on back to bed. Put a chair in front of your door if you want—that should keep out even a dedicated pervert like me. In the morning I’ll call a real estate agency and help you find somewhere else to live and I’ll give you back your rent money. Why don’t you take that computer equipment with you because I don’t know what the hell to do with it. Good night, Miss Elliot,” he said, then walked down the stairs, turned, and went into the living room.
Shaking from her wrestle with him, shaking from all of it, Samantha slowly went back up the stairs.
As Samantha entered her father’s apartment, her first instinct was to pack a suitcase, but she didn’t. She felt so very tired. Closing the door, she wedged a chair under the knob, removed the chair, then climbed back into bed.