Sweet Liar (Montgomery/Taggert 18) - Page 15

“What for?” he asked.

“To pay for—”

Not allowing her to finish, he took her elbow and propelled her toward the front door. “I told you, I’m an old-fashioned guy. I pay. When I’m with a female, I pay. Whether she’s my sister, my mother, or girlfriend, I pay. No Dutch treat. No her picking up the tab. Understand?”

Samantha didn’t say a word. There were too many other things on her mind than who paid for breakfast.

As he ushered her out into the early morning light, she saw that there were a few people on Lexington Avenue, but not many, and the city had an eerie feeling, as though they were alone in it. Silently, she walked beside him, following him into an all-night coffee shop.

Smiling familiarly, the waitress brought Mike a cup of coffee. “Mike, you been at it all night again?” she asked.

He smiled back at her. “Yeah,” he said then turned to Samantha. “Scrambled eggs, bagels, okay with you? And tea, right?”

She nodded, not asking how he knew that she didn’t like coffee. The truth was, she didn’t really care what she ate.

Leaning back in the booth, Mike sipped his coffee. “I wish your father had told you more. I wish he hadn’t left it to me to explain everything.”

“My father liked to…manage things,” she said softly.

“Your father liked to control people’s lives.”

That snapped her out of her lethargy. “I thought you said you liked my father!”

“I did. We had some wonderful talks and we became friends, but I’m not blind. He liked to make people do what he wanted them to do.”

Samantha glared at him.

“All right,” Mike said. “I get your point. No more comments about your sainted father. You want to hear his theory—his, mind you, not mine—on what happened with your grandparents?”

She did want to hear and she didn’t. It was rather like paying to see a horror film that you wanted to see yet also didn’t want to see.

“Your father believed that in 1928 Maxie was pregnant by Barrett, but something happened to prevent them from marrying. Maybe she told him she was pregnant and he refused to marry her, I don’t know. I do know that she left New York, went to Louisville, met Cal, and married him. She stayed with him for thirty-six years, then the photo of her appeared in the paper. Your father thought Barrett probably saw it and that’s how he located Maxie.”

While watching her with the concentration of a snake, Mike drank more of his coffee. She was difficult to read, and he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. “Two weeks before Maxie left, Dave said she was on the phone a lot and seemed upset. Just last year he was still berating himself, saying he should have asked her what was wrong, but he was fascinated with his baby daughter and had no thoughts for anyone else. Then, out of the blue, Maxie said her aunt was ill and needed her. She left, and no one in your family ever saw her again. At the time, Dave wanted to search for her, but your grandfather Cal said no—violently no. Dave believed Cal might have known that Maxie had gone back to Barrett. It was your father’s guess that after Barrett had seen her picture, he probably contacted her and asked her to come back to him and she did.”

Samantha took a few moments to adjust to what he had told her. “If that’s the case, why in the world would my father want to search for an adulteress? An adulteress! Scum-of-the-earth.”

Mike watched her. “Interesting. Such a forceful opinion about adultery. Any personal reasons for such vehemence?”

Not answering him, she watched the waitress place the food before them.

“Your father wasn’t sure what happened to his mother,” Mike continued. “He thought for a while that she was a victim of foul play. Purse nabbed, then murdered, that sort of thing, but a year after she disappeared, she sent Cal a postcard from New York saying she was safe.”

“How thoughtful of her,” she said sarcastically.

Mike waited a moment for her to say something else, but when she was silent, he spoke again. “Maxie wrote that she was safe. Not that she was happy or well or send my clothes to so and so. She said she was safe.”

“Safe in the arms of her lover?”

“Is that bitterness I hear in your voice?”

“What I think or feel is none of your business. All I want from you is to know how much I have to do before the requirements of the will are met.”

“Get me in to see Barrett and that’s it. I want to meet the man. No one’s seen him in twenty years. He’s a recluse who lives on an estate in Connecticut with fences, dogs, and armed guards.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that my grandmother—if she’s still alive—might be living there with him?”

Mike grinned. “The thought had crossed my mind.”

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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