All in all, she thought as she reached for a pair of linen trousers, it would be better for both of them if she left immediately after they saw Barrett. There had been too much turmoil in Samantha’s life already for her to live in a house where she fought with her landlord.
Answering the doorbell to his cousin’s ring, Mike stood for a moment with his hand on the doorknob, not allowing Raine to enter. “You touch her, Montgomery, and you’ll never be able to breed any children.”
Without a smile, Raine nodded, acknowledging what Mike meant: He had claim on Samantha.
Turning away, Mike left the room, for he didn’t think he could stand to see Sam smiling at another man. But in spite of his noble intentions, he found himself standing at the front window the moment he heard the door close behind them, standing there watching the two of them walk toward Central Park. Physically, Mike thought, they were wrong for each other. Samantha’s small curvy body didn’t match his cousin’s tall, thin, scrawny body.
Mike looked away from them in disgust, disgust as himself. Maybe Sam was right and he was crazy. Never before had he been eaten with jealousy as he was right now, and frankly, he didn’t much like the feeling. Nor did he understand why he felt jealous, for Samantha had certainly never given him any encouragement to think that she belonged to him.
Her father had, he thought in his own defense. Her father had asked Mike to take care of his precious daughter after he was gone. The first month he had done a poor job of looking out for her, but since then he’d tried to make up for lost time.
Sighing, Mike thought of the lonely afternoon ahead of him. Who was going to be here to take delight in something as ordinary as ordering from a deli? Who was going to ask him questions and take an interest in his research? Who was going to smell the roses in the garden? Who was going to look him up and down whenever she thought he wasn’t looking?
As Mike started to turn away from the window, he saw a man step from the shadow of a building across the street and start walking. In New York one saw people everywhere, but something about this man made Mike notice him. For one thing, he had been standing in that same place yesterday. Mike had noticed him because all men who worked out noticed other men whose triceps strained against the back of their shirt sleeves. This guy wasn’t that big, he wasn’t so big that his lats kept his arms from touching his ribs, but he did indeed know which end of a barbell to pick up.
Unlatching the window, Mike pushed it up and stuck his head out. After watching for a moment, he didn’t know why, but he was ninety-nine percent sure that the man was following Sam and his cousin.
Mike didn’t lose a moment, and was out the door in seconds, following the man across Park Avenue, Madison, then Fifth, and into the park. At the park, Mike was sure the man was following Samantha when he stepped behind the statue of General Sherman while Raine bought Sam an ice cream and a couple of balloons.
For a moment, Mike’s attention strayed from the man, because Sam was looking up at his string bean of a cousin with a face drippy with sentimentality. From the look on her face a person would have thought that no one had ever given her anything as wonderful as that half-thawed ice cream and the cheap balloons. His stupid cousin was grinning back at her as though he’d presented her the head of a dragon.
“Give me a break,” Mike said in disgust.
The next moment the two of them went strolling through the park, not aware that anyone other than themselves existed, while Mike stayed back until he saw the man who was following them move. The man made no attempt at secrecy and at one point even walked ahead of them, sat on a bench, and watched them walk past.
As he stayed hidden, Mike didn’t allow the man to see him, because if he’d been watching the house, he would recognize Mike.
For the next forty-five minutes, as Mike followed the man, he watched Samantha and his cousin. To give Raine credit, he never laid a hand on Samantha, but every time she so much as smiled at the bean pole, Mike wanted to smash him in the face. It was when the two of them stopped at the children’s playground that Mike thought he was going to be sick. Deftly catching a swing with one hand, Raine helped Sam onto the seat as though she were an invalid, then gave her a little push, while Sam laughed in utter delight, as though he’d accomplished some great feat.
“I should have killed him the summer we were both twelve,” Mike muttered.
Mike did have a moment of pleasure when Samantha stopped the swing and started to get out, because when Raine put out a hand to help Sam out of the swing, she moved away from his touch.
“It isn’t just me,” Mike said in satisfaction.
After the swings they walked along through the twisting paths and every time they disappeared from his sight, the hairs on the back of Mike’s neck rose. It was when Raine stepped away from Sam to retrieve a baseball and throw it back to some kids that Mike realized the man who was following them was nowhere in sight. Mike’s attention had been on whether or not his skinny cousin was touching Sam and had strayed from the real reason he was playing private eye.
For a moment, Mike looked about in panic, knowing that something was wrong. Where was the man? Who was the man?
Mike saw Samantha standing in the shade of some trees watching Raine with a syrupy expression on her face, and behind her, coming down the hill slowly so he wouldn’t make a sound was the man.
Mike began to run. He ran across a blanket spread with food, causing the picnickers to yell at him; he leaped over a bench filled with people and they shrieked at him. When he hit the clump of trees he was still running, and when he hit the man with all his two hundred pounds of muscle, he flattened him. For several moments, hidden in the shadow of the trees, the two of them struggled, but it was no contest. Mike was much stronger than the man and soon had him pinned to the ground.
“Who are you?” Mike asked, holding the man down. “What do you want?”
The man had a look on his face that said he’d die before he said a word, and suddenly Mike knew the answers to his questions. “Barrett sent you, didn’t he?”
There was the merest flicker in the man’s eyes that let Mike know he was right.
“Why?” Mike asked, truly puzzled. “Does he want to know about his granddaughter?”
He never received an answer, because the man took advantage of Mike’s puzzlement to pick up a rock and hit Mike on the head with it. The pain of the blow, as well as the unexpectedness of it, sent Mike reeling, and the man lost no time in disappearing. For a moment Mike sat on the ground, his hand to his head, his vision unclear.
“Michael Taggert! How could you do this? How could you spy on me?”
Looking up, he saw Samantha standing over him, hands on hips, and he thought her face was angry, but his vision was too blurry to be sure.