Sweet Liar (Montgomery/Taggert 18) - Page 43

That night, she found herself nodding off, and only when Mike started to pick her up did she wake. Out of instinct, she began to fight him, but he held her close. “It’s me,” he whispered. “Me, Mike, no one else.”

It took her a moment to relax against him, sleepy, her throat still painful. But when he put her in his bed, she panicked, trying to get away from him.

Startled, Mike stepped back from her, his face full of anger. “I am not a rapist,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’m not going to hurt you and I am not going to bed with any woman who doesn’t want me in bed with her.” Turning away, he went to the doorway, his hand on the light switch. “If you need me, I’ll be next door in the guest bedroom.” There was no warmth in his voice.

Samantha lay awake for a while in Mike’s big bed, on pillows that he had slept on, and looked up at the ceiling. Inadequate, she thought. She had always been inadequate when it came to men.

When Sam woke in the morning, at first she didn’t know where she was, but when she realized it was Mike’s bedroom, a feeling of safety came over her. Someone, and she knew it was Mike, had placed clean clothes over a chair for her. Getting out of bed, she pulled on the jeans and T-shirt he’d left for her—there were no shoes, as though he thought she’d run away if given shoes—and went into the bathroom. This was Mike’s bathroom, and the countertop had several bottles and jars on it, all neatly arranged, all clean. Picking up a bottle of aftershave, she smelled it, smiled, and put it down again, then found herself sliding back the glass door to the shower and looking inside to see his shampoo.

There was another door that opened into the bath, and when she opened it she saw another bedroom. The bed was rumpled, recently slept in. Obviously, Mike had spent the night in this room, the room closest to her.

After her inspection of the bathroom, she went back into the bedroom, and after telling herself she shouldn’t, she opened his closet door. It was a large, walk-in closet and had been fitted with built-in cabinets to hold his clothes, which were all neatly arranged. He didn’t have a lot of clothes, but what he had was all of the best quality. Touching the sleeve of a cream-colored jacket made of raw silk, she lifted the jacket from the rack, looking at the shoulders that were as broad as Mike’s shoulders and the waist as narrow as his. There was no way on earth that he’d bought this jacket off a store rack; it had to have been made for him. Inside the jacket was the label of a store in London.

She put the jacket back, ran her hands across shirts and trousers, then touched perfectly polished shoes lined up on slanted shelves, each shoe with a cedar shoe tree inside it. Closing the closet door, she went back into the bedroom.

There was a big chest against one wall in the bedroom, and after a moment’s hesitation, Samantha opened the drawers. Underwear, sweaters, a drawer full of workout clothes, socks. It was when she opened the bottom right-hand drawer that she saw a silver frame turned face down. She could no more have contained her curiosity than she could have willed herself to fly. Picking up the frame, she looked at the photograph of a very pretty young woman with lots of dark hair and an intelligent, almost aristocratic-looking face. “All my love, Vanessa” she’d written on the photo.

As Samantha put the photo back in the drawer the way she’d found it, she wondered why Mike had hidden the photo, why he hadn’t wanted her to know that he had a steady girl who gave him all her love. Of course a man liked for a woman to think that she was the only one in his life, didn’t he? She remembered last night and Mike telling her that he wasn’t a rapist. He hadn’t been making a pass at her, but Sam had thought he was.

After she finished dressing, she went into the kitchen where she found Mike sitting at the breakfast table. When she greeted him, he was distant to her, saying only that she should be in bed. She wanted to apologize to him for last night, for fighting him after he’d saved her life. She wanted to tell him that it wasn’t him but her, that she was the one with the problems, but she couldn’t bring herself to write what she felt. Quietly, she went back to bed and picked up a book, but didn’t read it.

Later in the morning, Blair came and examined her throat and said she’d be all right by the next day, but if she could, she’d like for Samantha not to speak for another day. Blair went into the living room with Mike and minutes later Samantha got out of bed and followed them.

Blair was leaning over Mike and examining his head. Neither of them saw Samantha, so she slipped upstairs and put on some makeup. When she came down, Mike was in the garden, sitting at the picnic table, lunch food before him.

“You want something to eat?” he asked, but he didn’t look at her.

Samantha opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. How could she explain something that she herself didn’t understand?

The sunlight glistened on his hair, and she could see the bare place where his scalp was white. When she stepped closer to him, reached out, and touched his hair, he didn’t move. Encouraged, she stepped even closer and examined the wound. There were ten stitches holding the gash shut, and she knew without a doubt that his injury had something to do with why her throat was a mass of bruises.

On impulse, she kissed the sewn cut. Mike sat still, for once not grabbing her, not trying to wrestle her to the ground, not tearing at her clothes. His acquiescence encouraged her, and she smoothed his hair over the place, covering it completely.

Moving away from him, she went to take her seat on the opposite side of the table. He was looking at her oddly, as though trying to figure her out. She wanted to tell him to not try to figure her out, that she wasn’t like other people, that she didn’t fit into any mold.

Mike didn’t say anything, just ate and kept his thoughts to himself.

At one o’clock the telephone rang and when Mike answered it, he broke into a smile. “That’s great,” he said, grinning. “Congratulations. Wait a minute and I’ll ask Sam.” Putting his hand over the phone, he turned to her. “Are you up for some company? A friend of mine just passed her bar exam and she’s celebrating today. She and some others would like to come over.”

Smiling, Samantha nodded yes, although she was leery of more of Mike’s friends. So far she’d met strippers and rednecks. What kind of bar had this woman passed? Bartending?

Not wanting anyone to see the bruises on her throat, Samantha put on a turtleneck knit shirt. An hour later, when she met Mike’s friends, she was pleasantly surprised. There were four of them, one married couple, Jess and Anne, who had been married all of six weeks, and an engaged couple, Ben and Corey. It was Corey who had just passed her exam that allowed her to practice law. She said that she’d grown up in the same small town of Chandler, Colorado, that Mike had.

When the four ecstatic people, carrying bottles of champagne, entered the town house and saw Samantha on the couch, they immediately assumed that she and Mike were living together.

It was Mike who set them straight. “Samantha is my tenant,” Mike said. “She has an apartment upstairs.” He told them she’d fallen against the banister and injured her throat so she couldn’t speak. Sam fiddled with the turtleneck, afraid they would see the bruises that looked exactly like fingerprints.

When Mike said Samantha was no more than his tenant, his four friends looked from one to the other and wiggled their eyebrows. It wasn’t the usual tenant-land-lord relationship that had the tenant ensconced on the library couch wrapped in a quilt.

For Samantha it was good to have the presence of the other people, for their laughter broke the tension that had developed between her and Mike, and she got to see Mike as he was around other people.

Since she’d been twelve years old, Samantha had led an isolated life. Her mother had been the more social of her parents, the one who was always organizing barbecues, dinner parties, and church socials. After she died, Samantha had been left with her father, who rarely saw other people. Then there had been Samantha’s marriage to a man who liked his socializing in private.

But Mike was a gregarious creature who was at ease in groups.

Jess liked computers, and when he saw the new equipment in Mike’s library, he couldn’t wait to turn it on. Mike gave Samantha all the credit for having chosen the equipment and for doing whatever had to be done to it to make it work.

Looking at the directory, Jess brought up the Sierra game and within minutes, the three men were moving the mouse about on the pad and arguing over bees and ants and robbers.

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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