“I want to know about Colorado and your eleven brothers and sisters, if you don’t mind telling, that is.” She spoke shyly, as though she were asking something she shouldn’t.
“Where should I begin? Think of always being in a crowd. Think of noise and confusion and no privacy. Actually, think of living in a circus, complete with clowns and monkeys.”
Sam leaned forward on her elbows, her face eager. “Did you have arguments? Did you have lots of friends? Did you have pets? Did you go to movies? Did your sisters have slumber parties?”
He grinned. “Want to hear about the time my brother Kane and I hid under my sister’s bed waiting for her slumber party to begin?”
“Yes,” she answered eagerly.
It was late when, after seeing Samantha yawn, Mike suggested that they go to bed. She headed for the stairs, but he told her no, that he wanted her to sleep downstairs near him, at least until Monday when the grills were to be installed on the windows.
After escorting her up the stairs to her apartment, he stood in her living room waiting while she got some of her night things to move downstairs into his bedroom. His, he thought with a smile. This morning when he’d tried to shave he’d had to move a bottle of perfume, two pots of pink stuff, one of purple, and at least six little brushes. Her stockings were draped over the shower rod, and there was a bra hanging off his bathroom doorknob.
After he’d moved out of his father’s house, away from his many siblings, Mike had never wanted another person to live with him. Even in college he’d refused to have a roommate, and he’d never wanted any of his girlfriends to live with him. It wasn’t until the last two years that he’d begun to feel as though he missed the company of other people. After he’d met Dave, it had seemed natural to invite him to live in his house; they’d be together, but they’d have their own apartments, so it seemed to be the ideal situation.
After Dave had called and asked Mike to take care of his daughter for a year, Mike had dreaded having a female in the house, because he knew that a female would need lots of looking after and cause him lots of problems. “You never guessed half of it, Taggert,” he said aloud to himself.
“Did you say something?” Samantha asked, coming out of the bedroom and holding yet more bottles to be put in his bathroom. What did women do with all that stuff? he wondered.
“No, I was just looking. It’s dark in here, isn’t it?”
Samantha looked about the room, at the dark greens, the hunting prints, and the plaid on the furniture. When she’d first entered this room she had loved it, but now she thought she might buy a slipcover for the largest chair. “I saw some lovely rose damask in a shop on Madison,” she said. “Maybe…” She stopped, for what she was thinking seemed to be disrespectful to her father. After all, he had chosen everything in this room, and, too, it didn’t make sense to spend money on the apartment when she was going to be leaving in such a short time.
She looked at Mike, then had to look away. It was better not to think of leaving and going somewhere where she knew no one.
“Rose damask, huh?” he asked, taking her arm in his, offering to take the bottles from her, but Sam said no, then asked him to get a beat-up old hatbox from inside the closet. He didn’t even want to know what was in it, probably some more female-only products, he thought.
Downstairs, as he helped her put her things on the bathroom counter, which was already packed, she looked at the counter in dismay. “You’ll have your space back when they put the grills on.”
A minute before, Mike had been thinking with regret of his lost space, but now he didn’t want to think of her moving back upstairs.
“And, Mike,” she said softly, “about the ring.” Holding out her left hand, she looked at the big diamond sparkling, thinking that it was so beautiful that she didn’t want to part with it. Reluctantly, she began tugging at it. “I meant to give it back, but—”
He put his hand over hers. “Keep it. As long as you want to wear it, it’s yours.”
“I couldn’t do that. I mean…”
“I’ll just have to take it back to the bank and put it in the safe, and it’ll just rot there. Mother says that jewels react better to being used than to sitting in a safe deposit box. Besides, it looks better on your skin than in the ugly gray box.”
“Mike…” she began. “No one has ever—I mean…”
Leaning forward, he kissed her softly and gently. “If you again tell me thanks, I’ll get angry.”
When she looked up at him, there was gratitude in her eyes—and he didn’t like it. He’d never done anything but shown her simple human kindness, kindness that she should have expected. “You want to spend the night in bed with me?” he asked.
For a moment Samantha looked startled, feeling betrayed that he’d expect her to thank him in that way, but then she realized he was teasing. She laughed and the moment of tension was broken. “I’m not that grateful.”
“The gratitude comes after you spend a night with me,” he answered, grinning at her.
“Get out of here,” she said, laughing, then quickly he stole another kiss and left the bathroom.
Mike went into his bedroom and began to undress, smiling all the while. Damn it, but he was glad she hadn’t left, glad she hadn’t gone with his skinny cousin to Maine. Sometimes it was difficult to remember that there was danger if she stayed here, and sometimes all he could remember was Sam with his friends, all of his friends. He had been surprised but pleased when she hadn’t snubbed Daphne, and Sam had liked Corey and the others. He knew she would like his family in Colorado and that they’d like her. He could imagine her and Jeanne talking about rose damask together.
At the thought of his family, Mike frowned, remembering her story of tonight. What had she meant with her little story about clocks winding down? He had an idea that if he asked Sam for further explanation, she’d tell him another story and another and another, and he just might never find out the truth. She called him a liar, but she could give lessons.
Picking up the telephone extension, he called information in Louisville, Kentucky, giving the operator the name of Dave’s attorney to get his home number. Mike knew it was late in Louisville, but he didn’t know anyone else who might be able to answer his question of what had happened to Sam after her mother’s death.
When the attorney answered, Mike quickly apologized for its being so late, then asked his question. The attorney jolted him by saying that Allison’s death had sent Dave into a clinical depression that had lasted for years.