It took a moment for her to understand what he was trying to tell her. “And you think he chose you for Sam, too.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes, I do. Dave kept saying that he wanted to make up to her for what he’d done. I am ashamed to say that for a while I thought he’d molested her. Now I think he meant that he’d chosen the wrong man for her the first time. Looking back on it, I think Sam knew when she first met me that I was another arrangement made by her father, and I think that’s part of the reason for her initial hostility toward me. Her father’d done a very bad job of choosing for her the first time.”
Teasingly, Maxie smiled at him. “But he didn’t do such a bad job the second time?”
Mike didn’t return her smile. “He almost made a very bad mistake. For the first month Samantha lived with me, I let her stay alone in her room. I don’t know what would have happened if my friend Daphne hadn’t pointed out that Sam was…was…” He took a breath. “I think she may have been on the verge of suicide.”
Reassuringly, Maxie squeezed his strong, young fingers. “You’ve made up for lost time.” Her voice brightened. “So now that you’re the resc
uing hero, how do you feel? Like you’ve done a great, selfless deed?”
At that Mike laughed so loud Samantha stirred in her sleep. “I did at first. At first I felt like a martyr. There I was helping her, saving her from herself, and the ungrateful brat wouldn’t even go to bed with me to say thanks.”
Maxie laughed. “You solved that one, didn’t you?”
“She solved it. She solved everything. She’s made me see how lonely I’ve been over the last years and how bored I’d become with everything. Sam looks at life as though all of it is new and wondrous. You should see her when she goes shopping. It’s the same ol’ stuff but to Sam it’s as though she’s exploring a new planet. I guess nobody who has lived through what she has takes the good parts of life for granted.”
He caressed Samantha’s cheek. “You should have seen her at the picnic with my family. She fit in with them as though she’d been born with them, and all the kids loved her. Kids don’t like bad adults, they can sense them, but she and my baby sister had children all over them.”
Stepping away from the bed, Mike examined a Victorian oil painting of an impossibly idyllic landscape, but Maxie could tell that he wasn’t really looking at it. “Did she tell you about the picnic?” he asked.
“Some. She seemed to have had a wonderful time.” Even if Samantha had given Maxie a minute-by-minute account of the day, Maxie wouldn’t have said so, because it was obvious that Mike wanted to tell her something and she wanted to hear what he had to say.
“I was furious with my mother for planning the thing because I knew, but Sam didn’t, that Sam was being tested. Did she tell you that I have an identical twin brother?”
Looking back at Maxie, Mike grinned. “She didn’t tell you because it’s not important to her.” For a moment he paused. “All the things that have been important to other people about me—maybe you could say the things that define who I am—seem to mean nothing to Sam. She doesn’t care about my money or that I’m one of a pair. Being a twin is great most of the time, but sometimes it feels as though you’re not a unique person, that, unlike everyone else in the world, you’re only half of a whole. One of the reasons I came to New York was because I was sick of living in my small town where even my own relatives constantly asked me which one I was.”
Pausing for a moment, he ran his hand over the polished top of a cherry table. “There’s a saying in my family. It’s a stupid, ridiculous saying and I don’t know how it got started, but it goes, You marry the one who can tell the twins apart.”
When Mike didn’t continue, Maxie looked at him, trying to figure out what he was saying. “Your family came here to see if Samantha could tell you from your brother? That was the test?”
“In a word, yes. About five years ago, my twin brother, Kane, called my mother from Paris and said he’d fallen madly in love with a beautiful young French woman and was going to marry her. My mother congratulated him, then got off the phone and told me to get on the Concorde and go to Paris to meet her. She never said the words, but then she didn’t have to, because we both knew why I was being sent to France.”
“You were to see if your new sister-in-law could tell you from your brother.”
“And could she?” Maxie asked.
“No. Kane didn’t know I was coming, so I went to the address where he was staying and it turned out to be her parents’ house. I knocked, but no one answered so I walked to the back garden, and there she was, as beautiful as Kane had described her. But the moment she saw me she leaped out of her chair, ran to me, threw her arms around me, and gave me an incredible kiss. By the time Kane got there, she had my shirt half off.”
“Was your brother angry to find you like that with his fiancée?”
“No, we’re not like that. He knew what had happened, but he would hardly look at me, because he also knew that she had not been able to tell us apart—and she never could. Every time I was near her, she’d ask me if I was Kane or Michael.”
“What happened to her? You speak of her as though she were in the past.”
“She died in an accident, and Kane was devastated. He was crazy about her, but—”
“But what?” Maxie asked.
“My family never met her, but I think there was the feeling that she’d died because she wasn’t the right one for Kane, his…his soul mate, so to speak.”
“What happened at the picnic here?”
Mike grinned at her. “Sam knew my brother wasn’t me. She knew it immediately, but I don’t think Kane could really believe it. All day long he kept testing her. He’d walk up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder, but Sam wouldn’t so much as look at his hand—she seemed to sense who he was, and she’d say something like, ‘What do you want, Kane?’ She’d say it in a rather nasty tone.”