Sweet Liar (Montgomery/Taggert 18) - Page 109

It was Lila, the lead dancer, who told Mike to lay off and that she was getting sick of hearing his bellyaching and she was beginning to admire Maxie’s fortitude and the way she carried herself. And it was Lila who first invited Maxie to go shopping with her and the girls, asking Maxie if she’d help them choose dresses that weren’t so gaudy. Maxie was a little leery of what the women had planned for her, but she went and she had a wonderful time. When the women found out that Maxie wasn’t so much aloof as she was shy, Lila guessed that the poor kid had never had a chance to learn how to make friends.

After that the women began to accept Maxie into their group, inviting her places and accepting Maxie’s invitations.

But Mike kept badgering Maxie, still so angry at her that he intensified his efforts to get a reaction out of her—but he didn’t succeed. When Lila told him to lay off and slammed the dressing room door in his face, Mike was angry enough to kill.

Then one night Michael’s life changed forever. An hour after he left the club he realized he’d forgotten his wallet, having left it in his tux at the club. Annoyed with himself, he went back to the club to find it locked and dark. Knowing that a second-story bathroom window’s lock was broken, he piled garbage cans on top of each other in a precarious stack and climbed in the window.

After he had his wallet, as he was leaving the club, he thought he heard something. Walking down a corridor, he saw a dim light shining from under the women’s dressing room door. Silently pushing the door open, he looked in to see Maxie sitting at the table crying, but she was crying in that way that he and the other kids in the orphanage had cried: silently, as though, if they were discovered, they would be punished.

Without a conscious thought, he did what he’d always wished someone had done for him: He went to her, knelt beside her, and took her in his arms. After an initial moment of Maxie’s fighting him, she calmed down and clung to him—and Mike clung to her. Had someone told him that the reason he bedded all the women was because he wanted to be close to them, that he wanted them to love him, he would have laughed, for he liked to think of himself as utterly independent, needing no one. He liked to think he was a love ’em and leave ’em guy, and he knew that’s what the women thought of him. Not one of them was ever serious about a too-handsome dancer in a bar.

When Maxie couldn’t seem to stop crying, Mike carried her to the beat-up old couch along one wall, moving a jumble of sequined and rhinestoned garments and torn netting, to sit with her and hold her.

It was the most natural thing in the world when they started kissing. Months of anger at each other quickly turned to passion as they began fumbling with each other’s clothes, then tearing at them. They made love on the couch once, twice, three times, not talking to each other, afraid that words would break the spell, afraid that each would become what they didn’t want. Mike was afraid Maxie would turn into all the other women, afraid she’d say, “That was swell, Mike, but I need to get back to my old man now.” Maxie was afraid that she was just another one of Mike’s girls.

It was nearly daylight when Maxie first spoke. Tired, sated, she lay in Mike’s arms and knew she never wanted to leave this place where she felt safe for the first time in her life. “If Doc finds out, he’ll kill both of us.”

It took Mike a few minutes to calm his racing heart, for her words indicated that she intended to continue seeing him. “We will keep it a secret,” he said, and Maxie nodded, for she sensed that he knew about secrets as well as she did.

Over the next months she and Mike met clandestinely in a cold-water flat that was a breeding pen for cockroaches and rats. They made love, yes, but they also talked, telling each other all about their lives, for the first time each having a friend to confide in.

At the club they did their best to keep their growing love for each other a secret. They said all the right things. Mike still called Maxie an icy bitch; he still sneered at her, and Maxie still stuck her nose in the air when he was around.

But they didn’t fool the women. For one thing, Mike quit making passes at everything in skirts, even behaving himself on the dance floor. For another thing, there was that look in Mike’s eyes. Where once he’d looked at Maxie with eyes that glittered with anger, they now glittered with love. Not lust, love.

Knowing that the women saw what was going on, one night Maxie tried her best to make them think that she and Mike still hated each other by tossing a glass of champagne in his face.

Mike ruined everything by grabbing Maxie’s shoulders and kissing her hard on the mouth, and the girls recognized a familiar gesture when they saw one. When Mike walked out of the dressing room, there was silence until Lila said, “Honey, you oughta be real careful with a man like Doc.”

Maxie could only nod.

35

12 May 1928

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Maxie was sure she’d never been so happy in her life as she was tonight. Everything about Jubilee’s club was especially beautiful, from the mirrored ball overhead that flickered flattering lights across people’s faces to the people themselves. Tonight the club seemed to be full of Doc’s men and even their crude manners couldn’t dull Maxie’s happiness.

It was difficult to sing the blues, difficult to sing about your man leaving you and no longer loving you when she knew that tonight she was leaving the city with Michael. Her bags were packed and ready, waiting for the last show to be over, then she and Mike were slipping away, going to the Midwest somewhere or to California, anywhere that was far enough away from Doc and his type.

As she sang, she saw Mike waltzing some woman with hair the color and texture of straw across the dance floor, her arm about his wide shoulders, her gum popping in his ear. As he passed Maxie, he winked at her, then rolled his eyes skyward. The song of misery that Maxie was singing became a caressing love song.

When at long last it came time for Maxie’s break, with Lila and the girls coming on stage next, Maxie could hardly contain her excitement through the introductions.

As she was rushing toward the dressing room, in the darkened hallway, Jubilee stepped in front of her. “You oughtn’t to give yourself away like that, kid,” he said softly, and she knew he meant her singing and the way she had been smiling at Mike all through the evening.

Maxie was glad for the darkness to hide her blush. She felt bad for not telling Jubilee that she was leaving tonight, but she and Mike had agreed that their leaving had to be kept secret, and that meant telling no one, no good-byes to anyone.

Pretending she had no idea what Jubilee meant, Maxie went past him and headed for the dressing room, but Mike caught her in a shadow, pulling her into a dark doorway and kissing her as though his life depended on her.

“Mike,” she said, trying to think, but his hands were all over her. “Mike, we can’t be seen.”

Tenderly, he put his hands on her cheeks and kissed her gently. “How’s my kid?”

“Healthy,” she answered. “Secure and happy, just as her mother is.”

He kissed her again. “Just like his old man.”

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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