Holding tightly onto her hands to still them, she said, “I look at this house and everything in it and I know it was expensive and I know that you paid for my new clothes and you told my grandmother that your grandfather was a man of some wealth and that you could support a person.” After that pauseless sentence, she took a breath, trying to stop her heart from racing, for she was filled with embarrassment at asking for something else from a man who had already given her more than…more than was necessary.
She looked up at him. “Mike, do you have any money? I mean, enough that you could spare some?” Her eyes were pleading and apologetic at the same time.
“Yes,” Mike said after a moment, but not wanting to elaborate on the answer. He liked thinking that she knew nothing about his finances, because women had dated him for his money. A couple of them had gone so far as to say that they loved him when they meant they loved his money.
“I want to ask a personal favor of you. Will you lend me some money? A few thousand? Ten at most, I think. I’ll pay you back whenever I can.”
He tried to keep from frowning. “Whatever I have is yours. May I ask what you want the money for?”
“I want to buy some furniture.”
“For your apartment?” The words came out sharper than he’d meant them to as he thought of having asked Jeanne to redecorate Sam’s apartment.
“No, of course not!” Samantha snapped, annoyed that he thought she was such a frivolous, ungrateful person as to ask him, who had given her so much, for something she didn’t nee
d. “It’s not for me, it’s for my grandmother. I want to make that dreadful room of hers beautiful. I want to buy some pictures for the walls—nice pictures—a chair and a few accessories, but I want them to be of good quality, very good quality. My grandmother used to wear Lanvin and real diamonds and real pearls.” Samantha paused for a moment then said very softly, “Maybe we could rent the furniture. She won’t need it for very long.”
Putting his hands on her shoulders, Mike kissed her hard, a kiss that told her he was proud of her. “We’ll buy whatever you want. Tomorrow we’ll go shopping at a few antiques stores where they know my sister.”
“Michael,” she whispered, not meeting his eyes. “I’m so afraid. I don’t want to see another person I love die.”
Putting his fingers under her chin, he tipped her face up and looked at her in silent question, as though asking her what she needed. Then, as though he knew the answer, he opened his arms to her, not in desire but in warmth and comfort—and perhaps in love.
Without a thought, she moved onto his lap, her body as close to his as possible as she drew her knees into her chest, his big arms wrapping about her, making her feel safe, letting her feel the very aliveness of him. She could feel his heart beating under her cheek, and when she pressed even closer to him, she thought she could feel the blood coursing through his veins.
“Hold me, Michael,” she whispered. “Hold me tightly. Let me feel your strength, your…health.” Her voice was ragged with emotion.
He held her as tightly as he could without breaking her bones, spreading his hands to cover her head and as much of her back as possible. In his mind’s eye, he saw what she must have seen: her grandfather slowly wasting away, gradually moving toward death, then her father eaten by the same illness, dying in her arms exactly as her grandfather had. Now she’d found her last blood link on earth, and Mike well remembered the dry, nearly lifeless skin of the woman, the grayish pallor of her. Death was hovering over Maxie, already pulling at her, trying to take her from earth—and from Samantha.
In spite of how tightly Michael was holding her, Samantha began to tremble.
“Sam!” he said sharply in alarm, but his tone had no effect on her as her trembling increased, so he pulled his hand away from her head and held it in front of her face. “Look at my hand! Do you hear me? Look at it!”
Slowly, she lifted her head. She was trembling so violently now that her teeth were almost chattering. She had no idea what Mike was doing as she obediently looked at his hand.
“Strong. Healthy,” he said, holding his hand inches from her face. “Alive and well. See it?”
His hand was strong, glowing with the health of youth and exercise and just plain love of living. To Mike’s utter consternation, she pulled his hand to her face, held his palm to her lips, and breathed deeply, as though reassuring herself that he was indeed alive and was going to stay that way. Moving her head slightly, she put his warm, callused palm to her cheek, closed her eyes, and rested her head against his chest, listening to the beat of his heart while Mike held her as tightly as he dared.
Holding her as he stroked her back, he wished he could help her, wished that he could take some of her pain away, wished he could stop what they both knew was going to happen. But he could do nothing. No amount of money, no amount of love can stop a person from dying.
Even after Samantha fell asleep in his arms, Mike continued holding her, allowing her to relax against him, wanting to feel her warm little body next to his.
Sometimes, when he thought about how much he loved her, it was almost a physical ache inside him. He was to the point where he could hardly stand to be away from her, as though he were afraid he’d miss one of her smiles or even one of her frowns. It would have been impossible to describe the pleasure he received from watching her blossom, seeing her change from the little rabbit he’d first met to the woman who could yell out the window at someone like Ornette. He liked to see the joy she gave to other people, such as when she kissed Jubilee or when she befriended Daphne or when she climbed onto the bed with Maxie and hugged her.
Yet she terrified him with this continued pursuit of the people who had been involved with Maxie and with her need to know what happened so long ago. Right now Mike wished he’d never heard of Doc, had never heard of Dave Elliot. But if he hadn’t, he reminded himself, he wouldn’t have met Sam.
In her sleep she relaxed against him, her trust of him complete and absolute. It was this trust that was beginning to drive him insane. For the life of him, Mike couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t go to bed with him. He’d asked every question he could think of, investigating her past under a microscope, doing what he could to find answers, to make her talk to him. From the way she reacted when he touched her, he’d have thought she was raped when she was a child or some other traumatic thing had happened to her so that now she couldn’t bear a man to touch her.
But Samantha allowed Mike to touch her. Brother! did she allow him to touch her! Hand holding, snuggling, kissing, cuddling together on the couch, she seemed to want to touch him every minute of every day. He was sure that if it were up to her she could perfectly well sleep in the same bed with him every night and not even be tempted to go any further than sleeping in each other’s arms.
He had fantasies—awake or asleep he had fantasies about making love to her—but his major fantasy was about persuading her that sex wasn’t so bad. He thought about kissing her until she was limp, then gradually going further, but Sam always seemed to read his mind; when sex was his intent, she pushed him away.
Now he was finding that his patience was nearly at an end, for he was beginning to feel that his love for her wasn’t going to be returned. From talking to her father and from what Samantha had told him Mike knew that her ex-husband was very different from him, and maybe that’s what she needed: a different kind of man. Maybe she could only respond to men like her ex and not men like Mike. Maybe she needed some CPA-type guy: structured, formal, tidy…boring.
Maybe, he thought, and his gut twisted at the idea, maybe she thought of him as a “friend.” Sometimes women had stupid notions that a sexually healthy man and woman could be platonic friends without the “complications” of sex. Maybe that’s what Sam thought about him, thought that they could remain living together in this house as roommates.
Both of these theories had many holes in them, such as why she was so damned jealous of any other woman he so much as glanced at and why she looked at him as though he were a combination of Apollo, Conan the Barbarian, and Merlin. It was an easy guess that a tenant didn’t usually look at her landlord with eyes that made him seem as though he could do anything, accomplish anything, become anything.