Sam pushed through the doors of the tall building that housed the offices of Baker, Baker, and Simmes, Attorneys-at-Law, and stood tapping her foot impatiently on the sidewalk. Where was her driver? She was only vaguely aware of the admiring glances turned her way by men passing, both on foot and motorized. She had only to step onto a public street at any time to receive these glances and, quite often, to her disgust, remarks as well.
That Samantha Denning was a strikingly beautiful woman there was no doubt. She stood five feet eight inches in her slim, stockinged feet. She was very slender, with long perfectly shaped legs and softly rounded curves exactly where they belonged. Her face was a perfect oval, the skin fair, with creamy pink cheeks, and a short, straight nose above full red lips that covered perfectly shaped white teeth. Dark brows arched gracefully over large, deep-green eyes, the lids heavily fringed with long, dark lashes. But what one saw first was her hair. Thick, long, wavy, not quite red, but more the color of highly polished, expensive mahogany. It seemed, when it hung loose, to have a will of its own. Subdued now in a coil around her head, it offset perfectly the severely but expensively cut hunter green suit she wore. With a black leather tote bag and black stack-heeled boots, her somewhat somber look was the only concession she would give to mourning clothes. They were none too effective, however, as a few curly tendrils at her temple and in front of her ears had escaped their combs and danced merrily on her face in the soft spring breeze, defying the impression of the dark suit and black accessories.
Samantha tapped her foot even more impatiently as, glancing at the narrow platinum watch on her slim wrist, she thought, Damn, where is that man ? Looking up, she saw the sleek midnight-blue Cadillac glide to a stop opposite her at the curb. Before she took the few steps required to reach the car, the driver had jumped out of the front seat and was holding the door to the back open for her. As he touched her elbow lightly to help her enter, she said crossly, “Where have you been?”
“Sorry, Miss Sam, but the traffic’s pretty heavy,” he murmured. She glanced out the window to note the truth of his excuse, realizing she had been so deep in thought while she waited she hadn’t even noticed.
“Yes, I see, I’m sorry I snapped, Dave. I’m going home now.”
Dave smiled to himself as he pulled the powerful car into the stream of traffic. It was like her to apologize for snapping at him. She was self-willed, haughty, and imperious most of the time with her family and friends, but rarely ever did she speak sharply with the employees.
Dave had been with the Dennings fifteen years now, he as chauffeur and his wife, Beth, as a cook. They respected Mr. Denning, liked his petite, delicate, second wife, and were fond of her young half-sister Deborah. But they both adored Sam, this rebellious, redheaded firebrand, from the day she had come to the big house on Long Island to stay. Dave smiled again as he drove the car expertly through midtown Manhattan toward home, remembering that day seven years before.
What an uproar the house had been in, Mrs. Denning wanting everything perfect for the first meeting with her stepdaughter. Even Mr. Denning’s normal reserve seemed about to crack as he and Dave waited for her plane to land. They had expected a shy seventeen-year-old and what they saw walking toward them was a queen.
She had said lightly and unself-consciously, kissing his cheek, “Hello, Father,” and then had turned as Mr. Denning said in introduction, “This is our driver, Dave Zimmer.”
Dave had been wearing the usual gray uniform and he chuckled to himself now as he remembered the way her eyes had looked him up and down.
“Not mine, not dressed like that at any rate. I’d as soon drop dead as be seen being driven by a liveried chauffeur.”
That said, she’d given him the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen and added, “Please, Mr. Dave, could you not wear your everyday clothes if you have ever to drive me?”
He had been lost from that moment. It had been about the same when they had reached the house. Within ten minutes she had overawed her tiny stepmother and equally small half-sister and enslaved the rest of the employees. She had ruled the roost ever since.
He had heard the story years ago, how the quiet, reserved Charles Denning had gone to England on a business trip and returned four months later with a ravishingly beautiful wife from a wealthy British family. Being a wealthy man himself, he had bought the huge house on Long Island for her. But nothing seemed to content her, not her husband or the house or even the daughter she bore eighteen months after their marriage. She missed her friends at home and refused to make new ones in her husband’s homeland, referring to them all as gauche. When Samantha was two, she fled to her family, taking the girl with her. Though Charles Denning had fought for custody of his child, his ex-wife’s family was powerful and he had to be satisfied with a few visits during those years.
Immediately on Samantha’s mother’s death, he had instructed his lawyers to notify the family that Samantha was to come to him. She had been back at school in Switzerland when she received the news and requested he allow her to finish her schooling and go ahead with plans made to do her tour of Europe with an American girl she’d been friends with in school for years. Her father had acquiesced to her request but had sworn that when he finally had her home he would keep her there.
Sam leaned back against the plush upholstery, looking completely calm and relaxed. Inside she was fuming. How could he do this? Why? She went over it again in her mind, the meeting she had just come from and what had precipitated it.
They had gathered in the library the afternoon before. Her stepmother, Mary, calm now from the tranquilizer her doctor had given her, her half-sister, Deb, still looking pale and a little lost, Deb’s fiancé, Bryan Tyson, and Sam. Mr. Baker had asked them to assemble at three for the reading of the will. The reading had gone along smoothly without interruption with Mr. Baker’s voice droning on about bequests for the employees; then he went on to the family. He went into great detail about what was to be left to Deb and Bryan after their marriage. Sam was very surprised as she learned of the enormity of her father’s estate and was deep in thought when Mr. Baker said her name and proceeded with her father’s wishes concerning her.
At first Sam stared at him, stunned, then almost sprang from her chair.
“I will not do it. I’ll contest the will.”
Mr. Baker coughed slightly. “My father thought you would react this way,” he replied, “so he instructed me to ask you if you could see him in his office to discuss this tomorrow morning at ten?”
“I’ll be there,” she said grimly and left the room, not waiting to hear the rest of the will. She had gone to her bedroom to pace the white fur rug, unseeingly touching furniture and the lovely things she had collected over the years. The beautiful room, all white and gold, failed to give her the soothing feeling it usually did. She had been thoroughly agitated and wondered how she could stand it till the morning.
Again, she went over that meeting of an hour ago. Both young Mr. Baker and old Mr. Baker (he had to be in his eighties, although he looked twenty years younger) had been there. Mr. Baker the elder had come directly to the point.
‘‘ Miss Denning, I see no way you can possibly break your father’s will.”
He was watching her hands, beautiful hands with long, slender fingers, the nails gracefully oval-shaped, covered with pink polish.
“I don’t see why. The terms are ridiculous.”
“Not at all, Miss Denning, and not at all unusual.”
Well, they certainly seemed so to her. She heard again in her mind Mr. Baker’s voice yesterday as he read the stipulations to her inheritance.
1. If she married an American citizen by the day she was twenty-five (just five months away) she would receive the sum of five million dollars, to be controlled by the husband and Mr. Baker, with a generous monthly allowance for her own personal use.2. If in five years’ time the marriage was still intact, the control of the money would revert to herself and her husband jointly.3. If the marriage was dissolved within said five-year period, the money would revert back to her father’s estate, leaving her with a much smaller monthly allowance.4. If she chose not to marry within the stipulated time, she was to have a small monthly allowance and a home with her stepmother until such time as she did marry or died.
“I’ll forfeit,” Sam had declared. “I still have my inheritance from my mother.” She knew that amounted to approximately two hundred thousand American dollars.
“I’m afraid not, Miss Denning,” Mr. Baker murmured. “You see, before your mother died, she changed her will, leaving your father in complete control of your inheritance, and that money is included with your father’s.”
Sam sat staring at him, speechless. He then went on to explain why he thought she would be unable to break the will, as her father had certainly been in a sound mind when it was drawn up, also his reasons for so stipulating. Oh, Sam knew his reasons. First, he had thought her too headstrong and concluded she needed the firm hand of a husband to control her. Second, he wanted her to make her home permanently in the States, thus the stipulation she must marry an American citizen. The fact that he had set her twenty-fifth birthday as a time limit probably meant he thought the sooner she was safely married the better.
Mr. Baker told Sam that her father had changed the age limit three times in as many years and had given instructions to have it changed again one month before Sam’s birthday. His death negated those instructions.
Sam had left the lawyers’ office with her mind in turmoil. Now she was almost home and still had not sorted out her thoughts very well. The amount of the inheritance alone staggered her. Five million dollars! Notwithstanding the strings attached, it was an enormous amount of money.
Perhaps she should have expected it, for Deb’s share was an equal amount. Yet she would not have been hurt or felt left out if she’d have received much less. She had spent a total of nine of her twenty-four years with her father; Deb had been his from birth.
The Cadillac turned in and along the curved driveway slowly, and Sam looked up at the house. It was a beautiful house, an anachronism really, and the cost of maintaining it was staggering. Yet her father would not give it up. He had loved it, and had considered the money well spent.
Sam entered the house and went directly to the small sitting room in search of her stepmother, thinking how unusually quiet the house had seemed since her father’s death. She found both Mary and Deb there, sitting close together, talking quietly. Sam sat down in a chair near them, dropped her bag onto the floor beside her, and said, “It seems it would be useless for me to contest the will.” Her voice was low and her eyes had an almost lost look.
“Oh, my dear,” her stepmother murmured, reaching her small hand out to her. “Please believe I knew nothing of these conditions in your father’s will. If I had, I would have tried to dissuade him. They are quite impossible.”
“I know, but I don’t think it would have helped anyway. He was determined, in his own mind, to tie me down and keep me here.” Then, in a stronger voice laced through with anguish, she added, “Didn’t he know how much I’d come to love him and this country?” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Didn’t he know?”
Mary and Deb looked at each other helplessly a moment. They had never seen Sam like this. They had seen her angry often; she and her father had gone into battle regularly and they suspected both thoroughly enjoyed it. They had seen her cool and disdainful. But never had they seen this hurt, vulnerable look.
“Samantha,” Mary said softly, “you needn’t feel you must fulfill these conditions. I’d be happy to supplement your allowance with some of my own.”
Sam’s voice caught slightly as she replied, “Thank you,” and picking up her bag stood up and said as she walked quickly to the door, “I’ll be in my room if you want me, Mother.”
Mary called, “Sam,” but Sam was already across the hall and on the stairs. Mary turned to Deb with tears in her eyes. “Go to her.”
Deb followed Sam up the stairs and into the bedroom. Standing uncertainly inside the door she asked, “Would you like some company?”
Sam smiled at her gently. “Of course, Poppet, sit down, we can talk while I change.” Deb sat on the bed and watched as Sam pulled her boots off, slipped off her skirt and jacket, walked across the room to the closet that completely filled one wall, and hung her clothes away neatly.
Deb’s eyes went over her half-sister admiringly as she stood there in nothing but panty hose and bra. What a beautiful thing she is, Deb thought, and wished again, as she had many times before, that she had met Sam’s mother. Deb did not envy Sam anything, except, perhaps at times, her height. Like most petite people she sometimes longed to be tall. But as far as looks went, Deb was honest enough with herself to admit she was not lacking in that department. With her dark hair and very fair skin, she was a lovely woman. Deb also realized that the love she had for this tall sister who had come into her life when she was just thirteen bordered on hero worship.
Pulling the combs out of her hair, Sam walked to the white and gold dressing table, sat down, and picking up her hair brush, began brushing her hair in long stow strokes. Set free, her rich auburn hair hung in deep waves halfway down her back. Deb watched her for a short time, her eyes dark with compassion. “What are you going to do, Sam? Do you know?”
Sam’s eyes lifted and met Deb’s in the mirror. “I really haven’t a clue, Poppet. It’s quite a bind.”
Deb knew how deeply upset Sam was, for the British accent was heavy. Generally there was just a tinge of it in Sam’s speech, becoming thick only when she was very angry or upset.
Pensively Sam added, “My first thought was to find a job, but then, what sort of work could I do?” She paused before adding, “You realize, love, I’ve been extensively and expensively educated, all of which prepared me to do nothing of use. I can ride, swim, play tennis, and golf with the best. I’m also a fair decoration in any room or gathering. None of these things will earn me a dime.” She sighed. “Oh, I suppose I could apply for a post as a salesclerk, but who is going to hire the daughter of Charles Denning once they know?”
Deb didn’t answer, understanding Sam was sorting it out for herself as well as explaining her options.
“That leaves marriage within five months,” Sam went on, “or depending on your mother. The allowance father stipulated in the case I fail to marry in five months’ time is less than I’ve been receiving since the day I first came to this house to live.”
“And your mother’s inheritance—” Deb began.
“Is tied up with Father’s,” Sam finished.
“Is there no one you could marry?”
“Oh, there are quite a few I could marry.” Sam waved her arms airily. “I must have had at least five proposals of marriage within the last two years, but you see, Poppet, I have no wish to marry any of those men. The idea of spending five days, let alone five years, with any one of them gives me the horrors.”
Sam laughed lightly as she walked to the closet and withdrew a white terry robe. “I’m going to take a long hot bath before lunch; maybe that will relax me some. Will you ask Mother to hold lunch a few minutes?”
“Of course.” Deb smiled to herself as she left the room. Sam had stopped calling her stepmother Mary and began calling her Mother after their father’s death of a heart attack just a week before. The suddenness of his death had shattered his wife and Sam had seemed to take a very protective attitude to both Mary and Deb.
Sam slid her body down into the warm bubbly water and sighed deeply. She wondered now, as she did so often of late, whether she could be an emotional cripple of some sort. She knew she had normal physical urges because she had felt, at times, an almost hurtful, aching need. Yet whenever any of the young men she knew, and there were many, tried to make love to her, she froze. She could respond only lightly to a good-night kiss, and it worried her a little. What she had told Deb was true—the idea of marriage to any of them horrified her. She really didn’t know what to do.
* * * *
Sam woke the next morning to spring sunshine streaming in her windows and a letter postmarked Nevada on her bedside table. “Babs,” she said softly, pushing herself into a sitting position as she slit the envelope open. She hadn’t heard from her best friend for two months, when Babs had called to tell her her second son had arrived. Sam scanned the pages quickly. Babs began with sincere condolences for all of them, then went on to rhapsodize on the virtues of her youngest. She then came to the most important part of her letter:
We are having the christening next week and, darling, both Ben and I so want you to be Mark’s godmother. You could, of course, stand by proxy, but it would probably do you good to get away for a while at this time, and I do long to see you. Please say you will come. Give my love to the family.
Sam let the hand holding the letter drop into her lap and mused on it. Should she go? The urge to run had been on her since she’d left the Messrs. Bakers’ office. Here was a place to run to. Here was someone to run to. She’d not fallen asleep till very late the night before worrying over what she should do and had reached no decisions. Perhaps talking it over with Babs would help. She had a way of putting things into their proper order of importance. Laughing all the while, Sam thought now, shaking her head and smiling. Sam then sat up straight, swung her long legs off the side of the bed, and picked up the receiver of the white phone that sat on the gilded white and gold table next to her bed. She called her travel agent and made plane reservations for the following Wednesday, then sent a wire to Babs informing her of her arrival day and time.
* * * *
The big jet was airborne and the seat belt sign blinked out. Sam unfastened her seat belt, moved her seat back, closed her eyes, and relaxed. She felt good and looked it. She hadn’t missed the admiring glances sent her way, both in the waiting room, and as she boarded the plane. She was wearing a cream silk fuji long-sleeved blouse with a matching tie at her throat and a soft wool pants suit in a deep shade of cocoa that set off her almost red hair to perfection. She carried no purse but instead had slung over one shoulder a large soft leather satchel. Comfortable matching low-heeled pumps completed the look.
When she had packed her suitcases she hadn’t been quite sure what to take with her. The weather in the East had been unseasonably mild for early March, so she had laid out lightweight clothes. Then on reflection she had put some back into her closet and added a few heavier things. She did not know what the weather was like in the part of Nevada where Babs lived.
Sam smiled slightly to herself with the thought of Babs. Babs of the laughing eyes. Oh, the scrapes Sam had had to extricate her from while they were in school. Babs had an impish streak and had been forever in hot water. Nothing serious, but zany things, usually involving their teachers or later, when they were older, young men. She was bubbly and full of fun and mischief, and to Sam, always cool and composed, fell the task of smoothing the rippled waters. They had become fast friends when they were both twelve years old. The friendship had deepened and matured as the girls grew. They had made the grand tour after leaving school and when Sam had gone to her father in Long Island, Babs had returned to her family in Nevada.
They had been to Europe and Asia together since, and Babs made several shopping trips a year to New York. Then three years ago on one of her trips East, Babs had told Sam she was getting married, almost immediately, to Benjamin Carter, a name Sam had heard often over the years. Babs had assured Sam that she was very much in love, but as she was also very pregnant, couldn’t Sam go back to Nevada with her right away and be her maid of honor? Sam went.
Sam had liked Ben Carter on sight. He was a tall, quiet, good-looking young man, and he blatantly adored Babs. The wedding had been a hasty and, as everything involving Babs, hilarious affair, the only off-note being the man whom Ben had wanted as his best man was out of the country and unable to make it back in time for the wedding, much to Ben’s disappointment.
Sam had spent just four days in Nevada, and had not seen Babs again until she had made a five-day shopping trip to New York last August. She had told Sam she was buying a new maternity wardrobe, as she was three months pregnant. They had had a wonderful five days together, making their home base the apartment on the East Side that Sam’s father kept for the convenience of the family whenever they had extended stays in the city. She and Babs had torn around shopping all day and had seen a few shows in the evening. Yes, it would be good to see Babs again.
The sign flashed on, Sam fastened her seat belt, then the wheels touched down, and the big plane rolled to a stop. The Las Vegas terminal was, as usual, very busy and Sam stood hesitant a moment. On hearing Babs call her name, she turned to see her and Ben hurrying forward. She smiled as Babs gasped breathlessly, “Oh! We were afraid we were late, we just this minute landed.” Ben and Babs lived in the copper regions of the state and kept their own plane for easier mobility.
Babs would always be Babs, and she almost flung herself into Sam’s arms, giving her a warm hug. When she stepped back she exclaimed, “It’s positively demoralizing for anyone to look as ravishing as you do, Sam ... how are you?”
“I’m perfectly well, thank you,” Sam said, smiling. “You look lovely yourself,” she added, her cool eyes going over her friend’s slightly full figure. “The extra weight looks good on you.”
“Oh, I gained too much carrying Mark.” Babs smiled ruefully. “I’ve still got some to take off.”
“You’ve been saying that for two months,” Ben chimed in, but his voice was gentle, and the look he gave his wife caused an odd twist inside Sam.
“Welcome, Sam,” he added, putting one arm around her shoulders giving her a light squeeze. “Babs is right, you look terrific.”
“Hi, Ben, and thank you, sir,” she answered, slipping her arm around his waist to return his hug. “You both look wonderful to me.”
Ben laughed. “Now if we can adjourn this meeting of the mutual admiration society, suppose we stop blocking traffic and get out of here.”
The women laughed and started moving, Sam asking Babs about the children. That set Babs off, and she went into a discourse about her offspring, talking nonstop, with Sam barely able to get a word in edgewise, while Ben took up Sam’s case and led them outside to find a taxi. Finally Babs came back to earth to say, “We’re going to spend the night in Vegas, and fly out to the house in the morning. Okay?” Sam barely had time to smile and nod as Babs rushed on, “I haven’t really had a night out since Mark was born and this darling man here has said he is going to buy us a lavish dinner and let me gamble all night if I wish.”
“Up to a financial point,” Ben said softly, lovingly, as his wife snuggled even closer to him in the back of the cab.
They’re so completely, unself-consciously in love, Sam thought and again felt that twist inside, hating to admit to herself that it was envy. She had always wished only the best for Babs but she could not help thinking if there had been a Ben somewhere for her she would not have this stupid mess she found herself with now. Then she gave a mental shrug, deciding firmly to enjoy her visit with the Carters.
The taxi deposited them at the newest and very impressive hotel casino and Sam looked around curiously as Ben registered for them. It was almost too much to take in at once. The hotel was fantastic, but what caught Sam’s attention was the number of people about. It was the middle of the afternoon and everything was crowded.
Babs, watching Sam’s face as she looked around, laughed. “You think this is something, wait until tonight.” Sam just smiled and still glancing around followed Ben and Babs as they were shown to their rooms. The room was beautifully impersonal, in the manner of good hotels everywhere.
Used to staying in the best, Sam nodded her head, glancing around in satisfaction.
They had decided, while still in the cab, to let Sam rest after her flight, and meet for dinner at seven. Babs stated firmly that she intended to nap, as she fully planned to make a night of it.
Sam opened her suitcase, removed the things she’d need for the evening and gave her teal silk chemise a shake before hanging it up. She then sank into a warm, scented tub. She felt sleepy, she didn’t know why, but every plane flight lasting over an hour always left her feeling this way. She was glad Ben and Babs had wanted to stay over. She had never been in Vegas. When she’d come before, she hadn’t left the airport, but had gone from one plane to a much smaller one, and flown straight to Babs’s parents’ home. Sam was curious, as nearly every one of her friends had been to Vegas at least once and had been astonished at finding Sam had not.
Her bath finished, Sam slipped a nightie over her head, called the desk to request a wake-up call at six, and slid between the sheets. She felt deliciously relaxed and wondered idly whom Babs had asked to stand as godfather as she drifted into sleep.
Sam left her room a few minutes before seven, to find Babs and Ben right outside her door. Her eyes went over the two of them appreciatively. Babs was still something to see, even with the added pounds. Small and very fair, with almost white-blond hair and dark-brown brows and lashes on a lovely face with flawless skin, she had a small, pert nose and big brown eyes that forever danced merrily. She was dressed in a softly tailored midnight blue jacket and pants, and looked decidedly delectable. Standing next to her, Ben looked even taller than his six feet and very handsome in the smoky grey suit that matched his eyes. A black sueded tab-collar shirt set off his good looks and shock of sandy-colored hair.
Babs’s eyes went over Sam slowly, taking in the combination of teal dress, red hair, and flawless skin. Brown eyes laughing, she gave a small pout.
“Oh, Sam! Any woman that looks as gorgeous as you should be outlawed.”