Taming Natasha Page 15

“I’m very stubborn,” she muttered.

“Yes, I’ve noticed. Why don’t you stay for dinner?”


“All right. I’ll take you to dinner Saturday night.”


“Seven-thirty. I’ll pick you up.”


“You wouldn’t want me to come by the shop Saturday afternoon and embarrass you.”

Out of patience, she stalked to the door. “I can’t understand how a man that could play music with such sensitivity could be such a clod.”

Just lucky, I guess, he thought when the door slammed. Alone again, he caught himself whistling.


Saturdays in a toy store were noisy, crowded and chaotic. They were supposed to be. To a child even the word Saturday was magic—it meant a magic twenty-four hours when school was too faraway to be a problem. There were bikes to be ridden, games to be played, races to be won. For as long as Natasha had been running The Fun House, she had enjoyed Saturdays as much as her pint-size clientele.

It was one more black mark against Spence that he was the reason she couldn’t enjoy this one.

She’d told him no, she reminded herself as she rang up sales on a set of jacks, three plastic dinosaurs and a pint of blowing bubbles. And she’d meant no.

The man didn’t seem to understand plain English.

Why else would he have sent her the single red rose? And to the shop, of all places? she thought now, trying to scowl at it. Annie’s romantic enthusiasm had been impossible to hold off. Even when Natasha had ignored the flower, Annie had rescued it, running across the street to buy a plastic bud vase so that it could have a place of honor on the checkout counter.

Natasha did her best not to look at it, not to stroke the tightly closed petals, but it wasn’t as easy to ignore the fragile scent that wafted toward her every time she rang up a sale.

Why did men think they could soften up a woman with a flower?

Because they could, Natasha admitted, biting off a sigh as she glanced toward it.

That didn’t mean she was going out to dinner with him. Tossing back her hair, Natasha counted out the pile of sweaty pennies and nickels the young Hampston boy passed her for his monthly comic-book purchase. Life should be so simple, she thought as the boy rushed out with the latest adventures of Commander Zark. Damn it, it was that simple. On a deep breath she steeled her determination. Her life was exactly that simple, no matter how Spence tried to complicate it. To prove it, she intended to go home, soak in a hot tub, then spend the rest of her evening stretched out on the sofa, watching an old movie and eating popcorn.

He’d been clever. She left the counter to go into the next aisle to referee a huffy disagreement between the Freedmont brothers about how they should spend their pooled resources. She wondered if the esteemed professor looked at their relationship—their nonrelationship, she corrected—as a chess match. She’d always been too reckless to succeed at that particular game, but she had a feeling Spence would play it patiently and well. All the same, if he thought she would be easily checkmated, he had a surprise coming.

Spence had led her second class brilliantly, never looking at her any longer than he had looked at any of his other students, answering her questions in the same tone he used with others. Yes, a very patient player.

Then, just when she’d relaxed, he’d passed her that first red rose as she walked out of class. A very smart move to endanger her queen.

If she’d had any spine at all, Natasha thought now, she would have dropped it onto the floor and ground it under her heel. But she hadn’t, and now had to scramble to keep one play ahead of him. Because it had caught her off guard, Natasha told herself. Just like the one that had been delivered to the shop this morning.

If he kept it up, people were going to begin to talk. In a town this size, news items like red roses bounced from shop to pub, from pub to front stoop and from front stoop to backyard gossip sessions. She needed to find a way to stop it. At the moment, she couldn’t come up with anything better than ignoring it. Ignoring Spence, she added. How she wished she could.

Bringing herself back to the problem at hand, Natasha hooked an arm around each of the squabbling Freedmont boys in a mock headlock.

“Enough. If you keep calling each other names like nerd and…what was the other?”

“Dork,” the taller of the boys told her with relish.

“Yes, dork.” She couldn’t resist committing it to memory. “That’s a good one. If you keep it up, I’ll tell your mother not to let you come in for two weeks.”

“Aw, Tash.”

“That means everyone else will see all the creepy things I get in for Halloween before either of you.” She let that threat hang, giving the two little necks a quick squeeze. “So, I’ll make a suggestion. Flip a coin and decide whether to buy the football or the magic set. Whatever you don’t get now, you ask for for Christmas. Good idea?”

The boys grimaced at each other from either side of her. “Pretty good.”

“No, you have to say it’s very good, or I’ll knock your heads together.”

She left them arguing over which coin to use for the fatal flip.

“You missed your calling,” Annie commented when the brothers raced off with the football.

“How’s that?”

“You should be working for the UN.” She nodded out the front window; the boys were practicing passing on their way down the street. “There aren’t many tougher nuts than the Freedmont brothers.”

“I make them afraid of me first, then offer them a dignified way out.”

“See? Definitely UN material.”

With a laugh, Natasha shook her head. “Other people’s problems are the easiest to solve.” Weakening, she glanced toward the rose again. If she had one wish at the moment, it would be for someone to come along and solve her own.

An hour later she felt a tug on the hem of her skirt.


“Freddie, hello.” She flicked her finger over a bow that was trying to hold back Freddie’s flyaway hair. It was tied from the blue ribbon Natasha had given her on her first visit. “Don’t you look pretty today.”

Freddie beamed, female to female. “Do you like my outfit?”

Natasha surveyed the obviously new blue denim overalls, parade stiff with sizing. “I like it very much. I have a pair just like them.”

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