Taming Natasha Page 17

“I enjoyed crying over him,” Annie returned with a quick, amused smile. “I needed to cry and yell and moan and get a little drunk. You were right there for me, saying all those great, nasty things about him.”

“That was the easy part,” Natasha remembered. “He was a dork.” It pleased her tremendously to use the young Freedmont boy’s insult.

“Yeah, but he was a terrific-looking dork.” Annie allowed herself a brief reminiscence. “Anyway, you helped me over that rough spot until I convinced myself I was better off without him. You’ve never needed my shoulder, Tash, because you’ve never let a guy get past this.” She lifted a hand, pressing her palm against empty air.

Amused, Natasha leaned back against the counter. “And what is that?”

“The Great Stanislaski Force Field,” Annie told her. “Guaranteed to repel all males from the age of twenty-five to fifty.”

Natasha lifted a brow, not quite sure if she was amused any longer. “I’m not certain if you’re trying to flatter or insult me.”

“Neither. Just listen to me a minute, okay?” Annie took a deep breath to keep herself from rushing through something she thought should be taken step-by-step. “Tash, I’ve seen you brush off guys with less effort than you’d swat away a gnat. And just as automatically,” she added when Natasha remained silent. “You’re very pleasant about it, and also very definite. I’ve never seen you give any man a second’s thought once you’ve politely shown him the door. I’ve even admired you for it, for being so sure of yourself, so comfortable with yourself that you didn’t need a date on Saturday night to keep your ego out of the dirt.”

“Not sure of myself,” Natasha murmured. “Just apathetic about relationships.”

“All right.” Annie nodded slowly. “I’ll accept that. But this time it’s different.”

“What is?” Natasha skirted the counter and began to tally the day’s sales.

“You see? You know I’m going to mention his name, and you’re nervous.”

“I’m not nervous,” Natasha lied.

“You’ve been nervous, moody and distracted since Kimball walked into the shop a couple of weeks ago. In over three years, I’ve never seen you give a man more than five minutes’ thought. Until now.”

“That’s only because this one is more annoying than most.” At Annie’s shrewd look, Natasha gave up. “All right, there is…something,” she admitted. “But I’m not interested.”

“You’re afraid to be interested.”

Natasha didn’t like the sound of that, but forced herself to shrug it off. “It’s the same thing.”

“No, it’s not.” Annie put a hand over Natasha’s and squeezed. “Look, I’m not pushing you toward this guy. For all I know, he could have murdered his wife and buried her in the rose garden. All I’m saying is, you’re not going to be comfortable with yourself until you stop being afraid.”

Annie was right, Natasha thought later as she sat on her bed with her chin on her hand. She was moody, she was distracted. And she was afraid. Not of Spence, Natasha assured herself. No man would ever frighten her again. But she was afraid of the feelings he stirred up. Forgotten, unwanted feelings.

Did that mean she was no longer in charge of her emotions? No. Did that mean she would act irrationally, impulsively, just because needs and desires had pried their way back into her life? No. Did that mean she would hide in her room, afraid to face a man? A most definite no.

She was only afraid because she had yet to test herself, Natasha thought, moving toward her closet. So tonight she would have dinner with the persistent Dr. Kimball, prove to herself that she was strong and perfectly capable of resisting a fleeting attraction, then get back to normal.

Natasha frowned at her wardrobe. With a restless move of her shoulders she pulled out a deep blue cocktail dress with a jeweled belt. Not that she was dressing for him. He was really irrelevant. It was one of her favorite dresses, Natasha thought as she stripped off her robe, and she rarely had the opportunity to wear anything but work clothes.

He knocked at precisely seven twenty-eight. Natasha detested herself for anxiously watching the clock. She had reapplied her lipstick twice, checked and rechecked the contents of her purse and fervently wished that she had delayed taking her stand.

She was acting like a teenager, Natasha told herself as she walked to the door. It was only dinner, the first and last dinner she intended to share with him. And he was only a man, she added, pulling the door open.

An outrageously attractive man.

He looked wonderful, was all she could think, with his hair swept back from his face, and that half smile in his eyes. It had never occurred to her that a man could be gut-wrenchingly sexy in a suit and a tie.

“Hi.” He held out another red rose.

Natasha nearly sighed. It was a pity the smoke-gray suit didn’t make him seem more professorial. Giving in a little, she tapped the blossom against her cheek. “It wasn’t the roses that changed my mind.”

“About what?”

“About having dinner with you.” She stepped back, deciding that she had no choice but to let him in while she put the flower into water.

He smiled then, fully, and exasperated her by looking charming and cocky at the same time. “What did?”

“I’m hungry.” She set her short velvet jacket on the arm of the sofa. “I’ll put this in water. You can sit if you like.”

She wasn’t going to give him an inch, Spence thought as he watched her walk away. Oddly enough, that only made her more interesting. He took a deep breath, shaking his head. Incredible. Just when he was convinced that nothing smelled sexier than soap, she put something on that made him think of midnight and weeping violins.

Deciding that he was safer thinking of something else, he studied the room. She preferred vivid colors, he mused, noting the emerald and teal slashes of the pillows on a sapphire-blue couch. There was a huge brass urn beside it, stuffed with silky peacock feathers. Candles of varying sizes and shades were set around the room so that it smelled, romantically, of vanilla and jasmine and gardenia. A shelf in the corner was crammed with books that ran the gamut from popular fiction to classic literature by way of home improvements for the novice.

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