Taming Natasha Page 19

“Will you tell me?”


His eyes were dark, and fixed on her face. “Because I’d like to understand.”

She started to pass it off, even had the words in her mind. But the memory remained too vivid. “We waited until spring and took only what we could carry. We told no one, no one at all, and set off in the wagon. Papa said we were going to visit my mother’s sister who lived in the west. But I think there were some who knew, who watched us go with tired faces and big eyes. Papa had papers, badly forged, but he had a map and hoped we would avoid the border guards.”

“And you were only five?”

“Nearly six by then.” Thinking, she ran a fingertip around and around the rim of her glass. “Mikhail was between four and five, Alex just two. At night, if we could risk a fire, we would sit around it and Papa would tell stories. Those were good nights. We would fall asleep listening to his voice and smelling the smoke from the fire. We went over the mountains and into Hungary. It took us ninety-three days.”

He couldn’t imagine it, not even when he could see it reflected so clearly in her eyes. Her voice was low, but the emotions were all there, bringing it richness. Thinking of the little girl, he took her hand and waited for her to go on.

“My father had planned for years. Perhaps he had dreamed it all of his life. He had names, people who would help defectors. There was war, the cold one, but I was too young to understand. I understood the fear, in my parents, in the others who helped us. We were smuggled out of Hungary into Austria. The church sponsored us, brought us to America. It was a long time before I stopped waiting for the police to come and take my father away.”

She brought herself back, embarrassed to have spoken of it, surprised to find her hand caught firmly in his.

“That’s a lot for a child to deal with.”

“I also remember eating my first hot dog.” She smiled and picked up her wine again. She never spoke of that time, never. Not even with family. Now that she had, with him, she felt a desperate need to change the subject. “And the day my father brought home our first television. No childhood, even one with nannies, is ever completely secure. But we grow up. I’m a businesswoman, and you’re a respected composer. Why don’t you write?” She felt his fingers tense on hers. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I had no business asking that.”

“It’s all right.” His fingers relaxed again. “I don’t write because I can’t.”

She hesitated, then went on impulse. “I know your music. Something that intense doesn’t fade.”

“It hasn’t mattered a great deal in the past couple of years. Just lately it’s begun to matter again.”

“Don’t be patient.”

When he smiled, she shook her head, at once impatient and regal. Her hand was gripping his now, hard and strong.

“No, I mean it. People always say when the time is right, when the mood is right, when the place is right. Years are wasted that way. If my father had waited until we were older, until the trip was safer, we might still be in the Ukraine. There are some things that should be grabbed with both hands and taken. Life can be very, very short.”

He could feel the urgency in the way her hands gripped his. And he could see the shadow of regret in her eyes. The reason for both intrigued him as much as her words.

“You may be right,” he said slowly, then brought the palm of her hand to his lips. “Waiting isn’t always the best answer.”

“It’s getting late.” Natasha pulled her hand free, then balled it into a fist on her lap. But that didn’t stop the heat from spearing her arm. “We should go.”

She was relaxed again when he walked her to her door. During the short drive home he had made her laugh with stories of Freddie’s ploys to interest him in a kitten.

“I think cutting pictures of cats from a magazine to make you a poster was very clever.” She turned to lean back against her front door. “You are going to let her have one?”

“I’m trying not to be a pushover.”

Natasha only smiled. “Big old houses like yours tend to get mice in the winter. In fact, in a house of that size, you’d be wise to take two of JoBeth’s kittens.”

“If Freddie pulls that one on me, I’ll know exactly where she got it.” He twirled one of Natasha’s curls around his fingers. “And you have a quiz coming up next week.”

Natasha lifted both brows. “Blackmail, Dr. Kimball?”

“You bet.”

“I intend to ace your quiz, and I have a strong feeling that Freddie could talk you into taking the entire litter all by herself, if she put her mind to it.”

“Just the little gray one.”

“You’ve already been to see them.”

“A couple of times. You’re not going to ask me in?”


“All right.” He slipped his arms around her waist.


“I’m just taking your advice,” he murmured as he skimmed his lips over her jaw. “Not being patient.” He brought her closer; his mouth brushed her earlobe. “Taking what I want.” His teeth scraped over her bottom lip. “Not wasting time.”

Then he was crushing his mouth against hers. He could taste the faintest tang of wine on her lips and knew he could get drunk on that alone. Her flavors were rich, exotic, intoxicating. Like the hint of autumn in the air, she made him think of smoking fires, drifting fog. And her body was already pressed eagerly against his in an instantaneous acknowledgment.

Passion didn’t bloom, it didn’t whisper. It exploded so that even the air around them seemed to shudder with it.

She made him feel reckless. Unaware of what he murmured to her, he raced his lips over her face, coming back, always coming back to her heated, hungry mouth. In one rough stroke he took his hands over her.

Her head was spinning. If only she could believe it was the wine. But she knew it was he, only he who made her dizzy and dazed and desperate. She wanted to be touched. By him. On a breathless moan, she let her head fall back, and the urgent trail of his lips streaked down her throat.

Feeling this way had to be wrong. Old fears and doubts swirled inside her, leaving empty holes that begged to be filled. And when they were filled, with liquid, shimmering pleasure, the fear only grew.

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