Taming Natasha Page 21


“Don’t forget your scarf—” she began, then looked up. A hand closed over her arm and helped her to her feet. “Thank you, Dr. Kimball.”

“I’d like to talk to you, Natasha.”

“Would you?” She gave the hand on her arm a brief look, then snatched up her coat and books. Feeling as though she were on a chessboard again, she decided to aggressively counter his move. “I’m sorry, it’ll have to wait. I have a date.”

“A date?” he managed, getting an immediate picture of someone dark, dashing and muscle-bound.

“Yes. Excuse me.” She shook off his hand and stuck an arm into the sleeve of her coat. Since the men on either side of her seemed equally paralyzed, she shifted the books to her other arm and struggled to find the second sleeve. “Are you ready, Terry?”

“Well, yeah, sure. Yeah.” He was staring at Spence with a mixture of awe and trepidation. “But I can wait if you want to talk to Dr. Kimball first.”

“There’s no need.” She scooped up his arm and pulled him to the door.

Women, Spence thought as he sat down at a desk. He’d already accepted the fact that he had never understood them. Apparently he never would.

“Jeez, Tash, don’t you think you should have seen what Dr. Kimball wanted?”

“I know what he wanted,” she said between her teeth as she pushed open the main doors. The rush of autumn air cooled her cheeks. “I wasn’t in the mood to discuss it tonight.” When Terry tripped over the uneven sidewalk, she realized she was still dragging him and slowed her pace. “Besides, I thought we were going to have some coffee.”

“Right.” When she smiled at him, he tugged on his scarf as if to keep from strangling.

They walked into a small lounge where half the little square tables were empty. At the antique bar two men were muttering over their beers. A couple in the corner were all but sitting on each other’s laps and ignoring their drinks.

She’d always liked this room with its dim lighting and old black-and-white posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. It smelled of cigarettes and jug wine. There was a big portable stereo on a shelf above the bar that played an old Chuck Berry number loudly enough to make up for the lack of patrons. Natasha felt the bass vibrate through her chair as she sat down.

“Just coffee, Joe,” she called to the man behind the bar before she leaned her elbows on the table. “So,” she said to Terry, “how’s everything going?”

“Okay.” He couldn’t believe it. He was here, sitting with her. On a date. She’d called it a date herself.

It would take a little prodding. Patient, she shrugged out of her coat. The overheated room had her pushing the sleeves of her sweater past her elbows. “It must be different for you here. Did you ever tell me where you were going to college before?”

“I graduated from Michigan State.” Because his lenses were fogged again, Natasha seemed to be shrouded by a thin, mysterious mist. “When I, ah, heard that Dr. Kimball would be teaching here, I decided to take a couple years of graduate study.”

“You came here because of Spence—Dr. Kimball?”

“I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I went to New York last year to hear him lecture.” Terry lifted a hand and nearly knocked over a bowl of sugar. “He’s incredible.”

“I suppose,” she murmured as their coffee was served.

“Where you been hiding?” the bartender asked, giving her shoulder a casual squeeze. “I haven’t seen you in here all month.”

“Business is good. How’s Darla?”

“History.” Joe gave her a quick, friendly wink. “I’m all yours, Tash.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.” With a laugh, she turned back to Terry. “Is something wrong?” she asked when she saw him dragging at his collar.

“Yes. No. That is… Is he your boyfriend?”

“My…” To keep herself from laughing in Terry’s face, she took a sip of coffee. “You mean Joe? No.” She cleared her throat and sipped again. “No, he’s not. We’re just…” She searched for a word. “Pals.”

“Oh.” Relief and in security warred. “I just thought, since he…Well.”

“He was only joking.” Wanting to put Terry at ease again, she squeezed his hand. “What about you? Do you have a girl back in Michigan?”

“No. There’s nobody. Nobody at all.” He turned his hand over, gripping hers.

Oh, my God. As realization hit, Natasha felt her mouth drop open. Only a fool would have missed it, she thought as she stared into Terry’s adoring, myopic eyes. A fool, she added, who was so tied up with her own problems that she missed what was happening under her nose. She was going to have to be careful, Natasha decided. Very careful.

“Terry,” she began. “You’re very sweet—”

That was all it took to make his hand shake. Coffee spilled down his shirt. Moving quickly, Natasha shifted chairs so that she was beside him. Snatching paper napkins from the dispenser, she began to blot the stain.

“It’s a good thing they never serve it hot in this place. If you soak this in cold water right away, you should be all right.”

Overcome, Terry grabbed both of her hands. Her head was bent close, and the scent of her hair was making him dizzy. “I love you,” he blurted, and took aim with his mouth; his glasses slid down his nose.

Natasha felt his lips hit her cheekbone, cold and trembly. Because her heart went out to him, she decided that being careful wasn’t the right approach. Firmness was called for, quickly.

“No, you don’t.” Her voice was brisk, she pulled back far enough to dab at the spill on the table.

“I don’t?” Her response threw him off. It was nothing like any of the fantasies he’d woven. There was the one where he’d saved her from a runaway truck. And another where he’d played the song he was writing for her and she had collapsed in a passionate, weeping puddle into his arms. His imagination hadn’t stretched far enough to see her wiping up coffee and calmly telling him he wasn’t in love at all.

“Yes, I do.” He snatched at her hand again.

“That’s ridiculous,” she said, and smiled to take the sting out of the words. “You like me, and I like you, too.”

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