Taming Natasha Page 25

When he thought of that someone, he thought only of Natasha.

A big leap, he reminded himself and walked back to the bedside. One he wasn’t sure he could make again and land on both feet.

He cooled Freddie’s forehead with the damp cloth Vera had brought in. Her eyes opened.


“Yes, funny face. I’m right here.”

Her lower lip trembled. “I’m thirsty.”

“I’ll go get you a cold drink.”

Sick or not, she knew how to maneuver. “Can I have Kool Aid?”

He pressed a kiss on her cheek. “Sure. What kind?”

“The blue kind.”

“The blue kind.” He kissed her again. “I’ll be right back.” He was halfway down the stairs when the phone rang simultaneously with a knock on the door. “Damn it. Vera, get the phone, will you?” Out of patience, he yanked open the front door.

The smile Natasha had practiced all evening faded. “I’m sorry. I’ve come at a bad time.”

“Yeah.” But he reached out to pull her inside. “Hang on a minute. Vera—oh good,” he added when he saw the housekeeper hovering. “Freddie wants some Kool Aid, the blue kind.”

“I will make it.” Vera folded her hands in front of her apron. “Mrs. Barklay is on the phone.”

“Tell her—” Spence broke off, swearing as Vera’s mouth pruned. She didn’t like to tell Nina anything. “All right, I’ll get it.”

“I should go,” Natasha put in, feeling foolish. “I only came by because you weren’t at class tonight, and I wondered if you were well.”

“It’s Freddie.” Spence glanced at the phone and wondered if he could strangle his sister over it. “She has the chicken pox.”

“Oh. Poor thing.” She had to smother the automatic urge to go up and look in on the child herself. Not your child, Natasha reminded herself. Not your place. “I’ll get out of your way.”

“I’m sorry. Things are a little confused.”

“Don’t be. I hope she’s well soon. Let me know if I can do anything.”

At that moment Freddie called for her father in a voice that was half sniffle and half croak.

It was Spence’s quick helpless glance up the stairs that had Natasha ignoring what she thought was her better judgment. “Would you like me to go up for a minute? I could sit with her until you have things under control again.”

“No. Yes.” Spence blew out a long breath. If he didn’t deal with Nina now, she’d only call back. “I’d appreciate it.” Reaching the end of his rope, he yanked up the phone receiver. “Nina.”

Natasha followed the glow of the night-light into Freddie’s room. She found her sitting up in bed, surrounded by dolls. Two big tears were sliding down her cheeks. “I want my daddy,” she said obviously miserable.

“He’ll be right here.” Her heart lost, Natasha sat down on the bed and drew Freddie into her arms.

“I don’t feel good.”

“I know. Here, blow your nose.”

Freddie complied, then settled her head on Natasha’s breast. She sighed, finding it pleasantly different from her father’s hard chest or Vera’s cushy one. “I went to the doctor and got medicine, so I can’t go to my Brownie meeting tomorrow.”

“There’ll be other meetings, as soon as the medicine makes you well.”

“I have chicken pox,” Freddie announced, torn between discomfort and pride. “And I’m hot and itchy.”

“It’s a silly thing, the chicken pox,” Natasha said soothingly. She tucked Freddie’s tousled hair behind one ear. “I don’t think chickens get it at all.”

Freddie’s lips turned up, just a little. “JoBeth had it last week, and so did Mikey. Now I can’t have a birthday party.”

“You’ll have a party later, when everyone’s well again.”

“That’s what Daddy said.” A fresh tear trailed down her cheek. “It’s not the same.”

“No, but sometimes not the same is even better.”

Curious, Freddie watched the light glint off the gold hoop in Natasha’s ear. “How?”

“It gives you more time to think about how much fun you’ll have. Would you like to rock?”

“I’m too big to rock.”

“I’m not.” Wrapping Freddie in a blanket, Natasha carried her to the white wicker rocker. She cleared it of stuffed animals, then tucked one particularly worn rabbit in Freddie’s arms. “When I was a little girl and I was sick, my mother would always rock me in this big, squeaky chair we had by the window. She would sing me songs. No matter how bad I felt, when she rocked me I felt better.”

“My mother didn’t rock me.” Freddie’s head was aching, and she wanted badly to pop a comforting thumb into her mouth. She knew she was too old for that. “She didn’t like me.”

“That’s not true.” Natasha instinctively tightened her arms around the child. “I’m sure she loved you very much.”

“She wanted my daddy to send me away.”

At a loss, Natasha lowered her cheek to the top of Freddie’s head. What could she say now? Freddie’s words had been too matter-of-fact to dismiss as a fantasy. “People sometimes say things they don’t mean, and that they regret very much. Did your daddy send you away?”


“There, you see?”

“Do you like me?”

“Of course I do.” She rocked gently, to and fro. “I like you very much.”

The movement, the soft female scent and voice lulled Freddie. “Why don’t you have a little girl?”

The pain was there, deep and dull. Natasha closed her eyes against it. “Perhaps one day I will.”

Freddie tangled her fingers in Natasha’s hair, comforted. “Will you sing, like your mother did?”

“Yes. And you try to sleep.”

“Don’t go.”

“No, I’ll stay awhile.”

Spence watched them from the doorway. In the shadowed light they looked achingly beautiful, the tiny, flaxen-haired child in the arms of the dark, golden-skinned woman. The rocker whispered as it moved back and forth while Natasha sang some old Ukrainian folk song from her own childhood.

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