Taming Natasha Page 3

“I haven’t decided, but I thought you might not have realized it was sitting out on that shelf.”


“It’s not the kind of merchandise one expects to find in a toy store. It could easily be broken.”

Natasha took it and placed it farther back on the shelf. “And it can be mended.” She made a quick, clearly habitual movement with her shoulders. It spoke of arrogance rather than carelessness. “I believe children should be allowed the pleasures of music, don’t you?”

“Yes.” For the first time a smile flickered over his face. It was, as Annie had noted, a particularly effective one, Natasha had to admit. Through her annoyance she felt the trickle of attraction, and strangely, kinship. Then he said, “As a matter of fact, I believe that quite strongly. Perhaps we could discuss it over dinner.”

Holding herself rigid, Natasha battled back fury. It was difficult for one with her hot, often turbulent nature, but she reminded herself that the man had not only his wife, but his young daughter in the store.

The angry insults that rose to her throat were swallowed, but not before Spence saw them reflected in her eyes.

“No,” was all she said as she turned.

“Miss—” Spence began, then Freddie whirled down the aisle, carrying a big, floppy Raggedy Ann.

“Daddy, isn’t she nice?” Eyes shining, she held out the doll for his approval.

It was redheaded, Spence thought. But it was anything but beautiful. Nor, to his relief, was it a symbol of Angela. Because he knew Freddie expected it, he took his time examining her choice. “This is,” he said after a moment, “the very best doll I’ve seen today.”


He crouched until he was eye to eye with his daughter. “Absolutely. You have excellent taste, funny face.”

Freddie reached out, crushing the doll between them as she hugged her father. “I can have her?”

“I thought she was for me.” As Freddie giggled, he picked up the pair of them.

“I’ll be happy to wrap her for you.” Natasha’s tone was warmer, she knew. He might be a jerk, but he loved his daughter.

“I can carry her.” Freddie squeezed her new friend close.

“All right. Then I’ll just give you a ribbon for her hair. Would you like that?”

“A blue one.”

“A blue one it is.” Natasha led the way to the cash register.

Nina took one look at the doll and rolled her eyes. “Darling, is that the best you could do?”

“Daddy likes her,” Freddie murmured, ducking her head.

“Yes, I do. Very much,” he added with a telling look for Nina. Setting Freddie on her feet again, he fished out his wallet.

The mother was certainly no prize, Natasha decided. Though that didn’t give the man a right to come on to a clerk in a toy store. She made change and handed over the receipt, then took out a length of blue ribbon.

“Thank you,” she said to Freddie. “I think she’s going to like her new home with you very much.”

“I’ll take good care of her,” Freddie promised, while she struggled to tie the ribbon through the yarn mop of hair. “Can people come in to look at the toys, or do they have to buy one?”

Natasha smiled, then taking another ribbon, tied a quick, sassy bow in the child’s hair. “You can come in and look anytime you like.”

“Spence, we really must be going.” Nina stood holding the door open.

“Right.” He hesitated. It was a small town, he reminded himself. And if Freddie could come in and look, so could he. “It was nice meeting you, Miss Stanislaski.”

“Goodbye.” She waited until the door jingled and closed, then let out a muttered stream of curses.

Annie peeked around a tower of building blocks. “Excuse me?”

“That man.”

“Yes.” With a little sigh, Annie waltzed down the aisle. “That man.”

“He brings his wife and child into a place like this, then looks at me as if he wants to nibble on my toes.”

“Tash.” Her expression pained, Annie pressed a hand to her heart. “Please don’t excite me.”

“I find it insulting.” She skirted around the checkout counter and swung a fist at a punching bag. “He asked me to dinner.”

“He what?” Delight showed in Annie’s eyes, before a look from Natasha dampened it. “You’re right. It is insulting, seeing as he’s a married man—even though his wife seemed like a cold fish.”

“His marital problems are no concern of mine.”

“No….” Practicality warred with fantasy. “I guess you turned him down.”

A choked sound caught in Natasha’s throat as she turned. “Of course I turned him down.”

“I mean, of course,” Annie put in quickly.

“The man has a nerve,” Natasha said; her fingers itched to hit something. “Coming into my place of business and propositioning me.”

“He didn’t!” Scandalized and thrilled, Annie grabbed Natasha’s arm. “Tash, he didn’t really proposition you? Right here?”

“With his eyes he did. The message was clear.” It infuriated her how often men looked at her and only saw the physical. Only wanted to see the physical, she thought in disgust. She had tolerated suggestions, propositions and proposals since before she had fully understood what they meant. But she understood now and tolerated nothing.

“If he hadn’t had that sweet little girl with him, I would have slapped his face.” Because the image pleased her so much, she let loose on the hapless punching bag again.

Annie had seen her employer’s temper fly often enough to know how to cool it. “She was sweet, wasn’t she? Her name’s Freddie. Isn’t that cute?”

Natasha took a long, steadying breath even as she rubbed her fisted hand in her other palm. “Yes.”

“She told me they had just moved to Shepherdstown from New York. The doll was going to be her first new friend.”

“Poor little thing.” Natasha knew too well the fears and anxieties of being a child in a strange place. Forget the father, she told herself with a toss of her head. “She looks to be about the same age as JoBeth Riley.” Annoyance forgotten, Natasha went behind the counter again and picked up the phone. It wouldn’t hurt to give Mrs. Riley a call.

Prev Next