Taming Natasha Page 35

“Thank God. Natasha—”

With a quick shake of her head, she put a finger to his lips. “Don’t say too much. It’s easy to say too much in the moonlight.” And easy to believe it, she added silently.

Though impatient, he bit back the words he wanted to say. He had made a mistake once before by wanting too much, too quickly. He was determined not to make mistakes with Natasha. “Can I tell you that I’ll never look at gold chains in quite the same way again?”

With a little chuckle she pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “Yes, you can tell me that.”

He toyed with her bracelets. “Can I tell you I’m happy?”


“Are you?”

She tilted her head to look at him. “Yes. Happier than I thought I could be. You make me feel…” She smiled, making a quick movement with her shoulders. “Like magic.”

“Tonight was magic.”

“I was afraid,” she murmured. “Of you, of this. Of myself,” she admitted. “It’s been a very long time for me.”

“It’s been a long time for me, too.” At her restless movement, he caught her chin in his hand. “I haven’t been with anyone since before my wife died.”

“Did you love her very much? I’m sorry,” she said quickly and closed her eyes tight. “I have no business asking that.”

“Yes, you do.” He kept his fingers firm. “I loved her once, or I loved the idea of her. That idea was gone long before she died.”

“Please. Tonight isn’t the time to talk about things that were.”

When she sat up, he went with her, cupping her forearms in his hands. “Maybe not. But there are things I need to tell you, things we will talk about.”

“Is what happened before so important?”

He heard the trace of desperation in her voice and wished he could find the reason. “I think it could be.”

“This is now.” She closed her hands over his. It was as close to a promise as she dared make. “Now I want to be your friend and your lover.”

“Then be both.”

She calmed herself with a deliberate effort.

“Perhaps I don’t want to talk about other women while I’m in bed with you.”

He could feel that she was braced and ready to argue. In a move that threw her off, he leaned closer to touch his lips to her brow. “We’ll let you use that one for now.”

“Thank you.” She brushed a hand through his hair. “I’d like to spend this night with you, all night.” With a half smile, she shook her head. “You can’t stay.”

“I know.” He caught her hand to bring it to his lips. “Freddie would have some very awkward questions for me if I wasn’t around for breakfast in the morning.”

“She’s a very lucky girl.”

“I don’t like leaving this way.”

She smiled and kissed him. “I understand, as long as the other woman is only six.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Bending closer, he deepened the kiss.

“Yes.” On a sigh she wrapped her arms around him. “Once more,” she murmured, drawing him down to the bed. “Just once more.”

In her cramped office at the back of the shop, Natasha sat at her desk. She had come in early to catch up on the practical side of business. Her ledger was up-to-date, her invoices had been filled. With Christmas less than two months away, she had completed her orders. Early merchandise was already stacked wherever room could be found. It made her feel good to be surrounded by the wishes of children, and to know that on Christmas morning what was now stored in boxes would cause cries of delight and wonder.

But there were practicalities as well. She had only begun to think of displays, decorations and discounts. She would have to decide soon whether she wanted to hire part-time help for the seasonal rush.

Now, at midmorning, with Annie in charge of the shop, she had textbooks and notes spread out. Before business there were studies, and she took both very seriously.

There was to be a test on the baroque era, and she intended to show her teacher—her lover—that she could hold her own.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been so important to prove she could learn and retain. But there had been times in her life, times she was certain Spence could never understand, when she had been made to feel inadequate, even stupid. The little girl with broken English, the thin teenager who’d thought more about dance than schoolbooks, the dancer who’d fought so hard to make her body bear the insults of training, the young woman who had listened to her heart, not her head.

She was none of those people any longer, and yet she was all of them. She needed Spence to respect her intelligence, to see her as an equal, not just as the woman he desired.

She was being foolish. On a sigh, Natasha leaned back in her chair to toy with the petals of the red rose that stood at her elbow. Even more than foolish, she was wrong. Spence was nothing like Anthony. Except for the vaguest of physical similarities, those two men were almost opposites. True, one was a brilliant dancer, the other a brilliant musician, but Anthony had been selfish, dishonest, and in the end cowardly.

She had never known a man more generous, a man kinder than Spence. He was compassionate and honest. Or was that her heart talking? To be sure. But the heart, she thought, didn’t come with a guarantee like a mechanical toy. Every day she was with him, she fell deeper and deeper in love. So much in love, she thought, that there were moments, terrifying moments, when she wanted to toss aside everything and tell him.

She had offered her heart to a man before, a heart pure and fragile. When it had been given back to her, it had been scarred.

No, there were no guarantees.

How could she dare risk that again? Even knowing that what was happening to her now was different, very different from what had happened to the young girl of seventeen, how could she possibly take the chance of leaving herself open again to that kind of pain and humiliation?

Things were better as they were, she assured herself. They were two adults, enjoying each other. And they were friends.

Taking the rose out of its vase, she stroked it along her cheek. It was a pity that she and her friend could only find a few scattered hours to be alone. There was a child to consider, then there were schedules and responsibilities. But in those hours when her friend became her lover, she knew the true meaning of bliss.

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