Taming Natasha Page 4

Spence stood at the music-room window and stared out at a bed of summer flowers. Having flowers outside the window and a bumpy slope of lawn that would need tending was a new experience. He’d never cut grass in his life. Smiling to himself, he wondered how soon he could try his hand at it.

There was a big, spreading maple, its leaves a dark, dark green. In a few weeks, he imagined they would grow red and vibrant before they tumbled from the branches. He had enjoyed the view from his condo on Central Park West, watching the seasons come and go with the changing trees. But not like this, he realized.

Here the grass, the trees, the flowers he saw belonged to him. They were for him to enjoy and to care for. Here he could let Freddie take out her dolls for an afternoon tea party and not have to worry every second she was out of his sight. They would make a good life here, a solid life for both of them. He’d felt it when he’d flown down to discuss his position with the dean—and again when he’d walked through this big, rambling house with the anxious real-estate agent dogging his heels.

She hadn’t had to sell it, Spence thought. He’d been sold the moment he’d walked in the front door.

As he watched, a hummingbird swooped to hover at the cup of a bright red petunia. In that instant he was more convinced than ever that his decision to leave the city had been the right one.

Having a brief fling with rural living. Nina’s words rolled through his mind as he watched the sun flash on the bird’s iridescent wings. It was difficult to blame her for saying it, for believing it when he had always chosen to live in the middle of things. He couldn’t deny he had enjoyed those glittery parties that had lasted until dawn, or the elegant midnight suppers after a symphony or ballet.

He had been born into a world of glamour and wealth and prestige. He had lived all of his life in a place where only the best was acceptable. And he had relished it, Spence admitted. Summering in Monte Carlo, wintering in Nice or Cannes. Weekends in Aruba or Cancun.

He wouldn’t wish those experiences away, but he could wish, and did, that he had accepted the responsibilities of his life sooner.

He accepted them now. Spence watched the hummingbird streak away like a sapphire bullet. And as much to his own surprise as to that of people who knew him, he was enjoying those responsibilities. Freddie made the difference. All the difference.

He thought of her and she came running across the back lawn, her new rag doll tucked under her arm. She made a beeline, as he expected, to the swing set. It was so new that the blue and white paint gleamed in the sunlight, and the hard plastic seats were shiny as leather. With the doll in her lap, she pushed off, her face lifted skyward, her tiny mouth moving to some private song.

Love rammed into him with a velvet fist, solid and painful. In all of his life he had never known anything as consuming or as basic as the emotion she brought to him simply by being.

As she glided back and forth, she cuddled the doll, bringing her close to whisper secrets into her ear. It pleased him to see Freddie so taken with the cloth and cotton doll. She could have chosen china or velvet, but had picked something that looked as though it needed love.

She’d spoken of the toy store throughout the morning, and was wishing, Spence knew, for a return trip. Oh, she wouldn’t ask for anything, he thought. Not directly. She would use her eyes. It both amused and baffled him that at five, his little girl had already mastered that peculiar and effective feminine trick.

He’d thought of the toy store himself, and its owner. No feminine tricks there, just pure womanly disdain. It made him wince again to remember how clumsy he’d been. Out of practice, he reminded himself with a self-deprecating smile and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. What was more, he couldn’t remember ever experiencing that strong a sexual punch. It was like being hit by lightning, he decided. A man was entitled to fumble a bit after being electrified.

But her reaction… Frowning, Spence replayed the scene in his mind. She’d been furious. She’d damn near been quivering with fury before he’d opened his mouth—and put his foot in it.

She hadn’t even attempted to be polite in her refusal. Just no—a single hard syllable crusted with frost at the edges. It wasn’t as if he’d asked her to go to bed with him.

But he’d wanted to. From the first instant he had been able to imagine carrying her off to some dark, remote spot in the woods, where the ground was springy with moss and the trees blocked out the sky. There he could take the heat of those full, sulky lips. There he could indulge in the wild passion her face promised. Wild, mindless sex, heedless of time or place, of right or wrong.

Good God. Amazed, he pulled himself back. He was thinking like a teenager. No, Spence admitted, thrusting his hands into his pockets again. He was thinking like a man—one who had gone four years without a woman. He wasn’t certain if he wanted to thank Natasha Stanislaski for unlocking all those needs again, or throttle her.

But he was certain he was going to see her again.

“I’m all packed.” Nina paused in the doorway. She gave a little sigh; Spence was clearly absorbed in his own thoughts again. “Spencer,” she said, raising her voice as she crossed the room. “I said I’m all packed.”

“What? Oh.” He managed a distracted smile and forced his shoulders to relax. “We’ll miss you, Nina.”

“You’ll be glad to see the back of me,” she corrected, then gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

“No.” His smile came easier now, she saw, dutifully wiping the faint trace of lipstick from his skin. “I appreciate all you’ve done to help us settle in. I know how tight your schedule is.”

“I could hardly let my brother tackle the wilds of West Virginia alone.” She took his hand in a rare show of genuine agitation. “Oh, Spence, are you sure? Forget everything I’ve said before and think, really think it through. It’s such a big change, for both of you. What will you possibly do here in your free time?”

“Cut the grass.” Now he grinned at her expression. “Sit on the porch. Maybe I’ll even write music again.”

“You could write in New York.”

“I haven’t written two bars in almost four years,” he reminded her.

“All right.” She walked to the piano and waved a hand. “But if you wanted a change, you could have found a place on Long Island or even in Connecticut.”

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