Taming Natasha Page 44

“What’s vodka?”

“Russian tradition,” Yuri answered her. “A drink we make from grain.”

Freddie wrinkled her nose. “That sounds yucky,” she said, then immediately bit her lip again. But at Yuri’s burst of laughter she managed a shy smile.

“Natasha will tell you that her papa always teases little girls.” Nadia poked an elbow into Yuri’s ribs. “It’s because he is really just little boy at heart. You would like hot chocolate?”

Freddie was torn between the comfort of her father’s hand and one of her favorite treats. And Nadia was smiling at her, not with that goofy look grown-ups sometimes put on when they had to talk to kids. It was a warm smile, just like Natasha’s.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Nadia gave a nod of approval at the child’s manners. “Maybe you would like to come with me. I show you how to make it with big, fat marshmallows.”

Forgetting shyness, Freddie took her hand from Spence’s and put it into Nadia’s. “I have two cats,” she told Nadia proudly as they walked into the kitchen. “And I had chicken pox on my birthday.”

“Sit, sit,” Yuri ordered, gesturing toward the couch. “We have a drink.”

“Where are Alex and Rachel?” With a contented sigh, Natasha sank into the worn cushions.

“Alex takes his new girlfriend to the movies. Very pretty,” Yuri said, rolling his bright, brown eyes. “Rachel is at lecture. Big-time lawyer from Washington, D.C. comes to college.”

“And how is Mikhail?”

“Very busy. They remodel apartment in Soho.” He passed out glasses, tapping each before he drank. “So,” he said to Spence as he settled in his favorite chair, “you teach music.”

“Yes. Natasha’s one of my best students in Music History.”

“Smart girl, my Natasha.” He settled back in his chair and studied Spence. But not, as Natasha had hoped, discreetly. “You are good friends.”

“Yes,” Natasha put in, uneasy about the gleam in her father’s eyes. “We are. Spence just moved into town this summer. He and Freddie used to live in New York.”

“So. This is interesting. Like fate.”

“I like to think so,” Spence agreed, enjoying himself. “It was especially fortunate that I have a little girl and Natasha owns a very tempting toy store. Added to that, she signed up for one of my classes. It made it difficult for her to avoid me when she was being stubborn.”

“She is stubborn,” Yuri agreed sadly. “Her mother is stubborn. Me, I am very agreeable.”

Natasha gave a quick snort.

“Stubborn and disrespectful women run in my family.” Yuri took another healthy drink. “It is my curse.”

“Perhaps one day I’ll be fortunate enough to say the same.” Spence smiled over the rim of his glass. “When I convince Natasha to marry me.”

Natasha sprang up, ignoring her father’s grin. “Since the vodka’s gone to your head so quickly, I’ll see if Mama has any extra hot chocolate.”

Yuri pushed himself out of his chair to reach for the bottle as Natasha disappeared. “We’ll leave the chocolate to the women.”

Natasha awoke at first light with Freddie curled in her arms. She was in the bed of her childhood, in a room where she and her sister had spent countless hours talking, laughing, arguing. The wallpaper was the same. Faded roses. Whenever her mother had threatened to paint it, both she and Rachel had objected. There was something comforting about waking up to the same walls from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.

Turning her head, she could see her sister’s dark hair against the pillow of the next bed. The sheets and blankets were in tangles. Typical, Natasha thought with a smile. Rachel had more energy asleep than most people had fully awake. She had come in the night before after midnight, bursting with enthusiasm over the lecture she had attended, full of hugs and kisses and questions.

Natasha brushed a kiss over Freddie’s hair, then carefully shifted her. The child snuggled into the pillow without making a sound. Quietly Natasha rose. She took a moment to steady herself when the floor tilted. Four hours’ sleep, she decided, was bound to make anyone light-headed. Gathering her clothes, she went off to shower and dress.

Arriving downstairs, she caught the scent of coffee brewing. It didn’t seem to appeal to her, but she followed it into the kitchen.

“Mama.” Nadia was already at the counter, busily rolling out pie-crusts. “It’s too early to cook.”

“On Thanksgiving it’s never too early.” She lifted her cheek for a kiss. “You want coffee?”

Natasha pressed a hand to her uneasy stomach. “No. I don’t think so. I assume that bundle of blankets on the couch is Alex.”

“He gets in very late.” Nadia pursed her lips briefly in disapproval, then shrugged. “He’s not a boy anymore.”

“No. You’ll just have to face it, Mama, you have grown children—and you raised them very well.”

“Not so well that Alex learns to pick up his socks.” But she smiled, hoping her youngest son wouldn’t deprive her of that last vestige of motherhood too soon.

“Did Papa and Spence stay up very late?”

“Papa likes talking to your friend. He’s a nice man.” Nadia laid a circle of dough on a pie plate, then took up another chunk to roll out. “Very handsome.”

“Yes,” Natasha agreed, but cautiously.

“He has good job, is responsible, loves his daughter.”

“Yes,” Natasha said again.

“Why don’t you marry him when he wants you to?”

She’d figured on this. Biting back a sigh, Natasha leaned on the kitchen table. “There are a lot of nice, responsible and handsome men, Mama. Should I marry them all?”

“Not so many as you think.” Smiling to herself, Nadia started on a third crust. “You don’t love him?” When Natasha didn’t answer, Nadia’s smile widened. “Ah.”

“Don’t start. Spence and I have only known each other for a few months. There’s a lot he doesn’t know about me.”

“So tell him.”

“I don’t seem to be able to.”

Nadia put down her rolling pin to cup her daughter’s face in two floury hands. “He is not like the other one.”

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