Taming Natasha Page 47

“And now you teach at college.”


“Mikhail,” Natasha interrupted. “Don’t play big brother. I’m older than you.”

“But I’m bigger.” Then with a quick, flashing grin, he tossed an arm around her shoulder. “So what’s to eat?”

Too much, Spence decided as the family gathered around the table late that afternoon. The huge turkey in the center of the hand-crocheted tablecloth was only the beginning. Faithful to her adopted country’s holiday, Nadia had prepared a meal that was an American tradition from the chestnut dressing to the pumpkin pies.

Wide-eyed, Freddie gawked, staring at platter after platter. The room was full of noise as everyone talked over and around everyone else. The china was mismatched. Old Sasha lay sprawled under the table near her feet, hoping for a few unobtrusive handouts. She was sitting on a wobbly chair and the New York Yellow Pages. As far as she was concerned, it was the best day of her life.

Alex and Rachel began to argue over some childhood infraction. Mikhail joined in to tell them they were both wrong. When her opinion was sought, Natasha just laughed and shook her head, then turned to Spence and murmured something into his ear that made him chuckle.

Nadia, her cheeks rosy with the pleasure of having her family together, slipped a hand into Yuri’s as he lifted his glass.

“Enough,” he said, and effectively silenced the table. “You can argue later about who let white mice loose in science lab. Now we toast. We are thankful for this food that Nadia and my girls have fixed for us. And more thankful for the friends and family who are here together to enjoy it. We give thanks, as we did on our first Thanksgiving in our country, that we are free.”

“To freedom,” Mikhail said as he lifted his glass.

“To freedom,” Yuri agreed. His eyes misted and he looked around the table. “And to family.”


That evening, with Freddie dozing in his lap, Spence listened to Yuri tell stories of the old country. While the meal had been a noisy competition for conversation, this hour was one of quiet and content. Across the room Rachel and Alex played a trivia game. They argued often, but without heat.

In the corner, Natasha and Mikhail sat close, dark heads together. Spence could hear their murmurs and noted that one often reached to touch the other’s hand, to touch a cheek. Nadia sat smiling, interrupting Yuri occasionally to correct or comment as she worked another pillow cover.

“Woman.” Yuri pointed at his wife with the stem of his after-dinner pipe. “I remember like yesterday.”

“You remember as you like to remember.”

“Tak.” He stuck the pipe back into his mouth. “And what I remember makes better story.”

When Freddie stirred, Spence shifted her. “I’d better put her to bed.”

“I will do it.” Nadia set her needlework aside and rose. “I would like to.” Making soothing noises, she lifted Freddie. Sleepy and agreeable, Freddie snuggled into her neck.

“Will you rock me?”

“Yes.” Touched, Nadia kissed her hair as she started toward the steps. “I will rock you in the chair where I rocked all my babies.”

“And sing?”

“I will sing you a song my mother sang to me. You would like that?”

Freddie gave a yawn and a drowsy nod.

“You have a beautiful daughter.” Like Spence, Yuri watched them turn up the steps. “You must bring her back often.”

“I think I’ll have a hard time keeping her away.”

“She is always welcome, as you are.” Yuri took a puff on his pipe. “Even if you don’t marry my daughter.”

That statement brought on ten seconds of humming silence until Alex and Rachel bent back over their game, smothering grins. Spence didn’t bother to smother his own as Natasha rose.

“There isn’t enough milk for the morning,” she decided on the spot. “Spence, why don’t you walk with me to get some?”


A few moments later they stepped outside, wrapped in coats and scarves. The air had a bite that Natasha welcomed. Overhead the sky was clear as black glass and icy with stars.

“He didn’t mean to embarrass you,” Spence began.

“Yes, he did.”

Spence didn’t bother to hold back the chuckle, and draped an arm over her shoulders. “I suppose he did. I like your family.”

“So do I. Most of the time.”

“You’re lucky to have them. Watching Freddie here has made me realize how important family is. I don’t suppose I’ve really tried to get closer to Nina or my parents.”

“They’re still family. Perhaps we’re as close as we are, because when we came here we only had each other.”

“It’s true my family never crossed the mountains into Hungary in a wagon.”

That made her laugh. “Rachel was always jealous that she hadn’t been born yet. When she was little, she would get back by saying she was more American, because she’d been born in New York. Then not long ago, someone said to her that if she wanted to be a lawyer, she should think of changing or shortening her name.” With a new laugh, Natasha looked up at him. “She became very insulted and very Ukrainian.”

“It’s a good name. You could always keep it professionally after you marry me.”

“Don’t start.”

“Must be your father’s influence.” He glanced at the dark shop, where a Closed sign hung on the door. “The store’s closed.”

“I know.” She turned into his arms. “I just wanted to walk. Now that we’re standing here in a dark doorway, alone, I can kiss you.”

“Good point.” Spence lowered his mouth to hers.

Natasha was annoyed with herself for dozing off and on during the drive home. She felt as though she’d spent a week mountain climbing, rather than less than forty-eight hours in her family home. By the time she shook herself awake for the last time, they were crossing the Maryland border into West Virginia.

“Already.” She straightened in her seat and cast an apologetic glance at Spence. “I didn’t help you drive.”

“It’s all right. You looked like you needed the rest.”

“Too much food, too little sleep.” She looked back at Freddie, who was sleeping soundly. “We’ve been poor company for you.”

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