Taming Natasha Page 5

“I like it here, Nina. Believe me, this is the best thing I could do for Freddie, and myself.”

“I hope you’re right.” Because she loved him, she smiled again. “I still say you’ll be back in New York within six months. In the meantime, as that child’s only aunt, I expect to be kept apprised of her progress.” She glanced down, annoyed to see a chip in her nail polish. “The idea of her attending public school—”


“Never mind.” She held up a hand. “There’s no use starting this argument when I have a plane to catch. And I’m quite aware she’s your child.”

“Yes, she is.”

Nina tapped a finger on the glossy surface of the baby grand. “Spence, I know you’re still carrying around guilt because of Angela. I don’t like to see it.”

His easy smile vanished. “Some mistakes take along time to be erased.”

“She made you miserable,” Nina said flatly. “There were problems within the first year of your marriage. Oh, you weren’t forthcoming with information,” she added when he didn’t respond. “But there were others all too eager to pass it along to me or anyone else who would listen. It was no secret that she didn’t want the child.”

“And how much better was I, wanting the baby only because I thought it would fill the gaps in my marriage? That’s a large burden to hand a child.”

“You made mistakes. You recognized them and you rectified them. Angela never suffered a pang of guilt in her life. If she hadn’t died, you would have divorced her and taken custody of Freddie. The result’s the same. I know that sounds cold. The truth often is. I don’t like to think that you’re making this move, changing your life this dramatically because you’re trying to make up for something that’s long over.”

“Maybe that’s part of it. But there’s more.” He held out a hand, waiting until Nina came to him. “Look at her.” He pointed out the window to where Freddie continued to swing high, free as the hummingbird. “She’s happy. And so am I.”


“I’m not scared.”

“Of course you’re not.” Spence looked at his daughter’s brave reflection in the mirror while he carefully braided her hair. He didn’t need the quaver in her voice to tell him she was terrified. There was a rock in the pit of his own stomach the size of a fist.

“Some of the kids might cry.” Her big eyes were already misted. “But I won’t.”

“You’re going to have fun.” He wasn’t any more certain of that than his nervous daughter. The trouble with being a parent, he thought, was that you were supposed to sound sure of everything. “The first day of school’s always a little scary, but once you get there and meet everyone, you’ll have a great time.”

She fixed him with a steady, owlish stare. “Really?”

“You liked kindergarten, didn’t you?” It was evasive, he admitted to himself, but he couldn’t make promises he might not be able to keep.

“Mostly.” She lowered her eyes, poking at the yellow, sea horse-shaped comb on her dresser. “But Amy and Pam won’t be there.”

“You’ll make new friends. You’ve already met JoBeth.” He thought of the pixieish brunette who had strolled by the house with her mother a couple of days before.

“I guess, and JoBeth is nice, but…” How could she explain that JoBeth already knew all of the other girls? “Maybe I should wait till tomorrow.”

Their eyes met in the mirror again; he rested his chin on her shoulder. She smelled of the pale green soap she loved because it was shaped like a dinosaur. Her face was so much like his own, yet softer, finer, and to him infinitely beautiful.

“You could, but then tomorrow would be your first day of school. You’d still have butterflies.”


“Right here.” He patted her tummy. “Doesn’t it feel like butterflies dancing in there?”

That made her giggle. “Kind of.”

“I’ve got them, too.”

“Really?” Her eyes opened wide.

“Really. I’ve got to go to school this morning, just like you.”

She fiddled with the pink ribbons he’d tied on the ends of her pigtails. She knew it wasn’t the same for him, but didn’t say so because she was afraid he’d get that worried look. Freddie had heard him talking to Aunt Nina once, and remembered how impatient he had sounded when she’d complained that he was uprooting her niece during her formative years.

Freddie wasn’t sure exactly what formative years were, but she knew her daddy had been upset, and that even when Aunt Nina had gone again, he’d still had that worried look. She didn’t want to make him worried, or to make him think Aunt Nina was right. If they went back to New York, the only swing sets were in the park.

Besides, she liked the big house and her new room. Even better, her father’s new job was so close, he would be home every night long before dinner. Remembering not to pout, Freddie decided that since she wanted to stay, she’d have to go to school.

“Will you be here when I get home?”

“I think so. But if I’m not, Vera will be,” he said, thinking of their longtime housekeeper. “You can tell me everything that happened.” After kissing the top of her head, he set her on her feet. She looked achingly small in her pink and white playsuit. Her gray eyes were solemn, her bottom lip trembling. He fought back the urge to gather her up and promise that she’d never have to go to school or anywhere else that frightened her. “Let’s go see what Vera packed in your new lunch box.”

Twenty minutes later he was standing on the curb, holding Freddie’s hand in his own. With almost as much dread as his daughter he saw the big yellow school bus lumbering over the hill.

He should have driven her to school, he thought in sudden panic—at least for the first few days. He should take her himself, instead of putting her onto that bus with strangers. Yet it had seemed better to make the whole event normal, to let her ease into the group and become one of them from the outset.

How could he let her go? She was just a baby. His baby. What if he was wrong? This wasn’t just a matter of picking out the wrong color dress for her. Simply because it was the designated day and time, he was going to tell his daughter to get onto that bus, then walk away.

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