Taming Natasha Page 7

“No.” Mrs. Mortimer let out a little breath of relief as she counted out bills. “Well, this must be my lucky day.”

“And Bonnie’s.” Natasha topped the gift with a pretty, celebratory pink bow, remembering it was Bonnie’s favorite color. “Be sure to tell her happy birthday.”

“I will.” The proud grandmother lifted her package. “I can’t wait to see her face when she opens this. Bye, Natasha.”

Natasha waited until the door closed. “May I help you with something?”

“That was a very nice thing to do.”

She lifted a brow. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean.” He had the absurd urge to take her hand and kiss it. It was incredible, he thought. He was almost thirty-five and tumbling into puppy love with a woman he barely knew. “I’d meant to come in before.”

“Oh? Was your daughter dissatisfied with her doll?”

“No, she loves it. It was just that I…” Good God, he was nearly stuttering. Five minutes with her, and he felt as awkward as a teenager at his first dance. He steadied himself with an effort. “I felt we’d gotten off on the wrong foot before. Should I apologize?”

“If you like.” Just because he looked appealing and a little awkward was no reason to go easy on him. “Did you come in only for that?”

“No.” His eyes darkened, just slightly. Noting it, Natasha wondered if she’d erred in her initial impression. Perhaps he wasn’t harmless, after all. There was something deeper in those eyes, stronger and more dangerous. What surprised her further was that she found it exciting.

Disgusted with herself, she gave him a polite smile. “Was there something else?”

“I wanted something for my daughter.” The hell with the gorgeous Russian princess, he thought. He had more important things to tend to.

“What was it you wanted for her?”

“I don’t know.” That was true enough. Setting down his briefcase, he glanced around the shop.

Unbending a little, Natasha came around the counter. “Is it her birthday?”

“No.” Feeling foolish, he shrugged. “It’s the first day of school, and she looked so…brave getting on the bus this morning.”

This time Natasha’s smile was spontaneous and full of warmth. It nearly stopped his heart. “You shouldn’t worry. When she comes home, she’ll be full of stories about everything and everyone. The first day is much harder, I think, on the parent than on the child.”

“It’s been the longest day of my life.”

She laughed, a rich smoky sound that seemed impossibly erotic in a room full of clowns and stuffed bears. “It sounds like you both deserve a present. You were looking at a music box before. I have another you might like.”

So saying, she led the way to the back of the shop. Spence did his best to ignore the subtle sway of her hips and the soft, fresh-scrubbed flavor of her scent. The box she chose was carved of wood, its pedestal topped with a cat and a fiddle, a cow and a quarter moon. As it turned to “Stardust,” he saw the laughing dog and the dish with the spoon.

“It’s charming.”

“It’s one of my favorites.” She’d decided that any man who adored his daughter so blatantly couldn’t be all bad. So she smiled again. “I think it would be a lovely memento, something she could play on her first day of college and remember her father was thinking of her.”

“If he survives first grade.” He shifted slightly to look at her. “Thank you. It’s perfect.”

It was the oddest thing—his body had hardly brushed hers, but she’d felt a jolt. For an instant she forgot he was a customer, a father, a husband, and thought of him only as a man. His eyes were the color of the river at dusk. His lips, as they formed the barest hint of a smile, were impossibly attractive, alluring. Involuntarily she wondered what it would be like to feel them against her own—to watch his face as mouth met mouth, and see herself reflected in his eyes.

Appalled, she stepped back and her voice grew colder. “I’ll box it for you.”

Intrigued by the sudden change in tone, he took his time following her back to the counter. Hadn’t he seen something in those fabulous eyes of hers? Or was it wishful thinking? It had gone quickly enough, heat smothered in frost. For the life of him he could find no reason for either.

“Natasha.” He laid a hand on hers as she began to pack the music box.

Slowly she lifted her eyes. She was already hating herself for noticing that his hands were beautiful, wide-palmed, long-fingered. There was also a note of patience in his voice that stretched her already frayed nerves. “Yes?”

“Why do I keep getting the feeling you’d like to boil me in oil?”

“You’re mistaken,” she said evenly. “I don’t think I’d like that.”

“You don’t sound convinced.” He felt her hand flex under his, soft and strong. The image of steel-lined velvet seemed particularly apt. “I’m having some trouble figuring out exactly what I’ve done to annoy you.”

“Then you’ll have to think about it. Cash or charge?”

He’d had little practice with rejection. Like a wasp it stung the ego. No matter how beautiful she was, he had no desire to continue to ram his head against the same brick wall.

“Cash.” The door jangled open behind them and he released her hand. Three children, fresh from school, came in giggling. A young boy with red hair and a face bursting with freckles stood on his toes in front of the counter.

“I have three dollars,” he announced.

Natasha fought back a grin. “You’re very rich today, Mr. Jensen.”

He flashed her a smile that revealed his latest missing tooth. “I’ve been saving up. I want the race car.”

Natasha only lifted a brow as she counted out Spence’s change. “Does your mother know you’re here spending your life savings?” Her new customer remained silent. “Scott?”

He shifted from one foot to the other. “She didn’t say I couldn’t.”

“And she didn’t say you could,” Natasha surmised. She leaned over to tug at his cowlick. “Go and ask her, then you come back. The race car will still be here.”

“But, Tash—”

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