Taming Natasha Page 9

Someday, she thought with a shrug. But for now she had her own business, her own home and her own life. No man, no matter how beautiful his hands or how clear his eyes, was going to rock her boat. Secretly she hoped her newest customer’s wife gave him nothing but grief.

“One more story. Please, Daddy.” Freddie, her eyes heavy, her face shiny from her bath, used her most persuasive smile. She was nestled against Spence in her big, white canopy bed.

“You’re already asleep.”

“No, I’m not.” She peeked up at him, fighting to keep her eyes open. It had been the very best day of her life, and she didn’t want it to end. “Did I tell you that JoBeth’s cat had kittens? Six of them.”

“Twice.” Spence flicked a finger down her nose. He knew a hint when he heard one, and fell back on the parent’s standard. “We’ll see.”

Sleepy, Freddie smiled. She knew from his tone that her father was already weakening. “Mrs. Patterson’s real nice. She’s going to let us have Show and Tell every Friday.”

“So you said.” And he’d been worried, Spence thought. “I get the feeling you like school.”

“It’s neat.” She yawned hugely. “Did you fill out all the forms?”

“They’ll be ready for you to take in tomorrow.” All five hundred of them, he thought with a sigh. “Time to unplug the batteries, funny face.”

“One more story. The made-up kind.” She yawned again, comforted by the soft cotton of his shirt beneath her cheek and the familiar scent of his after-shave.

He gave in, knowing she would sleep long before he got to the happy ever after. He wove a story around a beautiful, dark-haired princess from a foreign land, and the knight who tried to rescue her from her ivory tower.

Foolishness, Spence thought even as he added a sorcerer and a two-headed dragon. He knew his thoughts were drifting toward Natasha again. She was certainly beautiful, but he didn’t think he’d ever met a woman less in need of rescuing.

It was just his bad luck that he had to pass her shop every day to and from campus.

He’d ignore her. If anything, he should be grateful to her. She’d made him want, made him feel things he hadn’t thought he could anymore. Maybe now that he and Freddie were settled, he’d start socializing again. There were plenty of attractive, single women at the college. But the idea of dating didn’t fill him with delight.

Socializing, Spence corrected. Dating was for teenagers and conjured up visions of drive-in movies, pizza and sweaty palms. He was a grown man, and it was certainly time he started enjoying female companionship again. Over the age of five, he thought, looking at Freddie’s small hand balled in his palm.

Just what would you think, he asked silently, if I brought a woman home to dinner? It made him remember how big and hurt her eyes had been when he and Angela had swept out of the condo for evenings at the theater or the opera.

It won’t ever be like that again, he promised as he shifted her from his chest to the pillow. He settled the grinning Raggedy Ann beside her, then tucked the covers under her chin. Resting a hand on the bedpost, he glanced around the room.

It already had Freddie’s stamp on it. The dolls lining the shelves with books jumbled beneath them, the fuzzy, pink elephant slippers beside her oldest and most favored sneakers. The room had that little-girl scent of shampoo and crayons. A night-light in the shape of a unicorn assured that she wouldn’t wake up in the dark and be afraid.

He stayed a moment longer, finding himself as soothed by the light as she. Quietly he stepped out, leaving her door open a few inches.

Downstairs he found Vera carrying a tray of coffee. The Mexican housekeeper was wide from shoulders to hips, and gave the impression of a small, compact freight train when she moved from room to room. Since Freddie’s birth, she had proven not only efficient but indispensable. Spence knew it was often possible to insure an employee’s loyalty with a paycheck, but not her love. From the moment Freddie had come home in her silk-trimmed blanket, Vera had been in love.

She cast an eye up the stairs now, and her lined face folded into a smile. “She had one big day, huh?”

“Yes, and one she fought ending to the last gasp. Vera, you didn’t have to bother.”

She shrugged her shoulders while she carried the coffee into his office. “You said you have to work tonight.”

“Yes, for a little while.”

“So I make you coffee before I go in and put my feet up to watch TV.” She arranged the tray on his desk, fussing a bit while she talked. “My baby, she’s happy with school and her new friends.” She didn’t add that she had wept into her apron when Freddie had stepped onto the bus. “With the house empty all day, I have plenty of time to get my work done. You don’t stay up too late, Dr. Kimball.”

“No.” It was a polite lie. He knew he was too restless for sleep. “Thank you, Vera.”

“¡De nada!” She patted her iron-gray hair. “I wanted to tell you that I like this place very much. I was afraid to leave New York, but now I’m happy.”

“We couldn’t manage without you.”

“Sí.” She took this as her due. For seven years she had worked for the señor, and basked in the prestige of being housekeeper for an important man—a respected musician, a doctor of music and a college professor. Since the birth of his daughter she had been so in love with her baby that she would have worked for Spence, whatever his station.

She had grumbled about moving from the beautiful high-rise in New York, to the rambling house in the small town, but Vera was shrewd enough to know that the señor had been thinking of Freddie. Freddie had come home from school only hours before, laughing, excited, with the names of new best friends tumbling from her lips. SoVera was content.

“You are a good father, Dr. Kimball.”

Spence glanced over before he sat down behind his desk. He was well aware that there had been a time Vera had considered him a very poor one.

“I’m learning.”

“Sí.” Casually she adjusted a book on the shelf. “In this big house you won’t have to worry about disturbing Freddie’s sleep if you play your piano at night.”

He looked over again, knowing she was encouraging him in her way to concentrate on his music. “No, it shouldn’t disturb her. Good night, Vera.”

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