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Christmas In The Snow: Taming Natasha / Considering Kate

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“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.

What if the driver was careless and drove off a cliff? How could he be sure someone would make certain Freddie got back onto the right bus that afternoon?

The bus rumbled to a halt and his fingers tightened instinctively on hers. When the door clattered open, he was almost ready to make a run for it.

“Hi, there.” The driver, a large woman with a wide smile, nodded at him. Behind her, children were yelling and bouncing on the seats. “You must be Professor Kimball.”

“Yes.” He had excuses for not putting Freddie on the bus on the tip of his tongue.

“I’m Dorothy Mansfield. The kids just call me Miss D. And you must be Frederica.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She bit her bottom lip to keep from turning away and hiding her face against her father’s side. “It’s Freddie.”

“Whew.” Miss D gave another big grin. “I’m glad to hear that. Frederica sure is a mouthful. Well, hop aboard, Freddie girl. This is the big day. John Harman, you give that book back to Mikey, less’n you want to sit behind me in the hot seat the rest of the week.”

Eyes swimming, Freddie put one foot onto the first step. Swallowing, she climbed the second.

“Why don’t you take a seat with JoBeth and Lisa there?” Miss D suggested kindly. She turned back to Spence with a wink and a wave. “Don’t worry about a thing, Professor. We’ll take good care of her.”

The door closed on a puff of air, then the bus rumbled ahead. Spence could only stand on the curb and watch it take his little girl away.

He wasn’t exactly idle. Spence’s time was eaten up almost from the moment he walked into the college. He had his own schedule to study, associates to meet, instruments and sheet music to pore over. There was a faculty meeting, a hurried lunch in the lounge, and there were papers, dozens of papers to read and digest. It was a familiar routine, one that he had begun three years before when he’d taken a post at the Juilliard School. But like Freddie, he was the new kid in town, and it was up to him to make the adjustments.

He worried about her. At lunchtime he imagined her sitting in the school cafeteria, a room that smelled of peanut butter and waxy cartons of milk. She would be huddled at the end of a table scattered with crumbs, alone, miserable, while other children laughed and joked with their friends. He could see her at recess, standing apart and looking on longingly, while the others raced and shouted and climbed like spiders on jungle gyms. The trauma would leave her insecure and unhappy for the rest of her life.

All because he’d put her onto that damn yellow bus.

By the end of the day he was feeling as guilty as a child abuser, certain his little girl would come home in tears, devastated by the rigors of the first day of school. More than once he asked himself if Nina had been right all along. Perhaps he should have left well enough alone and stayed in New York, where at least Freddie had had friends and the familiar.

With his briefcase in one hand and his jacket slung over his shoulder, he started for home. It was hardly more than a mile, and the weather remained unseasonably warm. Until winter hit, he would take advantage of it and walk to and from campus.

He had already fallen in love with the town. There were pretty shops and rambling old houses all along the tree-lined main street. It was a college town and proud of it, but it was equally proud of its age and dignity. The street climbed, and here and there the sidewalk showed cracks where tree roots had undermined it. Though there were cars passing, it was quiet enough to hear the bark of a dog or the music from a radio. A woman weeding marigolds along her walkway looked up and waved at him. Cheered, Spence waved back.

She didn’t even know him, he thought. But she had waved. He looked forward to seeing her again, planting bulbs perhaps, or sweeping snow from her porch. He could smell chrysanthemums. For some reason that alone gave him a shot of pleasure.

No, he hadn’t made a mistake. He and Freddie belonged here. In less than a week it had become home.

He stopped on the curb to wait for a laboring sedan to pass, and glancing across the street saw the sign for The Fun House. It was perfect, Spence thought. The perfect name. It conjured up laughter and surprises, just as the window display with its building blocks, chubby-cheeked dolls and shiny red cars promised a childhood treasure trove. At the moment he could think of nothing he wanted more than to find something that would bring a smile to his daughter’s face.

You spoil her.

He could hear Nina’s voice clearly in his ears.

So what? Glancing quickly up and down the street, he crossed to the opposite curb. His little girl had walked onto the school bus as bravely as any soldier marching into battle. There was no harm in buying her a small medal.

The door jingled as he entered. There was a scent, as cheerful as the sound of the bells. Peppermint, he thought and smiled. It delighted him to hear the tinny strains of “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” coming from the rear of the shop.

“I’ll be right with you.”

He had forgotten, Spence realized, how that voice could cruise along the air.

He wouldn’t make a fool of himself again. This time he was prepared for what she looked like, sounded like, smelled like. He had come in to buy a present for his daughter, not to flirt with the proprietor. Then he grinned into the face of a forlorn panda. There didn’t seem to be any law against doing both.

“I’m sure Bonnie will love it,” Natasha said as she carried the miniature carousel for her customer. “It’s a beautiful birthday present.”

“She saw it in here a few weeks ago and hasn’t been able to talk about anything else.” Bonnie’s grandmother tried not to grimace at the price. “I guess she’s old enough to take care of it.”

“Bonnie’s a very responsible girl,” Natasha went on, then spotted Spence at the counter. “I’ll be right with you.” The temperature of her voice dropped a cool twenty degrees.

“Take your time.” It annoyed him that his reaction to her should be so strong, while hers played tug-of-war at the opposite end of the spectrum. It was obvious she’d decided to dislike him. It might be interesting, Spence thought, while he watched her slender, capable hands wrap the carousel, to find out her reasons.

And change her mind.

“That’s 55.27, Mrs. Mortimer.”

“Oh no, dear, the price tag said 67.”

Natasha, who knew Mrs. Mortimer juggled expenses on a fixed income, only smiled. “I’m sorry. Didn’t I tell you it was on sale?”

“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—”

“You wouldn’t want your mother to be mad at me, would you?”

Scott looked thoughtful for a moment, and Natasha could tell it was a tough choice. “I guess not.”

“Then go ask her, and I’ll hold one for you.”

Hope blossomed. “Promise?”

Natasha put a hand on her heart. “Solemnly.” She looked back at Spence, and the amusement faded from her eyes. “I hope Freddie enjoys her present.”

“I’m sure she will.” He walked out, annoyed with himself for wishing he were a ten-year-old boy with a missing tooth.

Natasha locked the shop at six. The sun was still bright, the air still steamy. It made her think of picnics under a shady tree. A nicer fantasy than the microwave meal on her agenda, she mused, but at the moment impractical.

As she walked home, she watched a couple stroll hand in hand into the restaurant across the street. Someone hailed her from a passing car, and she waved in response. She could have stopped in the local pub and whiled away an hour over a glass of wine with any number of people she knew. Finding a dinner companion was as simple as sticking her head through one of a dozen doors and making the suggestion.

She wasn’t in the mood for company. Not even her own.

It was the heat, she told herself as she turned the corner, the heat that had hung mercilessly in the air throughout the summer and showed no sign of yielding to autumn. It made her restless. It made her remember.

It had been summer when her life had changed so irrevocably.

Even now, years later, sometimes when she saw the roses in full bloom or heard the drunken buzz of bees she would ache. And wonder what might have happened. What would her life be like now, if…? She detested herself for playing those wishing games.

There were roses now, fragile pink ones that thrived despite the heat and lack of rain. She had planted them herself in the little patch of grass outside her apartment. Tending them brought her pleasure and pain. And what was life, she asked herself as she ran a fingertip over a petal, without them both? The warm scent of the roses followed her up the walkway.

Her rooms were quiet. She had thought about getting a kitten or a pup, so that there would be something there to greet her in the evening, something that loved and depended on her. But then she realized how unfair it would be to leave it alone while she was at the shop.

So she turned to music, flicking on the stereo as she stepped out of her shoes. Even that was a test. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. She could see herself dancing to those haunting, romantic strains, the hot lights surrounding her, the music beating like her blood, her movements fluid, controlled without looking it. A triple pirouette, showing grace without effort.

That was past, Natasha reminded herself. Regrets were for the weak.

She moved out of habit, changing her work clothes for a loose, sleeveless jumpsuit, hanging up her skirt and blouse neatly as she had been taught. It was habit again rather than necessity that had her checking the cotton skirt for wear.

There was iced tea in the refrigerator and one of those packaged meals for the microwave that she both depended on and detested. She laughed at herself as she pushed the buttons to heat it.

She was getting like an old woman, Natasha decided, cranky and cross from the heat. Sighing, she rubbed the cold glass over her forehead.

That man had started her off, she thought. For a few moments in the shop today she had actually started to like him. He’d been so sweet, worrying about his little girl, wanting to reward her for being brave enough to face that momentous first day in school. She’d liked the way his voice had sounded, the way his eyes had smiled. For those few moments he had seemed like someone she could laugh with, talk with.

Then that had changed. A part of it was surely her fault, she admitted. But that didn’t diminish his blame. She had felt something she hadn’t felt, hadn’t chosen to feel in a long, long time. That frisson of excitement. That tug of need. It made her angry and ashamed of herself. It made her furious with him.

The nerve, she thought, as she yanked her dish out of the microwave. Flirting with her as if she were some naive fool, before he went home to his wife and daughter.

Have dinner with him, indeed. She jammed her fork into the steaming seafood pasta. That kind of man expected payment in full for a meal. The candlelight and wine type, she thought with a sneer. Soft voice, patient eyes, clever hands. And no heart.

Just like Anthony. Impatient, she set the dish aside and picked up the glass that was already dripping with moisture. But she was wiser now than she had been at eighteen. Much wiser. Much stronger. She was no longer a woman who could be lured by charm and smooth words. Not that this man was smooth, she remembered with a quick smile. He— Lord, she didn’t even know his name and she already detested him—he was a little clumsy, a little awkward. That was a charm of its own.

But he was, she thought, very much like Anthony. Tall and blond with those oh, so American good looks. Looks that concealed a lack of morals and a carelessly deceitful heart.

What Anthony had cost her could never be tallied. Since that time, Natasha had made very, very certain no man would ever cost her so dearly again.

But she had survived. She lifted her glass in a self-toast. Not only had she survived, but except for times when memories crowded in on her, she was happy. She loved the shop, and the chance it gave her to be around children and make them happy. In her three years there she had watched them grow. She had a wonderful, funny friend in Annie, books that stayed in the black and a home that suited her.

She heard a thump over her head and smiled. The Jorgensons were getting ready for the evening meal. She imagined Don was fussing around Marilyn, who was carrying their first child. Natasha liked knowing they were there, just above her, happy, in love and full of hope.

That was family to her, what she had had in her youth, what she had expected as an adult. She could still see Papa fretting over Mama when she neared her time. Every time, Natasha remembered, thinking of her three younger siblings. How he had wept with happiness when his wife and babies were safe and well. He adored his Nadia. Even now Natasha knew he still brought flowers home to the little house in Brooklyn. When he came home after a day’s work, he kissed his wife, not with an absent peck on the cheek, but robustly, joyfully. A man wildly in love after almost thirty years.

It was her father who had kept her from shoveling all men into the pit Anthony had dug for her. Seeing her father and mother together had kept that small, secret hope alight that someday she would find someone who would love her as much and as honestly.

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.”

After a quick glance around to be certain there was nothing more for her to tidy, she left him.

Alone, Spence poured the coffee, then studied the papers on his desk. Freddie’s school forms were stacked next to his own work. He had a great deal of preparation ahead of him, before his classes began the following week.

He looked forward to it, even as he tried not to regret that the music that had once played so effortlessly inside his head was still silent.


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