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Christmas In The Snow: Taming Natasha / Considering Kate

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Natasha scooped the barrette through the hair above her ear and hoped it would stay fixed for more than five minutes. She studied her reflection in the narrow mirror over the sink in the back of the shop before she decided to add a touch of lipstick. It didn’t matter that it had been a long and hectic day or that her feet were all but crying with fatigue. Tonight was her treat to herself, her reward for a job well done.

Every semester she signed up for one course at the college. She chose whatever seemed most fun, most intriguing or most unusual. Renaissance Poetry one year, Automotive Maintenance another. This term, two evenings a week, she would be taking Music History. Tonight she would begin an exploration of a new topic. Everything she learned she would store for her own pleasure, as other women stored diamonds and emeralds. It didn’t have to be useful. In Natasha’s opinion a glittery necklace wasn’t particularly useful, either. It was simply exciting to own.

She had her notebook, her pens and pencils and a flood of enthusiasm. To prepare herself, she had raided the library and pored over related books for the last two weeks. Pride wouldn’t allow her to go into class ignorant. Curiosity made her wonder if her instructor could take the dry, distant facts and add excitement.

There was little doubt that this particular instructor was adding dashes of excitement in other quarters. Annie had teased her just that morning about the new professor everyone was talking about. Dr. Spencer B. Kimball.

The name sounded very distinguished to Natasha, quite unlike the description of a hunk that Annie had passed along. Annie’s information came from her cousin’s daughter, who was majoring in Elementary Education with a minor in Music. A sun-god, Annie had relayed and made Natasha laugh.

A very gifted sun-god, Natasha mused while she turned off lights in the shop. She knew Kimball’s work well, or the work he had composed before he had suddenly and inexplicably stopped writing music. Why, she had even danced to his Prelude in D Minor when she had been with the corps de ballet in New York.

A million years ago, she thought as she stepped onto the street. Now she would be able to meet the genius, listen to his views and perhaps find new meanings in many of the classics she already loved.

He was probably the temperamental artiste type, she decided, pleased with the way the evening breeze lifted her hair and cooled her neck. Or a pale eccentric with one earring. It didn’t matter. She intended to work hard. Each course she took was a matter of pride to her. It still stung to remember how little she had known when she’d been eighteen. How little she had cared to know, Natasha admitted, other than dance. She had of her own choice closed herself off from so many worlds in order to focus everything on one. When that had been taken away, she had been as lost as a child set adrift on the Atlantic.

She had found her way to shore, just as her family had once found its way across the wilds of the Ukraine to the jungles of Manhattan. She liked herself better—the independent, ambitious American woman she had become. As she was now, she could walk into the big, beautiful old building on campus with as much pride as any freshman student.

There were footsteps echoing in the corridors, distant, dislocated. There was a hushed reverence that Natasha always associated with churches and universities. In a way there was religion here—the belief in learning.

She felt somewhat reverent herself as she made her way to her class. As a child of five in her small farming village, she had never even imagined such a building, or the books and beauty it contained.

Several students were already waiting. A mixed bag, she noted, ranging from college to middle age. All of them seemed to buzz with that excitement of beginning. She saw by the clock that it was two minutes shy of eight.

She’d expected Kimball to be there, busily shuffling his papers, peering at them behind glasses, his hair a little wild and streaming to his shoulders.

Absently she smiled at a young man in horn-rims, who was staring at her as if he’d just woken from a dream. Ready to begin, she sat down, then looked up when the same man clumsily maneuvered himself into the desk beside her.


He looked as though she’d struck him with a bat rather than offered a casual greeting. He pushed his glasses nervously up his nose. “Hello. I’m—I’m…Terry Maynard,” he finished on a burst as his name apparently came to him at last.

“Natasha.” She smiled again. He was on the sunny side of twenty-five and harmless as a puppy.

“I haven’t, ah, seen you on campus before.”

“No.” Though at twenty-seven it amused her to be taken for a coed, she kept her voice sober. “I’m only taking this one class. For fun.”

“For fun?” Terry appeared to take music very seriously. “Do you know who Dr. Kimball is?” His obvious awe made him almost whisper the name.

“I’ve heard of him. You’re a Music major?”

“Yes. I hope to, well one day, I hope to play with the New York Symphony.” His blunt fingers reached nervously to adjust his glasses. “I’m a violinist.”

She smiled again and made his Adam’s apple bob. “That’s wonderful. I’m sure you’re very good.”

“What do you play?”

“Five card draw.” Then she laughed and settled back in her chair. “I’m sorry. I don’t play an instrument. But I love to listen to music and thought I’d enjoy the class.” She glanced at the clock on the wall. “If it ever starts, that is. Apparently our esteemed professor is late.”

At that moment the esteemed professor was rushing down the corridors, cursing himself for ever agreeing to take on this night class. By the time he had helped Freddie with her homework—how many animals can you find in this picture?—convinced her that brussels sprouts were cute instead of yucky, and changed his shirt because her affectionate hug had transferred some mysterious, sticky substance to his sleeve, he had wanted nothing more than a good book and a warm brandy.

Instead he was going to have to face a roomful of eager faces, all waiting to learn what Beethoven had worn when he’d composed his Ninth Symphony.

In the foulest of moods, he walked into class. “Good evening. I’m Dr. Kimball.” The murmurs and rattles quieted. “I must apologize for being late. If you’ll all take a seat, we’ll dive right in.”

As he spoke he scanned the room. And found himself staring into Natasha’s astonished face.

“No.” She wasn’t aware she’d spoken the word aloud, and wouldn’t have cared. It was some sort of joke, she thought, and a particularly bad one.

This—this man in the casually elegant jacket was Spencer Kimball, a musician whose songs she had admired and danced to. The man who, while barely into his twenties had been performing at Carnegie Hall being hailed as a genius. This man who had tried to pick her up in a toy store was the illustrious Dr. Kimball?

It was ludicrous, it was infuriating, it was—

Wonderful, Spence thought as he stared at her. Absolutely wonderful. In fact, it was perfect, as long as he could control the laugh that was bubbling in his throat. So the czarina was one of his students. It was better, much better than a warm brandy and an evening of quiet.

“I’m sure,” he said after a long pause, “we’ll all find the next few months fascinating.”

She should have signed up for Astronomy, Natasha told herself. She could have learned all kinds of interesting things about the planets and stars. Asteroids. She’d have been much better off learning about—what was it?—gravitational pull and inertia. Whatever that was. Surely it was much more important for her to find out how many moons revolved around Jupiter than to study Burgundian composers of the fifteenth century.

She would transfer, Natasha decided. First thing in the morning she would make the arrangements. In fact, she would get up and walk out right now if she wasn’t certain Dr. Spencer Kimball would smirk.

Running her pencil between her fingers, she crossed her legs and determined not to listen.

It was a pity his voice was so attractive.

Impatient, Natasha looked at the clock. Nearly an hour to go. She would do what she did when she waited at the dentist’s office. Pretend she was someplace else. Struggling to block Spence’s voice from her mind she began to swing her foot and doodle on her pad.

She didn’t notice when her doodles became notes, or when she began to hang on every word. He made fifteenth-century musicians seem alive and vital—and their music as real as flesh and blood. Rondeaux, vieralais, ballades. She could almost hear the three-part chansons of the dawning Renaissance, the reverent, soaring Kyries and Glorias of the masses.

She was caught up, involved in that ancient rivalry between church and state and music’s part in the politics. She could see huge banqueting halls filled with elegantly dressed aristocrats, feasting on music as well as food.

“Next time we’ll be discussing the Franco-Flemish school and rhythmic developments.” Spence gave his class an easy smile. “And I’ll try to be on time.”

Was it over? Natasha glanced at the clock again and was shocked to see it was indeed after nine.

“Incredible, isn’t he?”

She looked at Terry. His eyes were gleaming behind his lenses. “Yes.” It cost her to admit it, but truth was truth.

“You should hear him in theory class.” He noticed with envy that several students were grouped around his idol. As yet, Terry hadn’t worked up the nerve to approach him. “I’ll—see you Thursday.”

“What? Oh. Good night, Terry.”

“I could, ah, give you a ride home if you want.” The fact that he was nearly out of gas and his muffler was currently held on by a coat hanger didn’t enter his mind.

She favored him with an absent smile that had his heart doing a cha-cha. “That’s nice of you, but I don’t live far.”

She hoped to breeze out of the classroom while Spence was still occupied. She should have known better.

He simply put a hand on her arm and stopped her. “I’d like to speak with you a moment, Natasha.”

“I’m in a hurry.”

“It won’t take long.” He nodded to the last of his departing students, then eased back against his desk and grinned at her. “I should have paid more attention to my roster, but then again, it’s nice to know there are still surprises in the world.”

“That depends on your point of view, Dr. Kimball.”

“Spence.” He continued to grin. “Class is over.”

“So it is.” Her regal nod made him think again of Russian royalty. “Excuse me.”

“Natasha.” He waited, almost seeing impatience shimmer around her as she turned. “I can’t imagine that someone with your heritage doesn’t believe in destiny.”


“Of all the classrooms in all the universities in all the world, she walks into mine.”

She wouldn’t laugh. She’d be damned if she would. But her mouth quirked up at the corners before she controlled it. “And here I was thinking it was just bad luck.”

“Why Music History?”

She balanced her notebook on her hip. “It was a toss-up between that and Astronomy.”

“That sounds like a fascinating story. Why don’t we go down the street for a cup of coffee? You can tell me about it.” Now he saw it—molten fury that turned her eyes from rich velvet to sharp jet. “Now why does that infuriate you?” he inquired, almost to himself. “Is an offer of a cup of coffee in this town similiar to an illicit proposition?”

“You should know, Dr. Kimball.” She turned, but he reached the door before her, slamming it with enough force to make her step back. He was every bit as angry as herself, she noted. Not that it mattered. It was only that he had seemed a mild sort of man. Detestable, but mild. There was nothing mild about him now. Those fascinating bones and angles in his face might have been carved of stone.


“Open the door.”

“Gladly. After you answer my question.” He was angry. Spence realized he hadn’t felt this kind of hot, blood-pumping rage in years. It felt wonderful. “I realize that just because I’m attracted to you doesn’t mean you have to return the favor.”

She threw up her chin, hating herself for finding the storm-cloud-gray eyes so hypnotic. “I don’t.”

“Fine.” He couldn’t strangle her for that, however much he’d like to. “But, damn it, I want to know why you aim and fire every time I’m around you.”

“Because men like you deserve to be shot.”

“Men like me,” he repeated, measuring out the words. “What exactly does that mean?”

He was standing close, all but looming over her. As in the shop when he had brushed up against her, she felt those bubble bursts of excitement, attraction, confusion. It was more than enough to push her over the edge.

“Do you think because you have a nice face and a pretty smile you can do whatever you like? Yes,” she answered before he could speak and slapped her notebook against his chest. “You think you have only to snap your fingers.” She demonstrated dramatically. “And a woman will fall into your arms. Not this woman.”

Her accent thickened when she was on a roll, he noted, somewhat baffled by her claim. “I don’t recall snapping my fingers.”

She let loose one short, explicit Ukrainian oath and grabbed the knob. “You want to have a cup of coffee with me? Good. We’ll have your coffee—and we’ll call your wife and ask her to join us.”

“My what?” He closed his hand over hers so that the door was jerked open, then slammed shut again. “I don’t have a wife.”

“Really?” The single word dripped with scorn; her eyes flashed at him. “And I suppose the woman who came with you to the shop is your sister.”

It should have been funny. But he couldn’t quite get the joke. “Nina? As a matter of fact, she is.”

Natasha yanked open the door with a sound of disgust. “That is pathetic.”

Filled with righteous indignation, she stormed down the corridor and out the main door. In a staccato rhythm that matched her mood, her heels beat on the concrete as she started down the steps. When she was abruptly whirled around, she nearly took the last two in a tumble.

“You’ve got a hell of a nerve.”

“I?” she managed. “I have a nerve?”

“You think you’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?” Having the advantage of height, Spence could stare down at her. Natasha saw shadows move over his face as temper colored his voice. He didn’t appear awkward now, but every bit in control. “Or I should say you think you’ve got me figured.”

“It takes very little.” The fingers on her arm were very firm. She hated knowing that mixed with her own anger was basic sexual attraction. Fighting it off, she tossed back her hair. “You’re really very typical.”

“I wonder, can your opinion of me get any lower?” Now fury ground edge to edge with desire.


“In that case, I might as well satisfy myself.”

The notebook flew out of her hand when he dragged her close. She managed a single, startled sound in her throat before his mouth covered hers. Covered, crushed, then conquered.

Natasha would have fought him. Over and over she told herself she would fight him. But it was shock—at least, she prayed it was shock—that had her arms falling limply to her sides.

It was wrong. It was unforgivable. And, oh God, it was wonderful. Instinctively he’d found the key to unlock the passion that had lain dormant in her for so long. Her blood swam hot with it. Her mind hazed. Dimly she heard someone laugh as they strolled down the sidewalk below. A beep of a car horn, a shout of greeting, then silence once more.

She murmured, a pitiful protest that shamed her and was easily ignored as his tongue glided over her own. His taste was a banquet after a long fast. Though she kept her hands balled at her sides, she leaned into the kiss.

Kissing her was like walking through a mine field. Any moment he expected the bomb to go off and blow him to pieces. He should have stopped after the first shock, but danger had a thrill of its own.

And she was dangerous. As his fingers dived into her hair, he could feel the ground quiver and quake. It was her—the promise, the threat of titanic passion. He could taste it on her lips, even as she fought to hold it back. He could feel it in her taut, terrified stance. If she released it, she could make him a slave.

Needs such as he’d never known battered his system with heavy fists. Images, all fire and smoke, danced in his brain. Something struggled to break free, like a bird beating at the bars of a cage. He could feel it straining. Then Natasha was pulling away from him, standing apart and staring at him with wide, eloquent eyes.

She couldn’t breathe. For an instant she was genuinely afraid she would die on the spot with this unwanted, shameful desire on her conscience. In defiance she took a huge gulp of air.

“I could never hate anyone as much as I hate you.”

He shook his head to clear it. She had left him dizzy, dazed and utterly defenseless. For his own sake he waited until he was sure he could speak. “That’s a lofty position you put me in, Natasha.” He stepped down until they were at eye level. There were tears on her lashes, but they were offset by the condemnation in her eyes. “Let’s just be sure you’ve put me there for the right reasons. Is it because I kissed you, or because you liked it?”

She swung her hand out. He could have avoided the blow easily enough, but thought she deserved a hit. As the crack of the slap echoed, he decided they were even.

“Don’t come near me again,” she said, breathing hard. “I warn you, if you do, I won’t care what I say or who hears me. If it wasn’t for your little girl—” She broke off and bent to gather her things. Her pride was shattered, along with her self-esteem. “You don’t deserve such a beautiful child.”

He caught her arm again, but this time the expression on his face made her blood go cold. “You’re right. I never have and probably never will deserve Freddie, but I’m all she has. Her mother—my wife—died three years ago.”

He strode off, was caught in the beam of a street lamp, then disappeared into the dark beyond. Her notebook pressed against her chest, Natasha sank weakly onto the bottom step.

What in hell was she going to do now?

There was no choice. No matter how much she hated it, there was really only one course to take. Natasha rubbed the palms of her hands on the thighs of her khakis, then started up the freshly painted wooden steps.

It was a nice house, she thought, stalling. Of course she’d seen it so often that she rarely noticed it anymore. It was one of those sturdy old brick places tucked back from the street and shielded by trees and box hedges.

The summer flowers had yet to fade, but the fall blooms were already staking their claim. Showy delphiniums vied with spicy scented mums, vivid dahlias with starry asters. Someone was caring for them. She could see fresh mulch on the flower beds, damp with watering.

Wanting a little more time, she studied the house. There were curtains at the windows, thin ivory sheers that would let in the light. Higher up she caught a glimpse of a fanciful pattern of unicorns that identified a little girl’s room.

She gathered her courage and crossed the porch to the front door. It would be quick, she promised herself. Not painless, but quick. She rapped, released her breath and waited.

The woman who answered was short and wide with a face as brown and wrinkled as a raisin. Natasha found herself fixed by a pair of small, dark eyes while the housekeeper dried her hands on the skirt of a stained apron.

“May I help you?”

“I’d like to see Dr. Kimball if he’s in.” She smiled, pretending she didn’t feel as though she were stepping into the pillory. “I’m Natasha Stanislaski.” She saw the housekeeper’s little eyes narrow, so that they nearly disappeared into the folds of her face.

Vera had at first taken Natasha for one of the señor’s students, and had been prepared to nudge her on her way. “You own the toy store in town.”

“That’s right.”

“Ah.” With a nod, she opened the door wider to let Natasha in. “Freddie says you are a very nice lady, who gave her a blue ribbon for her doll. I promised to take her back, but just to look.” She gestured for Natasha to follow.

As they made their way down the hall, Natasha caught the hesitant notes of a piano. When she saw her reflection in an old oval mirror, it surprised her that she was smiling.

He was sitting at the piano with the child on his lap, looking over her head while she slowly tapped out “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The sun streamed in through the windows behind them. At that moment she wished she could paint. How else could it be captured?

It was perfect. The light, the shadows, the pale pastels of the room all combined to make the perfect backdrop. The alignment of their heads, their bodies, was too natural and eloquent ever to be posed. The girl was in pink and white, the laces of one sneaker untied. He had taken off his jacket and tie, then rolled up the sleeves of the pale dress shirt to the elbows like a workman.

There was the fragile shine of the child’s hair, the deeper glow of his. The child leaned back against her father, her head resting just under his collarbone; the faintest smile of pleasure lighted her face. Over it all was the simple nursery rhyme music she was playing.

He had his hands on the knees of her jeans, his long, beautiful fingers tapping the time in tandem with the tick of the antique metronome. She could see it all, the love, the patience, the pride.

“No, please,” Natasha whispered, holding out a hand to Vera. “Don’t disturb them.”

“You play now, Daddy.” Freddie tilted her head toward his. Her hair wisped around her face where it had escaped from its clips. “Play something pretty.”

“Für Elise.” Natasha recognized it instantly, that soft, romantic, somehow lonely music. It went straight to her heart as she watched his fingers stroke, caress, seduce the keys.

What was he thinking? She could see that his thoughts had turned inward—to the music, to himself. There was an effortlessness in the way his fingers flowed over the keys, and yet she knew that kind of beauty was never achieved without the greatest effort.

The song swelled, note after note, unbearably sad, impossibly beautiful, like the vase of waxy calla lilies that rested on the glossy surface of the piano.

Too much emotion, Natasha thought. Too much pain, though the sun was still shining through the gauzy curtains and the child on his lap continued to smile. The urge to go to him, to put a comforting hand onto his shoulder, to hold them both against her heart, was so strong that she had to curl her fingers into her palms.

Then the music drifted away, the last note lingering like a sigh.

“I like that one,” Freddie told him. “Did you make it up?”

“No.” He looked at his fingers, spreading them, flexing them, then letting them rest on hers. “Beethoven did.” Then he was smiling again, pressing his lips to the soft curve of his daughter’s neck. “Had enough for today, funny face?”

“Can I play outside until dinner?”

“Well… What’ll you give me?”

It was an old game and a favorite one. Giggling, she swiveled on his lap and gave him a hard, smacking kiss. Still squealing from the bear hug, she spotted Natasha. “Hi!”

“Miss Stanislaski would like to see you, Dr. Kimball.” At his nod, Vera walked back to the kitchen.

“Hello.” Natasha managed to smile, even when Spence lifted his daughter and turned. She wasn’t over the music yet. It was still pouring through her like tears. “I hope I haven’t come at a bad time.”

“No.” After a last squeeze, he set Freddie down, and she immediately bounded to Natasha.

“We’re all finished with my lesson. Did you come to play?”

“No, not this time.” Unable to resist, Natasha bent to stroke Freddie’s cheek. “Actually I came to talk to your father.” But she was a coward, Natasha thought in disgust. Rather than look at him, she continued to address Freddie. “How do you like school? You have Mrs. Patterson, don’t you?”

“She’s nice. She didn’t even yell when Mikey Towers’s icky bug collection got loose in the classroom. And I can read all of Go, Dog, Go.”

Natasha crouched so that they were eye to eye. “Do you like my hat?”

Freddie laughed, recognizing the line from the Dr. Seuss classic. “I like the dog party part the best.”

“So do I.” Automatically she tied Freddie’s loose laces. “Will you come to the store and visit me soon?”

“Okay.” Delighted with herself, Freddie raced for the door. “Bye Miss Stanof—Stanif—”

“Tash.” She sent Freddie a wink. “All the kids call me Tash.”

“Tash.” Freddie grinned at the sound of the name, then streaked away.

She listened to Freddie’s sneakers squeak down the hall, then took a long breath. “I’m sorry to disturb you at home, but I felt it would be more…” What was the word? Appropriate, comfortable? “It would be better.”

“All right.” His eyes were very cool, not like those of the man who had played such sad and passionate music. “Would you like to sit down?”

“No.” She said it too quickly, then reminded herself that it was better if they were both stiffly polite. “It won’t take long. I only want to apologize.”

“Oh? For something specific?”

Fire blazed in her eyes. He enjoyed seeing it, particularly since he’d spent most of the night cursing her. “When I make a mistake, I make a point of admitting it. But since you behaved so—” Oh, why did she always lose her English when she was angry?

“Unconscionably?” he suggested.

Her brow shot up into her fall of hair. “So you admit it.”

“I thought you were the one who was here to admit something.” Enjoying himself, he sat on the arm of a wing chair in pale blue damask. “Don’t let me interrupt.”

She was tempted, very tempted, to turn on her heel and stalk out. Pride was equally as strong as temper. She would do what she had come to do, then forget it.

“What I said about you—about you and your daughter was unfair and untrue. Even when I was…mistaken about other things, I knew it was untrue. And I’m very sorry I said it.”

“I can see that.” Out of the corner of his eye he caught a movement. He turned his head in time to see Freddie make her sprinter’s rush for the swings. “We’ll forget it.”

Natasha followed his gaze and softened. “She really is a beautiful child. I hope you let her come into the shop from time to time.”

The tone of her voice had him studying Natasha more carefully. Was it longing, sorrow? “I doubt I could keep her away. You’re very fond of children.”

Natasha brought her emotions under control with a quick jerk. “Yes, of course. In my business it’s a requirement. I won’t keep you, Dr. Kimball.”

He rose to accept the hand she had formally held out. “Spence,” he corrected, gently tightening his fingers on hers. “What else was it you were mistaken about?”

So it wasn’t going to be easy. Then again, Natasha thought she deserved a dose of humiliation. “I thought you were married, and was very angry and insulted when you asked me out.”

“You’re taking my word now that I’m not married.”

“No. I looked it up in the library in Who’s Who.”

He stared at her for a moment longer, then threw back his head and laughed. “God, what a trusting soul. Find anything else that interested you?”

“Only things that would fill your ego. You still have my hand.”

“I know. Tell me, Natasha, did you dislike me on general principles, or only because you thought I was a married man and had no business flirting with you?”

“Flirting?” She nearly choked on the word. “There was nothing so innocent in the way you looked at me. As if…”

“As if—?” he prompted.

As if we were already lovers, she thought, and felt her skin heat. “I didn’t like it,” she said shortly.

“Because you thought I was married?”

“Yes. No,” she said, correcting herself when she realized where that could lead. “I just didn’t like it.” He brought her hand to his lips. “Don’t,” she managed.

“How would you like me to look at you?”

“It isn’t necessary for you to look at all.”

“But it is.” He could feel it again, that high-strung passion, just waiting to burst free from whatever cell she had locked it in. “You’ll be sitting right in front of me tomorrow night in class.”

“I’m going to transfer.”

“No, you won’t.” He brushed a finger over the small gold hoop in her ear. “You enjoyed it too much. I could see the wheels turning in that fabulous head of yours. And if you did,” he continued before she could sputter out a response, “I’d just make a nuisance of myself in your shop.”


“Because you’re the first woman I’ve wanted in longer than I can remember.”

Excitement rippled up her spine like chain lightning. Before she could prevent it, the memory of that stormy kiss curved back to weaken her. Yes, that had been a man who had wanted. And had, no matter how she had resisted, made her want, too.

But that had only been one kiss, fueled by lust despite the moonlight and soft air. She knew heartbreakingly well where such desires could lead.

“That’s nonsense.”

“Simple honesty,” he murmured, fascinated by the emotions that came and went in her dark eyes. “I thought it best, since we’d gotten off to such a shaky beginning. Since you’ve determined for yourself that I’m not married, knowing I’m attracted to you shouldn’t insult you.”

“I’m not insulted,” she said carefully. “I’m just not interested.”

“Do you always kiss men you’re not interested in?”

“I didn’t kiss you.” She jerked her hand free. “You kissed me.”

“We can fix that.” He gathered her close. “This time kiss me back.”

She could have pulled away. His arms weren’t banding her as they had before, but were wrapped loosely, coaxingly around her. His lips were soft this time, soft, persuasive, patient. She could feel the warmth seep into her bloodstream like a drug. With a little moan, she slipped her hands up his back and held on.

It was like holding a candle and feeling the wax slowly melt as the fire burned at its center. He could feel her yield degree by degree until her lips parted for his own, accepting, inviting. But even as she gave, he could sense some strong, hard core that resisted, held back. She didn’t want to feel whatever he was making her feel.

Impatient, he dragged her closer. Though her body molded itself to his and her head fell back in erotic surrender, there was still a part of her standing just out of his reach. What she gave him only stirred his appetite for more.

She was breathless when he released her. It took an effort, too much of an effort, Natasha thought, to level herself. But once she had, her voice was steady.

“I don’t want to be involved.”

“With me, or with anyone?”

“With anyone.”

“Good.” He brushed a hand over her hair. “It’ll be simpler to change your mind.”

“I’m very stubborn,” she muttered.

“Yes, I’ve noticed. Why don’t you stay for dinner?”


“All right. I’ll take you to dinner Saturday night.”


“Seven-thirty. I’ll pick you up.”


“You wouldn’t want me to come by the shop Saturday afternoon and embarrass you.”

Out of patience, she stalked to the door. “I can’t understand how a man that could play music with such sensitivity could be such a clod.”

Just lucky, I guess, he thought when the door slammed. Alone again, he caught himself whistling.


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