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Christmas In The Snow: Taming Natasha / Considering Kate

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Saturdays in a toy store were noisy, crowded and chaotic. They were supposed to be. To a child even the word Saturday was magic—it meant a magic twenty-four hours when school was too faraway to be a problem. There were bikes to be ridden, games to be played, races to be won. For as long as Natasha had been running The Fun House, she had enjoyed Saturdays as much as her pint-size clientele.

It was one more black mark against Spence that he was the reason she couldn’t enjoy this one.

She’d told him no, she reminded herself as she rang up sales on a set of jacks, three plastic dinosaurs and a pint of blowing bubbles. And she’d meant no.

The man didn’t seem to understand plain English.

Why else would he have sent her the single red rose? And to the shop, of all places? she thought now, trying to scowl at it. Annie’s romantic enthusiasm had been impossible to hold off. Even when Natasha had ignored the flower, Annie had rescued it, running across the street to buy a plastic bud vase so that it could have a place of honor on the checkout counter.

Natasha did her best not to look at it, not to stroke the tightly closed petals, but it wasn’t as easy to ignore the fragile scent that wafted toward her every time she rang up a sale.

Why did men think they could soften up a woman with a flower?

Because they could, Natasha admitted, biting off a sigh as she glanced toward it.

That didn’t mean she was going out to dinner with him. Tossing back her hair, Natasha counted out the pile of sweaty pennies and nickels the young Hampston boy passed her for his monthly comic-book purchase. Life should be so simple, she thought as the boy rushed out with the latest adventures of Commander Zark. Damn it, it was that simple. On a deep breath she steeled her determination. Her life was exactly that simple, no matter how Spence tried to complicate it. To prove it, she intended to go home, soak in a hot tub, then spend the rest of her evening stretched out on the sofa, watching an old movie and eating popcorn.

He’d been clever. She left the counter to go into the next aisle to referee a huffy disagreement between the Freedmont brothers about how they should spend their pooled resources. She wondered if the esteemed professor looked at their relationship—their nonrelationship, she corrected—as a chess match. She’d always been too reckless to succeed at that particular game, but she had a feeling Spence would play it patiently and well. All the same, if he thought she would be easily checkmated, he had a surprise coming.

Spence had led her second class brilliantly, never looking at her any longer than he had looked at any of his other students, answering her questions in the same tone he used with others. Yes, a very patient player.

Then, just when she’d relaxed, he’d passed her that first red rose as she walked out of class. A very smart move to endanger her queen.

If she’d had any spine at all, Natasha thought now, she would have dropped it onto the floor and ground it under her heel. But she hadn’t, and now had to scramble to keep one play ahead of him. Because it had caught her off guard, Natasha told herself. Just like the one that had been delivered to the shop this morning.

If he kept it up, people were going to begin to talk. In a town this size, news items like red roses bounced from shop to pub, from pub to front stoop and from front stoop to backyard gossip sessions. She needed to find a way to stop it. At the moment, she couldn’t come up with anything better than ignoring it. Ignoring Spence, she added. How she wished she could.

Bringing herself back to the problem at hand, Natasha hooked an arm around each of the squabbling Freedmont boys in a mock headlock.

“Enough. If you keep calling each other names like nerd and…what was the other?”

“Dork,” the taller of the boys told her with relish.

“Yes, dork.” She couldn’t resist committing it to memory. “That’s a good one. If you keep it up, I’ll tell your mother not to let you come in for two weeks.”

“Aw, Tash.”

“That means everyone else will see all the creepy things I get in for Halloween before either of you.” She let that threat hang, giving the two little necks a quick squeeze. “So, I’ll make a suggestion.

Flip a coin and decide whether to buy the football or the magic set. Whatever you don’t get now, you ask for for Christmas. Good idea?”

The boys grimaced at each other from either side of her. “Pretty good.”

“No, you have to say it’s very good, or I’ll knock your heads together.”

She left them arguing over which coin to use for the fatal flip.

“You missed your calling,” Annie commented when the brothers raced off with the football.

“How’s that?”

“You should be working for the UN.” She nodded out the front window; the boys were practicing passing on their way down the street. “There aren’t many tougher nuts than the Freedmont brothers.”

“I make them afraid of me first, then offer them a dignified way out.”

“See? Definitely UN material.”

With a laugh, Natasha shook her head. “Other people’s problems are the easiest to solve.” Weakening, she glanced toward the rose again. If she had one wish at the moment, it would be for someone to come along and solve her own.

An hour later she felt a tug on the hem of her skirt.


“Freddie, hello.” She flicked her finger over a bow that was trying to hold back Freddie’s flyaway hair. It was tied from the blue ribbon Natasha had given her on her first visit. “Don’t you look pretty today.”

Freddie beamed, female to female. “Do you like my outfit?”

Natasha surveyed the obviously new blue denim overalls, parade stiff with sizing. “I like it very much. I have a pair just like them.”

“You do?” Nothing, since Freddie had decided to make Natasha her newest heroine, could have pleased her more. “My daddy got them for me.”

“That’s nice.” Despite her better judgment, Natasha scanned the shop for him. “Did he, ah, bring you in today?”

“No, Vera did. You said it was all right just to look.”

“Sure it is. I’m glad you came in.” And she was, Natasha realized. Just as she was stupidly disappointed that Freddie hadn’t brought her daddy.

“I’m not supposed to touch anything.” Freddie tucked her itchy fingers into her pockets. “Vera said I should look with my eyes and not with my hands.”

“That’s very good advice.” And some Natasha wouldn’t have minded others passing along to nimble-fingered children. “But some things are okay to touch. You just ask me.”

“Okay. I’m going to join the Brownies and get a uniform and everything.”

“That’s wonderful. You’ll come in and show it to me?”

Delight nearly split Freddie’s face in two. “Okay. It has a hat, and I’m going to learn how to make pillows and candle holders and all kinds of things. I’ll make you something.

“I’d like that.” She tidied Freddie’s lopsided bow.

“Daddy said you were going to eat dinner with him in a restaurant tonight.”

“Well, I—”

“I don’t like restaurants very much, except for pizza, so I’m going to stay home, and Vera’s going to fix tortillas for me and JoBeth. We get to eat in the kitchen.”

“That sounds nice.”

“If you don’t like the restaurant, you can come back and have some. Vera always makes a lot.”

Uttering a helpless little sigh, Natasha bent to tie Freddie’s left shoelace. “Thank you.”

“Your hair smells pretty.”

Half in love, Natasha leaned closer to sniff Freddie’s. “So does yours.”

Fascinated by Natasha’s tangle of curls, Freddie reached out to touch. “I wish my hair was like yours,” she said. “It’s straight as a pin,” she added, quoting her Aunt Nina.

Smiling, Natasha brushed at the fragile wisps over Freddie’s brow. “When I was a little girl, we put an angel on top of the Christmas tree every year. She was very beautiful, and she had hair just like yours.”

Pleasure came flushing into Freddie’s cheeks.

“Ah, there you are.” Vera shuffled down the crowded aisle, straw carryall on one arm, a canvas bag on the other. “Come, come, we must get back home before your father thinks we are lost.” She held out a hand for Freddie and nodded to Natasha. “Good afternoon, miss.”

“Good afternoon.” Curious, Natasha raised a brow. She was being summed up again by the little dark eyes, and definitely being found wanting, Natasha thought. “I hope you’ll bring Freddie back to visit soon.”

“We will see. It is as hard for a child to resist a toy store as it is for a man to resist a beautiful woman.”

Vera led Freddie down the aisle, not looking back when the girl waved and grinned over her shoulder.

“Well,” Annie murmured as she stuck her head around the corner. “What brought that on?”

With a humorless smile, Natasha shoved a pin back into her hair. “At a guess, I would say the woman believes I have designs on her employer.”

Annie gave an unladylike snort. “If anything, the employer has designs on you. I should be so lucky.” Her sigh was only a little envious. “Now that we know the new hunk on the block isn’t married, all’s right with the world. Why didn’t you tell me you were going out with him?”

“Because I wasn’t.”

“But I heard Freddie say—”

“He asked me out,” Natasha clarified. “I said no.”

“I see.” After a brief pause, Annie tilted her head. “When did you have the accident?”


“Yes, the one where you suffered brain damage.”

Natasha’s face cleared with a laugh, and she started toward the front of the shop.

“I’m serious,” Annie said as soon as they had five free minutes. “Dr. Spencer Kimball is gorgeous, unattached and…” She leaned over the counter to sniff at the rose. “Charming. Why aren’t you taking off early to work on real problems, like what to wear tonight?”

“I know what I’m wearing tonight. My bathrobe.”

Annie couldn’t resist the grin. “Aren’t you rushing things just a tad? I don’t think you should wear your robe until at least your third date.”

“There’s not going to be a first one.” Natasha smiled at her next customer and rang up a sale.

It took Annie forty minutes to work back to the subject at hand. “Just what are you afraid of?”

“The IRS.”

“Tash, I’m serious.”

“So am I.” When her pins worked loose again, she gave up and yanked them out. “Every American businessperson is afraid of the IRS.”

“We’re talking about Spence Kimball.”

“No,” Natasha corrected. “You’re talking about Spence Kimball.”

“I thought we were friends.”

Surprised by Annie’s tone, Natasha stopped tidying the racetrack display her Saturday visitors had wrecked. “We are. You know we are.”

“Friends talk to each other, Tash, confide in each other, ask advice.” Puffing out a breath, Annie stuffed her hands into the pockets of her baggy jeans. “Look, I know that things happened to you before you came here, things you’re still carrying around but never talk about. I figured I was being a better friend by not asking you about it.”

Had she been so obvious? Natasha wondered. All this time she’d been certain she had buried the past and all that went with it—deeply. Feeling a little helpless, she reached out to touch Annie’s hand. “Thank you.”

With a dismissive shrug, Annie turned to flick the lock on the front door. The shop was empty now, the bustle of the afternoon only an echo. “Remember when you let me cry on your shoulder after Don Newman dumped me?”

Natasha pressed her lips in to a thin line. “He wasn’t worth crying over.”

“I enjoyed crying over him,” Annie returned with a quick, amused smile. “I needed to cry and yell and moan and get a little drunk. You were right there for me, saying all those great, nasty things about him.”

“That was the easy part,” Natasha remembered. “He was a dork.” It pleased her tremendously to use the young Freedmont boy’s insult.

“Yeah, but he was a terrific-looking dork.” Annie allowed herself a brief reminiscence. “Anyway, you helped me over that rough spot until I convinced myself I was better off without him. You’ve never needed my shoulder, Tash, because you’ve never let a guy get past this.” She lifted a hand, pressing her palm against empty air.

Amused, Natasha leaned back against the counter. “And what is that?”

“The Great Stanislaski Force Field,” Annie told her. “Guaranteed to repel all males from the age of twenty-five to fifty.”

Natasha lifted a brow, not quite sure if she was amused any longer. “I’m not certain if you’re trying to flatter or insult me.”

“Neither. Just listen to me a minute, okay?” Annie took a deep breath to keep herself from rushing through something she thought should be taken step-by-step. “Tash, I’ve seen you brush off guys with less effort than you’d swat away a gnat. And just as automatically,” she added when Natasha remained silent. “You’re very pleasant about it, and also very definite. I’ve never seen you give any man a second’s thought once you’ve politely shown him the door. I’ve even admired you for it, for being so sure of yourself, so comfortable with yourself that you didn’t need a date on Saturday night to keep your ego out of the dirt.”

“Not sure of myself,” Natasha murmured. “Just apathetic about relationships.”

“All right.” Annie nodded slowly. “I’ll accept that. But this time it’s different.”

“What is?” Natasha skirted the counter and began to tally the day’s sales.

“You see? You know I’m going to mention his name, and you’re nervous.”

“I’m not nervous,” Natasha lied.

“You’ve been nervous, moody and distracted since Kimball walked into the shop a couple of weeks ago. In over three years, I’ve never seen you give a man more than five minutes’ thought. Until now.”

“That’s only because this one is more annoying than most.” At Annie’s shrewd look, Natasha gave up. “All right, there is…something,” she admitted. “But I’m not interested.”

“You’re afraid to be interested.”

Natasha didn’t like the sound of that, but forced herself to shrug it off. “It’s the same thing.”

“No, it’s not.” Annie put a hand over Natasha’s and squeezed. “Look, I’m not pushing you toward this guy. For all I know, he could have murdered his wife and buried her in the rose garden. All I’m saying is, you’re not going to be comfortable with yourself until you stop being afraid.”

Annie was right, Natasha thought later as she sat on her bed with her chin on her hand. She was moody, she was distracted. And she was afraid. Not of Spence, Natasha assured herself. No man would ever frighten her again. But she was afraid of the feelings he stirred up. Forgotten, unwanted feelings.

Did that mean she was no longer in charge of her emotions? No. Did that mean she would act irrationally, impulsively, just because needs and desires had pried their way back into her life? No. Did that mean she would hide in her room, afraid to face a man? A most definite no.

She was only afraid because she had yet to test herself, Natasha thought, moving toward her closet. So tonight she would have dinner with the persistent Dr. Kimball, prove to herself that she was strong and perfectly capable of resisting a fleeting attraction, then get back to normal.

Natasha frowned at her wardrobe. With a restless move of her shoulders she pulled out a deep blue cocktail dress with a jeweled belt. Not that she was dressing for him. He was really irrelevant. It was one of her favorite dresses, Natasha thought as she stripped off her robe, and she rarely had the opportunity to wear anything but work clothes.

He knocked at precisely seven twenty-eight. Natasha detested herself for anxiously watching the clock. She had reapplied her lipstick twice, checked and rechecked the contents of her purse and fervently wished that she had delayed taking her stand.

She was acting like a teenager, Natasha told herself as she walked to the door. It was only dinner, the first and last dinner she intended to share with him. And he was only a man, she added, pulling the door open.

An outrageously attractive man.

He looked wonderful, was all she could think, with his hair swept back from his face, and that half smile in his eyes. It had never occurred to her that a man could be gut-wrenchingly sexy in a suit and a tie.

“Hi.” He held out another red rose.

Natasha nearly sighed. It was a pity the smoke-gray suit didn’t make him seem more professorial. Giving in a little, she tapped the blossom against her cheek. “It wasn’t the roses that changed my mind.”

“About what?”

“About having dinner with you.” She stepped back, deciding that she had no choice but to let him in while she put the flower into water.

He smiled then, fully, and exasperated her by looking charming and cocky at the same time. “What did?”

“I’m hungry.” She set her short velvet jacket on the arm of the sofa. “I’ll put this in water. You can sit if you like.”

She wasn’t going to give him an inch, Spence thought as he watched her walk away. Oddly enough, that only made her more interesting. He took a deep breath, shaking his head. Incredible. Just when he was convinced that nothing smelled sexier than soap, she put something on that made him think of midnight and weeping violins.

Deciding that he was safer thinking of something else, he studied the room. She preferred vivid colors, he mused, noting the emerald and teal slashes of the pillows on a sapphire-blue couch. There was a huge brass urn beside it, stuffed with silky peacock feathers. Candles of varying sizes and shades were set around the room so that it smelled, romantically, of vanilla and jasmine and gardenia. A shelf in the corner was crammed with books that ran the gamut from popular fiction to classic literature by way of home improvements for the novice.

The table surfaces were crowded with mementos, framed pictures, dried bouquets, fanciful statuettes inspired by fairy tales. There was a gingerbread house no bigger than his palm, a girl dressed as Red Riding Hood, a pig peeking out of the window of a tiny straw house, a beautiful woman holding a single glass slipper.

Practical tips on plumbing, passionate colors and fairy tales, he mused, touching a fingertip to the tiny crystal slipper. It was as curious and as intriguing a combination as the woman herself.

Hearing her come back into the room, Spence turned. “These are beautiful,” he said, gesturing to one of the figures. “Freddie’s eyes would pop out.”

“Thank you. My brother makes them.”

“Makes them?” Fascinated, Spence picked up the gingerbread house to study it more closely. It was carved from polished wood, then intricately painted so that each licorice whip and lollipop looked good enough to eat. “It’s incredible. You rarely see workmanship like this.”

Whatever her reservations, she warmed toward him and crossed the room to join him. “He’s been carving and sculpting since he was a child. One day his art will be in galleries and museums.”

“It should be already.”

The sincerity in his voice hit her most vulnerable spot, her love of family. “It’s not so easy. He’s young and hardheaded and proud, so he keeps his job, hammering wood, instead of carving it to bring in money for the family. But one day…” She smiled at the collection. “He makes these for me, because I struggled so hard to learn to read English from this book of fairy tales I found in the boxes of things the church gave us when we came to New York. The pictures were so pretty, and I wanted so badly to know the stories that went with them.”

She caught herself, embarrassed to have said anything. “We should go.”

He only nodded, having already decided to pry gently until she told him more. “You should wear your jacket.” He lifted it from the sofa. “It’s getting chilly.”

The restaurant he’d chosen was only a short drive away and sat on one of the wooded hills that overlooked the Potomac. If Natasha had been given a guess, she would have been on target with his preference for a quiet, elegant backdrop and discreetly speedy service. Over her first glass of wine, she told herself to relax and enjoy.

“Freddie was in the shop today.”

“So I heard.” Amused, Spence lifted his own glass. “She wants her hair curled.”

Natasha’s puzzled look became a smile; she lifted a hand to her own. “Oh. That’s sweet.”

“Easy for you to say. I’ve just gotten the hang of pigtails.”

To her surprise, Natasha could easily picture him patiently braiding the soft, flaxen tresses. “She’s beautiful.” The image of him holding the girl on his lap at the piano slipped back into her mind. “She has your eyes.”

“Don’t look now,” Spence murmured, “but I believe you’ve given me a compliment.”

Feeling awkward, Natasha lifted the menu. “To soften the blow,” she told him. “I’m about to make up for skipping lunch this afternoon.”

True to her word, she ordered generously. As long as she was eating, Natasha figured, the interlude would go smoothly. Over appetizers she was careful to steer the conversation toward subjects they had touched on in class. Comfortably they discussed late fifteenth-century music with its four-part harmonies and traveling musicians. Spence appreciated her genuine curiosity and interest, but was equally determined to explore more personal areas.

“Tell me about your family.”

Natasha slipped a hot, butter-drenched morsel of lobster into her mouth, enjoying the delicate, almost decadent flavor. “I’m the oldest of four,” she began, then became abruptly aware that his fingertips were playing casually with hers on the tablecloth. She slid her hand out of reach.

Her maneuver had him lifting his glass to hide a smile. “Are you all spies?”

A flicker of temper joined the lights that the candle brought to her eyes. “Certainly not.”

“I wondered, since you seem so reluctant to talk about them.” His face sober, he leaned toward her. “Say ‘Get moose and squirrel.’”

Her mouth quivered before she gave up and laughed. “No.” She dipped her lobster in melted butter again, coating it slowly, enjoying the scent, then the taste and texture. “I have two brothers and a sister. My parents still live in Brooklyn.”

“Why did you move here, to West Virginia?”

“I wanted a change.” She lifted a shoulder. “Didn’t you?”

“Yes.” A faint line appeared between his brows as he studied her. “You said you were about Freddie’s age when you came to the States. Do you remember much about your life before that?”

“Of course.” For some reason she sensed he was thinking more of his daughter than of her own memories of the Ukraine. “I’ve always believed impressions made on us in those first few years stay the longest. Good or bad, they help form what we are.” Concerned, she leaned closer, smiling. “Tell me, when you think about being five, what do you remember?”

“Sitting at the piano, doing scales.” It came so clearly that he nearly laughed. “Smelling hothouse roses and watching the snow outside the window. Being torn between finishing my practice and getting to the park to throw snowballs at my nanny.”

“Your nanny,” Natasha repeated, but with a chuckle rather than a sneer he noted. She cupped her chin in her hands, leaning closer, alluring him with the play of light and shadow over her face. “And what did you do?”


“A responsible child.”

He ran a fingertip down her wrist and surprised a shiver out of her. Before she moved her hand away, he felt her pulse scramble. “What do you remember about being five?”

Because her reaction annoyed her, she was determined to show him nothing. She only shrugged. “My father bringing in wood for the fire, his hair and coat all covered with snow. The baby crying—my youngest brother. The smell of the bread my mother had baked. Pretending to be asleep while I listened to Papa talk to her about escape.”

“Were you afraid?”

“Yes.” Her eyes blurred with the memory. She didn’t often look back, didn’t often need to. But when she did, it came not with the watery look of old dreams, but clear as glass. “Oh, yes. Very afraid. More than I will ever be again.”

“Will you tell me?”


His eyes were dark, and fixed on her face. “Because I’d like to understand.”

She started to pass it off, even had the words in her mind. But the memory remained too vivid. “We waited until spring and took only what we could carry. We told no one, no one at all, and set off in the wagon. Papa said we were going to visit my mother’s sister who lived in the west. But I think there were some who knew, who watched us go with tired faces and big eyes. Papa had papers, badly forged, but he had a map and hoped we would avoid the border guards.”

“And you were only five?”

“Nearly six by then.” Thinking, she ran a fingertip around and around the rim of her glass. “Mikhail was between four and five, Alex just two. At night, if we could risk a fire, we would sit around it and Papa would tell stories. Those were good nights. We would fall asleep listening to his voice and smelling the smoke from the fire. We went over the mountains and into Hungary. It took us ninety-three days.”

He couldn’t imagine it, not even when he could see it reflected so clearly in her eyes. Her voice was low, but the emotions were all there, bringing it richness. Thinking of the little girl, he took her hand and waited for her to go on.

“My father had planned for years. Perhaps he had dreamed it all of his life. He had names, people who would help defectors. There was war, the cold one, but I was too young to understand. I understood the fear, in my parents, in the others who helped us. We were smuggled out of Hungary into Austria. The church sponsored us, brought us to America. It was a long time before I stopped waiting for the police to come and take my father away.”

She brought herself back, embarrassed to have spoken of it, surprised to find her hand caught firmly in his.

“That’s a lot for a child to deal with.”

“I also remember eating my first hot dog.” She smiled and picked up her wine again. She never spoke of that time, never. Not even with family. Now that she had, with him, she felt a desperate need to change the subject. “And the day my father brought home our first television. No childhood, even one with nannies, is ever completely secure. But we grow up. I’m a businesswoman, and you’re a respected composer. Why don’t you write?” She felt his fingers tense on hers. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I had no business asking that.”

“It’s all right.” His fingers relaxed again. “I don’t write because I can’t.”

She hesitated, then went on impulse. “I know your music. Something that intense doesn’t fade.”

“It hasn’t mattered a great deal in the past couple of years. Just lately it’s begun to matter again.”

“Don’t be patient.”

When he smiled, she shook her head, at once impatient and regal. Her hand was gripping his now, hard and strong.

“No, I mean it. People always say when the time is right, when the mood is right, when the place is right. Years are wasted that way. If my father had waited until we were older, until the trip was safer, we might still be in the Ukraine. There are some things that should be grabbed with both hands and taken. Life can be very, very short.”

He could feel the urgency in the way her hands gripped his. And he could see the shadow of regret in her eyes. The reason for both intrigued him as much as her words.

“You may be right,” he said slowly, then brought the palm of her hand to his lips. “Waiting isn’t always the best answer.”

“It’s getting late.” Natasha pulled her hand free, then balled it into a fist on her lap. But that didn’t stop the heat from spearing her arm. “We should go.”

She was relaxed again when he walked her to her door. During the short drive home he had made her laugh with stories of Freddie’s ploys to interest him in a kitten.

“I think cutting pictures of cats from a magazine to make you a poster was very clever.” She turned to lean back against her front door. “You are going to let her have one?”

“I’m trying not to be a pushover.”

Natasha only smiled. “Big old houses like yours tend to get mice in the winter. In fact, in a house of that size, you’d be wise to take two of JoBeth’s kittens.”

“If Freddie pulls that one on me, I’ll know exactly where she got it.” He twirled one of Natasha’s curls around his fingers. “And you have a quiz coming up next week.”

Natasha lifted both brows. “Blackmail, Dr. Kimball?”

“You bet.”

“I intend to ace your quiz, and I have a strong feeling that Freddie could talk you into taking the entire litter all by herself, if she put her mind to it.”

“Just the little gray one.”

“You’ve already been to see them.”

“A couple of times. You’re not going to ask me in?”


“All right.” He slipped his arms around her waist.


“I’m just taking your advice,” he murmured as he skimmed his lips over her jaw. “Not being patient.” He brought her closer; his mouth brushed her earlobe. “Taking what I want.” His teeth scraped over her bottom lip. “Not wasting time.”

Then he was crushing his mouth against hers. He could taste the faintest tang of wine on her lips and knew he could get drunk on that alone. Her flavors were rich, exotic, intoxicating. Like the hint of autumn in the air, she made him think of smoking fires, drifting fog. And her body was already pressed eagerly against his in an instantaneous acknowledgment.

Passion didn’t bloom, it didn’t whisper. It exploded so that even the air around them seemed to shudder with it.

She made him feel reckless. Unaware of what he murmured to her, he raced his lips over her face, coming back, always coming back to her heated, hungry mouth. In one rough stroke he took his hands over her.

Her head was spinning. If only she could believe it was the wine. But she knew it was he, only he who made her dizzy and dazed and desperate. She wanted to be touched. By him. On a breathless moan, she let her head fall back, and the urgent trail of his lips streaked down her throat.

Feeling this way had to be wrong. Old fears and doubts swirled inside her, leaving empty holes that begged to be filled. And when they were filled, with liquid, shimmering pleasure, the fear only grew.

“Spence.” Her fingers dug into his shoulders; she fought a war between the need to stop him and the impossible desire to go on. “Please.”

He was as shaken as she and took a moment, burying his face in her hair. “Something happens to me every time I’m with you. I can’t explain it.”

She wanted badly to hold him against herself, but forced her arms to drop to her sides. “It can’t continue to happen.”

He drew away, just far enough to be able to take her face into both hands. The chill of the evening and the heat of passion had brought color to her cheeks. “If I wanted to stop it, which I don’t, I couldn’t.”

She kept her eyes level with his and tried not to be moved by the gentle way he cradled her face. “You want to go to bed with me.”

“Yes.” He wasn’t certain if he wanted to laugh or curse her for being so matter-of-fact. “But it’s not quite that simple.”

“Sex is never simple.”

His eyes narrowed. “I’m not interested in having sex with you.”

“You just said—”

“I want to make love with you. There’s a difference.”

“I don’t choose to romanticize it.”

The annoyance in his eyes vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “Then I’m sorry I’ll have to disappoint you. When we make love, whenever, wherever, it’s going to be very romantic.” Before she could evade, he closed his mouth over hers. “That’s a promise I intend to keep.”


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