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Taming Natasha

By:Nora Roberts

Taming Natasha
Author: Nora Roberts





CHAPTER ONE

"Why is it that all the really great-looking men are married?"

"Is that a trick question?" Natasha arranged a velvet-gowned doll in a child-sized bentwood rocker before she turned to her assistant. "Okay, Annie, what great-looking man are we talking about in particular?"

"The tall, blond and gorgeous one who's standing outside the shop window with his nifty-looking wife and beautiful little girl." Annie tucked a wad of gum into her cheek and heaved a gusty sigh. "They look like an ad for Perfect Family Digest."

"Then perhaps they'll come in and buy the perfect toy."

Natasha stepped back from her grouping of Victorian dolls and accessories with a nod of approval. It looked exactly as she wanted-appealing, elegant and old-fashioned. She checked everything down to the tasseled fan in a tiny, china hand.

The toy store wasn't just her business, it was her greatest pleasure. Everything from the smallest rattle to the biggest stuffed bear was chosen by her with the same eye for detail and quality. She insisted on the best for her shop and her customers, whether it was a five-hundred-dollar doll with its own fur wrap or a two-dollar, palm-sized race car. When the match was right, she was pleased to ring up either sale.

In the three years since she had opened her jingling front door, Natasha had made The Fun House one of the most thriving concerns in the small college town on the West Virginia border. It had taken drive and persistence, but her success was more a direct result of her innate understanding of children. She didn't want her clients to walk out with a toy. She wanted them to walk out with the right toy.

Deciding to make a few adjustments, Natasha moved over to a display of miniature cars.

"I think they're going to come in," Annie was saying as she smoothed down her short crop of auburn hair. "The little girl's practically bouncing out of her Mary Janes. Want me to open up?"

Always precise, Natasha glanced at the grinning clown clock overhead. "We have five minutes yet."

"What's five minutes? Tash, I'm telling you this guy is incredible." Wanting a closer look, Annie edged down an aisle to restack board games. "Oh, yes. Six foot two, a hundred and sixty pounds. The best shoulders I've ever seen fill out a suit jacket. Oh Lord, it's tweed. I didn't know a guy in tweed could make me salivate."

"A man in cardboard can make you salivate."

"Most of the guys I know are cardboard." A dimple winked at the corner of Annie's mouth. She peeked around the counter of wooden toys to see if he was still at the window. "He must have spent some time at the beach this summer. His hair's sun-streaked and he's got a fabulous tan. Oh, God, he smiled at the little girl. I think I'm in love."

Choreographing a scaled-down traffic jam, Natasha smiled. "You always think you're in love."

"I know." Annie sighed. "I wish I could see the color of his eyes. He's got one of those wonderfully lean and bony faces. I'm sure he's incredibly intelligent and has suffered horribly."

Natasha shot a quick, amused look over her shoulder. Annie, with her tall, skinny build had a heart as soft as marshmallow cream. "I'm sure his wife would be fascinated with your fantasy."

"It's a woman's privilege-no, her obligation-to weave fantasies over men like that."

Though she couldn't have disagreed more, Natasha let Annie have her way. "All right then. Go ahead and open up."

* * *

"One doll," Spence said, giving his daughter's ear a tug. "I might have thought twice about moving into that house, if I'd realized there was a toy store a half mile away."

"You'd buy her the bloody toy store if you had your way."

He spared one glance for the woman beside him. "Don't start, Nina."

The slender blonde shrugged her shoulders, rippling the trim, rose linen jacket of her suit, then looked at the little girl. "I just meant your daddy tends to spoil you because he loves you so much. Besides, you deserve a present for being so good about the move."

Little Frederica Kimball's bottom lip pouted. "I like my new house." She slipped her hand into her father's, automatically aligning herself with him and against the world. "I have a yard and a swing set all of my own."

Nina looked them over, the tall, rangy man and the fairy-sized young girl. They had identical stubborn chins. As far as she could remember, she'd never won an argument with either one.

"I suppose I'm the only one who doesn't see that as an advantage over living in New York." Nina's tone warmed slightly as she stroked the girl's hair. "I can't help worrying about you a little bit. I really only want you to be happy, darling. You and your daddy."

"We are." To break the tension, Spence swung Freddie into his arms. "Aren't we, funny face?"

"She's about to be that much happier." Relenting, Nina gave Spence's hand a squeeze. "They're opening."

"Good morning." They were gray, Annie noted, biting back a long, dreamy, "Ahh." A glorious gray. She tucked her little fantasy into the back of her mind and ushered in the first customers of the day. "May I help you?"

"My daughter's interested in a doll." Spence set Freddie on her feet again.

"Well, you've come to the right place." Annie dutifully switched her attention to the child. She really was a cute little thing, with her father's gray eyes and pale, flyaway blond hair. "What kind of doll would you like?"

"A pretty one," Freddie answered immediately. "A pretty one with red hair and blue eyes."

"I'm sure we have just what you want." She offered a hand. "Would you like to look around?"

After a glance at her father for approval, Freddie linked hands with Annie and wandered off.

"Damn it." Spence found himself wincing.

Nina squeezed his hand for the second time. "Spence-"

"I delude myself thinking that it doesn't matter, that she doesn't eve

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