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Considering Kate

Nora Roberts

  Considering Kate

  The Stanislaskis

  Book Six

  Nora Roberts

  The Stanislaskis: an unforgettable family saga by #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts

  Kate Stanislaski Kimball had turned her back on glamour and fame, and she’d come home to begin a new life. The only thing more perfect than the beautiful—dilapidated—building she’d bought for her new dance school was Brody O’Connell, the frustrating and surprisingly fascinating contractor she’d hired for the renovation.

  But Brody was determined to resist Kate’s effortless allure. She was Natasha Stanislaski’s pampered, perfect daughter, after all. Still, every fiber of his being longed to make her his….

  To my guys.


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve


  Chapter One

  It was going to be perfect. She was going to see to it. Every step, every stage, every detail would be done precisely as she wanted, as she envisioned, until her dream became her reality.

  Settling for less than what was exactly right was a waste of time, after all.

  And Kate Kimball was not a woman to waste anything.

  At twenty-five, she had seen and experienced more than a great many people did in a lifetime. When other young girls had been giggling over boys or worrying about fashion, she’d been traveling to Paris or Bonne, wearing glamorous costumes and doing extraordinary things.

  She had danced for queens, and dined with princes.

  She had sipped champagne at the White House, and wept with triumph and fatigue at the Bolshoi.

  She would always be grateful to her parents, to the big, sprawling family who’d given her the opportunities to do so. Everything she had she owed to them.

  Now it was time to start earning it herself.

  Dance had been her dream for as long as she could remember. Her obsession, her brother Brandon would have said. And not, Kate acknowledged, inaccurately. There was nothing wrong with an obsession—as long as it was the right obsession and you worked for it.

  God knew she’d worked for the dance.

  Twenty years of practice, of study, of joy and pain. Of sweat and toe shoes. Of sacrifices, she thought. Hers, and her parents. She understood how difficult it had been for them to let her, the baby of the family, go to New York to study when she’d been only seventeen. But they’d never offered her anything but support and encouragement.

  Of course, they’d known that though she was leaving the pretty little town in West Virginia for the big city, she’d be surrounded—watched over—by family. Just as she knew they had loved and trusted—believed in her enough—to let her go in any case.

  She’d practiced and worked, and had danced, as much for them as for herself. And when she’d joined the Company and had appeared on stage the first time, they’d been there. When she’d earned a spot as principal dancer, they’d been there.

  She’d danced professionally for six years, had known the spotlight, and the thrill of feeling the music inside her body. She’d traveled all over the world, had become Giselle, Aurora, Juliet, dozens of characters both tragic and triumphant. She had prized every moment of it.

  No one was more surprised than Kate herself when she’d decided to step out of that spotlight and walk off that stage. There was only one way to explain it.

  She’d wanted to come home.

  She wanted a life, a real one. As much as she loved the dance, she’d begun to realize it had nearly absorbed and devoured every other aspect of her. Classes, rehearsals, performances, travel, media. The dancer’s career was far more than slipping on toe shoes and gliding into the spotlight—or it certainly had been for Kate.

  So she wanted a life, and she wanted home. And, she’d discovered, she wanted to give something back for all the joy she’d reaped. She could accomplish all of that with her school.

  They would come, she told herself. They would come because her name was Kimball, and that meant something solid in the area. They would come because her name was Kate Kimball, and that meant something in the world of dance.

  Before long, she promised herself, they would come because the school itself meant something.

  Time for a new dream, she reminded herself as she turned around the huge, echoing room. The Kimball School of Dance was her new obsession. She intended it to be just as fulfilling, just as intricate, and just as perfect as her old one.

  And it would, no doubt, entail as much work, effort, skill and determination to bring to life.

  With her hands fisted on her hips, she studied the grime-gray walls that had once been white. They’d be white again. A clean surface for displaying framed posters of the greats. Nuryev, Fontayne, Baryshnikov, Davidov, Bannion.

  And the two long side walls would be mirrored behind their barres. This professional vanity was as necessary as breathing. A dancer must see each tiny movement, each arch, each flex, even as the body felt it, to perfect the positioning.

  It was really more window than mirror, Kate thought. Where the dancer looked through the glass to see the dance.

  The old ceiling would be repaired or replaced—whatever was necessary. The furnace…she rubbed her chilly arms. Definitely replaced. The floors sanded and sealed until they were a smooth and perfect surface. Then there was the lighting, the plumbing, probably some electrical business to see to.

  Well, her grandfather had been a carpenter before he’d retired—or semiretired, she thought with affection. She wasn’t totally ignorant of what went on in a rehab situation. And she’d study more, ask questions, until she understood the process and could direct the contractor she hired appropriately.

  Imagining what would be, she closed her eyes, dipped into a deep plié. Her body, long and wand-slim, simply flowed into the movement until her crotch rested on her heels, rose up again, lowered again.

  She’d bundled her hair up, impatient to get out and take another look at what would soon be hers. With her movements, pins loosened and a few locks of glossy black curls spilled out. Freed, they would fall to her waist—a wildly romantic look that suited her image on stage.

  Smiling, a bit dreamy, her face took on a quiet glow. She had her mother’s dusky skin and high, slashing cheekbones, her father’s smoky eyes and stubborn chin.

  It made an arresting combination, again a romantic one. The gypsy, the mermaid, the faerie queen. There had been men who’d looked at her, taken in the delicacy of her form, and had assumed a romanticism and fragility—and never anticipated the steel.

  It was, always, a mistake.

  “One of these days you’re going to get stuck like that, then you’ll have to hop around like a frog.”

  Kate sprang up, eyes popping open. “Brandon!” With a full-throated war whoop, she leaped across the room and into his arms.

  “What are you doing here? When did you get in? I thought you were playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. How long are you staying?”

  He was barely two years her senior—an accident of birth he’d used to torment her when they’d been children, unlike her half sister, Frederica, who was older than both of them and had never lorded it over them. Despite it, he was the love of her life.

  “Which question do you want me to answer first?” Laughing, he held her away from him, taking a quick study of her out of tawny and amused eyes. “Still scrawny.”

  “And you’re still f
ull of it. Hi.” She kissed him smackingly on the lips. “Mom and Dad didn’t say you were coming home.”

  “They didn’t know. I heard you were settling in and figured I’d better check things out, keep an eye on you.” He glanced around the big, filthy room, rolled his eyes. “I guess I’m too late.”

  “It’s going to be wonderful.”

  “Gonna be. Maybe. Right now it’s a dump.” Still, he slung his arm around her shoulders. “So, the ballet queen’s going to be a teacher.”

  “I’m going to be a wonderful teacher. Why aren’t you in Puerto Rico?”

  “Hey, a guy can’t play ball twelve months a year.”

  “Brandon.” Her eyebrow arched up.

  “Bad slide into second. Pulled a few tendons.”

  “Oh, how bad? Have you seen a doctor? Will you—”

  “Jeez, Katie. It’s no big deal. I’m on the Disabled List for a couple of months. I’ll be back in action for spring training. And it gives me lots of time to hang around here and make your life a living hell.”

  “Well, that’s some compensation. Come on, I’ll show you around.” And get a look at the way he moved. “My apartment’s upstairs.”

  “From the looks of that ceiling, your apartment may be downstairs any minute.”

  “It’s perfectly sound,” she said with a wave of the hand. “Just ugly at the moment. But I have plans.”

  “You’ve always had plans.”

  But he walked with her, favoring his right leg, through the room and into a nasty little hallway with cracked plaster and exposed brick. Up a creaking set of stairs and into a sprawling space that appeared to be occupied by mice, spiders and assorted vermin he didn’t want to think about.

  “Kate, this place—”

  “Has potential,” she said firmly. “And history. It’s pre-Civil War.”

  “It’s pre-Stone Age.” He was a man who preferred things already ordered, and in an understandable pattern. Like a ballpark. “Have you any clue what it’s going to cost you to make this place livable?”

  “I have a clue. And I’ll firm that up when I talk to the contractor. It’s mine, Brand. Do you remember when we were kids and you and Freddie and I would walk by this old place?”

  “Sure, used to be a bar, then it was a craft shop or something, then—”

  “It used to be a lot of things,” Kate interrupted. “Started out as a tavern in the 1800s. Nobody’s really made a go of it. But I used to look at it when we were kids and think how much I’d like to live here, and look out these tall windows, and rattle around in all the rooms.”

  The faintest flush bloomed on her cheeks, and her eyes went deep and dark. A sure sign, Brandon thought, that she had dug in.

  “Thinking like that when you’re eight’s a lot different than buying a heap of a building when you’re a grown-up.”

  “Yes, it is. It is different. Last spring, when I came home to visit, it was up for sale. Again. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

  She circled the room. She could see it, as it would be. Wood gleaming, walls sturdy and clean. “I went back to New York, went back to work, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this old place.”

  “You get the screwiest things in your head.”

  She shrugged that off. “It’s mine. I was sure of it the minute I came inside. Haven’t you ever felt that?”

  He had, the first time he’d walked into a ballpark. He supposed, when it came down to it, most sensible people would have told him that playing ball for a living was a kid’s dream. His family never had, he remembered. Any more than they’d discouraged Kate from her dreams of ballet.

  “Yeah, I guess I have. It just seems so fast. I’m used to you doing things in deliberate steps.”

  “That hasn’t changed,” she told him with a grin. “When I decided to retire from performing, I knew I wanted to teach dance. I knew I wanted to make this place a school. My school. Most of all, I wanted to be home.”

  “Okay.” He put his arm around her again, pressed a kiss to her temple. “Then we’ll make it happen. But right now, let’s get out of here. This place is freezing.”

  “New heating system’s first on my list.”

  Brandon took one last glance around. “It’s going to be a really long list.”

  They walked together through the brisk December wind, as they had since childhood. Along cracked and uneven sidewalks, under trees that spread branches stripped of leaves under a heavy gray sky.

  She could smell snow in the air, the teasing hint of it.

  Storefronts were already decorated for the holidays, with red-cheeked Santas and strings of lights, flying reindeer and overweight snowpeople.

  But the best of them, always the best of them, was The Fun House. The toy store’s front window was crowded with delights. Miniature sleighs, enormous stuffed bears in stocking caps, dolls both elegant and homely, shiny red trucks, castles made of wooden blocks.

  The look was delightfully jumbled and…fun, Kate thought. One might think the toys had simply been dropped wherever they fit. But she knew that great care, and a deep, affectionate knowledge of children, had gone into the design of the display.

  Bells chimed cheerfully as they stepped inside.

  Customers wandered. A toddler banged madly on a xylophone in the play corner. Behind the counter, Annie Maynard boxed a flop-eared stuffed dog. “He’s one of my favorites,” she said to the waiting customer. “Your niece is going to love him.”

  Her glasses slid down her nose as she tied the fuzzy red yarn around the box. Then she glanced up over them, blinked and squealed.

  “Brandon! Tash! Come see who’s here. Oh, come give me a kiss, you gorgeous thing.”

  When he came around the counter and obliged, she patted her heart. “Been married twenty-five years,” she said to her customer. “And this boy can make me feel like a co-ed again. Happy holidays. Let me go get your mother.”

  “No, I’ll get her.” Kate grinned and shook her head. “Brandon can stay here and flirt with you.”

  “Well, then.” Annie winked. “Take your time.”

  Her brother, Kate mused, had been leaving females puddled at his feet since he’d been five. No, since he’d been born, she corrected as she wandered through the aisles.

  It was more than looks, though his were stellar. Even more than charm, though he could pump out plenty when he was in the mood. She’d long ago decided it was simply pheromones.

  Some men just stood there and made women drool. Susceptible women, of course. Which she had never been. A man had to have more than looks, charm and sex appeal to catch her interest. She’d known entirely too many who were pretty to look at, but empty once you opened the package.

  Then she turned the corner by the toy cars and very nearly turned into a puddle.

  He was gorgeous. No, no, that was too female a term. Handsome was too fussily male. He was just…


  Six-two if he was an inch, and all of it brilliantly packaged. As a dancer she appreciated a well-toned body. The specimen currently studying rows of miniature vehicles had his packed into snug and faded jeans, a flannel shirt and a denim jacket that was scarred and too light for the weather.

  His work boots looked ancient and solid. Who would have thought work boots could be so sexy?

  Then there was all that hair; dark, streaky blond masses of it waving around a lean, sharp-angled face. Not rugged, not classic, not anything she could label. His mouth was full, and appeared to be the only soft thing about him. His nose was long and straight, his chin, well, chiseled. And his eyes…

  She couldn’t quite see his eyes, not the color, with all those wonderful lashes in the way. But they were heavy-lidded, so she imagined them a deep, slumberous blue.

  She shifted her gaze to his hands as he reached for one of the toys. Big, wide-palmed, blunt-fingered. Strong.

  Holy cow.

  And while indulging in a moment’s fantasy—a perfectly harmless moment’s fantasy—she leaned and kn
ocked over a small traffic jam of cars.

  The resulting clatter slapped her out of her daydream, and turned the man’s eyes—his surprising and intense green eyes—in her direction.

  “Oops,” she said. And grinning at him, laughing at herself, crouched down to pick up the cars. “I hope there were no casualties.”

  “We’ve got an ambulance right here, if necessary.” He tapped the shiny red-and-white emergency vehicle, then hunkered down to help her.

  “Thanks. If we can get these back before the cops get here, I may just get off with a warning.” He smelled as good as he looked, she decided. Wood shavings and man. She shifted, deliberately, and their knees bumped. “Come here often?”

  “Yeah, actually.” He glanced up at her, took a good long look. She recognized the stirring of interest in his eyes. “Guys never outgrow their toys.”

  “So I’ve heard. What do you like to play with?”

  His eyebrows shot up. A man didn’t often come across a beautiful—provocative—woman in a toy store on a Wednesday afternoon. He very nearly stuttered, then did something he hadn’t done in years—spoke without thinking first.

  “Depends on the game. What’s yours?”

  She laughed, pushed back a tendril of hair that tickled her cheek. “Oh, I like all kinds of games—especially if I win.”

  She started to rise, but he beat her to it, straightening those yard-long legs and holding out a hand. She gripped it, discovered to her pleasure it was as hard as she’d imagined, and as strong.

  “Thanks again. I’m Kate.”

  “Brody.” He offered the tiny blue convertible he was still holding. “In the market for a car?”

  “No, not today. I’m more or less browsing, until I see what I want….” Her lips curved again, amused, flirtatious.

  Brody had to order himself not to whistle out a breath. He’d had women come on to him from time to time, but never quite like this. And he’d been in a self-imposed female drought for… For what was beginning to seem entirely too long.