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The Stanislaski Series Collection, Volume 1

Nora Roberts

  From #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts comes three classic stories in her Stanislaskis family saga.


  When Spence Kimball sets eyes on Natasha Stanislaski, he’s thunderstruck by the intensity of his attraction. While the former ballet dancer turned toy shop owner has a fiery temperament that keeps most men safely at bay, Spence can’t seem to resist her. But he isn’t sure Natasha would be interested in a single father. He’ll do whatever it takes to tame Natasha’s fears…and show her how to love again.


  Nothing in Sydney Hayward’s background of wealth and privilege had prepared her to take the helm of her grandfather’s business. Her new responsibilities leave no time for complications. Sydney learned the hard way that she could never trust anyone, but her tenant Mikhail is hard to resist. She doesn’t have room in her life for romance—but Mikhail seems to know exactly how to win her over…one smoldering kiss at a time.


  For the public defender Rachel Stanislaski, her work is her life. The last thing she needs is the hot-headed Zack Muldoon storming into her court room. Zack might not like it, but he needs Rachel. She’s the only person standing between his delinquent kid brother and a prison sentence. Zack is used to getting his way—but when it comes to Rachel he might just lose his heart.

  Previously Published.

  The Stanislaski Series Collection Volume 1

  Taming Natasha

  Luring a Lady

  Falling for Rachel

  Nora Roberts

  Table of Contents

  Taming Natasha

  By Nora Roberts

  Luring a Lady

  By Nora Roberts

  Falling for Rachel

  By Nora Roberts

  Taming Natasha

  The Stanislaskis

  Book One

  Nora Roberts

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

  The first time single-father Spence Kimball set eyes on Natasha Stanislaski, he was floored by her exotic beauty. But the former ballet dancer turned toy shop owner had a fiery temperament that kept men safely at bay. Sensing a hidden wound, Spence and his little girl joined forces to find a way into her closely guarded heart. For Spence realized he’d do anything to tame Natasha’s fears…and show her how to love.
















  “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 even remember.”

  “Just because she wanted a doll with red hair and blue eyes doesn’t mean anything.”

  “Red hair and blue eyes,” he repeated; the frustration welled up once more. “Just like Angela’s. She remembers, Nina. And it does matter.” Stuffing his hands into his pockets he walked away.

  Three years, he thought. It had been nearly three years now. Freddie had still been in diapers. But she remembered Angela—beautiful, careless Angela. Not even the most liberal critic would have considered Angela a mother. She had never cuddled or crooned, never rocked or soothed.

  He studied a small, porcelain-faced doll dressed in pale, angelic blue. Tiny, tapering fingers, huge, dreamy eyes. Angela had been like that, he remembered. Ethereally beautiful. And cold as glass.

  He had loved her as a man might love a piece of art—distantly admiring the perfection of form, and constantly searching for the meaning beneath it. Between them they had somehow created a warm, gorgeous child who had managed to find her way through the first years of her life almost without help from her parents.

  But he would make it up to her. Spence shut his eyes for a moment. He intended to do everything in his power to give his daughter the love, the structure and the security she deserved. The realness. The word seemed trite, but it was the only one he could find that described what he wanted for his daughter—the real, the solid bond of family.

  She loved him. He felt some of the tension ease from his shoulders as he thought of the way Freddie’s big eyes would shine when he tucked her in at night, at the way her arms would wrap tightly around him when he held her. Perhaps he would never fully forgive himself for being so involved with his own problems, his own life during her infancy, but things had changed. Even this move had been made with her welfare in mind.

  He heard her laugh, and the rest of the tension dissolved on a wave of pure pleasure. There was no sweeter music than his little girl’s laugh. An entire symphony could be written around it. He wouldn’t disturb her yet, Spence thought. Let her indulge herself with the bright and beautiful dolls, before he had to remind her that only one could be hers.

  Relaxed again, he began to pay attention to the shop. Like the dolls he’d imagined for his daughter, it was bright and beautiful. Though small, it was packed from wall to wall with everything a child might covet. A big golden giraffe and a sad-eyed purple dog hung from the ceiling. Wooden trains, cars and planes, all painted in bold colors, jockeyed for position on a long display table with elegant miniature furniture. An old-fashioned jack-in-the-box sat beside an intricate scale model of a futuristic space station. There were dolls, some beautiful, some charmingly homely, erector sets and tea sets.

  The lack of studied arrangement made the result all the more appealing. This was a place to pretend and to wish, a crowded Aladdin’s cave designed to make children’s eyes light in wonder. To make them laugh, as his daughter was laughing now. He could already foresee that he’d be hard-pressed to keep Freddie from making regular visits.

  That was one of the reasons he’d made the move to a small town. He wanted his daughter to be able to reap the pleasures of local shops, where the merchants would know her name. She would be able to walk from one end of town to the other without those big-city worries about muggings, abductions and drugs. There would be no need for dead bolts and security systems, for “white noise” machines to block out the surge and grind of traffic. Even a girl as little as his Freddie wouldn’t be swallowed up here.

  And perhaps, without the pace and the pressure, he would make peace with himself.

  Idly he picked up a music box. It was of delicately crafted porcelain, graced with a figure of a raven-haired Gypsy woman in a flounced red dress. In her ears were tiny gold loops, and in her hands a tambourine with colored streamers. He was certain he wouldn’t have found anything more skillfully made on Fifth Avenue.

  He wondered how the owner could leave it out where small, curious fingers might reach and break. Intrigued, he turned the key and watched the figure revolve around the tiny, china camp fire.

  Tchaikovsky. He recognized the movement instantly, and his skilled ear approved the quality of tone. A moody, even passionate piece, he thought, finding it strange to come across such exquisite workmanship in a toy store. Then he glanced up and saw Natasha.

  He stared. He couldn’t help it. She was standing a few feet away, her head up, slightly tilted as she watched him. Her hair was as dark as the dancer’s and corkscrewed around her face in a wild disarray that flowed beyond her shoulders. Her skin was a dark, rich gold that was set off by the simple red dress she wore.

  But this woman was not fragile, he thought. Though she was small, he got the impression of power. Perhaps it was her face, with its full, unpainted mouth and high, slashing cheekbones. Her eyes were almost as dark as her hair, heavy-lidded and thickly lashed. Even from a distance of ten feet he sensed it. Strong, undiluted sex. It surrounded her as other women surrounded themselves with perfumes.

  For the first time in years he felt the muscle-numbing heat of pure desire.

  Natasha saw it, then recognized and resented it. What kind of man, she wondered, walked into a room with his wife and daughter, then looked at another woman with naked hunger in his eyes?

  Not her kind.

  Determined to ignore the look as she had ignored it from others in the past, she crossed to him. “Do you need some help?”

  Help? Spence thought blankly. He needed oxygen. He hadn’t known it was literally possible for a woman to take a man’s breath away. “Who are you?”

  “Natasha Stanislaski.” She offered her coolest smile. “I own the store.”

  Her voice seemed to hang in the air, husky, vital, with a trace of her Slavic origins adding eroticism as truly as the music still playing behind him. She smelled of soap, nothing more, yet the fragrance completely seduced him.

  When he didn’t speak, she lifted a brow. It might have been amusing to knock a man off his feet, but she was busy at the moment, and the man was married. “Your daughter has her selection down to three dolls. Perhaps you’d like to help her with her final choice.”

  “In a minute. Your accent—is it Russian?”

  “Yes.” She wondered if she should tell him his wife was standing near the front door, bored and impatient.

  “How long have you been in America?”

  “Since I was six.” She aimed a deliberately cold glance. “About the same age as your little girl. Excuse me—”

  He had his hand on her arm before he could stop himself. Even though he knew the move was a bad one, the venom in her eyes surprised him. “Sorry. I was going to ask you about this music box.”

  Natasha shifted her gaze to it as the music began to wind down. “It’s one of our best, handcrafted here in the States. Are you interested in buying it?”

  “I haven’t decided, but I thought you might not have realized it was sitting out on that shelf.”


  “It’s not the kind of merchandise one expects to find in a toy store. It could easily be broken.”

  Natasha took it and placed it farther back on the shelf. “And it can be mended.” She made a quick, clearly habitual movement with her shoulders. It spoke of arrogance rather than carelessness. “I believe children should be allowed the pleasures of music, don’t you?”

  “Yes.” For the first time a smile flickered over his face. It was, as Annie had noted, a particularly effective one, Natasha had to admit. Through her annoyance she felt the trickle of attraction, and strangely, kinship. Then he said, “As a matter of fact, I believe that quite strongly. Perhaps we could discuss it over dinner.”

  Holding herself rigid, Natasha battled back fury. It was difficult for one with her hot, often turbulent nature, but she reminded herself that the man had not only his wife, but his young daughter in the store.

  The angry insults that rose to her throat were swallowed, but not before Spence saw them reflected in her eyes.

  “No,” was all she said as she turned.

  “Miss—” Spence began, then Freddie whirled down the aisle, carrying a big, floppy Raggedy Ann.

  “Daddy, isn’t she nice?” Eyes shining, she held out the doll for his approval.

  It was redheaded, Spence thought. But it was anything but beautiful. Nor, to his relief, was it a symbol of Angela. Because he knew Freddie expected it, he took his time examining her choice. “This is,” he said after a moment, “the very best doll I’ve seen today.”


  He crouched until he was eye to eye with his daughter. “Absolutely. You have excellent taste, funny face.”