They didn't have long to wait. At least, not long enough for her to catch her breath and then wonder at Tommy's silence. Puck appeared, with a wide gap before and behind him. The Dalmatian walked slowly, and Natalie realized a little, pale-haired girl held onto his collar, chattering away as she trudged up the sidewalk.
"Gee, what's taking you so long?" Tommy called.
"Uncle Tommy!" the child crowed. She let go of Puck's collar and raced down the path, nearly skidding on the asphalt as she tried to turn the corner. In moments she had scrambled up Tommy's legs and perched on her knees on his lap, facing him. "I got three gold stars today!"
"What'd you do, steal them?" He slid the backpack off her shoulder with practiced ease and slung it over the handlebars on the back of his chair. Natalie marveled at how he did it without looking.
Sammy laughed. "Nope. I got them because I'm smart! Teacher says so. I can write my whole alphabet and multiply my five times before I mess up. Hi." She turned to Natalie as she scooted around so she sat on Tommy's lap. "Are you Uncle Tommy's new girlfriend?"
"Whoa!" Tommy wrapped one arm around her waist and pressed his other hand over her mouth, nearly hiding her from the eyes to the chin. "What did your mommy and daddy tell you about playing matchmaker? Huh? Speak up. I can't hear you." He shook Sammy a little, which just earned peals of muffled laughter from the child.
"You have to take your hand off her mouth," Natalie offered, trying to sound disgusted, or at the very least bored. Anything to muffle the startled thudding of her heart.What exactly had this bright, elfin child seen in those few seconds to make her ask a question like that? Natalie hoped she wasn't blushing. The totally unexpected question startled her more than she would have thought.