Risk-taking simply wasn’t in Leo’s blood.
He didn’t give a new creation a spot in the display case until it had been perfected, taste tested and even after that quality control, he still allowed himself a week to change his mind.
But there was no changing his mind about that kiss.
About that girl.
That’s how he found himself in the Theater District on a Tuesday afternoon, fresh from his shift, nursing a cup of cold coffee. Just, what? Hoping to run into her?
As usual, he’d screwed the pooch by clamming up on Saturday night, giving her time to second-guess giving him the time of day. He’d made that mistake several times before, but this time…it really felt like it mattered. Not just seeing her again—and the need was growing more urgent by the moment—but he didn’t want Reese’s opinion of him to be negative. Usually, when women backed off, his chief emotion was gratitude. At least he could say he’d tried and now he could go back to flour, sugar, eggs.
Things he understood.
This morning, he’d burned two cakes and a batch of his butterscotch panna cotta because he’d been trying to find Reese on social media without the use of her last name. That left him one option. Pacing the sidewalk outside of her theater where Daliah’s Folly was in its second run in the wake of critical acclaim. By the time she’d shared that nugget of information with him Saturday night, he’d already been kicking himself for his hesitation to ask her out.
Reese didn’t seem to need his connections, she was killing it on her own.
All right, there was always a chance that even the most successful dancer could benefit from having an in with Bernard Bexley, but Reese’s success took that possibility almost down to nothing. Not to mention, his gut told him she wouldn’t do something like that.
A storm of male and female voices derailed his train of thought. There was no other way to describe it. A lot of energized people were speaking excitedly at the same time, a door slamming somewhere in their vicinity. He’d been pacing in front of the Daliah’s Folly theater, but he stopped short now and turned to find a stampede of dancers breezing in his direction, sweat soaking their shirts, jackets hanging loose from their shoulders, bags in hand.
Even as he sidestepped out of their path, he couldn’t help searching their numbers for Reese. Thousands of dancers and actors came and went from this spot every day. How often had he witnessed that singular parade while standing at his father’s side growing up? It was a long shot that he would find Reese among their ranks. Still he looked, time grinding into slow motion when a toss of dirty-blonde hair revealed the face that had remained in his mind’s eye long after he’d managed to fall asleep the last three nights.
In a scene from his worst nightmares, the entire pack of dancers stopped and wheeled around to face him, eyebrows in the air. Not surprising, since his intention had been to call her name, but instead it had come out sounding like a barking Doberman.
The girl he’d come to this part of town—which he typically avoided—to find, was the last to turn, her face pale in the winter afternoon light, a bright purple coat wrapped around her upper half. “I…Leo. Hi.” She shook her herself. “Hi.”
Someone whispered his last name and a ripple of gasps passed through the group.
He ignored the sudden, unwanted scrutiny and focused on Reese.
Oh Jesus, she was pretty. Way, way out of his league. Did he imagine that kiss?
She stepped out into the open and it became the greatest challenge of his lifetime to not stare at her legs, exposed almost completely in a very small pair of shorts. It was February in New York. Was she trying to catch hypothermia?
“What are you doing here?” Reese prompted in a murmur.
Heads swiveled in every direction eagerly looking for his father. They wouldn’t find him. It wasn’t that Leo had a bad relationship with Bernard. They just didn’t have a lot in common. Fine, nothing. They had zero common interests. Bernard was forever watching his diet, as did most dancers, so he’d decreed early on to Leo that it was “dangerous” for him to visit the Cookie Jar. Dancing was the world to Leo’s father. When they saw one another at holidays or for an occasional drink, the visit would usually start out pretty great. They’d catch up on family business and current events. Until the conversation inevitably fell flat. Bernard didn’t know how to interact with someone who wasn’t singing his praises and Leo didn’t know how to sing them.
“What is a Bexley doing in the Theater District?” someone asked from behind Reese. “You didn’t really just ask that. His father practically built this block.”
A male dancer in leg warmers craned his neck over Reese’s shoulder. “He wouldn’t happen to be around, would he?”
Color built in Reese’s cheeks, her expression seemingly troubled.
“No, I’m alone,” Leo answered, not surprised when everyone’s shoulders slumped. “I thought we could talk, if you’re free,” he said to Reese.
A beat passed, Reese pulled her coat tighter around her body. “Sure.” She turned slightly and met the eyes of another dancer in a BTS sweatshirt. “See you at home?”
“Oh yes.” The girl moseyed on, along with the rest of the pack, who thankfully were no longer interested. “Expect questions.”
“Sorry about that,” Reese said after a moment, ducking her head. “So you’re a Bexley.”
He grunted. “Bernard is my father.”
She stared off down the block. “I see.”
Tourists were bottlenecking around them on the sidewalk so he took her elbow gently, pulling her into the relative privacy just outside the theater doors. “Are you coming from rehearsal?” he asked, stooping down a little to catch her eye. The other night, they’d barely been able to unlock their gazes for a second. Now she seemed to be avoiding it.
“A class, actually. A dancer never stops learning.” She wet her lips. “But I guess you know that, don’t you?”
“Not really. I was raised around this world. Not in it.” He lost the battle he’d been waging with his self-control not to look at her legs. Christ. Long and toned and smooth. No doubt about it, she belonged on stage. Focus, pervert. “You ran off on me Saturday night.”