The Sweetest Fix

Page 13

She winced. “I know, I—”

“It was my fault. I had a hunch you were a dancer and when you confirmed it…look, I really shouldn’t have judged you like that.”

Reese’s attention drifted to her group of friends who’d reached the end of the avenue. “I can see why you would.”

Surprisingly, the simplicity and understanding of that statement made him want to tell her more, to explain his wariness of dancers in greater detail, but wouldn’t that be coming on too strong? And when had that ever been a worry for him before? It was probably better to keep his skeletons in the closet, since her interest—had he imagined it?—seemed to have waned.

Hell, he was already here in Times Square standing outside of the theater where she performed. Why try and play it safe now? Besides, that same cool balm was spreading in his chest, just like the last time he’d been around Reese. The fear of saying the wrong thing wasn’t as prevalent as usual. Was it the understanding in those brown eyes or the way she seemed to lean into the silences, like he did?

“I had a friend a long time ago—I’m talking high school. Senior year.” He tossed his coffee in a nearby garbage can to give his hands something to do, then sank them into the pockets of his jeans. “My parents sent me to a performing arts high school, which is kind of like sending a bodybuilder to ballet class, but they were donors and knew the faculty. Anyway obviously I didn’t fit in. I had friends, but when they were in dance class or singing lessons, I would be baking, and we just…we’d drift after a while. But I had one friend, in particular…Tate. He kept showing up, no matter how many times I blew him off. One afternoon, I walked in and he was passing his headshot to Bernard. Pitching him, essentially. Maybe I should have realized he wanted to earn points with my father, but I didn’t know what to look for—”

“Wait, wait.” She placed her hand on the crook of his elbow. “Are you talking about Tate Dillinger? Tony award winner?”

Leo gave a nod. “That would be him.”

“Wow.” Her lids dropped. “I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t tell you so you’d feel bad, Reese. Just wanted you to know why I, uh…might have acted like a jackass Saturday night. I’ve been running every interaction with performers through a certain lens for a long time—”

“You don’t have to apologize,” she interrupted, looking almost pained. “Please, don’t.”

“I liked kissing you.”

A breath puffed out of her. “Oh.”

“I’d like to do it again.”

Her expression was nothing short of astonished, but he didn’t miss the way her eyes dropped to his mouth and heated. “Is that why you’re here? To kiss me?”

“I’m here to ask you out.” His voice had fallen several octaves. “But if you’re offering…”

“I don’t know if this is a good idea.” She hugged her elbows. “It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s not that I don’t find you crazy attractive—”

“You have weird taste, but go on.”

A laugh shot out of her, warming him. “I just…I promised myself I would put one hundred percent of my drive and focus into dancing. It’s a recent promise and breaking it already would make me pretty wishy-washy.”

Shit. She might really say no. And he’d have no choice but to respect that. But a man just didn’t give up easily on a girl who inspired him to take the train to Times Square on a Tuesday afternoon. A girl whose mouth had spawned hours of fantasies to derail a routine that never, ever deviated. They’d spent less than an hour in each other’s presence, yet he could already tell that if they parted ways now, he’d be thinking of her for a really long time.

“Far be it from me to hit you with a guilt trip, but…”

He was caught off guard when her arms dropped slowly, her throat working with a swallow. “What? I should feel guilty for what?”

“For coming to my bakery and leaving me with a week’s worth of work.” Leo took his phone out of his pocket, waving it. “Jackie implemented your idea on the website. We’ve had two hundred entries for personalized cake pops in twenty-four hours. We’re calling it the Sweetest Fix.”

Reese’s mouth fell open. “Are you serious? That is incredible!”

“Maybe for you, sweetheart. I have to carry the work load.”

She seemed to chew over the endearment, a smile lifting one side of her mouth. “I’m very contrite.”

Leo snorted. “Oh yeah, I can tell.”

She toed the sidewalk with the tip of her sneaker. “So you’re leveraging this into getting me to agree to a date?”

“Someone has to help me come up with the perfect bite for these pathetic souls. Besides me, you’re the only one I know with an aptitude for it.”

“You want my help?”

“It would cut my work load in half.”

“And you might get to kiss me again.” The flirtatious sparkle from Saturday night was finally back in her eye. He was so relieved, he had to concentrate on filling his lungs. “Do I have that about right?”

“I’d be lying if I said that didn’t cross my mind eight hundred times.”

“Since Saturday?”

“Since we’ve been standing here.”

“That’s a lot,” she murmured sweetly, before visibly shaking herself. “Still, I-I’m trying to channel all of my energy into my reason for being in the city, you know? I have to eat, sleep and breathe dancing to be competitive.” She tucked a few strands of dirty-blonde hair behind her ear. “As much as I like you, I just…I can’t say yes.”

A weight dropped in his stomach. “All right, Reese. That’s fair.”

Knowing when he’d pushed his luck far enough, Leo gave her one last look and backed away. He could understand her reasons. Hadn’t he been shutting out everything and everyone in favor of pastries since opening the Cookie Jar four years ago?

Still. Damn, this sucked.

How long was it going to take the funny feeling in his jugular to go away?

Reluctantly, Leo started to turn, as difficult as it was when Reese was still staring after him with her shoulders drooped—and he almost ran smack into a man walking in the opposite direction. “Leo?”

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