He reared back. “Minh,” he said, fondness rolling through him, despite the apple core stuck in his throat. “Hey, man.”
Minh, one of the building managers who’d been working at his father’s theater since Leo was in grade school, used his hip to balance the heavy bag in his arms. “Where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you around the theater in a minute.”
“Busy with the bakery.” He glanced back to find Reese still hesitating outside the theater. “Where are you headed with that bag?” Leo asked, facing Minh again. “Need a hand?”
“I wouldn’t turn it down.” Without a hint of warning, Minh heaved the bag into Leo’s arms and mopped the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his sweater. “You always liked feeding the pigeons on the roof of the Bexley, right? That’s where I’m headed.”
He wasn’t positive what made him turn around and try one last time with Reese. She had every right to turn him down. But he had the unmistakable gut feeling that she wanted to say yes and something was holding her back. Why else was she still standing there looking like her puppy had just run away? He didn’t like seeing her like that. Not at all. Was there some other reason, besides her commitment to dance that was keeping her from saying yes?
“Want to come, Reese?” Leo asked.
“Me?” She pressed a graceful dancer’s hand between her breasts. “The roof of the Bexley? No. I’m…I have an appointment this afternoon and I have to change…”
Leo swallowed hard. Grunted.
“Um. Are you sure?” Minh hopped in cajolingly, as quick a study as Leo remembered. “It’s only one block south. You can see every theater in the neighborhood from up there.”
Her expression turned dreamlike. “I really shouldn’t.”
“This bag of bird seed is pretty heavy,” Leo said, feigning difficulty. “I could use some extra muscle.”
A laugh bubbled out of her. “You filthy liar.” Squeezing her eyes shut, she hopped back and forth on her feet. “All right, you win,” she blurted, finally. “Five minutes.”
The pressure in Leo’s chest cleared like post-storm clouds.
So this was what it felt like to win the lottery.
Dammit. Why did she have to like this guy so much?
Sometimes she wondered if members of the opposite sex were allergic to making an effort. When she dated the older brother of one of her dance students for a little over three months, being texted more than once in a day was almost an imposition for him. Likewise with the men who’d taken her out on dates, but never made it to relationship level. She likened those dates to tap dancing, trying to keep an audience’s fleeting attention. And it was never worth the effort, so she ended up happily dating herself again in no time.
Leo showing up and asking her on a date resonated.
Not only that, he hadn’t balked at being scrutinized by a dozen performers. The intimidation factor had been high. He’d simply zeroed in on her. Told her he’d liked their kiss. Risked rejection—and didn’t get butt hurt when she said no.
Leo Bexley, gruff gentleman baker, had character.
As they took a service elevator up to the roof, Minh cheerfully reciting a brief history of the landmark building, Leo holding the bag of birdseed in a bear hug, Reese desperately tried to justify spending more time with him. On Saturday night, she’d forced herself to make a clean break. It was the right thing to do.
Being around him was like a breath of chocolate-scented air, though. His smile made feathers flutter from throat to belly, toes wiggling in her shoes. She wasn’t lying about finding him crazy attractive, either. Her attention kept traveling to his massive hands, her apparently shameless mind wondering what they would feel like cradling her hips.
Or fisting her hair.
Reese coughed a little too forcefully into her elbow. Leo winked at her, as if he knew exactly which images her mind was conjuring up and they shared a slow smile.
Oh God, she was doomed.
The doors of the elevator rolled open so suddenly, Reese sucked in a breath. And she never got that breath back, because the view that greeted her was the stuff of dreams. Hands clapped over her mouth, she preceded the men onto the concrete roof of the Bexley Theater, dropping the dance bag from her shoulder, her eyes tracing the lights and jagged edges of Manhattan.
In the scheme of New York City, they weren’t that high up, only about eight stories or so, but it was enough to see the constantly changing screens in Times Square, billboards, flashing lights, pedestrian traffic weaving together below, the Hudson in the distance, the marquees of several other theaters proclaiming their resident shows as Tony award winners or featuring famous actors.
Three days ago, she’d felt like gum on the sidewalk of this city, but in that moment, she was reminded why the work was worth the exhaustion. Looking out over the small section of the island that made up the landscape of her fantasies, her determination to make it on her own, of her own merit—as unlikely as that might be in the two weeks afforded her by the Victory Fund—was renewed.
“What do you think?” Leo asked, setting down the bag of bird seed behind her. “Was it worth putting up with me for another five minutes?”
“Oh, easily.” She took a deep breath and let it out, grateful the February wind dried the moisture in her eyes. Once all trace of her waterworks had gone, she turned around to find two pigeon lofts on the far end of the roof, the frame made of painted green metal, the front crafted out of wiry mesh. There was a little welcome sign fashioned above the pigeon-sized slot where the birds could come and go at will. “Wow. This is not what I pictured.”
Minh poked his finger through the wire, petting the neck of one the pigeons. There were at least four dozen and more on the way, now that feeding time was imminent. “What were you expecting?” asked the building manager with a curious smile.
“I thought you were going to kind of…” Reese wiggled her fingers at floor. “Scatter it.”
“Floor feeding? Not for my babies,” Minh crooned, gesturing at Leo to pick the feed bag back up. “Come on, man. Can’t you see they’re starving?”
“Sorry.” Reese and Leo traded an amused wince—and then she promptly grew distracted by the ripple of back muscles that took place when Leo held the bag aloft, pouring seed through the slot at the front of each loft.