“Yeah,” she managed, pulling air into her lungs. “So, okay. M-maybe we can have one brainstorming session about the, um…the Sweetest Fix. I mean, since it was partly my idea and all. That only seems fair.”
A combination of relief and victory lit his face. “Brainstorming session. Yeah.”
“We should probably have it somewhere…” She pulled her coat closed to hide her body’s intense response to the kiss. “Public.”
“If we want to get anything done,” he said slowly, tongue pressed into his cheek. “This isn’t ah…typical for me. I just…want you to know that.”
“You don’t spontaneously make out with strangers the first two times you meet them?” A laugh left her on an exhale. There was more to it. More than kissing. The kissing seemed to happen almost as a given because of the push and pull between them, the forming connection. “No, it’s not typical for me either.”
They looked at each other for several beats. “I guess you should give me your number then,” he said finally.
“I guess I should.” She waited while he took out his phone, reciting his number while she punched it in. “I have some—” She stopped herself before she could say “auditions.” Was this…going to be okay? Seeing this guy after meeting him under false pretenses? Or was she signing up for something seriously problematic?
Tell him the truth. Now.
It was right there, poised on the tip of her tongue.
I don’t have a job yet.
I’m sleeping on a beanbag chair in a closet.
I was supposed to audition for your father.
But she couldn’t pull the trigger.
Frankly, it was embarrassing to have reached this point. To have been celebrated as a child competition dancer, cast in a huge commercial and hailed as the next big thing. And then kind of just…fizzle out. Go nowhere. To suddenly be twenty-one and have no college credits, no future prospects in this career she’d foreseen. The thought of Leo knowing those things about her made Reese queasy.
If she made it…no, when she landed a spot on a chorus line, she’d have the confidence to explain. And she would succeed. She’d do everything in her power to get hired. She’d stretch her capabilities to their limit to realize the ambitions she’d had since childhood.
If Leo was still in the picture when that happened, she’d tell him everything. There was a chance he might not even be around that long. Right? Maybe after some time in each other’s company, this…powerful magic would fade? And while that seemed highly unlikely while standing in his epic chocolate-scented warmth, could one little date hurt? She couldn’t remember any other guy giving her butterflies quite like this.
“I have late-morning rehearsals. Classes. And shows obviously. Five nights a week,” Reese said, digging herself deeper into the hole, dirt flying up and landing back down on her head. For a moment, she couldn’t look him in the eye, but he tipped her chin up and gave her that lopsided smile again. “Since you work mornings,” she breathed, in danger of swooning, “Maybe late lunch would be best.”
All he did was nod. Reach down and take her hand, picking her bag up with the other. He brought her back down in the elevator, her head resting on his shoulder. When they reached the bottom, she wasn’t sure what to do. It almost felt odd to simply walk away from him after what they’d shared on the roof.
“Um…” She adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder. “I guess—”
The sound of her phone ringing cut her off.
Leo had his own cell pressed to his ear.
Lip caught between her teeth, Reese fished her phone out of her bag and answered. “Stratton residence.”
He huffed a laugh. “May I please speak to Reese?”
She covered the receiver and called, “Reese?” A beat passed, her hand dropping away. “Hello, this is Reese. Who is calling?”
“Leo. So nice of you to call. It’s been an age. How may I help you?”
“By coming to lunch with me tomorrow.” Lord, his voice. All deep and crackly. “One o’clock?”
“That sounds good.” Well aware she was blushing, she hung up. “Text me the place.” Again, he just nodded, watching her, obviously in no rush to move. Apparently it would be up to her to break the huddle. “Well. Bye for now.”
He grunted, but finally started to back up, both of them turning and walking away at the same time. She lost count of how many times she glanced back and caught him doing the same. And it was a wicked combination, the lightness in her step mixed with the foreboding in her stomach.
Early the next morning, Leo stood in the back of the Cookie Jar dipping madeleines in melted chocolate, sprinkling the dipped end with crushed walnuts, putting them on the drying rack, the routine ingrained in his muscle memory. Even though he knew damn well it was only eight o’clock in the morning, his eye continued to stray to the clock, usually finding only a minute had passed since the last time he checked.
He wasn’t too proud to admit that he’d splashed on some extra aftershave this morning, either, frowning down at the tiny print on the bottle to see how long the stupid woodsy scent was supposed to last.
“Leo?” Tad blew in from the front of the bakery tangled up in his apron. “I just got a call from my mother. She fell down again in the apartment and she refuses to use the button thing I got her, even though it’s hanging around her neck. She just needs a boost back up onto the couch. Preferably before Live with Kelly and Ryan, she says. It should only take me an hour to get to the Bronx and back.” Clearly flustered, he finally got himself free of the white strings, hanging it on one of the designated hooks just inside the swinging door. “I know you hate working the front, but Jackie is twenty minutes away and if I wait that long, my mom is going to give me the silent treatment for a week.” For a moment, he looked thoughtful. “Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.”
Leo wiped his hands on a clean rag with a grimace. “Go. I’ll watch the front.”
“Thanks, boss.” Tad leaned in to hug Leo and got a madeleine shoved in his mouth before he could get too close. “When it comes to customers, just comment on the weather. Compliment a piece of their clothing. It’s easy.”