“Yeah,” Leo rumbled. “You have that booth in back?”
The man craned his neck to glance back at the restaurant. “The party sitting there are finishing up, then it’s all yours. Give me five.”
Leo nodded and the guy took off again, picking up empty plates and wine glasses on his way to the back of the space, disappearing into what looked like the kitchen.
“How do you know him?” Reese asked.
“I come by twice a week to make deliveries. We’re their dessert supplier.”
A smile twitched her lips. “Are you trying to impress me?”
Reese laughed and leaned her head against his shoulder, sighing over the way he automatically wrapped an arm around her upper half, pulling her closer. The ease of them, the sense of belonging was too nice. Too perfect. And she didn’t want to second-guess it right now.
I’ll work twice as hard next week. Dance until I drop.
Anything was better than using Leo as a ladder rung—and she would make it.
She’d see her name one day in a Playbill. She had to believe that.
Everything would be easier once she had some solid ground beneath her feet.
“Table’s ready,” called Tattoo Sleeves, waving menus at them.
They were led through a velvet curtain, which helped reduce the noise in the rear of the space. Tables were more spread out, their booth in the corner. Private, dark, intimate. Reese felt sexy just sliding onto the pillowed seat, Leo taking the spot beside her and resting a hand on her knee, squeezing it and sending a pull of longing straight to her core.
A bottle of red wine was brought over, on the house, though Leo ordered a beer regardless. They dipped crusty bread in olive oil, ordered a bunch of appetizers to share, and Reese couldn’t deny it was already the best meal she’d had in a week. Possibly ever.
Leo’s middle finger drew a circle on the inside of her knee and she shivered.
“Cold?” he asked.
She squinted over at him playfully. “The cold doesn’t exist to me. I’m from Wisconsin.”
“That explains you wearing shorts in February,” he said, earning himself an elbow nudge. “The winters back home are that bad, huh?”
“Let’s put it this way. We didn’t have snow days. We had snow weeks. That’s how long it took us to dig out the driveway.”
He resumed his stroking of the inside of her knee. Between his touch, the romantic atmosphere and the glass of wine she’d already drunk, she already felt achy and swollen in her panties. “And it was always just you and mom to do the digging?”
“Since I was eleven, yes. That’s when my father was offered a tech job in Florida. We were supposed to follow him after the school year ended, but the separation made my parents realize they’d kind of grown apart, so…we stayed in Cedarburg. I hear from him on birthdays and Christmas, but it’s not the relationship I wish we had.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, meaning it.
Reese nodded, gave him a lopsided smile. “Anyway, my mom made a game out of shoveling snow, so it was fun, instead of a chore. For every twenty scoops of snow we shoveled, we added another marshmallow to our hot chocolate afterward. By the end, we needed an entirely separate cup for excess mallows.”
“Excess mallows.” He seemed to turn that over in his mind, finding it amusing. “Is it too late to rename my shop?”
“Yes. I love the Cookie Jar as a name. It’s so welcoming.” Feeling loose-limbed and relaxed, she watched Leo pour her another glass of wine. “What about your mother? Are you close?”
He hedged. “We’re kind of a holidays and birthdays only family. I have a good relationship with my mother, but I wouldn’t call us close. She runs a charity that hosts kids from other cities, brings them to Broadway shows to foster an appreciation for the arts. It keeps her busy. She lives separately from my father now, but they never divorced. They’re good friends, actually. They’re just too fussy to live happily with another person.”
She exhaled. “Wow. That all sounds so sophisticated.”
Leo shrugged. “Only people with a lot of money have that kind of option.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, searching for a way to veer the conversation away from Bernard Bexley. “What about you? Did you get the fussy gene?”
“Only with my kitchen drawers.”
“Really?” She laughed. “Do you have your utensils organized according to height or is it an alphabetical order situation?”
“Ah, I’m not that bad,” he chuckled, turning his beer in a circle on the table. “It’s more like controlled chaos. I’m the only one who knows where I keep the whisk or the piping tips. If they’re not in that exact place when I go to look, they might as well be lost forever. I’m never going to find them.”
Reese pursed her lips. “I think what you’re describing is the male condition.”
“Yeah?” He smiled into a sip of his beer, set it back down. “What do you know about the male condition?”
She paused to think. “Nothing, actually. I’m mainly basing this on the reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond my mother forces me to watch.” They shared a laugh, doing that thing they always did, moving closer in that uniquely unconscious way, Reese’s body turning toward Leo’s in the cushioned seat, the outside of her breast pressing to his shoulder.
Eventually they couldn’t get any closer and Leo made a frustrated sound, lifting Reese’s left knee, draping her leg over his thigh. “This okay?”
“Yes.” Her whisper sounded a little winded as she cinched her right leg over. “Just let me make sure I’m not flashing the restaurant.”
“Sorry,” he leaned back slightly and glanced down, his Adam’s apple sliding up and down at the sight of his big hand cradling her thigh. “I thought you had those leggings things on under your skirt.”
“No. Just thigh highs.”
“What are those?”
Instead of telling him, she tugged up the hem of her skirt, showing him where the thick, black material of the stockings ended, leaving the tops of her thighs bare.
“Jesus, Reese,” he growled, his hand dragging up her leg to brush the exposed swath of skin, the tip of his index finger tucking beneath the edge and sliding left to right. “I guess I’m going to eat dinner hard tonight.”