In her peripheral vision, she noticed the waiter approaching and pulled her skirt back down. “Sorry about that,” she managed through the clamor of her pulse.
Both of them seemed to regroup while the waiter set down their appetizers. Miniature pork belly tacos, dates wrapped in bacon, shrimp bathed in soy sauce and ginger. Basically she’d died and gone to heaven. Leo didn’t take his hand off her thigh throughout the meal, using his left one to eat, meaning a lot of bites got stuck in her throat and required healthy gulps of wine to wash them down. By the time the waiter brought out the chocolate-filled churro for them to share, the thrum between her legs had turned into the drum section of a marching band, beating toward the crescendo.
It didn’t help that Leo watched her in the candlelight like she was the actual dessert. Having her legs parted, even if she’d been careful to keep herself publicly decent, was fast becoming a problem, so she removed her thigh from Leo’s and crossed them securely, almost moaning over the friction of her own thighs meeting.
“Everything okay over there?”
Had his voice gotten deeper since they’d arrived? She stopped just short of fanning herself. “Yes.” Get yourself together. “I just hope they’re not charging you for this churro, since you’re the one who made it.”
His lips twitched as he picked up the cinnamon-covered dough, holding it to her lips. “Take the first bite.”
“Yes, sir.” She sunk her teeth into the crunchy dessert, chewing, licking sugar from the corner of her mouth and watched his chest shudder up and down, telling her she was far from the only one getting worked up. “Oh my God,” she moaned, the taste of the churro momentarily demanding her attention. “This is phenomenal. I didn’t see these in the bakery.”
He took a healthy bite, his throat muscles working in a swallow. “I only make these for the restaurant. A couple of other ones, too. Tres leches cake. An almond tart…”
“Do you supply to other restaurants?”
“Not yet. I’m thinking about it.” He cleared his throat, shifting in the seat. “Maybe opening up into the shop next door and expanding the kitchen. Right now, we don’t have room for another baker, but the idea is to have someone there to focus on restaurant contracts.”
“That’s amazing, Leo.” Her hand flew to his arm. “Do you have a timeline?”
“Not yet.” A beat passed. “You’re the first person I’ve told about it. Still kind of chewing the whole idea over.”
She forced a solemn look onto her face. “You’re worried about having to rearrange the utensils, aren’t you?”
His smile tied a knot in her chest. “You got me.” They stared at each other through a few second of silence, the noise around them drowned out by her heartbeat, his smile eventually slipping into a more serious expression. “I want to ask you about your job, Reese. I just get the feeling you’re protective about it. I don’t want to make you run again.”
Her stomach dropped, but she did her best not to show a reaction. “I won’t run.” She took a long sip of wine to moisten her dry throat. Oh God, please, I don’t want to lie to this man anymore. The knowledge that she wasn’t using him, as originally intended, and was trying to make it on her own merit did nothing to calm her nerves. When she pictured the horror on his face when she told him she was not, in fact, a gainfully employed dancer, but a dime a dozen hopeful sleeping in a closet, she could only croak, “What do you want to ask me?”
When he blew out a thoughtful breath and turned in the seat, like he couldn’t wait to find out more about her, she fell for him a little more. “Is Daliah’s Folly your first show? Did you travel from Wisconsin for open calls or did you move here first?”
A combination of relief and resignation settled over her.
For better or worse, this was the moment of truth. These were direct questions. She couldn’t dig herself any deeper. He deserved to know whose meal he was paying for, who he was spending his time with. His reaction was irrelevant at this point. Whatever it was, she would deserve it. But she liked him too much to tell him any more falsehoods.
A hard lump formed in her throat. “Leo—”
Loud voices cut her off, coming from a group of people entering the back room through the velvet curtain. They were laughing so loud, it was impossible to ignore them. She turned her head and immediately recognized the man at the center of the pack.
Tate Dillinger. Tony award-winning dancer.
Also known as the friend who’d burned Leo in high school to get ahead.
“What are the odds, huh?” Leo said quietly.
You have no idea.
Reese’s gaze shot back to Leo’s, finding the skin around his mouth pulled taut. Needing to be his ally, her hand curled into his automatically, finding it clammier than before. She rummaged through her mind for something supportive to say, but everything sounded hypocritical. Because it was.
“Hey,” she settled on, her voice sounding strained. “You know, the best way to deal with this might be to smile at him. Take it from a girl who did cut-throat dance competitions her whole life. There’s always someone walking by who beat you last year. Or reminds you of a terrible day. Sometimes if you pretend you’ve shaken it off, your head follows.” She threaded their fingers together more securely. “Besides, if he has half a brain, he regrets losing you as a friend more than you regret your part in what happened.”
Leo considered her as she spoke. His expression was unreadable, so she definitely wasn’t expecting it when he said, “God, I’m fucking crazy about you, Reese.”
“Oh,” she whispered, semi-dizzy. Was this swooning? “I’m crazy about you right back,” she said, meaning every word. But also extremely aware that if Tate Dillinger hadn’t walked in, they would be having a much different conversation.
“Oh yeah?” Leo said.
“And I don’t care who walks in.” He ducked his head on one of those rumbling chuckles. “Doesn’t seem to matter as long as I’m sitting with you.”
He leaned in and brushed their lips together, Reese allowing hers to part so he could sample her with a slow, restrained kiss, their tongues meeting briefly, yet sparking enough electricity to power the entire city block. “You know,” she murmured, “kissing your date is probably just as effective as smiling…i-in terms of showing an old rival that you’re on to better things. Maybe you should do it again.”