“No.” Their foreheads met and rolled. “When I kiss you, there’s only you. Nothing else.”
They hummed into another light sipping of lips, Leo’s hand fisting in the front of her skirt, an arousing contrast to the restraint he was showing with his mouth.
“Ready to go?”
Thoughts scrambled, Reese could only nod.
Leo signaled for the check, grunting in offense and shaking his head when Reese offered to pay for half—causing a sheepish, inward sigh of relief. They waited while the waiter ran his credit card and brought back the receipt to be signed. Leo helped Reese out of the booth, assisting her in putting on her coat and rejoining their hands.
“Hey!” someone called. “Mean Baker!”
“Oh my God, I thought it was him,” another diner gasped. “See if he’ll take a selfie.”
“Christ,” Leo muttered, starting to pull her toward the exit. Then he stopped suddenly. “What was it you said at my place? Don’t overthink my side of every interaction. Give people a backstory and make it about them?”
The way he recalled exactly what she’d said made her forget to breathe. “Yeah,” she managed around the flutters. “Maybe they’re aspiring bakers. Or maybe they don’t like being bombarded outside of their job by TikTokers, either, and admire the way you handled it.”
“I thought it was TalkTalk.” Reese burst into laughter and his deep rumble joined hers. “All right, fine, let’s take some selfies.”
Reese tucked her clasped hands up beneath her chin, uncaring that her grin was verging on maniacal and watched Leo suffer through selfies with four different people. All while a Tony award winner watched in stony silence from a nearby booth.
On the way out of the restaurant, she leaned into Leo and kissed his cheek. “I take it back. That was way better than smiling at him.”
This girl made him feel light.
He couldn’t recall a single other time in his life that the emotion of happiness was so obvious that he could recognize it in the moment. Call it by name. But walking crosstown holding Reese’s hand, he knew. Call him crazy, but he knew she was the one. The fact that they weren’t on solid ground and didn’t have a spoken commitment made him anxious, no denying it, but if having her meant patience, he’d dig to the bottom of the barrel for it. And then he’d find another barrel and crack that one open, too. She was worth that and more.
There was no mistaking her discomfort when he brought up dancing tonight. Again. While that really confused him, he didn’t want to prod the sore spot any more. For a long time, he’d been protective of his baking. His parents never showed interest or encouraged him, so he’d built a wall around that part of his identity. If he didn’t reveal that part of himself to people, they couldn’t tell him he should be playing football or taking a job in the theater industry, like his parents.
Opening the Cookie Jar had been kind of an exposing experience. He’d made himself wide open for criticism. For judgment and failure. Maybe Reese had a similar wall erected around her love of dancing, although…that didn’t track, since she had a supportive mother. Maybe it had something to do with her father. Or perhaps being a Broadway performer was still relatively new and she didn’t want to jinx herself by getting comfortable. Complacent.
Whatever the reason she didn’t want to talk about her job, Leo would wait for her to tell him herself. They had plenty of time.
If she decided to see him again. Didn’t he promise her they’d take it one day at a time?
One that should have made Leo feel like he skated on thin ice. But…he didn’t. How was he supposed to be anything but optimistic as hell when she smiled over at him, the February breeze blowing a strand of dark blonde hair across her face?
“Are you okay walking or should we grab a cab?” he asked.
“I’m happy walking. I love the city at night.” Their joined hands swung between them. “Besides, I’m a straight shot west on this street. It’s not far.”
“Good. I’ll walk you to the door.”
Did he imagine the way the blood drained out of her face? Or was it just the streetlight hitting her in a certain way. “Oh,” she laughed. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I’m not letting you walk home alone, Reese,” he said firmly, unsurprised by the protectiveness building in his gut, because what didn’t this girl make him feel? “You don’t have to invite me up. That’s not what it’s about. I just need you safe.”
After a moment, she gave a jerky nod. “Okay. Just to the front door of the building, then. It’s not that I don’t want you to come up. I just have a really early workshop—”
“And tomorrow is Sunday, so that means a matinee performance, in addition to your regular show,” he said, squeezing her hand. “You don’t have to explain.”
This time, when she looked over at him, he couldn’t read her expression. But he couldn’t deny the intuition that he was missing something here. With her. About her. Once again, he reminded himself to be patient. It was right on the tip of his tongue to ask Reese to spend the night at his place, but the last thing he needed to add was pressure.
As badly as he ached to be inside of her again.
The image of those thigh high tights would not leave him alone.
“Bryant Park,” he rasped, jerking his chin in the direction of the landmark to his left. “You’ve probably been here a few times by now.”
“Actually,” she murmured. “I haven’t. Show me?”
Leo steered her into a turn and headed up the wide concrete steps, guiding her into the nearly deserted park. On a cool night in February, the crowd was thinner than usual, save people buying coffee from the vendors that surrounded the giant green. “There’s an ice-skating rink here at Christmas.”
Reese sent him an interested look. “Do you skate?”
“Not for a million dollars,” he answered without hesitating. “They never have my shoe size, anyway. It’s always been my get out of jail free card.” They stopped at the edge of the sprawling lawn, the trees whispering in the wind behind them, the sounds of city traffic humming on all sides. “I bet you’re a great skater, aren’t you?”