“I’m seeing her tomorrow. You’re definitely not invited to that.” He cleared his throat, threw back a single shoulder. “I don’t know. She just needs to keep it…day to day right now.”
Both employees rocked back on their heels.
“So she’s not interested in a commitment?”
Leo’s head came up. “Who said that?”
“I’m just picking up on a little unwillingness to get attached. Am I wrong?”
Leo hated to admit Jackie was right. Between Reese balking at the prospect of dating at all, clamming up when it came to certain topics, not wanting him to see her perform and refusing to invite him upstairs last night, all signs pointed to Reese wanting to keep things light. But there was no way to explain how his gut believed the opposite. When they were together, the worry of her backing off was completely absent.
“The real test will be Valentine’s Day,” Tad said, looking smug. “You’ll know where you stand by then.”
“I’m not putting that kind of pressure on her.” Fuck, he was starting to sweat. “Do you think I should plan something for Valentine’s Day?”
Jackie and Tad sucked in a simultaneous breath. “Risky move,” Tad said. “Very risky. Relationship is quite new.”
“Could also be a baller move,” Jackie chimed in. “It depends.”
“Christ, go eat your soup.” Leo waved them off. “You’re sowing chaos.”
“No, no! Let us help.” Jackie bounced side to side, stilling suddenly. “Oh, I have the best idea. Plan a group hang out for Valentine’s. After the bakery closes. That way, you’re expressing your desire to spend this romantic holiday with her, but you’re also keeping it casual, in case she’s skittish.”
He didn’t hate the sound of that. He didn’t care how he spent time with her as long as it happened. Often. “I’ll ask her,” he relented, pointing at the back exit. “Go.”
Jackie and Tad disappeared, leaving Leo to eye the swinging door to the front of the house thoughtfully. Wiping both hands on his apron, he shouldered his way to the front, crossing his arms and leaning back against the rear counter. Only a few seconds passed before a group brought the cold air in, laughing and rubbing their hands together. They were young, phones in hand, reminding him a little of the selfie people from the night before. Instinct told him to stay quiet and try to blend in until they addressed him and he could just give them what they wanted, send them on their way. But he heard Reese’s voice in his head.
You’re genuine and interesting. I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.
Give them a story. Get out of your head.
“Hey,” he rumbled, whipping out a sheet of wax paper, picking up on the very distinct scent of marijuana. “Let me guess. You folks just came from church.”
They all jerked around, wide-eyed. And promptly burst into laughter.
“I told you the Mean Baker was cool.”
One of the young guys approached, looking at the display case the way one might look at a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Behind him, two girls whispered furiously to each other, one of them making swoon eyes at the kid’s back. “Damn. Those brownies look insane.”
“They might not have the ingredient you’re looking for,” Leo said.
The young man snorted, glancing back over his shoulder, definitely making goo-goo eyes right back at the interested party. Leo studied the guy closest to him, noting he was probably no more than seventeen, probably limited cash-wise, but trying his best to impress the girl and hell, even Leo could relate to that now.
Leo slid open the bakery case and wrapped a frosted purple cupcake in wax paper, sliding it across the counter to the kid. “Here,” he said. “Give her that.”
A disbelieving laugh puffed out of the young man. “Seriously? Thanks, man.”
“No problem.” He nodded once, crossed his arms. “Now beat it.”
The kid barked a laugh and turned back to his friends, handing off the cupcake to the girl with a flourish. And when the whole group cheered like it was a marriage proposal, the other guys in the group teasing the young man mercilessly on the way out of the shop, Leo couldn’t help but crack a smile.
“What do you know?” he muttered to himself, picking up a rag to clean off the counter, but not really seeing it. Seeing Reese, instead. “It works.”
This was one of those times. When something seemed like a really great idea. But upon execution? Begins to feel like a potentially humiliating mistake.
Reese hopped out of the Uber in her high heels, arms crossed tightly over her midsection, Leo’s building entrance only twenty yards away.
Seemed more like a mile.
She might be a Wisconsin girl, but with nothing but panties and thigh highs beneath her coat, even she could admit it was too cold to walk, so she’d spent ten dollars on the quick cab ride.
People only showed up naked at their love interest’s door in movies.
In real life, she might look ridiculous, but she’d come too far to turn back now.
At least the prospect of showing up at Leo’s apartment door naked was distracting her from everything else. The pressure of her upcoming open calls, perhaps the final ones of her dance career. The ticking clock on her time in the city. The pit of untruths she’d dug herself. This naked party trick might be corny or played out, but it was giving her something to focus on besides her potential defeat.
Reese drew to a stop in front of Leo’s building, stepping inside the vestibule and ringing the buzzer for his apartment. She smiled when the inner door clicked open within a second. Giddiness stole over her on the way up the stairs, the thrumming between her thighs growing heavier, even more unbearable than it had been all morning. This was some 9½ Weeks type stuff. There was no turning her off anymore. Even in the free class this morning, her movements were executed with more sensuality than ever, her palms raking down her belly, her hips giving that extra roll, fingertips cruising along her scalp, senses heightened.
In front of Leo’s door now, her knees shook, anxious heat making her skin flushed, dewy in that intimate place between her thighs. The lock slid on the other side of the door and there he was. I’m really doing this. I’m actually doing this.