If there was ever an opening to pop his head through the swinging door and get a look at the girl who owned that interesting voice, now was the time. Normally he couldn’t be remotely tempted to leave his baking haven in the back to do a meet and greet with a stranger.
Which is probably why Jackie said, “Actually, he’s the owner. Comes in early to bake everything, then skedaddles.”
Leo set down his piping bag slowly, wiping his floury hands down the front of his white apron. Was he considering going out to the front? For a girl? That behavior didn’t track. He hadn’t asked anyone on a date since culinary school, for a lot of the same reasons he stayed in the back of the bakery. He didn’t know how to be entertaining. Or romantic. His associations with women now were more casual. Although he couldn’t remember the last time he’d associated with someone. Maybe before Thanksgiving?
Last summer, on a particularly slow day at the Cookie Jar, Jackie and Tad had set him up a dating profile—Leo, baker, 28, UWS—and convinced him to meet a few women for dinner. On each one of the dates, he’d done a lot of listening, trying to keep up with the breakneck subject changes. And a lot of eating. Not a lot of connecting, though. And Jackie assured him, over and over again, that connecting was the end game. Not simply getting a look at the restaurant’s dessert tray.
Bottom line, Leo was content to be alone with his ingredients. To avoid that look women gave him when the conversation ran out that said, what else you got? He understood there was a certain gratitude that was expected when a woman went out with him, considering he tested the seams of every dress shirt he owned and grunted as a form of communication, so he always asked them out again. Some of them even said yes, but he’d yet to find someone he could relax around. He’d been more than happy to give up on the endeavor.
“Actually,” Jackie said on the other side of the door. “You’re just in time to help me and Tad out with something.”
“I’m Tad. Hey.”
“And I’m Jackie. Double hey.”
“Hey.” The Voice came closer. “What are you working on?”
“We’re brainstorming an idea for Valentine’s Day.”
“We could use an outside perspective,” Tad added. “You definitely fit the demo.”
“In a roundabout way, yes,” Jack said. “Generally speaking, men are our main customer on Valentine’s Day. Buying something for their girlfriends. Usually chocolates.”
“Ahh…so you’re wondering what I’d like to receive? As a gift?”
Leo frowned at the door. How ridiculous that he didn’t like the idea of her having a boyfriend. The idiot probably wouldn’t know what the hell to pick out of the display case. Honestly, he didn’t want to hear her start a sentence with the words, “My boyfriend…”
So he cracked his neck once and pushed open the door, stepping out into the open.
“Leo!” Jackie exclaimed, with an edge to her tone, probably since she’d covered for him and then he turned her into a liar. But his employee’s subtle admonishment faded out like the final note of a song when he spotted the owner of The Voice.
The phrase “doe eyes” had never been more appropriate.
She blinked her big, brown ones at him from the other side of the counter and took a small step backward, her hands joining at her waist and wringing together.
“Hi,” she mouthed, no sound coming out, but he wasn’t sure she realized that.
In Leo’s head, she’d been pretty. But he’d wildly miscalculated.
This girl was stunning. Not in a quiet way, either. Her long, dark blonde hair fell around a face that made his jugular tighten. Generous lips, a beauty mark perched on the right side. To say she was sexy wouldn’t be enough.
And even through her leggings and purple coat, he could tell she was a dancer. He’d grown up around enough of them to know. This close to the Theater District, there was no chance he was wrong. Which meant that, even if he had a sliver of a chance with this girl, on the insane possibility that she was single, he couldn’t go there.
“Uh…boss? You with us?” Tad prompted out of the side of his mouth.
He cleared his throat. “Sorry. I’m Leo.”
Those magical lips of hers twitched. “Why would you be sorry about that?” She took two sweeping steps, toes out, toward the counter, confirming his suspicion that she was a dancer. “I’m Reese. Nice to meet you.”
When she extended a hand, he swallowed and took it, incapable of reining in the static that crawled up his arm and warmed his shoulder. Reluctantly, he took his hand back, grunting in the general direction of his employees. “Don’t let me interrupt.”
They were looking at him and the dancer, Reese, like they’d just shot rainbows from their fingertips.
“Uh…” Jackie recovered first, clapping her hands together and jangling the gold bands of her bracelets against her deep brown skin. “Right. So…Reese. If you wouldn’t mind helping us out…”
“I don’t mind,” Reese said, still looking at Leo, her brow puckered slightly.
He was staring right back. Probably with the same frown.
Couldn’t seem to stop looking, despite the reminder she was a bad idea. He’d learned a long time ago that having Bernard Bexley for a father made him deceptively attractive to dancers. It was extremely unlikely that she was here because of that relationship. It wasn’t something that he advertised. Every so often, there was a mention of Leo in an article about his father, but it was usually buried at the end and lacking in important detail.
As soon as she found out who he was, though…
Well, he knew what happened next.
“What would be the ultimate bakery gift from a boyfriend for Valentine’s Day?” Jackie asked the question, chin propped on her hands. “Do you mind me asking if you have a boyfriend?”
“Jackie,” Leo muttered, finally managing to tear his eyes off the girl, pretending to reorganize one of the display cases.
“I don’t. Have a boyfriend, I mean.”
There went his gaze, zipping right back to her, relief curling in his chest.
“I’m not sure how this is going to make me sound, but…my perfect gift from a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day would be something I could look cute eating.”