“That narrows it down,” Leo grumbled.
Reese flushed and ducked her head, looking up at him through her eyelashes. And he almost dropped a tray of blondies, his tongue feeling oddly thick in his mouth.
Never in his life had he accidentally blurted something.
Not talking enough was usually the problem.
What the hell was going on here?
“That’s a really good point,” Tad said, doing a pathetic job of pretending to clean the top of the counter. “So we’re talking something that wouldn’t get stuck in your teeth.”
“Yes.” Reese nodded once. “But also something that feels personal. You know what I mean? I don’t want to get what everyone else is getting.” She gave a wry twist of her lips. “Wow, I am demanding. Maybe there’s a reason I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Jackie and Tad laughed.
Leo narrowed his eyes at her. Was she one of these people who made fun of themselves in order to receive compliments? The deepening flush of her skin and the renewed wringing of her hands said no. She almost seemed…nervous about something. An odd disposition for someone who probably performed in front of crowds. Who was this girl?
“What’s your perfect bite?”
Leo’s abrupt question startled her. See, this is what he meant about only asking the important questions. He wouldn’t know a segue if it bit him in the ass.
“My…perfect bite?” She dropped into first position and scanned the display case. “I’ve never thought about it.”
He had. At least four times since laying eyes on her.
She’d dropped right into a conversation with strangers as if she’d known them for years, hadn’t even flinched when they asked for her opinion, a left turn for the average person. And he liked her opinion, too. She didn’t give them an arbitrary answer just to make small talk. All those ingredients mixed together made her fun, smart, interesting so he could bet on a refined nut. A more complex palate of salty and sweet. Chocolate, thanks to her voice. It was like a ripple of melted ganache and he could hear her moaning after a bite of the good stuff.
Thinking of what else would make her moan, it became necessary to distract himself or tent the front of his apron. Sliding open the refrigerated case, he used a square of wax paper to take out a chocolate cherry bomb sprinkled with pieces of candied almond and slid it across the counter toward her. “Eat that.”
“Oh.” She came the remaining distance to the counter and picked up the cherry bomb, inspecting it from all sides. “That’s so funny. I was eyeing this.”
Leo nodded firmly, trying not to let it show how much that gratified him.
“Okay.” She shifted. “Here’s the thing about this one. It’s hard to tell if this is a two biter or a one biter. It’s right on the borderline. My instinct is to just pop it right in, but I could be risking chipmunk cheeks. Or I could go the safe route and split it up.”
He had the strangest urge to chuckle.
“Risk it, risk it,” Jackie and Tad chanted, pounding their fists on the counter.
“Okay. Here goes.” Reese tossed back her head and threw the cherry bomb into her mouth like she was taking a shot of tequila. Almost immediately, her eyes flew wide, her cheeks bulging out on either side. “Wrong call,” she slurred around a mouthful of chocolate.
Leo handed her a napkin and watched in amusement as she bent forward and waved her hands, as if that was going to help her swallow. “Am I going to have to Heimlich you?”
She straightened, visibly pulling herself together, though she kept a hand over her mouth when she spoke again. “That was incredible. You didn’t tell me there was a cherry inside. I was caught off guard by the gush, but it was perfect. Exactly what I’d cobble together if I could pick from a hundred different ingredients. How did you do that?”
“Leo has a gift,” Jackie explained. “He likes to convince people they’re wrong about what they prefer. It’s infuriating and inexplicable.”
Reese considered him, finally taking her hand away from her mouth to reveal not a trace of the cherry bomb she’d just eaten. “There’s something kind of eye-opening about it. Maybe I don’t know myself as well as I think, since I was going to settle on an éclair.” The girl gasped suddenly, transferring her attention back to Jackie. “I have it. The Valentine’s Day promotion of a lifetime. We all want something that shows the person we’ve been dating has been paying attention. That they know our taste. Right?”
“Right…” Jackie said thoughtfully. “Except some people, and I’m not generalizing, will be lucky to remember Valentine’s Day at all. Men. I’m talking about men.”
Tad screwed up his face. “I resent that.”
“Sure, you’re totally right,” continued Reese. “A lot of customers won’t know what their significant others wants, but with a few simple questions…”
“Leo will. Bravo,” Tad said, nodding in approval. “It’s a great idea.”
“Sure is,” Leo drawled. “For someone else.” That shocked a laugh out of Reese and the husky music of it almost robbed Leo of his train of thought. Swallowing hard, he dropped his attention from her mouth. “I can see this turning into customers asking for relationship advice. And it requires me to talk to a lot of people. I’d rather walk on Legos.”
“What if you do it online?” Reese suggested. “They can fill out a form…”
He grunted. “You’re pretty willing to sign me up for a lot of work.”
“It was just nice.” She gestured toward the cherry bombs. “Really nice. Having someone take the time to pinpoint what I like. People will love it. And even if it ends up being wrong and some dumb-dumb gives his boyfriend caramel when the dude hates caramel, at least it will prompt a conversation about likes and dislikes. It’s a win-win if you think about it.”
The way she said “caramel” with her Wisconsin accent was ridiculous.
He shouldn’t like it so much.
“Come on, Leo,” Jackie said. “It’s a great way to engage the public.”
“Maybe he’s not up to the task.” Reese sniffed, picking non-existent lint off her collar. “Maybe he got lucky with the cherry bomb.”
Tad and Jackie sucked in identical breaths.