She ached to find out why.
Ached to know anything more about Leo, really.
But she’d screwed herself over by not being upfront. If she came clean about her ulterior motives now, the last magical fifteen minutes would be seen as an act, when they were anything but. Far from it, actually. She’d forgotten just about everything in the path of those blue eyes.
Guilt pressed down on Reese’s shoulders, made worse by the fact that Leo was no longer looking her in the eye, a conflict waging in his expression. There was no choice but to leave and regroup. Think of another way to scrap her way onto a stage.
It wouldn’t be through Leo.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, the sincerity of those words pulling a string taut in her chest. “I just realized I’m late for something.”
With one last sweeping look at the gruff giant and his colorful, well-ordered baking paradise, Reese swept from the back room, pushing through the swinging door and walking at a fast clip toward the exit of the bakery. Jackie and Tad were in the middle of helping customers, Reese saw in her periphery, and she threw them the friendliest wave she could muster under the circumstances. Was the pressure in her chest really coming from leaving this man she’d only just met? It didn’t seem possible and yet, there was a sense of loss that grew stronger the closer she got to the stenciled glass door.
“Wait,” Leo said, thundering out of the back room behind her. “Reese.”
Her hand paused on the antique brass door handle, breath catching.
Don’t turn around. Keep going.
But then his warmth reached her back. Not touching, just close. And his big hand landed on her shoulder, setting off a little explosion of giddiness in her belly. “I made it awkward, didn’t I?” he said, quietly.
“What?” She had no choice but to turn around, her neck craning in order to look him in the eye. “No. You didn’t. I just…”
She just what?
Came in here with self-serving intentions?
Ding ding ding.
God, she didn’t want him to know that. Would hate for him to disregard her as a schemer. Even if this was their first and last meeting.
“I just, um…” She swallowed. “I have an early rehearsal.”
“Oh.” Some of the tension left his broad shoulders. “You’re already cast.”
Jesus. Why had she said that? It was an excuse she’d used seven hundred times to stave off unwanted attention from guys or at the end of a bad date. I have an early rehearsal. Goodnight. She’d neglected to consider that phrase might have a totally different meaning to the son of Broadway’s most legendary choreographer.
Say whatever you need to say to get out of here.
“Yes. I’m a chorus line dancer in…” Might as well swing for the fences and name a hit show. What did it matter? She’d never see him again. That thought caused her stomach to flop over. “Daliah’s Folly.”
“Wow. That’s the hot show right now. Sounds like the last thing you need is help,” Leo muttered to himself, that hand squeezing her shoulder gently, almost in apology. “Look, I’m not good at this, but…”
He was going to ask her out.
If she let him get that far, she would say yes.
It would be unconscionable.
She’d already lied to him. Once in earnest, once in omission.
Turning him down would be impossible, though.
Panicked, Reese did the only thing she could think of to stop him. She shot up onto her toes and melded their mouths together. A tingle started at her lips and blew down through her limbs, turning her boneless against him. And Leo wasted no time returning the kiss, almost as if he’d read her intentions and prepared himself in a split second, his lips softening and parting slightly along with hers, their breath escaping into one another’s mouth, before they slanted in opposite directions, their tongues meeting briefly, hesitantly, then with more assurance.
Their moans were intimate, breathy, for their ears alone.
Their eyes met with twin wonder, closing again, mouths locking.
It was the single best kiss of her life.
And Leo was only getting started. His touch wound into the back of her hair, cupping the curve of her head, a shift of his fingers on her scalp bringing goose bumps up on her arms, legs, neck. She tipped her head back, letting Leo step farther into her space, her breasts flattening on his apron, the kiss beginning to border on desperate. If they were alone in the back room, Reese was pretty sure her legs would be winding around his hips about now. No one had ever made her ache between her thighs so quickly and easily, the pulsations echoing in her temples.
Where was this going to end?
She was supposed to be gone by now.
This perfect kiss only hit home how much she’d messed up by lying.
It was Reese’s frustration with herself that bullied her into ending the kiss.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, turning and booking it down the avenue, leaving a stunned Leo in the door of the Cookie Jar. When he called her name again, more hoarsely this time, she turned a corner and broke into a run. There. She’d done it. Whatever strange magic had taken place in the bakery, the spell was broken now. Over and done with.
She had no way of knowing the story was only beginning.
Reese leaned against the outside wall of the Bexley Theater and plopped down on her duffel bag, elbows resting on her knees, head in hands.
It was Sunday morning, a mere fourteen hours since the kiss spun from gold. She’d just checked out of the cheap hotel room she’d booked for one night, hoping against hope that she could figure out her next move. She’d gotten away with a text message to her mother, explaining that Bernard Bexley would be posting his chosen ones this morning on the door of his theater. Which was a total scumbag lie and made Reese feel like a beast. Disappointing her one and only fan could wait one night, though, couldn’t it?
She lifted her head and stared out across Forty-fourth Street. At the food vendors cranking open their umbrellas, locals walking their dogs while staring bleary-eyed at their phones, cleaning staff coming out of buildings and locking up. There would be matinees at all of the Broadway theaters today. Around two o’clock this afternoon, there would be lines winding around the corner of the block, people clutching their tickets, anticipating a show that would transport them to Cuba or Chicago or the Serengeti.