Jade comes to have lunch with me at work on Thursday. We take our food to the ice where the team is doing skills work—lunch and a show.
“How much longer until Anna is back?” she asks as she fishes out another chip from the bag in her hand and tosses it in her mouth.
“Not long at all. Another couple of days. A week at most.”
“Well…” I start and then sneak a glance at Leo on the ice. “I was thinking of applying for some entry-level photography jobs, working as an assistant or apprentice.”
My best friend smiles. “Damn, he’s good.”
“Who?” I look around and then take a bite of my pizza.
“Leo fucking Lohan, that’s who. He really did fuck the confidence back in you.”
I smother a laugh with my arm as I chew and don’t bother denying it. I didn’t even realize how I was holding myself back until I wasn’t. None of it was intentional, but I guess I wasn’t willing to put myself out there professionally, so I didn’t have to worry about another possible blow.
I swallow and take a long drink of water. “He’s pretty great.”
“I’m happy for you, babe.” She squeezes my knee. “Truly. I’ve got my eye on him, but I’m happy for you.”
“Thank you.” I laugh. Honestly, he’s so different than Rhyse, my early fears of dating him because he’s a professional athlete are gone.
“So… are we telling Coach Miller any time soon?” She looks out at the action on the ice. Dad is skating around the perimeter, calling out orders every few seconds.
“We haven’t talked about it, but yeah, I think we’re going to have no other choice. We’re spending so much time together, sneaking time during the day when we’re both free and hanging out at night when he’s not traveling. Mom knows I’m dating someone. She sniffed that out real quick, but I told her it wasn’t serious, and I promised to bring him for Sunday dinner if that changed.”
“Now, that’s a dinner I want an invite to.” She stands. “I have to get back to work. I got my first real writing assignment.”
“Ooooh. Is it about bridezillas? Please say bridezillas.”
“No.” She smiles and gives her a head a shake. “I’m writing about wedding cake. Specifically, the most sought out wedding cakes in the state.”
“Ooooh, cake.” I place a hand on my stomach. My appetite is like no other lately.
Her face lights up. “It’s a short online piece about this amazing local wedding cake business. I go Saturday to meet the owners and sample some cake.”
“Wow. Best job ever.”
“You should come,” she says and then nods her head. “Yeah. The magazine told me to grab a couple of photos while I’m there.”
“Don’t they have staff photographers for that kind of thing?”
“Only for the print edition. The online articles are a lot more casual.” She sticks out her bottom lip. “Please? What’s the perk of having a photographer bestie if she won’t sample cake in exchange for a few photos?”
“I’m in,” I agree. “Any excuse for cake.”
After work, Leo is waiting for me in the parking lot. My pulse races at the sight of him leaning against his Jaguar, arms crossed over his chest. He’s in gray slacks and a white T-shirt, somehow dressed up yet still casual, and he smells divine.
“Hi,” I say and move into his space, allowing the slightest body contact, knowing there are eyes everywhere around here. “You look nice. Hot date?”
He grins with a devilish glint in his hazel eyes. “Hope so.”
He pushes off the side of his car and opens the passenger door.
I glance around before sliding into the seat, and he shuts me in. He rounds the car and hops in.
“Where are we going?”
“Dinner and a surprise.”
I don’t ask any more questions as he rests one hand on my thigh and drives away from the arena. He takes me to a little Italian place, where we sit side by side in a big booth.
“We’re totally one of those obnoxious couples,” I say, as the waiter flashes an amused smirk while dropping off the check.
“Don’t care,” he says as he briefly removes his hand to scribble his name on the receipt and pocket his card. When his hand returns, my nerve endings light up. “It’s the only way I get to touch you.”
His palm slides higher, and my stomach dips.
“Is the surprise going back to your place?” I ask hopefully.
Quiet laughter presses against my temple. He kisses me and then helps me up. “One more stop, and then you can take me home and ravage me.”
We walk down the street, hand in hand. It’s chilly out, and I left my jacket in the car.
I nuzzle against him.
He wraps an arm around my lower back. “This way.”
We head down a side street and into a parking lot that runs along the back of the businesses. “I wasn’t sure how you felt about being photographed with me, so we’re sneaking in the back.”
He holds open a door for me. I step inside tentatively. The warmth greets me, and noise from the building trickles into the backroom. There are shipping containers and cases of wine. Leo watches me as I take it all in. He grabs my hand and pulls me down a short hallway and into a sizable open space. Large black and white photographs are hung on the white walls, and people walk around and stand in front of them.
“Oh my gosh,” I shriek a little too loudly for this type of event, then lower my voice. “A photography exhibit? That’s what you chose as your A-list event?”
He shrugs it off. “I thought you might enjoy it.”
I pause and raise up on my toes to kiss him. “Thank you.”
“Welcome.” He brushes his lips across my lips for a second kiss. “I have to go out front and make sure someone takes my photo to appease Daria. You’ll be okay in here?”
“More than okay.” I glance around at all the large photographs. I can’t wait to inspect them closer.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” he promises.
I grab a flyer and a glass of champagne. I’m giddy as I walk around. The exhibit is called Found Things, and each photograph features an object or thing found in an unexpected place. A shoe hanging from a stoplight. A letter shoved in the jamb of a door. A soccer ball in the ocean.
Leo’s back before I make it all the way around the exhibit.
“Sorry. That took longer than I expected.” He rests a hand on my lower back.
“Did you do Daria proud?”
“Yeah. For now. I’m sure she’ll be on my case again in a week or two.”
“I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for you.” I lift my champagne flute.
He takes it from me and sips it, then brings his mouth to mine. The sweet liquid mixed with his minty taste makes my body light up. It feels so much more intimate to be out in public with him, kissing and holding his hand, after being so careful at the arena.
“I mind them a lot less when you come with me,” he says when he pulls back and looks into my eyes.
“Well, if they’re all like this, I don’t think I mind so much either.”
“I’m serious,” he says, interlacing our fingers. “Wanna be my plus one?”
“Like…” I’m slow to put words in his mouth. We’ve been spending a lot of time together, but it’s still so new.
“I’m not dating anyone else. I don’t want to date anyone else. Be my girlfriend, dream girl?”
“What about my dad and the team?”
“We’ll tell him together.” He leans in. “That is if you’ve decided you like me with my clothes on.”
“I definitely prefer you naked,” I say, resting a hand on his chest.
“The feeling is very mutual.” He kisses me again. This PDA thing is addicting. “A buddy of mine is here with his wife. I want to introduce you.”
“Okay.” I hold his arm as we circle around the room. His buddy is a retired hockey player, Maxwell Smith. He’s well-known enough that even I’ve heard his name.
Leo keeps his arm around my waist the entire time. I feel a surge of happiness that he so possessively keeps me by his side, but I’m anxious at being in public with him. We need to tell my dad soon because it’s clear we aren’t going to be able to keep this a secret for much longer.
We look at art, we run into more people he knows, and he continues to introduce me as his girlfriend. I’m practically humming with happiness from it all.
He hands me a second glass of champagne, and we find ourselves alone in front of one of the photographs.
“This was the best date I’ve ever been on.” I drape my arms around his shoulders, balancing my flute carefully. “I might have to start calling you dream guy.”