“Oh, no. No way.” I waved a finger at him. “You can direct that charming crap to someone else.”
His smile faltered. “What’s got you so bent out of shape?”
I leaned away from Bowen so that only Leo could hear my voice. “I heard you on the phone. I heard you call my son an idiot.”
For the first time since he turned around in the kitchen, he appeared concerned. “Wait. You think I…? No. Okay, I meant—”
I put a hand up. “You know what? Save it. I’m sure Gianna will be appalled when she finds out what you said.”
Leo’s hand came down on my arm gently, yet the electrical current passed from his skin to mine felt like it held four hundred watts. “Anna, what I said wasn’t referring to Bowen’s special needs. I didn’t mean to insult your son specifically. I was just running my mouth.”
“So it’s okay that you said it, because you use the term idiot as a blanket insult to all kids?” I jerked my arm away from his palm, and immediately felt the sting of its absence.
“I’ve worked in some of the top kitchens in this country,” he told me through gritted teeth. “I did my internship at Jacques Torres’s chocolate factory in New York City. When I was in Seattle, I worked under Miles Alexander. I am not a babysitter. I do not typically work with kids.”
“Well, if you’re going to volunteer to help kids, you’d better learn what’s appropriate to say, and what’s not.” I glowered at him. “Because so far you’re failing miserably.”
“I didn’t volunteer.” Leo scratched the back of his neck casually, revealing another tattoo on the front of his wrist at the cuff of his sleeve. Was there an inch of this man that wasn’t tattooed?
“Well then why the hell am I here?” I splayed my arms out at my sides.
He looked out at the water, his mouth pulling downward in a frown. “I owe my sister a favor. She’s considering this payment.” He brought his chocolate brown eyes back to mine. “Look, Gianna really cares about your kid—”
“Right.” Leo wiped a hand across the scruff on his chin. “Gianna genuinely cares about Bowen. And I care about my sister. So please let me teach your son how to cook this afternoon. I’ll watch my mouth, I promise.”
I bit the inside of my cheek. Part of me wanted to hop in my Honda and peel out of the parking lot, hopefully splashing mud all over his shoes. It was because of pompous asses like Leo that Bowen was often overlooked. He excelled at mathematics, and had the first fifteen Psalms memorized of his own accord. But because of his strange quirks and his often-disruptive behavior, authority figures tended to ignore him in an attempt to keep his ill behaviors out of the spotlight.
I wanted to hold Leo Mancini accountable. Whatever “favor” he owed Gianna, I wanted to force him to make good on it. It would be healthy for him to discover that not only was Bowen not an idiot, but neither was any other child out there. I didn’t care who he was, or whom he’d worked for in the past. He was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, now, and was being asked to help out a little boy.
And then there was the matter of my weird, inexplicable draw toward Leo. It didn’t make sense. Out of the twenty minutes I’d been around him, I’d spent seventeen of them wanting to drag my fingernails down the side of his face. But there were those three minutes that I wanted to run my hands through that perfectly slicked-back hair and press my face against that damned bluebird on his neck.
Did I expect anything to come of this odd attraction? Certainly not. But did that mean that I didn’t want to give him another chance and admire the view while I did? Certainly not.
I looked down at Bowen, who—despite the fact that he gazed down at my shoes absently—said clearly, “I want to cook today.”
My heart warmed, and I squared my shoulders to face Leo head on. “Fine. Let’s do this.”