a charity novella benefiting Autism Speaks by Brooke Moss
Anna Kirkpatrick isn’t looking for love. Being a single mom to Bowan, her eight-year-old autistic son, takes up all of her time…leaving no room for romance. Willing to do anything to help her son come out of his shell, Anna agrees to take Bowan to cooking classes with a world class chef.
Motorcycle-riding pastry chef Leo Mancini isn’t exactly searching for “the one”, either. After losing every penny he had, his business, and his girlfriend, he’s moved to northern Idaho to sulk, restart his career, and pay his sister back for a loan that no amount of money could ever really suffice.
When Anna and Leo discover that Bowan’s fondness for the kitchen extends beyond his peculiar cookbook collection, Leo quickly becomes the one person who can break through his barriers. But will Leo and Anna’s attraction lead to more than just a weekly cooking lesson?
Author: Brooke Moss
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 95 pages
Release Date: April 2012
Imprint: Entangled Publishing Charity Anthology
Purchase the anthology:
100% of net profits will be donated to Autism Speaks
© 2012 Brooke Moss
“It’s getting worse.” I sighed.
My son’s occupational therapist, Gianna Mancini, looked up from the glob of shaving cream on the short table in front of her and blew a dark lock of her hair out of her eyes. Her hands were gently locked around my son’s wrists as she encouraged him—unsuccessfully—to touch the stack of fragrant white fluff.
“How so?” she asked.
I shifted in the seat, the armrest jabbing me in the rear. “Bowen’s teacher said that he is still disrupting the other students during silent reading time. I just don’t know what to do. I keep going over it with him, but every day it’s the same thing.”
Gianna looked at Bowen, whose white-blond hair positively glowed next to his face, which was now a deep red as he struggled to keep from touching the shaving cream. “Bowen? Are you disturbing the kids during reading time?”
He positioned his eyes on a spot at the corner of the table, muttering, “No.”
I sighed and closed my eyes. I didn’t feel up to prying the facts out of him. This was the routine on most days. He would lie, and I would spend the next fifteen minutes or so encouraging him to confess what’d really happened. I was too tired for it today. “Come on, Bo. Out with it.”
When I opened my eyes, I noticed that he was watching me, his pale blue eyes assessing my defeated posture. “I did it,” he told me. “I scooted my chair.”
“Bowen, you know you aren’t allowed to move your chair back and forth during class.” Gianna manipulated his hand so that it was propped above the cream. “It makes noise and disturbs your friends.”
Bowen’s frown returned, and he looked away. “Don’t have friends.”
His Asperger’s syndrome made it difficult for him to hold eye contact for long, a simple act I missed so deeply, and I was often tempted to take his eight-year-old face in my hands and force him to look at me. His eyes, the same shade as a spring sky void of clouds, were my weakness.
“You do too have friends.” Gianna kindly pried his forefinger out of his clenched fist. “I’m your friend.”
I smiled in his direction, hoping he’d see me in his peripheral vision. The fact that Bowen couldn’t tolerate the sound of silence or the soft whir of his teacher’s computer during class time contributed to his place on the outskirts at school. Though his third grade teacher tried encouraging him into the fold, Bowen usually exhausted her by the end of the school day.
“What is the rule when you’re at school?” Gianna asked, taking his finger and dipping it into the cream.
“Don’t!” Bowen’s arm clenched, and he strained to pull it out of her grasp. He grimaced, a portrait of discomfort, as soon as the shaving cream covered his skin.
“It’s okay.” Gianna’s voice was soothing as she squatted down behind him, and she used her spare hand to mimic his. “Look, I’m touching it, too.”
“School is stupid,” Bo muttered. “Can I stop now?”
“We’re going to do five dips, and then you can stop.” Gianna turned to me. “He’s using his words really well today, isn’t he?”
I nodded, noticing how Bo’s legs wiggled underneath the tabletop. “Yes. It doesn’t look like he’s tolerating the shaving cream, though.”
“No. His tactile sensitivity is high.” Gianna took some shaving cream and wiped it on the end of her nose, prompting a nervous giggle to escape Bowen’s mouth. “Is he still refusing to touch food at home?”
I winced. Even after five years, that was still a sore subject with me. At four years old, Bowen stopped eating finger foods like an average child, requiring his father and I spoon-feed every bite of food. And then our family imploded. Six months after receiving Bowen’s diagnosis, my husband, Trevor, moved out. Six months after that, I found myself a divorced single mother. And six months after that, Trevor stopped visiting. He’d never witnessed Bowen feeding himself with a fork and spoon, not to mention the other progress he’d made over the years.
“I got him to feed himself a Cheetoh the other night.” Swiping my hand across my tired eyes, I added, “When he realized his finger was orange, he had a meltdown.”
Gianna laughed and handed Bowen a paper towel, and he snatched it out of her hand gratefully. “Three steps forward, and two steps back, huh, Anna?”
I nodded. “Right you are.”
“Bowen, why don’t you clean your finger, and meet your mom and me in the lobby?” Gianna nodded in the direction of the door, and I followed her. Once we’d stepped into the hall, she tilted her head at me. “How are you doing? You seem tense today.”
Gianna had been working with Bowen for the past four years, and she knew our little family inside and out. My son’s Asperger’s made him a hard kid to enjoy. He was often rough without realizing it, sometimes he spoke at the top of his voice without waiting his turn, and he hurt his playmates without intending to. This was all on top of his sensory processing disorder, which made him a social oddity. Bowen’s refusal to touch anything remotely soft and obsession with stroking things that were hard, prickly, or dangerously hot made him a source of curious stares at school. This odd-man-out social status multiplied every day he ate a meal in the school lunchroom. Bowen only ate a handful of foods, most of which were different forms of crackers, but only when they were speared by a fork.
I took a deep breath and fought the tears that stung the back of my eyes. “His teacher removed him from the classroom again,” I said. “They’re saying that if he can’t relax more in class, and stop disrupting the other kids, he is going to have to go to Special Ed.”
She squeezed my shoulder. “I’m so sorry. Would you like to bring Bowen in twice a week? Maybe more sensory therapy would help. Or, we could try some swim therapy in the pool—”
“No.” I looked up at the ceiling, begging my eyes to hold the tears in. If I had a nickel for every tear shed over my son’s problems, I would’ve been driving a Rolls-Royce by now. “I can’t afford any more copayments. I’m still paying off Bowen’s compression vest.”
The last five years of my life had been a flurry of assessments, specialists, therapies, weighted blankets, and Lycra vests specially made to hug Bowen’s wiry frame underneath his clothes for more sensory input. I’d been to more than my fair share of parent-teacher conferences to discuss the peculiar clicking sound he makes in the back of his mouth, and I’d been to the emergency room eight times for burns, scratches, and cuts requiring stitches that had warranted nary a reaction from my son, who claimed that the nearly unintelligible hum of the refrigerator hurt his ears.
The door opened behind us, and Bowen appeared, his blue eyes focused somewhere around my hips. “My hands are clean,” he announced flatly, before loafing toward the lobby.
Gianna smiled wistfully. “Let me do some thinking. Surely there is something we can do to get the stimulation Bowen needs without costing you a fortune.”
Biting my lip, I thought about the meager paycheck my position as a receptionist at a dental office earned me. I worked hard to pay rent at our tiny house on the west side of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and keep food on the table. Bowen required tactile therapy several times a week, as well as speech therapy, and it wasn’t like I had a pool of funds from which to draw.
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” I said, sighing.
We rounded the corner into the lobby, where Bowen was staring into the oversize fish tank, clicking to himself among a handful of other kids with development mental delays and physical handicaps.
“Listen, I’ll put on my thinking cap, and keep you posted,” Gianna said.
“See you next week.” I bent to speak closely to my son’s ear. “Come on, Bowen. Let’s go home to make dinner.”
He glanced at me. His expression was still flat, but the tiniest spark of joy flashed in his eyes, making my heart jump. It took so much to warrant a tangible reaction from Bowen that when I did I always felt like throwing a party. Cooking was the one thing he and I did together that wasn’t tense or riddled with screams and whines because of the sticky mess on Bowen’s hands. When we cooked dinner together, he acted as close to an average eight-year-old as he ever did.
I grinned and winked at my son. “Okay, let’s go.”
Just as I closed my hand around his stiff fist, a blustery late September breeze blew through the open door, sending papers on the reception desk skittering across the floor, and causing several of the kids to scurry away from the icy air. As the receptionist crossed around the front of the desk to pick up the scattered paperwork, a deep, rumbling voice announced, “It’s cold as a polar bear’s tit out there.”
“Cold as a polar bear’s tit,” Bowen echoed, pulling his jacket around himself.
Frowning disapprovingly, I blew a lock of my brown bob out of my face, and looked up at the door. The guy was wearing faded jeans that hugged every one of his, ahem, assets like they were tailor-made, and a worn leather jacket that glistened from the rain. His posture was commanding and demanded respect. The man’s shoulders were back, his legs were wide apart, and a stern frown covered his face, which was partially hidden by mirrored sunglasses.
My stomach knotted around itself, and I was immediately annoyed by my physical reaction. So what if his black hair was slicked back into some sort of new millennium Elvis Presley ’do, and I could see a tattoo of a bright bluebird on the side of his neck? Who cares that a dark five o’clock shadow dusted his face and his full lips that resembled a bow? He’d just walked into a waiting room full of children, bringing the cold fall air in with him, and cursed like a truck driver with a flat tire. What an ass.
Pulling Bowen tightly against my side, I sidestepped the biker, muttering, “Excuse me.” He smelled like exhaust and rain, and as odd as it sounds, it was the sexiest aroma I’d come across in years.
He slid his glasses off as I passed and gave me an assessing once-over. “Yup.”
“Leo?” I heard Gianna’s voice from behind me, and glanced back as Bowen and I headed into the rain.
Young, straitlaced Gianna, in her starched white blouse and khakis, was scooped into a bear hug by the leather-clad man, and spun around. She was dating the bad boy? I hadn’t seen that one coming. Gianna waved at me as the glass door shut between us, her cheeks pinking as I stared. I ignored the odd stab of jealousy in my chest.
What was wrong with me? Sure, it’d been a year since my last date, but was I so desperate that I was lusting after my son’s therapist’s boyfriend? I’d purposefully kept men out of the picture over the past five years, citing that nobody could accept a single mom to a child who demanded as much care as Bowen did. And I’d been pleased with that decision. That is, until I felt that all-to-familiar loneliness set in on occasion. Maybe I needed to reconsider the online dating thing my mom was always harping on me about.
No. Forget it, I thought. The solitude of single motherhood was finally getting to me. Solitude could make a person crazy.
“Come on, Bo,” I said as we stepped onto the crackling maple leaves covering the sidewalk. “Let’s go home.”
Once I’d put him Bowen to bed, then made my nightly call to my mother—who lived nearby and needed to check up on us at least once a day—our house fell silent. I preoccupied myself with a book and a plate of cookies, relaxing into my typical evening.
Solitude was something I’d grown used to over the years. It didn’t bother me that I only poured one cup of coffee in the morning, or that I only bought one ticket to any movie I wanted to see that was above a G-rating. It no longer mattered that one side of my bed remained unused, or that I hadn’t found a use for my sexy underwear in more years than I preferred to admit. If being single meant there was no man to cast baffled and annoyed glances at Bowen or to resent me for the time I had to invest in caring for him, then I was okay with the solitude.
When the phone rang the next evening, I startled. Grumbling to myself, I wriggled out from under my feather down comforter, and padded my way to the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Anna, it’s Gianna.”
I blinked a few times before replying. The only time I spoke to Gianna on the phone was when she’d needed to reschedule Bowen’s appointment, and that usually happened during working hours. It was nearing nine o’clock. “Hi. How are you? Is…everything okay?”
“Yes. Everything’s fine.” She laughed lightly, and I heard a deep voice in the background. “I’m sorry it’s so late. I just had an idea that couldn’t wait until our next appointment to run by you.”
An image of the biker who’d swept her off her feet as I was leaving Bowen’s appointment the day before flashed in my mind, and I immediately quashed it. “Oh, okay. What’s up?”
“Well, see, my brother is in town for a while,” she said.
“Is that the man who hugged you at your office yesterday?” I made myself sound as casual as possible. Even feigned a yawn for posterity.
“That’s Leo, my big brother.” She sighed. “Sorry he swore in front of everyone in the waiting room. He’s a bit…”
I bit my tongue. Pompous? Cocky? Narcissistic?
“…brash,” she finished. “But he has a good heart, I promise. He’s a pastry chef. He’s worked in New York and Chicago. And just left a five-star restaurant in Seattle. Now he’s here for a while. I know that Bowen’s father isn’t in the picture anymore, and that you’re alone with him most of the time.”
Why was she telling me all of this? Was she thinking about fixing me up with her brother? And if so, did that break any sort of privacy law, since she was my son’s occupational therapist? And if it did, did I really care? I caught a glimpse of myself in the kitchen window. The hair on one side of my head was standing up. Yikes. I guess I did care.
“Well, it sounds like you’re going to have a great visit,” I told her politely, trying to smooth out the red line my pillowcase had left on my cheek with my thumb.
“Thanks. Well, that’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Holy crap, she really was going to fix me up with her brother. I didn’t know whether to be annoyed or excited.
“You see, my brother is going to be working at the resort. Their pastry chef is out of commission for a few weeks, and Leo owes the restaurant manager a favor.”
Gianna laughed breezily. “I’ve been racking my brain, trying to think of ways I can help Bowen, and I think I might have come up with a good idea. Bowen loves to cook with you, right?”
The wheels in my mind started to turn, and I smiled into the phone. “Yes. He loves cooking. Tonight we made enchiladas. He got refried beans all over his fingers, and didn’t mind until we were done.”
“That’s wonderful!” I heard Gianna tapping her fingers on something. “So, my idea is to get Bowen in the kitchen a couple afternoons a week before dinner service starts. Leo can work with him, teach him some fun techniques, and help him get his hands dirty. I’ve explained Bowen’s sensory issues to him, and he understands that this isn’t always going to be easy, but he’s prepared to teach him some recipes and try some easy concepts. You’ll be there to monitor, of course. But I’m hoping that it will be as good for Leo as it is for Bowen.”
Bowen was going to cook with the hot guy with the tattoo who’d sworn in front of a lobby of kids? It all seemed too far-fetched. I mean, sure, I wanted Bowen to have fun cooking, since cooking was the one thing he actually enjoyed doing—instead of Star Wars toys or Transformers, he collected cookbooks—but with this Leo guy?
“Um, I don’t know.” I bit my lip. “Does he have time? I mean, it sounds like he’s going to be pretty busy if he’s filling in for someone.”
“Well, in all honesty, Leo says he owes me a favor.” Gianna paused, and I waited for her to explain further. What kind of favor did her brother owe? But I was left wanting. “I really think this would be an amazing treat for Bowen that wouldn’t cost you a cent. Won’t you consider it?”
Bowen. My heart tugged, and I leaned against the kitchen counter, defeated. Gianna knew that my weakness was my boy. If it meant making him happy, I was going to relent, despite my reservations about her brother.
“All right. Okay,” I said finally. “He can do it.”
Gianna whooped with joy. “Oh, thank you, Anna. I’m so hopeful that he’ll love it in the kitchen.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and it’d gotten me through many a dark day over the past few years. “Me, too.”
“So listen, how does Friday sound to you? You mentioned once that you get off work in time to pick up Bowen at school. Is that right?” She was talking so quickly, I only picked up every second or third word, and I was pretty sure I heard pots and pans clanking in the background. And the sound of her brother swearing.
“Yes, that’s right.” I pressed my lips together tightly. Did I really want my son hanging around with this guy? Well…he was nice to look at—really nice—but he wasn’t exactly the type to work with kids.
“Friday it is. Meet Leo at the Resort restaurant at three thirty. He’ll be waiting for you.” Gianna sounded excited, so I tried to soak up some of her enthusiasm through the phone.
“This is going to be a good thing, Anna. Bowen will love it.”
I certainly hoped so. We said our good-byes, and I hung up the phone. The silence of my little house surrounded by the pine trees of the inland northwest filled my ears. Such a vast difference from the noisy mayhem coming from Gianna’s house. Turning off lights as I went, I meandered into Bowen’s bedroom, where he lay sleeping to the sound of a box fan running at full power. I pulled a second coverlet over his small body to offset the wind the fans created, and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my son. Even if it meant spending a few hours a week in a kitchen with a man who not only gave my stomach a flutter, but also twisted it with irritation. As I tiptoed out of the room silently, I saw my reflection in the hallway mirror and slowed to a stop.
Short, caramel brown hair cut into a 1920s style bob with bangs, and bright green eyes that once shone, but now bore circles of fatigue and stress. My body wasn’t what it was before Bowen was born, but I could still rock a hot outfit if I wanted to. Though I never did. Too busy keeping my head above water for that.
Maybe it was time to visit my hairdresser. God knew I didn’t want to walk into the kitchen at the Coeur d’Alene resort—which was home to the nicest restaurant in the Idaho panhandle—with stray gray hairs and unkempt eyebrows. Yes, I would call Stella first thing in the morning and make an appointment for an overhaul. I’d use some money out of my savings and pretty myself up a bit. I deserved it.
Besides, what if this Leo guy noticed?
A clang, followed by a loud curse, came from behind the swinging door. I bristled, and Bowen hid behind my hip. A visibly rattled waiter emerged from the kitchen, wiping a bead of sweat off his brow as he came through the swinging door.
He glared at us as he passed. “Good luck.”
I ground my molars together. What had I gotten myself into? It was Friday, and I was straying from the routine—a major no-no as far as Bowen was concerned—to take him into a kitchen with a lunatic. As much as I loved Gianna, was this really a good idea? Would this help Bo, or just teach him more choice phrases, like “cold as a polar bear’s tit”?
“Excuse me, could you tell me where I can find Leo Mancini?” I called as the waiter whisked by.
He didn’t respond. Instead, he stalked toward the restaurant exit, yanking a package of cigarettes out of his pants pocket.
“Super. Thanks a bunch,” I said, as we took a few more steps toward the kitchen.
Bowen tugged on my arm, attempting to pull me in the opposite direction. “I want to go home.”
“Come on, Bo.” I smiled down at him. “You’re going to cook. Won’t that be fun?”
Another loud crash rang on the opposite side of the door, and he shook his head. “No. I don’t want to.”
Just as I was startling to waffle, a woman with blond hair wound into a tight bun, a starched white blouse, and a tight black pencil skirt walked up to me. “Are you Anna Kirkpatrick?”
I straightened to my full height, trying unsuccessfully to mimic her sophistication. “Yes.”
“My name is Gretchen. I’m the restaurant manager.” She held out her hand to me, and I took it, expecting a firm shake, but instead received a limp-wristed wiggle. I hated that. “Chef is expecting you. Come with me.”
We followed her through the swinging door into the kitchen, and my steps immediately slowed. I’m not sure what I expected. After all, I watched my fair share of cooking shows on television, but this was nothing like the small, homey kitchens that celebrity chefs prepared their masterpieces in on TV. This was like a space station…only tenser.
Rollaway tables and countertops. Overhead racks and more ovens and gas burners than I’d ever seen in one space. Pots, pans, spoons, spatulas, and knives. Hoses hanging from coils attached to the ceiling with steam eking out of their slotted ends, and racks upon racks of gleaming equipment for slicing, dicing, mixing, blending, and storing. The most noticeable detail was that nearly every single piece was made of polished stainless steel and reflected the light pouring from the fluorescent fixtures above.
I pictured my own kitchen back at home, which was approximately the size of a glorified broom closet, and gulped. Bowen and I were way out of our league.
Leo’s back was to me, and he was talking ferociously into a phone hanging on the far wall. It appeared that he was wearing the same dark, worn jeans and biker boots he’d been wearing earlier this week. But over them he wore a starched chef’s coat that was as white as snow, contrasting shockingly with his dark, almost black, hair. Just below his hairline, but right above the collar of his coat, there was a small strip of his skin showing, and its color reminded me of a white-flesh nectarine, making me instantly hungry. Or maybe that was the way his backside looked in his jeans as he ranted into the phone.
“Damn it, you’re not listening to me.”
The angry words he snarled into the phone made me snap my eyes up to the back of his head where they belonged. Do not get caught staring at his rump.
“The last thing I need is to have to babysit some idiot kid while his mom moons over me, for Pete’s sake.”
My cheeks heated, and I held Bowen’s hand even tighter. What a rude son of a—
He turned around and his dark eyebrows rose on his face. No regret or embarrassment registered in his expression. Just surprise. “Oh, great,” he muttered into the phone. “They’re here. Call you later, sis.” He hung up the phone with a thunk, then faced me with his hands on his hips, waiting for me to say something. Daring me to.
I jutted my chin out at him. “You flatter yourself. You’re almost as ugly as your attitude.”
One of his eyebrows cocked. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” Tugging my son toward the door, I said, “Come on, Bowen.”
Bowen looked up at me with his light eyes. “We aren’t gonna cook?”
My nostrils flared when Leo tapped his fingers on the metal countertop behind me, and I heard the approach of a pair of heels behind me “Not with this creep.”
Shoving the door open, I stomped past Gretchen, who looked from me, to Leo, and back again, before groaning. “Holy hell, what did you do?”
Bowen and I wound our way through the empty dining room for the exit. I wanted to punch that narcissistic bastard in the face, but wasn’t about to do it in front of my son. How dare he call Bowen an idiot? How dare he insinuate that I’d be mooning over him? Who did he think he was? I loved Gianna, but so help me, this wasn’t worth it.
We exited the Resort, the cold fall air whipping us in the face as we bypassed the valet and searched the oversize parking lot for my beat up Honda amongst the BMWs and Lexuses.
“Mom?” Bowen tugged on my arm. “I have to pee.”
“Excellent timing, kiddo.” I sighed and looked around. The Coeur d’Alene Resort was located at the waterfront, right on the shore, and unfortunately all the stores surrounding it were connected to the resort itself, making it impossible to take him to a restroom without walking back in through the doorway I’d just stormed out of. Argh.
“We’ll go potty at home.” I approached my car.
“I gotta go now!” Bowen’s voice was panicked.
I drug a hand down my face. “Okay. Fine, Bo. Let’s go to—”
I turned around in time to see Leo sauntering toward us, his hands in his pockets like he was strolling through the park. A taunting smile tickled the corners of his mouth, and he appeared to be on the verge of laughing. The audacity of this man was killing me.
“What do you want?” I snapped.
“Listen, I’m sorry you overheard that. Come on in, and we’ll get started.” He tilted his head slightly, and with his chin pointed downward, he offered me a smile.
“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.”