I followed the bellman down the hall and watched as he opened my door. In the center of the room was a platform bed big enough for at least four people, opposite a huge flat-screen television. There was a set of art deco chairs in one corner and a window that spanned the entire far wall with a long desk tucked just beneath it.
The bed really did look like something out of a dream—crisp sheets and fluffy pillows—and my body sagged with how much I wanted to collapse, face-first right into it. Unfortunately, I’d learned the hard way how much jet lag sucks, and no matter how much I wanted to, taking a nap was exactly what I shouldn’t do.
It was the second time in the same day I’d bolted upright from a dead sleep. Drooling.
The room around me was almost completely dark, and for a moment, I had no idea where I was. Then it hit me: New York. The hotel.
I remembered showering and changing into a robe, deciding to rest my eyes just long enough for room service to get here and, well. Here we were.
I stood, groaning at my stiff muscles while I wiped my face on the sleeve of my robe. Man, when I slept, I slept hard.
As my eyes adjusted, I pushed open the drapes and forced myself to find my phone. There were two texts from my mom wondering if I’d landed yet, and one from Lola checking in. Having been unplugged all day, I held my breath before checking my email.
Thoughts from Tony: that can wait until morning.
Sale at Victoria’s Secret: oooh, I’ll flag that one for later.
She’d attached our updated schedule for the following day, along with the time we’d meet in the lobby, and a few points he wanted her to pass along. There was also the number to his cell, “should anything problematic arise.”
Dare I use it? Since I’d most certainly slept through my food being delivered, I could text him and see if he wanted to grab a bite to eat. But that didn’t really fall under the category of problematic, no matter how hungry I was. And if he hadn’t told his assistant to ask me about dinner plans, then I had to assume that was because he’d make his and I’d make mine.
Only then did I realize I really had begun to imagine the next four weeks with Niall Stella and me together in the temporary New York office, or walking along Broadway, or passionately discussing work over meals at great, locals-recommended restaurants. I’d unconsciously imagined the way he would laugh at my new and witty inside jokes over a beer at the end of the day and how we would share knowing looks across the table at our flurry of upcoming meetings.
But the reality was that I was most likely going to be sitting in the back of a crowded room taking notes, then returning alone to this hotel room for a month’s worth of room service meals.
I couldn’t text him, and I definitely didn’t want to call room service again tonight.
I checked my reflection in the mirror opposite the bathroom, and yikes: hair like a pile of hay, mascara smeared, pillow lines from temple to chin. I’d looked better after an all-nighter in college. Unless I wanted to spend time making myself at least minimally presentable, I’d have to settle for a vending machine dinner of chips and diet soda.
With a handful of dollar bills and a stack of change shoved into the pocket of my bathrobe, I opened the door slowly and peered out down the hallway. It was surprisingly shadowed and unfamiliar (hey, jet lag!): the walls were covered in a dark-patterned paper and each door was illuminated with a tiny neon plaque and doorbells.
I spied the sign for an ice machine in the distance and tiptoed out, letting the door fall closed behind me. The carpet was soft and thick against the soles of my feet, a subtle reminder that beneath the cotton of my robe I was completely naked. I tried, but couldn’t hear the blurred shape of voices in a neighboring room, or even the hum of a television. It was too quiet, too still. The hallway stretched ominously dark in front of me. I took a few steps past my room, narrowing my eyes to prepare for the appearance of anything unexpected in the distance.
I let out a high-pitched squeal of surprise, flinching, and then squeezed my eyes closed as I recognized the voice, debating whether or not I should turn around. Maybe I could run away. Maybe I could pretend to be someone else and he would realize his mistake and go back down to wherever his room was.
“Ruby?” he asked again, a hint of disbelief in his voice. Because normal people don’t run down the hallway in fancy hotels barefoot and in their bathrobes. And oh look, judging by the breeze sweeping up the inside of my robe, the air conditioner just kicked on, too.
“Hi!” I said—too brightly, far too loud—and turned on my heel to face him.
Startled, Niall Stella took a step back, nearly stumbling into the open doorway, which, coincidentally, was right next to mine.
Sharing a wall . . . maybe even a bathroom wall . . . where he showered . . . naked.
I went for casual. “What are you up to? I was just grabbing something to eat myself . . .” I said, lazily swinging the tie of my robe around before realizing what I was doing. I dropped it like I’d been burned.
I placed a hand against the wall and leaned there. “Yep.”
Niall Stella looked around the hallway and then back to me, eyes lingering on my robe. And maybe, just maybe, if my eyes were correct, my chest. Where my robe was now gaping, possibly exposing some boob.