We seemed to reach this conclusion at the same time.
His eyes snapped to my forehead and I clutched the material in my hands. At this rate, Niall Stella would see me fully naked by the end of the week.
“From the vending machine,” I explained, and reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear, groaning when I remembered how I looked. “I was just going to grab some chips. I mean the American kind of chip.”
He made a show of looking around. “Not sure a place like this will have Fritos,” he said, a pop of color staining his cheeks and a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “Energy bars, perhaps? Caviar, definitely. Good thing you’re dressed for it.”
He was teasing me.
My brother was my best friend, his friends were my friends, and this is what I was good at. Banter. The give-and-take of joking with the guys. I could do this and not be an idiot. And not think about how I wanted to bang him. Maybe. Except he was wearing the charcoal suit—my favorite—and a dark shirt with no tie. I’d never seen him without a tie and it required superhuman strength to keep my eyes on his face, and not on that tiny stretch of skin exposed at the top of his open collar.
He had chest hair and my fingertips tingled with the urge to touch it. Alas, he was still waiting for me to respond.
“You’re lucky I even put this on,” I told him. “I usually eat Fritos pantsless on the couch.”
His eyebrow did a cute little amused twitch while the rest of his face remained impressively stoic. “In fact, I understand those are the instructions on the package. Sadly, the same is not usually true of caviar.”
Shrugging, I looked back at the door to my room. “I guess I’ll have another peek at the room service menu.”
“I’m going to lay you down,” he said, “and make you come.”
My eyes going wide as saucers, I whipped my head back his way. “You . . . what?”
With a confused draw of his brow, he said very slowly, “I’m going to head on down; would you like to come?”
“Oh,” I said, struggling to take a breath in, and let it out again. “You’re going to dinner downstairs?”
“You said this is your first time?” he started, and both our eyes widened before he added in a breathless rush, “In New York. Your first time in New York.”
“Um, yeah,” I answered, and closed my robe more tightly near my neck.
“Maybe you . . .” Niall started to say, but paused, reaching up as if to straighten a tie that wasn’t there. He dropped his hands again. “I’m meeting my brother. He and his wife live in the city, and I’m having dinner with him and a few business associates downstairs. Maybe you could join us.”
His brother lived here? I tucked this bit of information away, along with how badly I wanted to go—certain I was going to hate myself for this later—and shook my head. There was no way I was going to intrude.
“You’d be doing me a favor if you joined me, actually,” he cut in. “My brother Max is a bit of a handful.” Niall paused again as if he’d reconsidered, before giving a small shake of his head and continuing, “You’d be a welcome distraction.”
Because I’m Captain of Team Clueless and intent on painting each interaction between us with either nudity or a shade of awkward, I stood there, speechless, blinking for far longer than was socially appropriate.
“Of course, if you’d rather not—”
“No, no! Sorry, I . . . can you give me ten minutes to change and—” I motioned vaguely to the disaster atop my head.
“Ten minutes is all you need?” he asked skeptically.
“Ten minutes,” I confirmed with a smirk. “Twelve if you don’t want my skirt in my underwear.”
Niall barked out a laugh that seemed to surprise us both before regaining his composure. “All right then. I’ll wait in the lobby. See you in ten.”
No person in the history of forever has ever changed as quickly as I did.
The moment the elevator doors closed behind him, I was off. My robe gone, I yanked a blue jersey dress from my suitcase and sprinted to the bathroom. I ran a washcloth over my face and raced to find my toiletries. I moisturized, concealed, and powdered at the speed of light. A dab of product in my hair and I turned on the blow dryer, smoothing out the bedhead one section at a time. My flatiron heated up in seconds and after just a few passes I unplugged it, setting it aside. Teeth brushed, blush applied, mascara swiped, lip gloss smoothed, I threw on my dress with five minutes left to spare. Unfortunately I’d forgotten to put on underwear, so I used the remaining time to pull a pair from my suitcase, find a portable charger for my phone, and slip into a pair of sensible heels.
I reached for my bag, double-checked that the various parts of my dress were all where they belonged, and with a deep breath and a tiny prayer, walked to the elevator.
I stood, staring at where she’d emerged from the lift, and fell utterly speechless. She’d changed in under ten minutes, but looked . . . stunning. In an instant, I was both thrilled to be near her and resentful that this complicated wrinkle—the presence of Ruby—invaded what could otherwise be a dry, rote, and easy business summit.
Swallowing, I motioned behind me to the entrance of Knave. “Shall we get a bite?”