“Wha—” he started to say, but thought better of it. “Your arms aren’t long enough.”
“Are you kidding me? My selfie game is strong. Just . . . bend your knees a little, this is like my head and your deltoids, which—don’t get me wrong—isn’t a bad thing, but—”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he said, snatching the phone from my hand.
“I promise I won’t tell Max you took a selfie on Sixth Avenue,” I whispered, and he turned his head, eyes meeting mine.
He was only inches from my face. We were practically married right then.
He held my gaze for a fraction of a second before he cleared his throat. “I’m holding you to that.”
It took a few tries to get the right angle, and for the last one, he wrapped an arm around my waist, and pulled me in tight.
And that was it. I mentally entered a “one” in the Number of Times Niall Stella Put His Arm Around My Waist and Pulled Me Close column. I knew right then what it would feel like to celebrate Christmas and birthdays and a job promotion and have the best orgasm of my life all at the same time.
He looked at the photo and turned the screen so I could see. It was a good picture, fucking great actually. We were both smiling; the camera caught us mid-laugh as he’d tried to snap the photo with his gloves still on.
“What’s your number?” he asked, looking down at his screen. I watched as his cheeks grew redder than they were already from the sharp, cold wind.
I recited it, watching as he typed. He hit SEND and smiled up at me: a little shy, a little playful, a little something else I wasn’t sure I was ready to believe. In that moment, he didn’t look anything like a vice president, an intimidating ultra-crush, or a man who finished school before he was twenty. He just looked like a beautiful guy, outside in the city with me.
In the pocket of my coat, my phone buzzed.
I tried not to think about the fact that he now had pictures of me, and of the two of us together, on his phone. I tried not to think about the fact that he now had my cell number. I tried not to think about how easy it had just been between us, when I stopped worrying about how to act around Niall Stella, and had just enjoyed this unguarded moment with Niall. Just Niall.
As he pocketed his phone and motioned for me to follow him to the crosswalk, I noted his enormous grin.
I tried not to think about how he looked pretty thrilled with all of this, too.
Our temporary office was on an empty floor of a large commercial building. The entire suite had been rented as temporary office space for visiting consultants by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It’s true, beggars can’t be choosers, but honesty time: our office was the size of my hotel shower, and the heater was clearly cranked up to Sinner’s Inferno. The window had been permanently painted shut, and we figured that out only after Niall struggled with it for a good five minutes. He definitely had my attention the entire time. His broad back demanded separate billing: Niall Stella and The Deltoids.
I suspect you wear everything well.
Too small an office meant Niall was mere feet from me all day, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on even the simplest task. And too hot meant that within an hour of arriving he’d removed his suit jacket and—after much visible consternation on his part—loosened his tie and unfastened the top button of his shirt. He’d also rolled his sleeves up his forearms. If I could, I probably would have ratcheted the thermostat up another ten degrees to get a peek at his bare chest. See also: why I should never be in charge.
I’d never seen his forearms before (a giddy check in the Number of Times I’ve Seen Niall Stella’s Bare Forearms column), and, as expected, his skin was perfect: arms toned and wrists tapering into long, slender fingers. As covertly as possible, I watched the ticking of muscles when he typed, the way they flexed in sequence as he spun a pencil around his desk when he was thinking, the way the tendons in his hands tightened as he drummed his fingertips on the arm of the chair.
We didn’t talk much as we worked at our respective desks, sifting through boxes and setting things up. For lunch we stepped out, stopping at a vendor selling hot dogs from a stand on the corner. This took some persuasion on my part.
“You go to the one with the longest line,” I explained, patiently waiting my turn. “Don’t you ever watch the Food Network? See how there’s a huge wait for this one and only two people in line for the one across the street? The short-line hot dogs are probably made out of feral cat.”
He sighed, muttering something in his posh accent about how he’d probably be dead by the end of the day, and throwing a “You call these chips?” in there, too.
“How does your brother survive in a city with such meager offerings?” I teased.
“What are you doing?” I asked, stopping him as he went to put some fancy vomit-colored mustard across the bun. It had seeds, for God’s sake.
He blinked at me, bottle held aloft over his hot dog like we weren’t even speaking the same language.
“You can’t put that on a street dog,” I told him. “There are rules about these things.”
“You enjoy your generic, artificially colored mustard,” he said, and I could practically see the air quotes suspended above his head, “and I’ll use mine.” Our new marriage could already use some counseling.
I moaned a lot while eating my dog, just to prove a point: it was way better than his.