“Would you care to come down for a bite to eat?”

She hesitated on the other end, for what felt like an eternity.

“Unless you have a . . .” I paused, fumbling for words. “That is to say, an agent . . . of . . . pleasure in your room.”

Oh dear God—what did I just say?

“An agent of pleasure?” she asked, and I could hear the restrained laughter in her voice, as well as the gentle slur of alcohol.

I groaned quietly. “I mean company. Or plans. Ruby, I don’t mean to presume. I don’t even know if you’re—”

She cut me off with a quiet laugh. “It’s almost midnight. I’m alone up here, I promise. But I just got out of the tub, I’ve had a cocktail or two, and ordered room service.”

My brain tripped over the image of Ruby in the tub. Naked. Tipsy. Wet. Warm, soft skin. Muscles lax.

Ruby paused again. “I mean, I suppose I could . . .” Her words fell away.

“No, Ruby, I don’t mean to . . . I just wanted to make sure you’d eaten. It was a long day. And we . . .” I closed my eyes, murmuring, “We . . . rather, I fear you’re out of sorts.”

I could hear her breathing, so quick and shallow. I felt a tight pinch in my chest at the thought that she was anxious again, suffering in some way over me, or this. I knew I had the ability to do something for her . . . I simply didn’t know how to start.

We sat on the line for several long, wordless seconds. “Right, then. Good night, Ruby.”

Returning to the table, I took my seat and lifted my second pint to my lips. I felt worse than I had before; I was bloody awful on the phone, which was saying something given that I was often awkward in person as well. When Max wordlessly asked whether Ruby would be joining us—with a small lift of his brow, an expectant expression—I shook my head. I wasn’t sure whether I was relieved or gutted that she wasn’t coming down. And then I settled on relieved, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep from moving to her, wishing for her hand on my leg, wanting to meet her eyes and see that the same longing was still there, and I would be shite at simply asking for it.

Bennett and Chloe had left, chased off by George, who said he’d rather light himself on fire than watch the two of them make out. I ordered a gin and tonic, then another, contributing to the conversation before eventually becoming lost in my own jumbled thoughts. I went from tangled, to calm, to tipsy, finally convincing myself it was a good idea, at one in the bloody morning, to go upstairs and see her.

“Where you headed?” Max asked. “This is my one night a month out. No sodding way you’re cutting out early.”

I ignored their catcalls and continued on to the elevator, to the tenth floor, to the door that led to her room.

My knuckles landed heavily on the wood; Jesus, even my knock sounded drunk.

After a few tense seconds, the door opened and Ruby stood before me in a tiny pink silk tank top and matching shorts that barely covered her—

She weaved slightly against the door. “Everything okay, Mr. Stella?”

I cleared my throat once, and then again. “Bloody hell. Do you always sleep in that?”

“Yes . . .” she said, and I could hear her smile when she added, “unless there is an agent of pleasure in here with me.”

Finally I could tear my eyes from the sight of her breasts, bare beneath the camisole. “You love to tease me.”

Her tongue slipped out, wetting her lips. “Yeah.”

I stood at the doorway, feeling like I must be looking at her the way a man would look at a woman he desired if he hadn’t had dinner, or sleep, or masturbated in days.

“Do you want to come in?” she asked. “I’ll warn you. I’ve had a few cocktails. But I do have a few items left unclaimed in the minibar if you like Midori or Jägermeister.”

“I shouldn’t touch you,” I blurted and immediately squeezed my eyes closed. “Sorry. I’ve been drinking as well, and . . .” Opening my eyes, I looked at her face. She was smiling, looking . . . relieved. “I don’t know why I’m here. I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened today, and how much I wanted to see you. But I really shouldn’t touch you, Ruby.”

I could see her pulse in her neck. I could tell that she was trembling.

“You shouldn’t?” she asked. “Or you don’t want to?”

Without answering and without really thinking about what I was doing, I stepped forward, moving into her room. She took a step back, letting the door close behind me. The thud reverberated in the quiet.

“Is it really true what you said earlier?” I asked. “You think about this? With me?”

She flushed, from her neck to her cheeks, but still managed to sound brave when she said, “Yeah.”

She’d stopped moving but I hadn’t. I kept drifting forward until I was barely an inch away from her. In fact, I could feel her breath on my neck. Could smell the sweetness of orange juice, the sharp tang of vodka on her lips.

This is stupid, Niall. Get the hell out of this room.

“What do you think about?” I asked.

“Having you in my hotel room.” She smiled, looking at my lips. “As an agent of pleasure.”