Laughing a little, I ran my hand down my face, admitting, “These past few days . . . I think about it, too. You’ve hijacked my brain.”

I looked down at her. She looked nervous but also confident; I was here in her room; she’d regained at least some of the power between us. “No, it’s not a bad thing. I’m just not sure I know what to do with you.” I had no idea why I said this, but it didn’t seem to trip her up in the slightest.

Ruby nodded, reaching out and putting her hand on my chest. “I understand you. I think you understand me, too.”

“I’d tell you what I like,” she whispered. “You’d tell me what you need.”

She ran her hand down my chest, over my stomach, and then—just before she reached my belt—she let it fall away.

I should leave. I should go to my room and let us both sleep it off.

Looking up at me, she asked, “What do you need?”

“This,” I said. “The odd certainty I feel when I’m this close to you. The way you look at me.”

Her wide eyes searched mine. “A lot of women look at you this way.”

“No, you’re wrong. Maybe they look at me the way men look at you—where it’s clear they want you, and are thinking of you sexually—but not the way you do, where it feels you can see beneath my skin.” Pausing, I added, “Besides, I’ve never been one to want ‘a lot of women.’ ”

Her smile was so radiant, I forgot whatever else I was going to say.

My heart was beating so hard in my chest that I felt unsteady. It seemed to mix potently with the alcohol, and yet I never wanted this feeling to end. I’d never experienced a rush like this. She was so close, smelling of rose water and the indescribable scent of a woman. She would fit so perfectly tucked into my chest, beneath my chin. Or riding me, with her legs around my waist, her chest slick with our sweat.

“Ruby, what are we doing?”

She tucked her hair behind her ear, laughing a little. “You’re the one who came to my room. I think we’re both a little drunk. You tell me.”

Her smile straightened into something more earnest. “Me, too.”

“But maybe tonight isn’t the night. I shouldn’t touch you.” Maybe once I’ve said it a hundred times, I’ll believe it. “We’ve been drinking. I want to be sober if . . .”

She closed her eyes, and the disappointment was evident on her face. And then, a transformation occurred: Ruby opened her eyes, looked up at my face, and in an instant went from guarded to mischievously coy. She turned, walking into the room a few feet and picking up a slip from the bed. “But if you did, how would you touch me?” she asked, folding the garment neatly before placing it in an open drawer in front of her.

I barely had to consider the question before my answer burst forward: “Desperately.” I took a step toward her.

“I like thinking of you touching me roughly,” she interrupted, calming me with a smile. Another piece of fabric lay on the bed—a tank top, I believe—and she reached for it, examining the hem before she set it in the drawer, too. “Of your big gentle hands shaking, needing to touch me, and you’re so impatient.”

“I would be,” I admitted, and when she looked up at me, asking me with her eyes for more, I murmured, “I am.” I could barely catch my breath; at my sides, my hands were shaking. “I try to be careful, but it’s a wasted effort.”

She pushed the dresser closed with her hip, and took a step toward me. “You pull off my clothes before we can even make it to the bed,” she agreed, playing along as she lifted her hand, fingering the strap of her camisole, waiting for me to stop her.

Sliding her hands down over her breasts and lower, to the hem of the garment, she began to lift it up, over her head . . . and off.

My heart stopped and when it started again, it was ten times too large, ten times too fast.

Ruby dropped the silk to the floor without looking away from my face.

Her chest was bared to me, lush curves, small, pink nipples, and perfect, pale skin. I swallowed, fighting the savage tempo of my pulse. I wanted to touch her, kiss her. I wanted to lie on top of her, move inside of her.

She took one step backward, and then turned, walking away from me and over to the bed.

“Ruby.” I had no point to make. Her name was just an instinctive utterance. Nearly a plea.

“You touch my breasts like you know them.” She turned back to face me, running her hands over the swells, pushing them together, roughly pinching the blush peaks. “You suck them. Like you’re greedy.”

“You love my breasts. You’re filthy with them, sometimes.”

I nearly choked. Never in my life had I played such a game. “I am?”

“You are. You rub yourself all over them.”

I felt my skin flush, my body pulsing beneath my trousers at the intended meaning. “Myself . . . ?”

My mouth watered, and I stared at her lips, imagining her kissing me there.