“Table for two,” he told the hostess. “Reservation under the name Stella.”
I tried to ignore the way my heart leapt at the idea of him making dinner reservations for the two of us.
We followed her to a small booth in the very corner of the room.
“Oh my God, this is gorgeous,” I said, taking in the breathtaking view of the Hudson River. “How did you know about this place?”
“Max, of course,” he said, taking his seat.
“Right. Max,” I said, praying that didn’t sound as breathless to his ears as it did to mine. He’d called his brother asking about dinner. If I couldn’t feel his foot pressed up against mine under the table, I might have floated away. “Has he lived here long?”
He nodded, taking a sip of his water. “A few years.”
“He seems so happy,” I said. “They all do.”
He smiled. “They are, it seems. Max and Sara just had a baby, you know?” I nodded, and he hesitated a moment before asking, “Would you like to see a picture?”
“I’d love to.” Love to might be too small an exclamation, dying to might be a bit more accurate.
Niall retrieved his phone and flipped through his camera roll.
“There she is,” he said, fondly, finger running along the edge of the screen. It was a picture of Niall holding a tiny bundle, a small hand reaching out from the blanket to grip his thumb. But it wasn’t the beautiful baby that had my heart dropping into the depths of my stomach—though she was gorgeous—it was the look of adoration he wore as he looked down at her. The Niall in this photo was happy, practically blissed out. He was relaxed and smiling and absolutely in awe of the little girl.
“What’s her name?” I asked, looking up to find him wearing the exact same expression now.
My eyes widened at the softening of his accent. “Gorgeous. She looks a little like you, I think. Look at that nose.”
If possible, his expression grew even happier. “Yeah?”
The server came by, asking if we’d like to order cocktails before dinner. We both laughed, and then our eyes met across the table. With the mention of drinks, the memory of last night was laid bare between us.
“Maybe a bottle of wine?” Niall suggested quietly, glancing to me for agreement before he quickly studied the wine list. He ordered a bottle of a pinot noir and handed her the menu. “A few minutes before we order, then, yeah?”
After the server disappeared, he seemed engrossed with the condensation on his water glass for several breaths.
“I know last night was probably really wild for both of us,” I said, addressing the elephant sitting on the table, “but I hope you don’t regret it. I would feel terrible.”
His head shot up, brow tight. “Not at all,” he said, and I exhaled in relief. “I was the one who came to your room, if you recall.”
The seconds ticked by as he looked back down at his hands and failed to say anything else. With each passing moment of silence, I couldn’t help thinking, That’s it? I gnawed at my lip, studying him.
He took a calming breath, laughing a little self-deprecating laugh. “This is all very new to me, Ruby; forgive me if it takes a while to find the words.”
I wanted to be patient, but the quiet was torture. In professional situations, Niall was entirely self-possessed and capable. The few times he’d relaxed enough to touch me, he was all confidence and command. But when it was like this—personal and relying on expressing things verbally—he seemed unable to communicate a single private thought. Maybe Pippa was right and this sort of emotional reserve was only sexy in a book or movie. Here it was torture to my hammering pulse.
“It must have been weird,” I said, unable to take the silence anymore. “To do that. I mean, to watch me do that.”
He gazed at me, waiting to see where I was going with this. Hell, I was waiting to see where I was going with this.
“With someone totally different, after the divorce,” I babbled. “Or, to just be back in the swing of things . . . Like that. With me.”
Gah, if this were a football game, it would be the kind where I fumbled the ball, it exploded, and the entire stadium burst into flames.
He ran a finger over his eyebrow and gave a tiny smile. “Back in the swing of things,” he repeated. “Not sure what I’ve done since the divorce could be classified as such.”
The server stopped by our table to take our order, and we both opened the menus, scanning quickly.
I ordered the first combination of words I could coherently string together. “I’ll have the salmon.”
Niall stared blankly at the choices before he snapped his menu closed and handed it to her, saying only a distracted, “Steak.” She opened her mouth to begin listing the choices and he cut her off with a gentle “Whichever you recommend. Medium rare, please.”
We waited patiently for her to leave and then our eyes met again.
“We were breaking down the meaning of ‘back in the swing of things.’ ”