The noise around us seemed to return in a roar, reminding me that we weren’t alone in a hotel room. We were leaning toward each other, nearly kissing across the table.

“What are we doing to each other?” he whispered.

He lifted his knife and fork, cutting into his steak. “I’m actually famished now.”

He looked up at me as he chewed. I watched his sharp jaw flex with the motion, his lips press together. How did he make eating sexy? Not even a little fair.

“Nothing. You’re just a sexy eater. It’s distracting after what you just said about oral sex.”

He pushed his lips together in an adorably dubious reaction before asking, “Normal topic then?”

“Good idea.” Finally, I took a bite of my salmon.

I nearly choked. “I can’t even imagine you thinking that word, let alone saying it.”

Laughing, he shook his head as he cut another bite, chewed, and swallowed. “I imagine there are a great many things I think but never say. I love that word. It’s true I rarely say it aloud.”

Humming in thought, he finally said, “I like it as an insult in a game of footie, you know? Like, ‘Stop grabbing me shirt, yer cunt.’ ” He bent, taking a bite of green bean and oblivious to my wide-eyed swoon at his thick northern accent when he said it. He swallowed, wiped his mouth with his napkin, and then said, “What’s your favorite context for it?”

I gulped down about half of my wine. “Probably something a bit cruder than that.”

“Yeah?” he asked, grinning in understanding. “I thought Americans hated that word.”

Niall lifted his wineglass to his lips, and took a long swallow. “I’ll remember that.”

The playful banter slipped into something a bit quieter after we’d finished our meals. Conversation flowed as easily as did the wine. Ruby had youthful attitudes about sex, but surprisingly traditional attitudes about relationships themselves. She admitted, between dinner and dessert, that despite all the flirting, she didn’t like the idea of sex without some sort of understanding.

I studied Ruby—soft mouth, wide eyes, hands gesturing sweetly in front of her to punctuate every thought she shared—and marveled over how effortless it seemed for her. She was patient with my inexperience and hesitations. Indeed, they didn’t even seem to surprise her.

Our dinners finished, our drinks consumed, Ruby picked up her clutch and stood from the table. I watched her hands wrap around the leather, watched her neck stretch as she reached up and untangled her necklace from where it caught on the neckline of her dress. I watched her tuck her hair behind her ear and then turn to look up at me.

She caught me staring; I was mesmerized with every movement she made.

“That was delicious,” she said, giving me a cheeky grin.

“Every bite,” I agreed, helping her with her coat.

“Do you bite?” she asked, making her way through the restaurant and out onto the street.

The air was bracing between blasts of steam from vents, and a cacophony of noises rose from the street.

“I imagine I might,” I began, and we turned onto Greenwich. “Depending on the circumstances.”

My skin hummed, my fingers twitched at my sides until, finally, I gathered the nerve to place my palm at the small of her back. Beneath my touch, she straightened and then shivered, before reaching behind her and taking my hand.

Her long, thin fingers weaved between mine and she pulled me into step with her. “Are you worried about work?” she asked quietly.

I felt my brow lift in understanding. “Ah. Well, no, not at the moment.” I raised a hand and hailed a taxi, holding the door for her. “I think we’ll need to be clear on what we’re doing, and then make sure that it doesn’t interfere with our ability to do our jobs but”—I followed her into the car, noticing her amused smile as I babbled—“I don’t think what we’re doing is forbidden according to company policy.”

“It isn’t,” she said, leaning into my side and looking up at me. “I checked forever ago.”

She pulled her lip between her teeth and bit down as she smiled. “Maybe four months ago?”

We drove in silence for a few blocks. “Four months ago I didn’t . . .”

“Know I existed,” she finished for me, “I know. I think I was hoping to talk myself out of liking you,” she said, laughing. “Maybe I’d see it was forbidden and, well, that would be that.”

“Or maybe you’d want it more,” I said, and ran my thumb along the side of her jaw.

“Maybe,” she asked, turning into my palm. “When did you notice me?”

“The day Tony told me you’d be accompanying me in his place was the first day I really noticed you—”