She touched her finger to my chin, drawing my eyes back to her face. “You’re getting nervous needlessly here. I know you were oblivious to me before. It doesn’t hurt my feelings.”
I swallowed, studying her sweet, pink mouth, her calm, green eyes. “I wasn’t oblivious to you but, ah . . .” I struggled to hold her gaze. “You see, and this stays strictly between us . . . Tony may have suggested I use this trip to get a leg over.”
“ ‘Get a leg over’?” she repeated, shaking her head. I stared at her and smiled wanly as realization struck and she burst out laughing. “He is such a pig.”
Her reaction calmed me immediately, until a thought occurred to me. “He’s never touched you, I hope.”
Tilting her head, she said, “No, he’s just a creep. The way he looks at me and Pippa sometimes . . .” She shook her head, shivering.
I grimaced, not wanting to confirm that much of the time I felt the same way about how he looked at women in the office. On more than one occasion I’d been inclined to carefully request that HR keep an eye on him.
“But I do love that phrase,” she said, blinking away. “ ‘Get a leg over.’ It’s hot in a crude sort of way. I like the idea of your long legs over mine, pinning me down.”
I closed my eyes, steadying myself with a deep breath. “I assure you his suggestion carried little weight with me. But I’m a man, after all. And even if he hadn’t said that, just knowing we would be traveling together would have sent me into a spin.” She laughed, and I registered again how well she seemed to know me, how much she had picked up simply by observing. “I ran into you in the lift and—”
“Yes, you were. A menace, really,” I teased. “But I wanted to get out only because I felt somewhat disoriented being that close to you.”
“Without a doubt,” I murmured, reaching to tuck her hair behind her ear. “You’re joking, but I’m not. Something about you . . .”
She closed her eyes and I let my fingers linger at her neck, drawing them down to her collarbone. Beneath my fingertips, her skin was cool from being outside, and so smooth. I could scarcely imagine how intense it would be to kiss her, let alone make love to her. I would likely tear her clothes, as she suggested only last night. I would most definitely bite.
“But I’d noticed you before. In meetings, we’d a shared look once or twice . . .”
Ruby opened her eyes again and her expression grew dubious, as if I’d begun to toy with her. “It’s okay if you didn’t notice me. It’s also okay if this is just an experiment in seeing someone other than Portia. I promise I have my big-girl pants on.”
“It’s not . . .” I started, but then stopped when the cab pulled up at the curb.
I led Ruby inside the hotel and into a crowded lift. We exited on our floor in silence and walked down the carpeted hall toward our rooms, our steps echoing in the quiet.
Once we stood outside my door, I told her, “I have never considered having a fling. One drunk, fumbling interaction aside, sex purely for the sake of sex is not interesting to me.”
She licked her lips and gave me an impish smile. “Then you need to have better sex.”
As she continued to look up at me with her patient, playful eyes, the moment grew heavy.
“I think without a doubt I need to have better sex,” I admitted quietly.
Her brows slowly inched up in suggestion and she tilted her head toward her hotel room door. “I had a really nice time at dinner . . .”
Ruby gave me another ten seconds to do or say more before she stretched to kiss my cheek, just barely missing the corner of my mouth. “Good night, my tentative, sexy, secretive crush.”
I watched her turn and walk the ten steps to her room. She let herself inside, and the door clicked shut quietly behind her before I murmured, “Good night, my beautiful, exuberant girl.”
“What brand of imbecile are you?” I asked my reflection in the bathroom mirror. “You could have kissed her. You could have enjoyed her tonight. At the very least you could have asked her in.” I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath through my nose. It felt a little as if my skin were on fire, and short of walking into the shower with all of my clothes on, or barging into her room and deciding once and for all to have a go, I wasn’t sure how the feeling was going to diffuse.
I swore I could remember every time she smiled tonight, or her openmouthed laugh, head back, eyes closed. Ruby seemed to enjoy every tiny instant of her life. There was something about her that made me want to be near her, put her up on a pedestal, bask in her energy and uninhibited sweetness.
Say something filthy, she’d said. Tell me the craziest, dirtiest thing you can think of. Render me speechless.
Walking to my closet, I pulled off my jacket, my tie, my shirt. I hung up all of my clothes, feeling overheated and sensitive and wound up to the point I thought I might burst. And I felt stupid, really. Ruby wouldn’t have said no had I stepped forward, cupped her lovely face, and kissed her. She wouldn’t even have said no if I’d simply asked her, “Come inside, show me how to do all of this for real, now? I’m afraid I’ll bungle it.”
Because, sincerely, I’d never taken a leap like this. Professionally, yes: I put myself out there, drove for what I wanted. But my personal life had sort of fallen easily into place. When we were sixteen, Portia found me in the woods near my home and suggested I kiss her. When we were eighteen, she informed me that she was ready to make love. Being Portia, she was unable to resist telling her mum what we’d done, and being Windsor-Lockharts, her parents had immediately suggested we marry. From there, it all unfolded rather obediently: a grand wedding, a flat her father loaned us the money to buy (and which I repaid in under four years), a car, a dog, and a marriage built on suggestion.