But that was the problem, wasn’t it? I was stuck thinking Ruby was just a little too fun, a little too pretty, a little too adventurous for the likes of me. I had a picture of what I thought I deserved, who might like me, and it wasn’t ever someone like Ruby.

If she’d been able to hear this thought, I’m quite certain she would have ripped the phone out of the wall and hurled it at me.

I listened, watching as she ordered, confirmed our selection, and then hung up. All of this was so commonplace, so easy, so comfortable; my shoulders unknotted, stomach settled.

She patted the bed, lifting her eyebrows and giving me a seductive little smile. “We have approximately forty minutes for mischief.”

Her smile slipped a little before she picked it up again. “Why are you so afraid of being on a bed with me?” she said, and I could hear the embarrassment just beneath her laugh. “I’m not going to steal your virtue, I promise.”

“It’s nothing about being afraid. I—” I stopped, pulling my tie from the collar of my shirt and draping it over the desk chair. Whenever I wanted to explain myself, say something important—something personal—the words in my mind scattered into disarray. It’s why, with Portia, I’d long since given up.

I knew I needed to stop comparing everything to my marriage. Ruby was trying to help me find who I was again, and I needed to let her.

I closed my eyes, putting together the sentence before I said anything more. “I feel like I’ve barely processed the idea of being with you and what that entails, and yet here we are, in a room with a bed. Although there is no ‘normally’ to be found in my dating experience, I like to think that ‘normally’ I would take you out to dinner a few times, kiss you at your doorstep, be far more measured in my interactions. At least that’s what eighteen-year-old me would have done all those years ago,” I said with a quiet, sheepish laugh. “Yet, here we are in a hotel room, I put my fingers inside you earlier, and all I want to do now is join you and relieve the ache I’ve felt all day long. I suppose it surprises me that my body and my heart are so far ahead of my brain here.”

Ruby rose up on her knees so she could crawl to the foot of the bed. Reaching out, she slid her finger through my belt loop and pulled me closer. “Why do people act like the heart and body aren’t part of the brain?”

She worked the top button of my shirt free and moved to the next. And the next. Her fingertips tickled as they brushed over my breastbone.

“When you want me?” she began. “That’s your brain. When you like being around me? Hey guess what?” She looked up at me, sweet tongue-trapped smile in place. “Also because of your brain.”

“Do you know what I mean, though?” I asked in a whisper. Our faces were only inches apart; I’d need to only duck down to kiss her. “I worry you’re young. That I’m neurotic. How can it work away from all of this?”

“In fact,” she said, pulling her brows together in mock seriousness, “I would think it would be easier for you to do this with me back home. In your space, with your routines. I would think what’s hardest about this for you is that you’re away from all of that, and I’m just another piece of chaos thrown in the mix.”

Her words eased my mind, massaged away the growing wave of anxiety. “Are you sure you aren’t really a sixty-year-old bird with a fantastic plastic surgeon? You seem remarkably wise.”

“I am definitely sure,” she said, smiling prettily up at me. “But I’m also sure that you don’t have to do a single thing you don’t want to, Niall. You’re allowed to not want this.”

I looked down to her pulse point, wondering what it would feel like beating against my lips. “I’m quite sure . . . What I mean is . . .” I sighed, frustrated by my own thoughts. “I do want this,” I said finally.

Ruby giggled, falling backward onto the bed and pulling me down over her. We landed softly, bouncing off the mattress, and I easily rolled beside her, shrugging out of my dress shirt. Almost as if we’d planned it—or had been doing it for decades—she bent her knees, lifting her legs over mine and tucking her feet down behind my thighs as I curled on my side into her.

I stared down at our position, speechless.

“We fit,” Ruby observed quietly. “And look. I got you on the bed with me this time.” She reached up to smooth away the lines that had formed on my forehead. “To be clear, I want to spend time with you, and cuddle while we talk,” she assured me. “We don’t have to get naked before dinner. Or after.”

I smiled, reaching forward and running a palm over her stomach to her opposite hip. “Tell me about your family?”

“Let’s see . . .” Her hand reached up to run along my neck and into my hair. “I have one brother, my twin—”

“You have a twin brother?” I asked. How could I have kissed her, watched her bring herself to orgasm, given her another one with my hand earlier and spent the last five days with her without knowing such basic information?

“Yeah, he’s in med school at UCLA. His name is Crain.”

“Crain? That’s not a name you hear every day.”

“Well, everyone calls him by our last name, Miller, but yeah.” She ran her fingers over my scalp, lost in thought. “He’s good people.”