The arm I was propped up on began to fall asleep, and with a quiet groan I rolled to my back, careful to not jostle him. I wanted to keep watching him. I wanted to keep this feeling—completely blissed out—alive just a little longer. If I thought keeping him primed on a steady dose of sleeping pills would make this moment last, I might have considered it. The sheets smelled like him, my skin still hummed with the memory of his fingertips, and lips and—holy shit, his come—everywhere. If I closed my eyes I could still feel the faint press of his fingers pumping between my legs.

But with the quiet, soft sounds of Niall sleeping came the familiar doubt. It was still faint enough to ignore, like hearing someone shout from the other side of a wall, but I wondered how long it would stay that way. If there was one thing my parents encouraged us to do, it was to listen to our gut, to take note when something felt worrisome or scary. And this definitely felt scary. It was fucking terrifying.

Niall seemed to approach our relationship with fits and starts. I knew he was hesitant about his ability to be a good partner, but was that all it was?

The room was still dark, and I rolled over again, tucking myself back into the warm space at his side. His skin smelled faintly of soap and his breaths were soft and even. I closed my eyes, rationalizing that it was too early to worry about things I couldn’t control. There would be plenty of time for that later.

When I opened them again, I was alone, blinking up at the ceiling overhead.

The blue curtains glowed, backlit from the morning on the other side, and the bathroom light flooded the carpet near the hotel room door.

I could hear water running and the faint tap tap tap of something knocking against the sink.

“Niall?” I called out, pushing up onto an elbow. The water shut off and a head of dark hair peeked out the doorway.

“Good morning,” he said, one side of his face still covered in an even layer of shaving cream. “I hope I didn’t wake you?”

I frowned when I realized that he was shirtless—yay—but he was wearing dress pants—boo. “Where are you going?” I asked through a yawn.

He’d stepped back into the bathroom, and I heard his voice over the running water. “I woke to a message from Tony,” he said, and I felt the involuntary eye roll that somehow always accompanied that name. “He’s set up an early meeting across town I need to get to.”

“At . . .” I glanced at the clock. “Seven in the morning?”

I was hoping we’d have breakfast together. Actually, I’d hoped we’d have room service and maybe feed each other bite-size pieces of fruit followed by rigorous shower sex.

“Okay,” I said instead. The bed suddenly seemed less empty as my doubts from last night resurfaced and slipped back between the sheets.

Niall walked out of the bathroom and slid his arms into the sleeves of a dress shirt. I stared as his torso disappeared with each button slipped through its hole. “You’ll meet me at the office later?” he asked.

“Of course.” I propped myself up on two pillows, and a thought occurred to me. “Last night—?”

But what had I meant to say? Last night was amazing? Confusing? Terrifying?

Pretty much all of those.

“Was it enough for you?” he asked, and I knew he wasn’t looking for false praise or ego boosting, he was simply wondering.

“More than enough. I don’t think people appreciate the awesomeness of a good fingerbang.”

He laughed, shaking his head as he focused on his hands knotting his tie. “The things you say.”

“I’m serious. When we’re young, each step is a milestone. First kiss, first base, second,” I said, ignoring the way he watched me. I brought my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. “If I could go back and tell Teenage Ruby anything . . . well, first I would say to wear more sunscreen, but the second most important thing would be to slow down and enjoy all those firsts. Enjoy the anticipation. Once you have sex, all the good stuff becomes a means to an end. Nobody wants to just make out anymore.”

Niall looked up and smiled at me from across the room. “Thank you.”

“For being patient with me, with all of this. I know I come across as . . . uptight at times. But I assure you . . . I’ve grown quite fond of you, Ruby.”

I bit my lip through a smile. “I’m quite fond of you, as well, Niall Stella.”

He walked over to the bed and bent, kissing my forehead. “See you in a bit, darling.”

I took my time getting ready back in my room—slim black dress, smooth, straight hair, and my favorite special-occasion lipstick—and grabbed a quick breakfast at Norma’s before heading to the office. I needed an extra layer of confidence today and this outfit always did the trick. Manhattan was chilly, and I tugged at my coat—red, to match the lipstick—bundling it a bit higher against my throat.

I’d decided to walk this morning, opting for a different route than I’d used before, having googled a landmark I knew my mom would love to see in a photo. I remembered an old copy of Love Story on her bedside table, while growing up, and that the cover was inspired by a version of the sculpture located on Sixth Avenue.

It was easy to find. Groups of tourists crowded around it, re-creating iconic poses while they took each other’s photo. It was simple: red capital letters with blue accents, the L and O set on top of the V and E, and I pulled out my phone, hoping to snap a quick photo to send to her.