As the global lead on the team, Niall couldn’t back out. So, with a small, apologetic glance in my direction, he told everyone he would meet them in a half hour at the restaurant.
I moved to the elevator and shivered a little when he came in behind me. We’d been able to spend nearly every second together the past couple of weeks but would be apart tonight. I felt a little petulant in my unwillingness to share.
“All right?” he asked quietly as a few other people came in after us.
“I’m good.” I smiled at him over my shoulder. “Just need to be an adult for a few hours and feeling bratty about it.”
He couldn’t exactly kiss me or do anything even mildly physically reassuring. It was just that everything still felt so precarious. Our relationship was starting to feel like a towering house of cards, and in a way I understood why he was inclined to take the physical side of things slowly: there was no established us yet. No moments where I felt like, wow, this guy is totally my boyfriend.
There was also a tiny part of me that suspected I’d complicated his thoughts further by telling him about Paul. I was being truthful when I said I still thought about what happened from time to time, but what I gathered most from those moments was a sense of pride that I had worked through it, and that I hadn’t let it dictate how I felt about myself or who I would be. I needed to make sure he knew that.
“You’ll be at the hotel working?” he asked.
I nodded and he followed me out of the building. “I’ll walk you there.”
Smiling up at him, I whispered, “Thanks.”
Cabs jerked past us, honking. The cold March wind seemed to lash us with sharp fingertips. Niall put an arm around me, awkwardly maneuvering us through the crowd, bending to speak close to my ear. “If I ever forget to tell you, it helps me immeasurably that you’re so honest. For the record, I don’t think you’re being bratty. I’m pouting on the inside.”
And like that, butterflies. Lots of them.
We chatted about the meeting, about what was coming up in the summit over the next few days. He held my hand and I realized with some pride that I’d grown accustomed to his long strides; we walked easily in tandem. But there was still the thing between us.
“You wanted honesty?” I whispered during the elevator ride in the hotel, using the excuse to lean into him.
I tilted my head to look up at his face. “Was today too fast?”
He swallowed, immediately understanding. “Maybe a bit. But I’m not sure I wanted to stop you, or whether I could have.”
“Or whether I should have,” he added quietly, placing his finger under my chin to turn my face back up to his. “Ruby, it was amazing.”
I nodded, forcing a smile. “Will you come by my room later? When you’re back from dinner?”
He looked at me for a long moment, eyes meeting mine and holding there, and then he nodded in agreement, bending to kiss me once, sweetly.
“Let yourself in, if you want to,” I said, placing my extra keycard in his hand. “I have a ton to do so I may be up all night or . . . who knows, maybe I’ll fall asleep at the desk in a puddle of my own drool.”
He laughed and I adored him so much in that moment it was like a punch to my stomach. With one more kiss to my lips, he slipped the key into his pocket. I got out of the elevator at our floor and waved, watching him disappear between the closing doors.
I woke to the electronic sound of a lock turning, to a slice of light that cut across the room and was swallowed behind the closing door. Just like I’d told him, I worked until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, dragging myself away from the desk just long enough to undress and throw on a T-shirt before climbing into bed.
The door closed and I watched Niall’s silhouette move in front of the window, quietly slipping out of its jacket and shirt before taking a seat near my feet. I felt the mattress dip with his weight, and waited for him to say something. The silence ticked on right along with his watch again before he spoke.
“You awake?” he whispered into the darkness. The stillness in the room knotted my stomach. What had happened after I’d left him in the elevator? Had he spent the night thinking and overthinking and second-guessing what was happening between us? I felt frozen in place, my words locked in my chest, and wondered briefly what would happen if I didn’t answer. Would he crawl into bed and wrap himself around me? Or would he stand, redressing before heading back to his room? I was afraid to find out.
I sat up, pulling my knees to my chest. “Are you just getting back?”
“No,” he said, and though I couldn’t see his face or the expression that accompanied it, I saw him run a hand through his hair. “I’ve been sitting downstairs for the last two hours.”
My heart pounded and I wasn’t sure if the darkness was a blessing or a curse. He’d been downstairs for two hours? “Why?”
He laughed a little dryly. “I’ve been thinking about what we did earlier.”
I pushed the hair from my face and wondered how honest I should be. “I think I’d be more surprised if you weren’t.”
“I’d say consistent,” I told him. Silence stretched between us until I couldn’t take it anymore. “Do you want to talk about it?”