He stayed quiet for a moment before I sensed him nodding. “I think so. Yeah.”

I smiled into the darkness, realizing what a leap this was for him.

“I was thinking about how confusing this must be for you. And how I’ve probably got you turned upside down with mixed messages about our physical relationship.” He paused and took my hand in his, brushing a fingertip over my palm to stop at my wrist.

“I told you I wanted to take things slowly, and then . . .” He turned, pulling his knee up onto the mattress to fully face me. “And then I reacted how I did, put the lipstick on you . . .”

“I didn’t mind that,” I admitted. “I know we can’t always script these things. Sometimes you might do something in the heat of the moment and then find yourself questioning it later. As long as we’re honest with each other, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way for this to go.”

He considered me for a moment before offering a simple, “Thank you.”

“And you’re not the only one who has a tendency to overthink things,” I told him. “I might just be better at blurting things out or running ahead.”

There was a beat of silence. “As long as we’re being honest, can I ask you a question?”

He squeezed my hand. “Of course, darling.”

“Does part of you wanting to go slow have to do with what I told you last night?”

He was silent for another moment and I felt him shift on the mattress.

“After what he did to you,” he said, “I feel like I should be—”

“I need you to stop right there,” I said. I was right. It wasn’t just about his hesitation to dive in; he didn’t want to rush me, either. “I told you what happened with Paul because I trust you, and because you asked. I want you to have an idea of the pieces that make me who I am, just like I want to know about you. What happened to me will never go away, because it’s a part of my past, but I don’t want you to handle me differently because of it. I’m not delicate and I don’t need you to be careful with me. Not like that. You need to trust me to tell you where my limits are, just like I need you to tell me yours.”

He leaned forward, rubbing his hands over his face. “That’s just it, though. I feel so out of my depth,” he said. “That we can so readily communicate these things is still a bit of a revelation. My marriage was a lonely place, for both of us, I’m sure,” he added quickly. “And I’m terrified that that wasn’t just a Niall and Portia thing, that it’s me. I know I don’t say enough and what if y—someone, tires of having to pull every little thing from me?”

“And what if after the rush of conquest wears off, you’ll realize that I’m not what you’ve built me up to be? I . . . I’m not quite sure how I’d deal with that.”

“I know how different we can be in that way,” I told him. “You feel like you don’t share enough and I’m the opposite.” He laughed, reaching out to brush the backs of his fingers along my cheek. “And if we’re being honest here, it is frustrating when I have to try and decipher what you’re thinking. Like this morning? I’m not saying I’d need to be privy to every thought in a man’s head . . . but I do need someone who can talk to me. Who can step outside their comfort level and meet me halfway. I want that for myself.”

The room filled with a silence so heavy it was like a third person, towering above us.

Those moments where I’m trying to decipher his thoughts? This was one of them. Then it hit me and I wondered if I needed to take his insecurity into account, and clarify that when I said someone, what I meant was him.

But Niall seemed to be ready to take a leap. Leaning forward, he pulled me by the back of my neck so that our foreheads pressed together.

“I’ll try,” he said. “For you, I’ll try.”

I’d truly never known a woman like Ruby. Instead of needing giant leaps to prove my commitment, over the next week she seemed to revel more in the small things: the pressure of my palm on her lower back while we waited on the subway platform, a lingering glance while queuing for lunch at a street vendor, doing nothing more than kissing for hours at sunrise. But while our physical relationship seemed to have taken a few calming steps backward, she never pressed, and she never asked me to explain myself beyond what I’d told her that night in her hotel room.

I did want to try. Knowing that, she seemed content to simply be near me.

Ruby surprised me in other ways, as well. She was smart, far smarter than I’d initially given her credit for, and absorbed details like it was some sort of superpower. I was a note taker myself, and could usually gather any piece of information needed quickly enough when called upon, but over the following week I was blown away on more than one occasion when a question was posed during a meeting and Ruby would pull the answer seemingly out of thin air. It was truly remarkable.

We fell into a rather easy routine of work and meals, and at night an unspoken ritual of pillow talk in between kisses until we were nothing but mumbles and nonsense and her soft sweet skin curled around me as we fell asleep. It was a flash of a fantasy life—I suspected we both knew it—where we lived in a gorgeous hotel, ate wherever we wanted, and could spend the entire workday as a couple, out in the open, managing quite functionally together.