“You didn’t think you’d like the concert, either. Remember? Sometimes it’s fun to just be silly.”
He was quiet for a moment before nodding once and tilting his chin toward me for another kiss. “You’re right, I suppose,” he said against my mouth. “And what do you think of New York? Do you enjoy yourself?”
“It’s big and loud, but . . . sort of exhilarating. I’ll never forget it,” I said, eyes still on the comforter.
I lifted a shoulder in a small shrug. “Maybe. Might not be the same without the company, though.”
“Who would buy you hot dogs and tease you about mustard?”
“Or grope me on the subway?”
“Exactly. So school first and then you’ll what? Go back to San Diego?”
We’d been so honest tonight and I didn’t want to give that up. “I’m not sure,” I said. “It depends on a lot of things.”
“School,” I said. “A job that pays enough to live there.”
“I’m fairly certain neither of those things will be a problem.”
“I still have to actually get into Maggie’s program, you know.”
“You will. Margaret Sheffield would be nutters to let someone like you go. You’re quite brilliant, Ruby.”
He smoothed a hand down my back and over the curve of my ass, to rest at my hip. “Ah, but we go home soon, yeah?”
“I think we both know that New York isn’t the distraction,” I said honestly.
“I think that may be true for the both of us,” he said, pressing his thumb into my skin.
“What will happen when we get home?” I asked, voicing the question we’d both been avoiding. We were due to leave in two days. The tickets were bought. The email telling me to check in to my flight would be arriving in less than twenty-four hours. Everything had happened so fast, but would it continue? We wouldn’t take the physical side of our relationship any further until he knew he loved me, but what did that mean for the rest? Were we an actual couple? Would we tell anyone?
He blinked up to my face, and I could tell he hadn’t been expecting that, for me to just come right out and ask. “We’ll plug along,” he said. “Things will of course be different at work, but outside of that, things can stay as they are.”
His expression tightened into one that I’m sure mirrored my own. I wasn’t sure which of those sentences I hated more. We’ll plug along made it sound like we were barely surviving this, that we were something to be endured. Things will be different at work. Of course they would, how could they not? And things can stay the way they are. I was greedy. I didn’t want things to stay the way they were, I wanted more. I wanted all of him.
Nearly three days later we stepped onto the curb at Heathrow, bags rolling to a stop behind us. The sky was a dingy gray, the air cool and smelling of damp stone and exhaust, but it felt like home. Niall had held my hand throughout most of the flight, growing more confident in how he allowed himself to touch me, and even now stood close enough that the side of his body was in constant contact with mine.
He’d suggested we head to his flat, but we were both exhausted, and, realistically, we wouldn’t get any sleep if we were together. We’d each been gone for weeks, would have people to catch up with, a stack of mail to sort through, and, after nine hours of traveling, there was nothing I wanted more than a shower and my own bed. Especially given that Tony had requested I come into the office the next day to debrief him and because, he “hasn’t seen my lovely face in a month.”
Niall and I definitely should have talked more, at least discussed some kind of game plan for work, but instead we leaned heavily into one another, both of us trying to enjoy just a few more minutes. He kept my hand tucked between both of his as the view outside the windows shifted from the M4 to surface streets, and by the time the taxi stopped in front of my building, it was all I could do to kiss him goodbye—albeit a bit enthusiastically, considering we were in the back of a cab—and stumble with my bags through my front door.
Rain pounded on the street outside my apartment that night, tracking over the windows like leaded glass. It felt right somehow that it would rain our first night back in London, a welcome return to normalcy of sorts.
I was in bed, fresh from the shower and wrapped in my favorite pajamas, when my phone buzzed from the bedside table.
Miss seeing your face on the pillow next to me, it said, and something sparked, hot in my chest. He was doing it—he was trying—just like he’d said.
Miss hearing those cute little sounds you make while you sleep, I typed back, already smiling at what I knew his response would be.
I am far too masculine to ever be considered ‘cute,’ Ms. Miller. I laughed out loud at that, and my heart took off.
I may need to see you fully undressed again soon, just to be sure.
There was nothing for a full minute, and then the little bubble appeared, indicating he was typing a message. I can’t wait to see you, this bed is far too big for one person.
My fingers shook on the keyboard as I entered a reply, my cheeks beginning to hurt from smiling. He really was doing this. We were doing this.
I can’t wait to see you, too.