If a heart could burst from happiness, mine was well on its way.
I finally fell asleep to the sound of the rain, with a smile on my face and my phone tucked under my pillow. The voice in my head was silent.
It’s fascinating how quickly the human mind incorporates new habits. Even though we were back in London, even though she’d never shared this bed with me, waking up without Ruby was odd.
I pulled my phone from my laptop bag and texted her. Did you sleep?
Her reply: Barely. I may need someone to stand behind me and move my arms and mouth for me at work.
I’ll see you at the office, my beautiful puppet. I finished breakfast, read the paper, dressed, and left. It could be any other day . . . except it wasn’t. My life felt about seven thousand times bigger.
Ruby was in her small shared space when I arrived. I usually got in before eight but doubted I had ever once beat her to the office. This morning, I’d tried, though. I wanted even just one moment alone with her, unguarded before reality descended. Unfortunately it was not to be. The offices already buzzed with Monday morning activity, and I could only manage a small smile, a wink, and a glimpse at her wet, pink lips.
“Hey,” she mouthed to me.
I stared at her for a beat longer, wanting nothing more than to walk in and give her a simple kiss on the mouth, but instead I nodded, walking to my office down the hall.
Anthony’s familiar sharp, two-knock combination rapped at my office door and, as usual, he stepped in without waiting for an answer.
“All right?” he asked in greeting, walking over to take a seat across my desk from me.
I leaned back in my chair, giving him what I hoped was a relaxed smile. “Good.”
He crossed an ankle over his knee and grinned at me. “I trust you had a nice trip?”
Never before had I felt so much as though I were playing a game of chess. “I did.”
Anthony watched me with scrutinizing eyes, fingers steepled beneath his chin. I blinked over to my computer monitor under the guise of checking my email. I hadn’t decided what I would tell my questionable colleague. On the one hand, I didn’t want to hide what was happening between me and Ruby, and if I knew her at all—which I sincerely felt I did—I knew she wouldn’t do a very good job playing aloof. On the other hand, I wanted what was private to remain private, and Tony had a way of making everything his new favorite joke.
“Something is different,” he mused, pointing a finger at me. “You have a grin in your eyes just here.” He motioned to his own brow. “A twinkle. A little spot of sunshine over your head, I think.”
“You get knobbed in a New York City titty bar?”
His crudeness fell like a weight dropped in the room. “Honestly, Tony.”
He paused, giving me another once-over, then smiled. “Finally get a leg over on Ruby, then?”
I swallowed, caught off guard, pretending to focus on something on my desk. “Ah, no. That . . . I, well, that is to say, I didn’t. No.”
It was the truth, if we were being technical. I hadn’t technically had sex with her yet.
Tony’s hands slapped down on my desk. “You old dog!”
I felt the blood drain from my face. This was exactly the reaction I wanted to avoid. “No, Tony, it’s not—”
“You banged the fringe off her, didn’t you? You had a go at my Ruby!”
I pushed back slightly from my desk, feeling a thunderstorm build in my chest. “ ‘Your Ruby’?’ ”
“So you did then,” he said, clapping his hands once, a violent crack that sliced through the room.
I glanced at the door, hissing at him, “Keep your voice down, you git.”
He pretended to wipe a tear from his eye. Tony enjoyed ribbing as much as the next bloke, but there was an edge to his tone here. “Oh, watching you bumble around the office over this is going to make the wait for the next season of Game of Thrones much easier to take.”
His dark eyes went wide. “And look at the mouth on Niall! I dare say, she’s loosened you up, she has. Think I might step out and thank her.”
“Aw, come on then, tell me,” he said, settling back in the chair, his voice returning to slightly more sincere territory. “What happened?”
I looked at him, feeling the glare slowly drain from my eyes.
“I’m done taking the piss, Niall,” he assured me, smiling with genuine apology. “I’m sorry, I’ve just never in my life imagined—”
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” I cut him off, leaning forward and resting my elbows on my desk. I needed to get back some semblance of control. I had to admit it would be helpful for Tony to be generally aware of what was going on between Ruby and me, but surely he didn’t need more information than that. “Turns out she had feelings for me before, and, well . . .” I couldn’t find a way to articulate where my head was concerning Ruby, settling only on “I enjoy her company.”
Tony could clearly see the understatement in my words. “Ah, sure.”
“I’d be grateful if you’d not mention it ’round.”
He nodded, making a little X mark over his heart and giving me a conspiratorial wink.