I didn’t know what to call my feelings, but I knew they were expanding, and profound, and frightening—after all, losing Portia had felt like being unchained, but the idea of losing Ruby felt so hideous it turned something over inside me.

And what it took for her to express her feelings so starkly and then to stay here in the middle of my silence and wait for me to find words . . . I wanted to give her everything I had, wanted to let her know how absolutely mad I was for her.

I trailed my lips from her jaw to her neck, sucking, nibbling. Feel this, I thought. Let me show you the things I can’t say.

I pulled her coat down her arms, tossing it aside and lifting my fingers to the buttons of her shirt, silently begging her to meet my eyes. She looked up with hesitation marking her features and then she read something in my face—pleading anguish, some needful hope—and she seemed to exhale a world of tension, reaching to pull my face to hers.

“Are you suggesting we postpone dinner?” she asked against my lips.

I nodded, wrapping my arms around her waist and walking us over to one of the wide, armless chairs in the living room.

My hands were impatient: hastily unzipping her skirt, pushing her underwear down her hips, hungrily sliding my palms over every inch of her naked skin. Ruby’s curves were smooth, pale, utterly flawless, and I bent, sucking at her shoulder, grasping her breast in my palm.

Far more carefully, she unbuttoned my shirt, eyes gauging my reaction. “We don’t have to—” she started, but I cut her off with a kiss.

She slid my shirt from my shoulders, unfastened my belt, and slowly worked my trousers down my hips until I could kick them away.

Taking me in her hand, she began to lower herself to her knees before me.

I shook my head, in one motion pulling her up and bending to slide my lips over hers, parting them, tasting her. Her tongue was sweet and small in my mouth, pushing against mine with a sudden, aware desperation. Her slim, firm hands pressed against my chest, backing me into the chair, and she followed, climbing over and digging her hands into my hair as she kissed me: messy, biting, moans and tiny pleas escaping as my hands slid down her sides, between her legs, feeling her softest, most vulnerable skin.

“Do you want to move?” she asked, lips wet, eyes heavy.

Did she mean move . . . into her?

She leaned in to kiss me again before whispering, “I mean, do you want to move to your bed?”

I closed my eyes, struggling against the way my brain wanted to pick up that question and consider it too carefully. Getting up and walking to my bedroom would ricochet us out of this place of lust and relief that felt so bloody good. I didn’t want to move an inch. I would think too much about what this meant, what I felt, that I’d never had sex in that bed, and that I’d only put a name to Ruby’s face just under four weeks ago.

My brain wanted to be sure about all of this.

“No.” I bent, kissing her neck as my hands on her backside urged her closer, pressing her, slick and warm, against my shaft. “I don’t want to move.”

Her hips circled and she shifted up until I knew a simple arch of my hips would push me inside her.

“Christ,” I groaned. I’d forgotten—or maybe I’d never truly known—how desire could be clutching and mindless and wild. I wasn’t myself. I was a man who wanted pleasure, wanted to fuck, and was free to do it for the first time in my life.

“I’m clean,” she said on a tight gasp. “I’m covered.”

Her eyes met mine, the question lingering there.

With a groan, I lifted up as she lowered herself and she choked out a small noise that sounded so much like pain and pleasure I nearly stabbed upward with how savage it made me.

“Wait,” she whispered, her voice coming out so small and tight I pulled back to assess her face. She stared at my mouth, her own lips wet and parted . . . and she looked fucking sublime.

“Let me . . . just . . . get used to . . .” Her eyes rolled closed and she let loose these delicious, hoarse cries every inch she lowered herself onto me.

I struggled to remain still, my thoughts obscured by the silken feel of her . . . her body tensing so tight around me . . . her splintered gasps . . . the way her hands urged my head down to her chest.

When I was fully inside her she began to shift in perfect, tiny, maddening circles. Her nails dug into the back of my neck and she squeezed me, breasts pressed to my face, whispering her broken thoughts right into my ear:

She was getting off, using my body, and began to rise more each time, push harder onto me in her return. Her fingers slid higher and gripped my hair, her hot mouth sucked and scraped at my neck. The smell and taste of her, the warmth of her thighs and her breasts as her skin brushed across mine, the decadent slide and suction of her along my length; it was like being submerged completely, not needing or wanting to come up for air.

And her sounds, oh. I’d never heard such honest expression of pleasure, tight and sharp right against my ear. The sound and feel of her—the fucking bliss she allowed herself—chipped away at my foggy notion of sex, my frankly laughable experience to date. This was for her pleasure just as much as mine and the reality of it—what sex should be: an intimacy to be shared rather than endured—made a fever tear through me, burning across my skin.