If someone regarded Ruby the way Stephen had looked at Portia, I would turn homicidal.
My thoughts tripped, blood running hot: Tony looked at her that way.
“I believe you. And I’m not surprised, Porsh. I saw the way he looked at you.”
She laughed. “Yes. Like that one girl at your office, when I dropped off the papers to sign. She had hearts in her eyes, watching you.”
I felt something inside me squeeze tightly. Christ. Even Portia had seen it.
“Ruby?” I asked, and saying her name sent a heated spike through my chest.
I needed a drink. Nodding, I lifted my wineglass to my lips and said, “That’s her.”
Portia’s eyes widened in comprehension. “She’s the one you’ve been with?” She paused. “The one you love?”
Again, I nodded, not even a hint of doubt lingering.
“She’s wanted you for ages and you were finally together?” Portia sounded like a schoolgirl. And it was a testament to our distance that she’d invited me here to discuss taking her back and had so easily let the idea fall away. “Niall, it’s so romantic.”
“Well, I’m not sure if we’re a thing anymore, but it is what it is.” She leaned forward, tilting her head as she asked, “Tell me what happened?”
And like this, with my head in my hands and pulse thudding anxiously in my throat, I confessed the entire affair to Portia.
I told her about New York, Tony’s not being able to come and Ruby coming in his place. I told her about Ruby’s feelings for months before I was aware, her beauty, her humor, and how she put me at ease so immediately. I told her about my fears, my longing, my hesitation. And, although I likely didn’t need to, I told her how I knew she needed more from me—more communication, more intimacy—and I sincerely tried to do it right.
“And then I came here for dinner,” I admitted. “I couldn’t tell her it was nothing without feeling like I was lying—because I did intend to hear you out, Portia—but I didn’t want her to think that I was coming back to you, either. She looked shattered.” I groaned, remembering her vacant expression, the way she’d absently wandered from the room and out of the building entirely. “I’ve made a terrible mess of this.”
“Niall,” she said, voice soothing. “You know you’ve got to fix it.”
I nodded, feeling sick. I didn’t know if it was that easy. I’d messed up, enormously.
She paused. “I love you, you know?”
Her voice held a rare poignancy. She’d said this only a handful of times during our marriage and here, the words spilled out so much more readily.
Smiling up at her, I said, “Love you, too, Porsh.”
And then, the familiar command returned: “Fix it.”
I jogged down the steps to the street, already dialing Ruby’s number.
I’d never heard her voice mail recording before, and hearing her voice while my heart was clutched with an uneasy panic only made me feel more urgent.
“Hi, this is Ruby! Leave me a message and I’ll probably just text you back because I’m terrible about calling but if you’re calling this number you probably already know that about me and I’m already forgiven.” Beep.
“Ruby,” I began, “it’s me, Niall. I’ve . . .” I trailed off, pulling at my hair. “I’ve just left Portia’s. Ruby, I don’t know why I went there. I shouldn’t have gone. Please, just call me. I want to see you tonight. This was all absurd. I need to see you.”
But hour after hour, she didn’t call, and she didn’t text.
Admittedly I arrived at work early the next morning but I was still surprised that Ruby wasn’t yet at her desk.
Her friend Pippa was there, though, and when I approached—knowing full well Pippa was aware of our relationship—she blinked away from me in a scowl.
She looked up at me again, eyes level and assessing. “Yeah?”
“Have you heard from Ruby or know when she’s expected in?”
Her expression shifted from annoyed to baffled. “ ‘Expected in’?”
I stuttered out a few syllables, finally settling on “I don’t believe so?”
She looked at me silently for a couple of beats. “You really don’t know, do you?” she asked, standing up to face me. “Ruby was sacked, you dolt.”
Pippa laughed humorlessly, and shook her head. “She was made to choose between her internship and a relationship with you. She meant to tell you yesterday afternoon that she was done here, but I think you had other plans?”
Panic tore through me, causing my heart to squeeze tightly before it exploded into a rapid swing.
“She . . .” I gasped, looking around as if she might actually be there. As if this might be some sort of game.
Tony made her choose between her job and me.