This unconscious flash of interest was quashed when Tony emerged from the stairwell, giving me a wink and a little wiggle of his brow, murmuring, “Shagfest,” as Ruby rounded the corner. Left in its place was a sour twinge of shame for letting his earlier suggestion worm its way into my head.
Growing up with twelve people in the house, air travel simply didn’t happen often, and when it did—the odd puddle jumper with a few kids to Ireland and once, when it was only me and Rebecca left at home, Mum and Dad took us to Rome to see the pope—it put the entire house in an uproar of preparation. We had regular Sunday clothes that weren’t as posh as our Christmas mass kits, and even those were yards below our air travel outfits. It was a hard habit to break, even when dressing before the sun rose, but this history dictated why I found myself at Heathrow, wearing a suit at four thirty on Monday morning.
By contrast, Ruby sprinted in just at my panic point—when the flight was boarding—in a zip-front pink hoodie, black workout pants, and bright blue trainers. I saw the response to her pass through the crowd in a quiet ripple. I couldn’t tell if Ruby noticed or not, but nearly every set of male eyes—and many female as well—followed her as she made her way toward our gate.
She looked casual but fresh, her cheeks flushed from her run and her full, pink lips parted as she caught her breath.
She stopped short when she found me in the crowd, her eyes going wide as saucers.
“Shit.” She slapped a hand over her mouth. “I mean, crap,” she mumbled from behind it. “Do we have a meeting right when we land?” She began searching through her phone. “I memorized the schedule and I could have sworn—”
I felt my brows pull together. “No . . . ?” She’d memorized our schedule?
“I . . . you look really dressed up for the plane. I feel like a hobo in comparison.”
I wasn’t sure whether I was meant to feel insulted or praised. “You don’t look like a hobo.”
She groaned, covering her face. “It’s a long flight. I thought we were going to sleep.”
I smiled politely, though the thought of sleeping next to her on a flight created an anxious, gnawing sensation in my gut. “I’ve a few work things to do before we arrive. Feel better dressed for the occasion, that’s all.”
I wasn’t actually sure which one of us had misjudged, but looking at the attire on most of the boarding passengers around us, I was beginning to understand it was me.
With one last wary glance at my suit, she turned and made her way down the jetway to board and stowed her tote in the overhead above our seats. I made every effort to not look at her backside again . . . and failed.
Oblivious, Ruby turned and I pulled my gaze up to her face just as she gestured to the two seats. “Do you want the aisle or window?” she asked.
I removed my suit coat and handed it to the flight attendant, watching as Ruby slid into the window seat and tucked away her iPad and book, keeping a small notebook with her.
Seated beside her, and even with the rest of the passengers still boarding, a heavy silence descended between us. Christ. Not only did we have six hours on the flight today, but then nearly four weeks in New York together for the summit.
I suppose I could ask her how she liked Richardson-Corbett or how long she’d lived in London. She wasn’t under my charge, but working for Tony, I was sure her time there had been . . . eventful. I could ask her where she grew up—though I knew from Tony it was California. At least it might break the ice a little.
But then we would be required to keep talking, and that definitely didn’t seem to be going well. Best to just leave it.
“Can I offer you a beverage before we lift off?” the flight attendant asked before setting a napkin down in front of me.
I deferred to Ruby, and she leaned closer to speak to the woman over the din of travelers boarding the plane. Her breast pressed to the arm of my shirt, and I felt my entire body go stiff, careful to not seem to lean into . . . it.
“I’ll have some champagne,” Ruby said.
The flight attendant smiled uncomfortably as she nodded—no doubt it wasn’t something they generally poured before five in the morning—and turned to me.
“I . . .” I began, haltingly. Should I order champagne, too, so it wasn’t odd for her to do it? Or should I set the example for professional decorum and order the grapefruit juice I’d planned for? “Well, I suppose if it’s not too much trouble, I could also—”
Ruby held up a hand. “I’m totally kidding, by the way. Sorry. Joke bomb! I mean no! Not a bomb, I’d never joke about . . . that.” She closed her eyes and groaned. “I’ll just have some OJ.”
I looked up, sharing a brief, confused expression with the flight attendant. “I’ll take grapefruit juice, please.”
With our orders noted, the flight attendant left and Ruby turned to me. Something about her face, the unguarded honesty in her eyes . . . it triggered a tender protectiveness in me I was wholly unaccustomed to.
She blinked away, moving to stare so hard at her tray I was afraid she would crack it through sheer intensity.
“Just—sorry about that. And yes. I—” She paused and then tried again. “I wasn’t going to order champagne. Did you really think that?”