And then he stopped, his chest jerking back slightly, one hand reaching up to touch the back of his neck.

On shaking legs, I stood, wiping my hands down my skirt. If my outfit was wrinkled earlier from work, I couldn’t imagine how it would look after sitting on a set of concrete steps for over four hours in the humid June air.

When he took a step forward, the movement was hesitant enough to make me move toward him, too. It nearly hurt to see him I loved him so much. I loved his carved features and miles-long legs. I loved the wide expanse of his chest, his deep brown eyes, and the kissable, smooth lips. I loved his hands that were bigger than my head and his arms that could wrap many times around me. I loved that he looked freshly pressed after ten at night, and that I could set a metronome by the pace of his stride.

I wanted to run into his arms and tell him I’d had enough time, and I wanted him.

Hi. I’m sure it’s really weird to find me here on your steps and I’m sorry for not calling, but I wanted to see you. I missed you. I love you.

He moved slowly, I moved slowly, and then we were only a couple of feet apart and my heart was beating so hard I didn’t know what could possibly be holding my ribs together.

“Hi.” He swallowed, and only now, up close, could I see that he looked a bit thinner, a bit more drawn. There was more hollow in his jaw, more darkness beneath his eyes. Could he see it in my eyes, too? That I missed him so much I’d felt physically sick for the last two months?

I’m sure it’s really weird to find me here on your steps and I’m sorry for not calling, but I wanted to see you. I missed you. I love you.

But before I could say my preamble, he asked, “What are you doing here?” and I couldn’t read his tone.

It was controlled—he was controlled—and I swallowed nervously before answering.

“I . . . I’m sure it’s really weird to find me here on your steps.”

What was the rest of it?

He glanced behind me, asking, “How long have you been here?”

“I’m sorry for not calling,” I blurted, robotically.

Ignoring this, he took a step closer, asking again, this time more gently, “How long have you been here, Ruby?”

“Since you got off work at Anderson?”

He knows where I work. He knows what time I leave.

I blinked back up to his face, but it was a mistake. He was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen, and I knew his face. His was the face I saw when I closed my eyes, when I needed to feel comfort or thrill, grounding or lust. Niall Stella’s face felt like home to me.

“Yes, since I got off work,” I admitted.

“That’s . . . hours,” he started, shaking his head. “I didn’t know . . . I mean, I don’t come home very early anymore. There’s no . . .”

Before he could ask me to leave, or tell me why it was a bad idea for me to be here, or any other one of the hundreds of rejections, I started to speak. “Look, I . . .” I glanced to the side, completely forgetting what it was I was going to say. Something about wanting to see him? “See, the thing is,” I started, looking back up at him before blurting, “I just really, really love you.”

One minute he was two feet from me and the next he was against me and I was against the side of his building, lifted from the ground with his arms around my waist. I gasped, staring up at him. Niall was looking down at me with a dark intensity that made my chest squeeze painfully.

“I love you,” I whispered, my throat growing nearly too tight to speak. “I missed you.”

His face fell as he searched my eyes one more time and then he bent, pressing his face to my neck. His mouth . . . oh, God, with the deepest groan my favorite mouth in the world was on my neck and my jaw and I couldn’t catch my breath, couldn’t stop the tight lump from rising higher in my throat.

He spoke into my skin, “Darling, say it again. I’m not sure I can believe this is real.”

In a pulse of panic, I didn’t know if this was actually happening, either, or I had fallen asleep on his stairs and was having the world’s best dream. But then his lips were moving again: on my jaw, my cheek, and then pressing to mine—the best kind of soft, the best kind of hard—and I choked out another cry as I felt his tongue slide inside and his sounds vibrated against me as he groaned into his kisses.

With a desperate sort of babble, he gave me his broken thoughts built of my name, and that he missed me so bloody much, that things had been hell, that he thought he’d never see me again. He cupped my face and his kisses alternated between tiny and hard, soft and sucking, and then his thumbs were sweeping at my face and I knew I was a sobbing mess, but I honestly couldn’t find it in me to care.

“You’re coming inside,” he growled, moving his mouth from mine and over to my ear. “You’re staying with me.”

I nodded, smiling as I pressed my face to his neck. “Well. Until I move to Oxford.”

Pulling back, he let his eyes move over my face. “Yeah? You got your letter from Maggie, then?”

“I got it last week. I wanted to call you.”

He smiled a little, seeming to be unable to stop looking at me, even to blink. “You should have.”