An uptight British executive. An adventurous American newbie. A sexy international scandal in the making. Oh, I laughed, I cried, I felt my body burn from the sheer sexiness of too many scenes in this book to count, never knowing a guy merely touching a woman’s calf could make me literally combust in my own skin like that. And today, I am so honoured to be able to share with you a wonderful bonus epilogue, until now only available as part of the audiobook edition.
When I woke up, it took a full three seconds for me to register that I was indeed in my flat, in my bed. The mattress was bare, pillows jammed between the bed frame and headboard, blankets strewn across the floor. And Ruby was nowhere to be seen.
I was stiff and exhausted, far more sore than I’d ever felt—even after being on the river for hours, or playing footie all afternoon. Sitting at the edge of the bed, I waited until my back stopped protesting before getting up to find her.
Outside in the corridor, I smelled bacon and bread. Coffee and the crisp sweet smell of melon. And then: I heard distracted, off-key humming coming from the kitchen.
I walked slowly, quietly, eager to witness the scene without disrupting it. The feeling spreading from my chest up my throat, making it hard to breathe, was one I didn’t even have time to consciously experience last night when all I could manage was to devour Ruby in relief. It was hope, of course—hope that the woman I loved was finally here to begin with me the life that I wanted—but more than that it was a sort of bone-deep sense of unwinding. It was the anticipation of days still ahead of us spent reading the paper in a sun-slanted living room, sipping coffee, quietly absorbed in our own thoughts. For meals together at my now-bare table, sharing some masterpiece or disaster created in my neglected kitchen. For the hundreds of nights to come when we’d walk hand in hand to bed—or collide into a tangle as soon as we got home—sliding under the sheets in unison and coming together in heat and relief and urgency.
It was the tingling, dawning realization that at long last I had exactly the life I wanted.
Ruby stood at the sink, completely nude, rinsing a cutting board before turning to arrange breakfast on two plates. She dished up toast, bread, eggs, bacon and fruit and then stood back, tilting her head as if considering it. She adjusted the toast on one plate and contemplated it again.
“Looks perfect from here,” I said, and she jumped with a squeak, turning to face me.
“You were supposed to stay in bed.”
She didn’t seem bothered to be found stark naked in the bright kitchen light. Didn’t care that her hair was a disaster, lips still swollen, and a trail of love bites wound its way down her neck to her left breast. Didn’t bother to cross her arms over her chest or curl her shoulders in. Rather, she put her hand on her hip and stared at me.
“I woke up alone,” I told her. “I came to voice my displeasure . . .” I let my attention drift to her breasts. “At least, that’s what I think I came out here for. Now I’m not quite sure.”
She walked over to me, ran her hand down my chest and only now did it register that Ruby wasn’t the only naked person in the kitchen. “I was going to feed you breakfast in bed.”
“That sounds lovely.”
She shook her head a little, as if she’d just tasted something unpleasant. “Different word.”
I laughed. “Clearly, I meant smashing.”
Ruby traced the shape of my collarbones from one shoulder to the other. “Well, first I was going to climb back into bed and wake you up with my mouth . . .”
I felt my smile straighten and a thrumming hunger grow in my chest.
“And then curl up, with my back all along your front,” she said, bending to kiss my chest, “and beg you to take me from behind.”
I took her chin between my finger and thumb, tilting her face up to me. “Is that right?”
We hadn’t done that yet.
I wondered if she guessed that I’d never done that.
Her hand came down lower, wrapping around me. “But then I realized . . . the eggs might get cold.”
“You think I care about the sodding eggs right now?”
Her giggle was a delighted thing, bursting from her throat. With a smile I bent, carefully kissing her top lip, the bottom one, and then both at once.
The single kiss turned into another, and then more and faster, sucking and wet, gasping. A sort of frenzy took over us both as she backed up and I stepped forward, pressing her against the counter. Her skin was warm and smooth under my palms, soft and wet against my fingertips. Familiar, spectacular.
It was a fast fuck with Ruby bent over and me behind, drawing in every second with wide, wild eyes. She came just after me—it was miracle I managed to get her there at all with the thrill of the sight of it, the difference in the feel making me rush too quickly.
I was dizzy, pulling back carefully, hands still gripping the edge of the counter.
She stood gingerly, turning in my arms and asking simply, “Where will we live?”
I hadn’t let myself consider the question yet. Hadn’t let myself hope.
“I don’t mind commuting,” I told her. “I could easily work three days a week in London, and the rest of the week from Oxford.”
There was another question there, held back with her lips pressed together.
“Is that not what you want?” I asked. “I think I need you to tell me what works for you.”
She shook her head, and looked up at me. “That works. I guess I was just wondering . . . and I know it’s really soon to be talking about this, but it helps to know . . . in order to manage my own expectations . . .”
I tried to fight my smile, but it was a wasted effort. “You sound a bit Niallish right now, dove. What exactly are you trying to say?”
She shrugged, attempting a smile, but it grew wobbly under the weight of her sudden nerves. “Do you think you’d ever want to be married again?”
I felt my lips part in a surprised exhale.
“I mean, not that I think we should,” she rushed to add. “Or that we would ever need to in this day and age. Or, God, that it’s even a thing we should be talking about yet.” She looked around us. “Especially right now, I mean, after we just did that. From behind.” Sighing, she mumbled, “Way to kill the mood, Ruby.”
I shook my head. “Marriage is—”
She cut in with wide, earnest eyes. “It’s just that my feelings are strong—”
“—and it would help to know where we stood on that.” She shifted on her feet. “Philosophically speaking.”
I took a deep breath, grinning down at her. My chest seemed too small for everything inside it. She reached up, tucked her hair behind her ear. And this, a tiny, nervous remnant of the girl I’d first met in the elevator, tripped a tight, adoring string in my chest.
“If you would let me get a word in edgewise,” I teased her, kissing the corner of her mouth, “then I could answer.”
She laughed, sweetly self-deprecating and stretched to kiss me. “Sorry.”
“Love, marriage, babies, a grand life . . .” I bent, lifting her into my arms and carrying her down the hall. “I rather assumed that was where we were headed.”
Copyright © 2015 by Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. Reprinted with permission of Gallery Books.