Tucking both their snowboards under his arm, Ares followed her down the short path to the quiet, snowy lot where her beat-up truck was parked. She hesitated, giving an unsteady laugh as she looked back at him.
“I don’t think I can drive.” She lifted a hand to her forehead. “I feel a little wobbly. It’s been a long day. Maybe I have low blood sugar. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“You were drinking.”
He gave a low laugh. “Two sips of scotch, half a beer, and a mug of mulled wine, over four hours.”
“My truck can be tricky—”
He took her keys. “I’ve got it.” Unlocking the back, he tossed in the snowboards. He opened her door and helped her climb onto the bench seat, next to a canvas duffel bag filled with their regular clothes. Touching her hand, he felt her tremble. Or was he the one trembling?
He stomped on the thought. It was ridiculous.
Ruby Prescott was just another woman. A woman like any other. Once he possessed her, once the attraction was consummated, he would be satisfied. He could leave for Sydney tomorrow and not give her another thought.
Ruby was different from the rest, yes.
But not that different.
* * *
Ruby had never believed in fairy tales. She couldn’t. Not growing up as she had.
Her mother was the kindest, best person on the planet. Bonnie always saw the best in people and believed good things were just around the corner. She believed if you worked hard, had faith in your dreams and took care of others, you would be happy.
Her mother had been wrong.
In spite of being so good, in spite of being so kind, Bonnie had suffered bad luck and misfortune. Her parents, Ruby’s grandparents, had died before Bonnie was nineteen, leaving little savings. Unwilling to leave her hometown, she’d become a waitress the summer after high school. She was trying to save for college when she was swept off her feet by a resort guest, a handsome millionaire visiting from Buenos Aires. Bonnie had thought it was true love, just like she’d always dreamed of. But when she became pregnant with Ruby, instead of being delighted and proposing marriage as Bonnie had hoped, the man had screamed in her face, tossed a few hundred-dollar bills in her face for an abortion and left the country, never to return.
Bonnie had moved into a trailer with cheap rent, temporarily she’d thought, trying to raise her baby daughter on minimum-wage jobs, still hoping she could improve their situation. Instead, when Ruby was five, her mother had fallen in love with another wealthy hotel guest, this one a Texas oilman ten years Bonnie’s senior, whom she hoped might be a good father to Ruby.
Over the course of an entire winter of visits, he’d told Bonnie he loved her. He hadn’t always wanted to use a condom, and believing they’d soon be married, she’d reluctantly acquiesced. But when summer came and she discovered she was pregnant, he wouldn’t marry her. “I’m married to my comp’ny, darlin’,” he’d said with a smile, in his charming cowboy drawl. And as for child support, he’d taken her in his arms and tenderly asked her not to make any legal claim. “Just wait a little while. Till this next oil field pans out. Then I’ll take care of you and that lil’ baby, don’t you worry.”
But he never did. He just stopped coming to Star Valley, and ignored Bonnie’s increasingly frantic messages. Before Ivy was even born, oil prices suddenly collapsed, and his overextended company was forced into bankruptcy. Unable to face the total loss, he drove his car into a telephone pole, in a fiery death the coroner obligingly marked “accident.”
After that, Bonnie had learned her lesson. She’d told her daughters again and again never to trust anything a rich man might tell them.
And look what good it had done, Ruby thought. Ivy still dreamed of hooking a rich husband. And Ruby herself, as a foolish eighteen-year-old, had nearly married Braden, who’d abandoned her the second the ink on his NHL contract was dry.
Fairy tales weren’t real. Romantic dreams were poison. Men who seemed like handsome princes were just lying, trying to lure sensible young women into love—and doom.
What had love ever done for her mother except destroy her ability to follow her own dreams, leaving her heartbroken and poor?