“Have Santos bring the car,” he told his bodyguard tersely. “I want to be at the airport in ten minutes.”

* * *


Ruby wiped her tears as her old truck bounced down the mountain over the icy road.

Her crying had started before the door of Ares’s ski lodge even slammed closed behind her. It was why she’d had to get out of there so fast. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—let Ares Kourakis see her cry. Ever!

But her hands were shaking so much, it had taken her three tries to start her truck. Even now, as she gripped the steering wheel, she felt grateful for the long drive to their trailer park in Sawtooth. She couldn’t let her mother see her like this.

Or worse—Ivy.

Breathing a low curse, Ruby drove swiftly through Star Valley’s deserted streets at dawn. The only people awake this early were the service workers, coming to clean the hotels and cook breakfast at the cafes. Everyone else was still asleep. Ares had probably gone back to bed himself. Why would he care that he’d hurt her so badly? He’d just find some other, prettier, more sensible lover to replace her. He’d probably already forgotten her name.

While Ruby would never be able to forget him.

She wiped her cheek with her sleeve. What had she been thinking, sleeping with a wealthy playboy?

She should have known better.

She had known better.

But she’d actually convinced herself that she might be some kind of exception. That some fairy tales might come true. She choked out a sob, staring at the road ahead. It had felt magical when they’d been flying down the mountain in moonlight. When he’d kissed her by the bonfire. She’d been dazzled, lost.

But she’d always known how any romance between a man like Ares Kourakis and a regular girl like her would end. Or so she’d thought.

Even Ruby had never imagined it ending with him offering her a check.

She drove faster, hurrying down the two-lane highway. She gulped for breath between sobs.

She’d been just sexual amusement to him. He’d taken her virginity just to see what she had on offer. Once he’d had his sample, he’d decided he was willing to buy, or at least rent.

She slowed down as she passed the small airport that served the whole valley. She saw multiple private aircraft parked on the tarmac. One was bigger than the rest, with Kourakis Enterprises on the side.

If she’d chosen differently, she might be climbing into that airplane right now like a princess, ready to fly across the world.

She’d actually been tempted. That was the worst part. She’d almost said yes. The money could have given her mother more comfort, better care. But Ruby couldn’t pretend that was the only reason.

She’d yearned to spend time with him. To live, even briefly, in his world. To spend every night in his bed, even for a short while.

And for that, she’d almost given up everything she believed in.

The acknowledgment shamed her. Giving up her work and family to become a rich man’s full-time paid mistress would have been a repudiation of everything her mother had ever taught her.

Ruby was a person, not a toy. She had a life of her own. Her family needed her. Ares either hadn’t understood that, or hadn’t cared. And after all her mother’s warnings, Ruby had still been stupid enough to give her virginity to a coldhearted, selfish billionaire.

Tears were still streaming down her cheeks as Ruby turned into her quiet neighborhood, full of well-tended mobile homes. But as she parked outside her family’s trailer, she didn’t see her sister’s old yellow Beetle. Strange.

Unlocking the front door, Ruby peeked inside the kitchen. There was no light anywhere.

“Hello?” she called softly, not wanting to wake her mother. “Hello?” she said more loudly.

The trailer was empty. Where were they? Remembering her sister’s calls with an intake of breath, she reached into her bag and turned on her phone. She saw with mounting horror that Ivy had called ten times. And there were twice as many texts.

In a panic, Ruby didn’t wait to read them but dialed her sister’s number. She was relieved when Ivy answered on the second ring.

“What’s wrong?” she panted.

“Where have you been?” Ivy’s voice was sodden with tears.

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