Ares was good at the game. For many years, he’d enjoyed it. Until recently.

He’d been so busy over the winter, traveling constantly to get a new business acquisition under control, that he’d been unable to even visit the luxurious ski lodge he’d purchased in Star Valley months before. He’d thought he might enjoy having a place to relax, far from the demands of New York. But as was typical, after buying it he’d been too busy to use it. Then his mistress, Poppy Spencer, had begged him to accompany her to the Star Valley Film Festival, where she’d secured a viewing of her first film.


Poppy was beautiful and tiny, blond and glamorous, in her midthirties. A trust-fund baby, she’d never had to work and floated through potential careers, quitting whenever they got boring or difficult. Last year, in the middle of all the awards-season parties in Hollywood, she’d decided she should be a movie star. Declaring auditioning as “tedious and embarrassing,” she’d financed a movie herself, as the writer, producer, director and sole actor. Three hours long, filmed as a monologue in black-and-white, it was a hugely important film—Poppy had told Ares so repeatedly. In fact, as they’d flown to Star Valley on his private jet a few days before, she’d groused that this tiny film festival wasn’t big enough for her groundbreaking artistic achievement.

Poppy had been mortified last night when her film had been roundly panned—even booed—by the audience. Weeping profusely at his ski lodge afterward, she’d demanded that he fly her immediately to Nepal, so she could “disappear forever.” She’d paused midsob, brightening as she mused the possibility of hiking to the top of Mt. Everest alone, thereby becoming a famous mountaineer.

When Ares had declined to drop everything and fly her to Nepal, she’d accused him of being unsupportive of her dreams and broken up with him. She’d left Star Valley in such a huff, she’d even been willing to fly economy class.

But Ares had stayed. He’d just gotten to Star Valley. He liked the little town, and he’d barely spent any time at his brand-new house. He hadn’t even had a chance to snowboard, and though the late-March sun was swiftly melting the snow, he wanted at least a few hours on the mountain, damn it, before he headed for Sydney tomorrow on business. Why on earth would he go to Nepal? Especially since he knew within months Poppy would announce she hated mountaineering and instead wanted to be a forensic anthropologist like some character on a TV show?

Poppy could be occasionally amusing, and was good in bed. More important, she’d never made emotional demands, never asked him about his childhood or appeared interested in his thoughts or feelings unless they related to her. She was strictly surface level, which suited him perfectly. With his busy schedule, they’d often gone weeks without speaking to each other between social events.

Ares suddenly realized he was glad she’d left last night. He’d been bored a long time. Not just with Poppy, but with everything. Everyone. He’d spent the last fourteen years turning the shipping empire he’d inherited at twenty-two into a vertically integrated worldwide conglomerate that sold and shipped everything from minerals to motor oil. Kourakis Enterprises was the love of his life. But even his company had somehow lately become…uninteresting.

Grimly, Ares tried to push away the feeling. He’d spent today on the mountain as he’d wanted, with the bright sun, melting snow and icy wind. But even that hadn’t been as enjoyable as he thought it would be. He’d heard his name whispered wherever he went. Women skied into his line of vision, giggling and tossing back seductive glances, cutting him off and forcing him to change his path so he didn’t crash into them or veer off into a tree. He’d ended the day more irritated than he’d begun.

So tonight, his last night in Star Valley, he’d decided he needed to go out. Perhaps his mood would improve after a passionate encounter with some attractive woman he’d never have to see again.

But now, as Ares looked blankly across the VIP table at a young blonde telling some long, boring story, he knew he’d been wrong.

This had been a mistake. All of it. He should just go. Leave for Sydney tonight. Tomorrow, he’d tell Dorothy to put the ski lodge back on the market.

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