Numbly, Ruby pressed the button. “Who is it?”
“Braden Lassiter. He says he’s here to say goodbye—shall I let him in the house?”
Braden. Her ex-fiancé from long ago, who’d abandoned her at the altar for his ice hockey career. Her heart’s track record was abysmal, she thought. Maybe Ares was right to never let himself feel love. “Show him to the morning room.”
Somehow, Ruby made it to the elevator and downstairs to the sunny room by the kitchen, overlooking the garden. As soon as she entered, Braden rose to his feet from the soft, comfortable sofa. He was tall and almost as broad shouldered as Ares, casually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. “Hi, Ruby.”
“Hi,” she said wearily, already wishing he would go away so she could be alone with her misery. She felt like she was a million years old as she came toward him. Morning light left a soft golden haze on the comfortable furniture and the vintage chandelier with little bits of colored crystal shaped like fruit. She sank into the cushioned chair beside the sofa. “You’re here to say goodbye?”
As he sat back down, the pro hockey player’s face was wan. “I heard you were living in New York now. Having that rich guy’s baby. I always meant to say hello once the season started.” He shook his head. “But the season’s already over for me. I just found out they’re cutting me from the team.”
“Cutting you?” She put her hands to her mouth. “Oh, no. Braden. Why?”
“I guess I wasn’t good enough.”
Leaning forward, she took his hand. “I’m so sorry. I know what it meant to you…”
“I knew you’d make me feel better. You always did.” Braden gave her a crooked smile. “At least I have money saved up. I can go back to Star Valley and be a ski bum. The funny thing is…” He looked at her mournfully. “I always figured if I ever went back, Ruby, you’d be there, waiting for me.”
Staring at him, she drew back her hand. “Braden…”
“You don’t have to say it. I already know. You’re not with this guy for his money. I kind of hoped you were. I could compete with that. But you love him. Don’t you?”
Her eyes flooded with tears as she nodded. She couldn’t speak over the lump in her throat.
“Yes,” she whispered. The pain in her throat became a razor blade. “But he doesn’t love me. Or the baby. And he never will.”
Braden suddenly scowled. “Why would you stay with him, then?” He moved forward, his gaze fierce. “You don’t have to put up with it. There are lots of people at home who love you. Come back with me.”
“What?” She gave a shocked laugh. “I’m pregnant with his baby.”
“It doesn’t mean he owns you.” Braden lifted his chin. “You need a man who’s not afraid to love you. Not afraid to be a father. Or a husband. Come back with me.” He leaned forward. “I was young and stupid to ever let you go. If you ever gave me another chance—”
A hard sound echoed through the morning room as a laptop bag hit the marble floor. Ruby and Braden both whirled around guiltily.
Ares stood in the doorway, his eyes dark with fury.
* * *
For a moment, all Ares could hear was the pounding of his heart and the loud rush of blood through his veins as he looked at the hockey player sitting in his house and making a play for his woman. His vision turned red.
Hands tightening into fists, he stepped forward.
“No! Please!” Ruby cried, rising between the two men. “Don’t!”
Hearing her voice, his vision cleared just enough to focus on her beautiful face. Her big brown eyes were pleading, her cheeks rosy with guilt. She was pleading for the other man? For that bastard hockey player who was trying to steal what was Ares’s by right?
You need a man who’s not afraid to love you. Not afraid to be a father. Or a husband. Come back with me.
Rage built inside him. He could feel his veins popping in his neck. He looked at Ruby, standing between them. Her curvaceous body, ripe with pregnancy, was half hidden beneath her bright yellow sweatshirt and pink jeans. The expression on his face must have been grim, because Ruby had a terrified look in her eyes.