“Don’t tell anyone.”
“It’ll be our secret.”
His dark eyes roamed over her body hungrily. “I like your bikini today.”
Her lips quirked. “You like all my bikinis.”
Sitting beside her on the lounge chair, Ares kissed her hello, as he’d done on the island whenever they were out of each other’s sight for longer than ten seconds. His hands moved sensually over her bare skin, warmed by the sun. It was a long time later when he finally drew back from their embrace and asked, “Will you have a drink with me?”
Her lips quirked. “Such a formal invitation.”
Ares didn’t smile back.
She cleared her throat. “Inside the house?”
His expression was serious. “On the beach.”
“Sure.” Trying to understand his change in mood, Ruby was suddenly afraid he was going to tell her something she didn’t want to hear. Something that would break her heart. She said through numb lips, “I’ll just get my cover-up.”
The sun was starting to lower into the western horizon, leaving streaks of red and orange across the wide sky and darkening sea, as he led Ruby, her bikini now covered by a white cotton caftan, down to the beach. The tide was going out, but though it was late September, the air was warm.
Ares held her hand as they walked in a direction they’d never gone on the beach before. His hand seemed to grip hers tighter. Then she stopped, her eyes wide.
A table set for two had been set up on the beach. Two smiling, uniformed staff members waited beside it expectantly.
Ruby looked at Ares. His lips lifted. “Our own little taverna.”
Leading her to the table, he pulled out her chair on the hard-packed sand. As one servant poured drinks—sparkling water with lemon for her, and a glass of ouzo for him—the other lifted a silver lid off his tray to reveal a platter of appetizers, Greek olives, fresh vegetables, roasted nuts and vine leaves stuffed with rice. With a bow and another smile, the two waiters departed.
The butterflies in Ruby’s stomach were turning into boulders. Her nervousness only increased as Ares’s dark gaze caught hers.
“I have something to tell you,” he said quietly, reaching for her hand across the table.
Ruby swallowed. She’d feared as much. “What?”
“I lied to you.”
For a moment, she just stared at him. She heard the cries of seagulls flying above and the roar of the waves beating against the shore as the lowering sun reflected brilliantly off the sea.
“Lied?” Her voice cracked. “What do you mean?”
“When I told you I’d never been in love. I have.” Ares paused. “Twice.”
Ruby’s stomach twisted. She’d thought he couldn’t love anyone. But he’d loved two women who weren’t her?
Taking a drink of his ouzo, he said, “After I graduated from boarding school, I went to Paris to visit my mother. I hadn’t seen her in four years.” He paused. “She was too busy having an affair with her tennis instructor to care. But my first afternoon in the city, I met a girl.”
“A girl?” Ruby said, unwillingly jealous. He gave a cynical smile.
“A beautiful parisienne, five years older than I was. Glamorous, worldly and wise. She said she was a fashion student. She told me she loved me almost at once. I’d never heard those words before, so I believed her. I convinced myself I loved her, too. And I suppose I did.”
Ares looked back at the sprawling white villa clinging to the top of the green-forested cliff. His lips twisted.
“As a child, I swore I’d be different from my parents. I was idealistic. I didn’t want to have sex until I knew I was really, truly in love.”
Ruby nearly fell out of her chair. “You what?”
“I was eighteen.” He gave her a crooked grin. “After a blissful summer with Melice, I found out she was a prostitute my father had hired to teach me the truth about women. He wanted me to be a man, he said. And stop thinking love was real or, as he put it, acting like a damned weakling.”
Ruby stared at him, aghast. She couldn’t even imagine how awful Ares’s childhood had been, in spite of being so rich. Her heart twisted to think of him as a boy, lonely on this private island, surrounded by paid staff with two selfish monsters as his family and role models.