I love you, Ares. I’ll love you forever.
Turning, she headed for the front door. She stepped through, with her sister following close behind, out into the gray October morning.
Ruby looked back at the house one last time, feeling numb, like she was about to fall apart. But she couldn’t. She put her hands softly around her baby bump. She had to be strong. Setting her jaw, she lifted her arm to hail a taxi on the street. And then, just like that, they were gone.
* * *
Ares stood at the window of his executive office at the top of his Midtown high-rise. The city beneath looked cold, covered by a blanket of late January snow. But not half as cold as he felt.
His jaw tightened as he glanced back at his desk. An open package rested on two newspapers brought in that morning by his assistants, along with the rest of his mail. Inside the package was a note from Ruby.
This belongs to you.
It was attached to the enormous diamond platinum-set engagement ring that he’d given her on the beach at twilight, beneath the shadow of his family’s Greek villa. He could still remember his satisfaction when she’d said yes, and he thought he’d won.
He’d told her the worst thing about his soul. He’d told her he didn’t know if he could ever love her or the baby. She’d still said yes.
And then she’d abandoned him at the altar. In front of everyone. He’d offered her everything he knew how to give. It still hadn’t been enough.
Ares closed his eyes. Even after nearly four months, he could still hear Ruby’s sweet voice and joyful laugh. Still feel her full red lips and soft body against his own. Still see her beautiful face.
Still remember the stricken anguish in her luminous dark eyes on their wedding day. Her eyes had pierced his soul, and in that moment, he’d known he’d been judged and found wanting.
I can’t. This—this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
His heart contracted, and Ares pressed his fist against the glass. He’d managed to repress all emotion since she’d walked out on him. But now, as that diamond engagement ring gleamed wickedly in the artificial light of his office, he suddenly could no longer force down the raw pain.
He’d felt numb before the wedding, sick at the thought of marriage. But he’d forced himself to go through with it, because his only other option was to lose her.
Then she’d left.
His friends had crowded around him in the ballroom, bewildered by the turn of events, trying to offer comfort. Of all the guests, Cristiano Moretti was the only one who had a bad word to say about Ruby, and of course, he hadn’t known her. But he’d taken Ares out to get drunk and to trash Ruby’s character. Now, that was a real friend, he thought. Though heaven knew Cristiano had issues of his own.
The next morning, Ares had woken up with a splitting headache and a sense of despair. Nothing was wrong with Ruby’s character. Her greatest flaw was that she’d seen right through him.
And now that she was gone, even his own home seemed to mock him. Her ridiculously bright clothes still hung in his closet, along with her scent, her colors, her memory everywhere.
Ares had immediately ordered everything in the house to be changed back to the way it was, with stark black-and-white furniture. He’d ripped out the baby’s nursery, with its happy pink walls and the toys and books Ruby had collected so joyfully. The pink walls became gray and the crib was sent back. He’d told Mrs. Ford to toss the stuffed animals into the trash.
Instead, his mutinous housekeeper had sent them to Ruby in Star Valley. “They were just too precious to destroy,” Mrs. Ford had said firmly. “The baby will still want them.”
Incensed, Ares had fired her in a fury.
“You can’t fire me,” Mrs. Ford retorted, pulling off her apron, “because I quit! I won’t work for a selfish fool!”
How could she accuse him of being selfish? Ares ground his teeth at the memory. He’d given everything he could. Ruby had still left.
And in the months since, she’d never contacted him once. Three days before Christmas, that sister of hers had called him.
“Your daughter was born this morning at Star Valley General,” Ivy told him breathlessly. “Seven pounds, ten ounces. Both mother and child are doing well!”