“Thank you,” he’d said, feeling panic. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
“No.” Ivy’s voice was awkward, even strangled. “I’m sorry, Ares, but…Ruby doesn’t want you here.”
Remembering, a fragment of ice lodged in his throat. His baby was a month old now. And he didn’t even know her name.
He’d legally transferred ownership of the ski lodge to Ruby, as promised. For all the good it had done. After all this time, his caretaker hadn’t seen her, not once. Even the hefty checks of financial support that Ares sent her each month had been deposited straight into their daughter’s untouchable trust fund. Ares had no idea how Ruby was paying for her daily expenses.
It seemed even his money wasn’t good enough, along with his name.
Sitting back heavily in his desk chair, Ares looked down at the ring. The ostentatious diamond looked as cold and hollow as he felt.
Ruby had tried to love him. But that was too big a job for any woman, even one with a heart as generous as hers. He clawed back his hair. He’d hoped he could fool her with the illusion of love by making her his wife. By promising to try to love her someday, like someday there might be a colony on the moon. He should have known she would see right through that.
Maybe he was a fool after all.
His intercom buzzed.
“Miss Spencer is here, sir,” his executive assistant said. “Should I send her in?”
Ares wondered what Poppy was doing at his office. He hadn’t seen her since the night of the gala, when she’d shown off her punk rocker fiancé and tried her best to snub Ruby. “Yes.”
The door of his private office burst open. Poppy Spencer stood in his doorway, dressed in a tight black cocktail dress and a sable fur coat, though it was only the midafternoon. Looking at him, she spread her arms dramatically as she walked into his office.
“Darling! I won’t have it.”
He was already tired of her being here. Setting his jaw, he rose to his feet. “What do you want, Poppy?”
“I’m tired of you never showing up at social events anymore. You’ve been hiding long enough. I won’t have it, I tell you.” Poppy sat down in the chair in front of his desk, crossing her bare legs. She pulled a cigarette case out of her expensive crocodile handbag. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“You can’t smoke that here,” he said automatically, looking down at her.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, lighting it. “So the waitress broke your heart.”
He ground out, “She didn’t—”
“Whatever. Get over it.” She waved out the match. “As it happens, I have had a similar disappointment.”
“Took up with a groupie in Florida.” Taking a puff, she looked at him coolly. “The problem is, darling, we’ve both of us made a habit of conducting affairs with unsuitable people.”
The sound of her voice set his nerves on edge. “Unsuitable?”
She waved her cigarette. “They’re below us. We choose them because we think they’ll be easy to discard. And they are.” She gave a tinkly crystalline laugh. “But it’s a humiliation when they choose to leave us first.”
Ares’s heart was jagged in his throat. “I never thought of Ruby that way.”
“Sure.” Poppy looked up at him. “I have a solution. A simple, elegant solution that will make sure neither of us has such an embarrassment again.” She took another puff. “You and I should marry.”
Ares stared down at her incredulously. “What?”
Her red lips curved. “Think about it. We’re the same, you and I.”
“Of course we are. Neither of us is meant for commitment. To us, love is poison. We’re both free spirits who value our freedom above all else.”
“How can you say that? I am committed to my company. You change your careers with the season.”
Poppy looked at him steadily, then took another elegant puff of her cigarette. “We both fill our days to avoid feeling anything we don’t want to feel.”
Ares stared at her.
Had he done just that, filling his life with endless work and forgettable one-night stands?