If it had been hard not to think of Ares constantly, Ruby did her best. If she’d cried over him during the day, well, there was no one to hear and that had just made her polish the floors faster. If she’d cried over him at night, while rocking her baby to sleep, the stinging in her eyes just made her go to sleep all the sooner.
She could live without Ares’s love. Because she had no choice.
But Ruby had feared what would happen if she saw Ares again. Her heart couldn’t bear that. If he came to see the baby in the hospital, even for an hour, she’d been afraid she would totally lose the last shreds of her dignity by clinging to him and begging him not to leave. Begging him to tell her what she could do, who she had to be, to make him love her and their child.
So she’d told Ivy that she didn’t want him to come. She was sure Ares would secretly be relieved. He’d sent money, which she’d tucked into Velvet’s trust fund. The money was for their daughter.
Ruby was too proud to take money from a man who could not give her his love.
Yesterday, while doing the final touches for the party, she’d found the cold, heavy, heartless diamond she’d stuck deep into her sock drawer and known it was time to let it go. She’d sent back to him by overnight courier.
She prayed that would help her forget. That hot dreams of him would stop torturing her at night and agonizingly bittersweet memories stop haunting her by day.
The grand opening of Ruby’s Vintage Delight would be the start of her new life. She’d told herself there was no more room for sadness now. Only joy.
All signs already pointed to her success. So many of Star Valley’s citizens, both locals and out-of-towners, had begged for invitations tonight, she’d had to turn some away. The wife of a visiting Silicon Valley tycoon had already offered to help her expand, possibly to Deer Valley or Jackson Hole.
Ruby had said no. For now. She already had her hands full. Literally. She’d smiled down at her baby.
Then she’d seen Ares standing in her new life like a ghost.
Emotion had exploded in her chest, and Ruby had known she’d been lying to herself to think she could ever forget. No matter where she lived, no matter how many businesses or friends she had, she would carry love for him in her heart forever.
And as he stood beside her, looking down at their baby for the first time, Ruby looked at him in shock. He loved her?
She’d never, ever imagined this. Not in her wildest dreams.
“You—you love me?” she breathed. She shook her head. “But you said—”
“I know what I said. I was a fool.” He paused, then said quietly, “I was a coward.”
Looking at the dark unshaven scruff on his hard jawline, at the gray smudge beneath his eyes, Ruby wouldn’t believe it. She shook her head.
“You’ll never love anymore.” Her arms tightened around Velvet, who was so tiny and sleeping peacefully against her chest. “Why are you really here?”
He pulled Ruby gently into his arms. “Because I’ve been living in hell without you. And it made me realize.”
His dark eyes met hers. “Nothing in my life is worth a damn without you, Ruby. My fortune—nothing. My empire—nothing. All that matters is you.” He glanced down at the tiny sleeping newborn. “Both of you.”
Ruby’s lips parted in shock that Ares would say such a thing, and in front of so many strangers. A few people had sneakily pulled out smartphones, no doubt to post videos on the internet later. Ares didn’t seem to care.
“But I was afraid to give you my heart,” he whispered. “I thought that money, mansions, private jets and a diamond ring would be enough to hold you. While even that hockey player,” he said in a low voice, “was brave enough to offer you everything.” There was a strange sheen in his dark eyes as he looked at her. “Am I too late?”
Was he—No. Ares couldn’t have tears in his eyes at the thought of losing her. It was impossible. “Too late?”
“After what I did, I wouldn’t blame you,” he said quietly. “If you chose to give your heart to another.”
An incredulous laugh escaped Ruby. “Give my heart? To Braden?” She shook her head. “He was just scared of going back to Star Valley alone. He was barely here a week before he got another offer and promptly left for Calgary.”