The staff brightened considerably. “Shall we start cleaning up?” Lexie asked.
“It’s been handled. You can all just go.” His beady gaze focused on Ruby. “Especially you.”
And with an intake of breath, she knew.
Tell me what you’d do. If you could do anything in the world tonight.
Ruby felt a tingle at the back of her neck as customers slowly started to file out, muttering and moaning. With the lights on so brightly, the club looked plain, with bits of trash on the floor. The men suddenly appeared disheveled, their clothes wrinkled; the women had smudged mascara and tired eyes. The illusion was over. The magic of the nightclub—the music, the darkness, the flashing colors—was gone.
The waitstaff, on the other hand, were practically singing with joy in the changing room, chattering happily about how they’d spend their unexpected free night. As Ruby went back to retrieve her coat from her locker, she lingered, waiting until the others had left. She tried to tell herself she was crazy. Imagining things. There were plenty of other possible explanations.
But as she left the Atlas Club, he was waiting for her, as she knew he’d be.
The sidewalks had already grown quiet on the snowy street, as the last of the clubgoers and staff disappeared in the cold night to the nearby Settler, called the Sett for short, or other bars in the tiny mountain resort town.
Ares Kourakis was leaning against a streetlight, dressed in black, surrounded by snow. Butterflies filled her belly at seeing him.
“You did that, didn’t you?” she said accusingly.
Ares gave her a careless smile. “What if I did?”
She shook her head. “The club would have made a fortune tonight. How much did you pay Mr. Vence to close?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“And you made sure the staff had the night off. Paid. With tips and everything.”
“I knew it would kill your pleasure if they didn’t.”
Ruby’s voice croaked as she asked, “But why?”
“I told you.” He came closer beneath the street lamp, until their bodies were only inches apart. With his greater height, he towered over her. She squared her shoulders desperately beneath her vintage jacket, refusing to back an inch, but she couldn’t hide the rapid rise and fall of her breath. Reaching down, he tucked back a tendril of her long dark hair. “I want to be with you tonight.”
Be with her. Be with her? Looking up, she tried to glare at him. “Do you always get what you want?”
His dark gaze poured through her soul. “Yes.”
She swallowed. “But—but why?” she whispered. “Why me?”
“I told you. You’re incredibly beautiful.”
“Most of the girls in the club were way prettier than me.”
His expression changed. “You’re different.”
Ruby shook her head helplessly. “Different how?”
“You weren’t trying to get my attention.”
Ah. Now she understood. She felt suddenly, incomprehensively disappointed. She wasn’t special after all. Somehow he’d almost made her hope—
Cutting off the thought, she lifted her chin. “So you’re a spoiled child in a roomful of toys, throwing a tantrum over the one toy you can’t have.”
He drew closer, looking down at her.
“Your refusal only drew my attention,” he said huskily. “It wasn’t the only reason. Something about you…” His gaze fell to her lips, and for a second she thought he might kiss her, right then and there on Main Street. She shivered, holding her breath as he said, “Take me up on the mountain.”
Take me. Up on the mountain. She gulped.
“I can’t,” she breathed. “It’s…locals only…”
“You can.” His voice was so persuasive she felt like she couldn’t say no. In fact, she could barely remember what no meant.
Ruby took a deep breath. “Look, I’m sure you’re a great skier, but—”
“Actually I’m not. I suck at skiing.”
Her lips parted in astonishment, both at the assertion and that any arrogant man would admit to being bad at something. “Then why would you buy a house here?”
Ares looked at her. “There are other things I enjoy.”