He looked at her, standing on the edge of the dance floor, surrounded by people. A band was playing a mix of pop, jazz and big band music that perfectly suited the ascetic white space of the soaring modern art museum.
He needed to get Ruby home, he thought. To claim her for himself alone. He felt like he’d spent his life wanting her. There was only so much a man could take.
Going to Ruby, Ares handed her the punch. Her eyes lit up. “Oh, thank you.”
“Having a good time?”
She gave him a grin. “I don’t understand half of what people are talking to me about. Apparently nannies are hard to come by, and the circuit traveling from Art Basel to Monaco has all just gotten too, too tedious these days.”
“Ah,” he said, watching her drink the punch, pressing the cup against her full, rosy lips. His body stirred, as if it needed any further stirring.
“Ares?” As a song ended, a couple came off the dance floor. The woman, a tiny, very pretty blonde in a slim-cut gray dress, came forward eagerly, dragging her male companion behind her.
Ares’s jaw tightened when he saw his ex-mistress, the hostess of the charity ball whom he’d mostly managed to avoid till now. “Hello, Poppy.”
“Thank you for buying a table,” she cooed. “Tonight has been such a success. But then, I’ve had so many successes lately.” Ignoring Ruby, she stuck her left hand in Ares’s face. “Did you hear I’m engaged?”
He glanced passively at the diamond ring. It was ostentatious and huge and there was no way the spiky-haired young man beside her had paid for it. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Poppy flashed an adoring gaze at her date. “Angus just dropped out of NYU. He’s too good for college—a pure musical genius!”
“He’s a singer?”
“Drummer,” she said.
The young man, who had tattoos on his neck and a permanent snarl on his lips, tugged on her sleeve. “Come on, baby. There’s an open bar.” But Poppy looked at Ruby.
“Who’s this?” she said casually, as if a hundred people hadn’t likely told her.
“I’m Ruby,” she said with a warm smile.
“Ruby Prescott,” Ares said. “We met in Star Valley after you left.”
“Star Valley?” Poppy said, frowning, then she gave a fake laugh. “Ah. Some little waitress from the country?”
“I was a bartender, actually,” said Ruby.
Poppy gave her a sweet smile. “I do hope New York’s not too overwhelming for you. But don’t worry. It won’t last long.” She looked at Ares fondly. “He gets bored so easily.”
Deliberately, he took Ruby’s hand. “It will last longer than you think, Poppy, since Ruby’s pregnant with my baby.”
The change that went over the heiress’s face was almost comical. She looked at Ruby’s belly beneath the hot pink taffeta, then flashed a crocodile smile.
“A waitress. Who got pregnant. How very lucky!”
“I was a bartender,” Ruby corrected. “Plus some other things. A snowboarding instructor. A house cleaner. But not a waitress, at least not lately.”
“So lucky.” Tilting her head, Poppy said sweetly, “At least, I trust it was luck, and not something more perfidious. Oh, forgive me—” she put her hand to her mouth with mock embarrassment “—you probably don’t know what that word means. Perfidious—”
“I know what it means,” said Ruby.
“Oh?” The blonde’s voice was musical.
Ruby tilted her head and matched her sweet tone. “It means right now you’re kicking yourself that you didn’t somehow manage to get pregnant by him first.”
Ares hid a smile. One point to Ruby, he thought.
Poppy’s eyes narrowed. Then, tilting her head, she cooed, “So. A baby. I presume this means you two will be getting married soon?”
Folding his arms, Ares scowled. “There’s no need.”
“No?” Poppy suddenly seemed much happier. “Oh, Ares, how can you bring the poor country girl to New York knocked up and not even marry her? What are you planning to do, put her up in some house somewhere, like you’re ashamed of her?”