The Greek's Pregnant LoverBy: Lucy Monroe
ZEPHYR NIKOS looked out over the Port of Seattle, remembering his arrival here with Neo Stamos over a decade before. Things had been very different then. Everything Zephyr owned fit in the single tattered duffel bag he’d carried. He still had that duffel bag stored in the back of his oversized walk-in closet, behind the designer suits and top-of-the-line workout gear.
It was a small reminder of where he had come from, and where he would never be again.
They had been so sure this was the place to start their new life, the one that would move them as far from the backstreets of Athens as a man could get. And they’d been right.
Two Greek boys from the wrong side of the tracks had built not just a business, but an empire worth billions of dollars. They dined in the finest restaurants, traveled by private jet and rubbed shoulders with the richest and most powerful people in the world. They’d realized their dreams and then some.
And now Neo was in love and getting married.
As much as everyone else saw Zephyr as more easygoing than Neo, he wasn’t surprised his friend had found domestic bliss first. Zephyr wasn’t sure he would ever find anything like it. In fact, he was near positive he wouldn’t. Oh, he might marry someday, but it wouldn’t be a hearts-and-flowers event, just another business transaction. Just like how he’d been conceived.
He had learned early that a smile made as effective a mask as a blank stare, but that’s all it was…a mask.
His heart had turned to stone a long time ago, though he guarded that secret as well as he guarded all his others. Secrets he would never allow into the light of day.
Even Neo did not know the painful truth about Zephyr’s past. His friend and business partner believed Zephyr had had a similar childhood to his own before they’d met in the orphanage at the age of ten. Neo could not imagine anything worse than his own messed-up childhood and Zephyr wanted to keep it that way. The pain and shame of his past had no place in the new life he’d built for himself.
Neo had hated the orphanage. However, once Zephyr accepted his mother was not coming back for him, it had been the first step in distancing himself from a life he wished he could forget. His father had thought nothing of selling Zephyr’s mother’s “favors” along with the other women who “worked” for him in the business that supplemented his less than stellar income from the family olive groves. And he cared nothing for the illegitimate son that had resulted from his own “sampling of the merchandise.”
When Zephyr’s mother had first left him at the orphanage so she could pursue a life away from his father’s brothel, his innocent child self had been sure she would come back. He’d missed her and cried and prayed every day she would return. A few weeks later, she had. To visit. No matter how much that small boy had tearfully begged her to take him with her, she had once again left him behind.
It had taken him a few visits, but eventually, he’d realized he was no longer part of his mother’s life. And she was no longer part of his. Which even a small boy, barely old enough to attend school, had been able to recognize as freedom from being a whore’s son. An orphan, at least, had no past.
He’d learned to hide his. From everyone.
He would have stayed in the orphanage until he finished school, but the monster whose blood tainted his own had decided an illegitimate son was better than no son at all. And Zephyr had had to leave. Now his best friend, Neo, had gone with him and they had made their own lives on the streets of Athens until lying about their ages to join a cargo ship’s crew.
The move Neo considered their first step toward a new life, the life they now enjoyed. But Zephyr knew better. His journey had begun long before.
The simple truth was, as hardened as Neo appeared to be, inside—where it mattered—Zephyr was stone-cold marble in comparison.
“WHEN are we going to drop the bombs?”
Piper Madison’s head snapped up at the question asked in a small boy’s high-pitched tone. The dark-haired moppet, who could not be more than five, looked at the male flight attendant with earnest interest.
Glowing with embarrassed humor, his mother laughed softly. “He hasn’t quite got the hang of not all planes being geared to war. His grandfather took him to an aeronautical museum and he fell in love with the B-52 bomber.”
She turned to her son and explained for what was clearly not the first time that they were on a passenger plane going to visit Grandma and Grandpa. The little boy looked unconvinced until the first-class cabin flight attendant added his agreement to the mother’s. Small shoulders drooped in disappointment and Piper had to stifle a chuckle.
There had been a time not so many years ago that her fondest hopes included being in that exasperated mother’s place. Those dreams had died along with her marriage and she had accepted that. She had. Yet as much as she wished they didn’t, those old hopes still caused a small pang in the region of her heart in moments like this.
But dreams of children definitely had no chance of resurrection in her current situation.
Trying to let the low-level background hum created by the plane’s engines soothe nerves already stretched taut, Piper leaned back in her seat and looked away from the domestic tableau.
It didn’t work. Despite her best efforts, her heart rate increased as anticipation of her arrival in Athens thrummed through her. She couldn’t stop herself looking out the window, her eyes eagerly seeking evidence of the airport.
For hours it had been nothing but a blanket of cloud with the occasional break where the peaks of the Alps crept through. It had been a while since she spotted the last peak and she knew they were almost to their Athens destination. Less than an hour from seeing him. Zephyr Nikos. Her current boss and part-time bed partner.
She was more than a little keen to see the man and the place of his birth. Besides, who didn’t want to visit paradise?
For that’s where they were ultimately headed, a small Greek island that at one time had been the vacation home of a fabulously wealthy Greek family. Not so flush now, the patriarch had sold the island to Stamos & Nikos Enterprises. Zephyr and his partner, Neo Stamos, planned to develop it as an all-inclusive spa resort. And she’d been given the interior design contract for the entire facility, with a budget large enough to bring in whatever kind of help she needed to see it to completion.
She was beyond excited about being brought in at the ground level on such an expansive project. It would be an amazing coup for her business, but satisfying personally on a creative level as well. Even so, her current heightened sense of anticipation was predominantly for the man who waited for her there.
She had spent the last six weeks missing Zephyr with an ache that scared her when she let herself think about it. She should not be so emotionally dependent on a man who was only sort of her lover.
She bit her lip on a sigh.
They were involved sexually, but not romantically. They weren’t anything as simple as casual sex partners. That would be too easy. She’d know exactly how to handle her one-sided emotional entanglement then. But they were friends, too. Good friends. The kind of friends that hung out at least once a week before the sex benefits started and that increased to multiple times a week when they were in the same city.
To complicate things even more, he was also her boss.
Again…sort of. His company had hired her personal design firm for several projects over the past two-plus years, though this new development was by far the biggest and most far-reaching for her. He would be her boss in actual fact if she’d let him, too.
He’d offered her a staff job with salary and benefits she’d had a hard time turning down, but Piper had no desire to work for someone else. Not again. Not after losing both her husband and her job in one fell swoop only six months before she took on her first project with Zephyr’s company.
She’d vowed then that she would not allow herself to ever be that vulnerable to upheaval again.
She’d thought marrying Arthur Bellingham would give her the stability she craved, among other things—like that family she’d dreamed about. It had turned out just the opposite, though. Art had shredded her emotions before tearing her life apart piece by piece until all she had left was her talent and her determination. She would never be in that place again.
Not even for Zephyr. Not that the sexy Greek real estate tycoon was offering her marriage, or even commitment. He’d offered her a salaried job. That was all.
If she wanted more, she certainly wasn’t saying so. Up until the past weeks’ long separation, she hadn’t even admitted it to herself. Telling him wasn’t in the cards she planned to play. Not when doing so would spell the immediate end to this whole friends-who-are-sexually-intimate situation.
And maybe their friendship as well.
Zephyr waited for Piper near the luggage carousel. He hadn’t seen her in six weeks. She had been on a job in the Midwest and he’d known if he didn’t offer her the Greek job, he probably wouldn’t see her again for another two months, or more.
Not that she wasn’t the best interior designer for the job, but this project was bigger than anything she’d taken on before. He knew she could do it, though. And it wasn’t as if he needed to explain his choice to anyone. That was one of the benefits to being the boss. The only person who might have something to say about it, and only because they were both working together on this development for the first time in years, was his best friend and business partner, Neo Stamos.