“Where is all this coming from?”
“Your GP didn’t just warn you at your physical? Gregor took me aside last month during our golf game and warned me that you are going to work yourself into an early grave.”
“I’ll have his license.”
“No, you won’t. He’s our friend.”
“He’s your friend. He’s my doctor.”
“That’s what I’m talking about, Neo. You’ve got no balance in your life. It’s all business with you.”
“What about you? If relationships are so necessary to a well-rounded life, why aren’t you in one?”
“I date, Neo. And before you claim you do, too, let us both acknowledge that taking a woman out for the express purpose of having sex with her, and no intention of seeing her again, is not a date. That is a hookup.”
“What century are you living in?”
“Believe me, I’m living in this one. And so are you, my friend. So, stop being an ass and accept my gift.”
“Just like that?”
“Would you rather welch on our bet?” There was no answer for that question Neo wanted to give. “I don’t want to take piano lessons.”
“You used to.”
“What used to? When?”
“When we were boys together on the streets of Athens.”
“I had many dreams as a boy that I learned to let go of.” Accumulating the kind of wealth currently at his disposal required constant, intense sacrifice and he’d gladly made each and every one.
In the process, he’d made something of himself. Something completely different from the deadbeat father who had taken off before Neo was two and the mother who preferred booze to babysitting.
“Says the man who worked his way off the Athens streets and onto Wall Street.”
“I live in Seattle.”
Zephyr shrugged. “The stock market is on Wall Street and we lay claim to a significant chunk of it.”
Neo could feel himself giving in, if for no other reason than not to disappoint the only person in the world he cared enough about to compromise for. “I will try it for two weeks.”
“Two and that is my final offer.”
“I bought a full year’s worth, you’ll note.”
“And if I find benefit, I will use the lot.” Though he had absolutely no doubts about that happening. “Done.”
Cassandra Baker smoothed the skirt of her Liz Claiborne A-line dress in navy blue and white oversized checks for the second time in less than a minute. Just because she lived like a hermit in a cave sometimes, that didn’t mean she had to dress like one. Or so she told herself when ordering her new spring wardrobe online from her favorite department store.
Wearing stylish clothing, even if said outfits were rarely seen anywhere but her own home, was one of the small things she did to try to make herself feel normal.
It didn’t always work. But she tried.
She was supposed to be playing the piano. It relaxed her. Or so everyone insisted, and she even sometimes believed it. Only her slim fingers were motionless on the keyboard of her Fazioli grand piano.
Neo Stamos was due for his lessons in less than five minutes.
When she had offered the year’s worth of piano lessons to the charity fund-raising auction, as she did every year, she assumed she would get another student in her craft. A rising star seeking to work with an acknowledged if reclusive master pianist and New Age composer.
Cass unclipped, smoothed and then reclipped her long brown hair at the nape of her neck. Her hands dropped naturally back to the keyboard, but her fingers did not press down and no sound emitted from the beautiful instrument. She had been sure that just like in years past, the auction winner would be someone who shared her love of music. Hadn’t doubted that her next student might not share Cass’s adoration for the piano.
She’d had no reason to even speculate that a complete musical novice—a tycoon billionaire, no less—would be her student for the next year. It was worse than unbelievable; it was a personal nightmare for a woman who found it difficult enough to open her door to strangers.
Trying to circumvent that feeling, she’d spent an inordinate amount of time reading articles about him and studying publicity photos as well as the few candid shots of him she’d discovered on the Internet. None of that had helped.
If anything, her worry at the prospect of meeting him had increased. His publicity photos showed a man who looked like he rarely, if ever, listened to any sort of music at all. Why in the world would a man like that want to take piano lessons?
Apparently, he did, though. Because when the bids were well into the tens of thousands, Zephyr Nikos swooped in with an offer of one hundred thousand dollars. It boggled her mind—one hundred thousand dollars for one hour a week of Cass’s time. Even though the lessons lasted a year, the bid had been beyond extravagant.