Neo surged to his feet. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t know she was there until too late, but hey. It wasn’t like you said anything she didn’t already know, right?”
No, but that didn’t matter. “You said she looked stricken.”
“Ohi, I’m not sure the whole friends-with-benefits thing is still working for her.”
“You were meddling,” Neo accused.
Zephyr gave him an innocent look he didn’t believe for a minute. “I was just talking to you.”
“Poking and prodding things best left alone.”
“Maybe Cass didn’t want them left alone.”
“Maybe you should have minded your own damn business.”
“Maybe instead of yelling at me, you should go fix this.”
“And how am I to do that?”
“Start by getting your head out of your ass and go from there.”
Neo barely restrained from punching his best friend right in the face. But damn it, Zee wasn’t the one he was angry at. It was himself.
He’d spent so many years eschewing love that when it found its way into his life, he’d done everything but stand on his head to pretend it wasn’t there. He’d denied any deeper feelings, denied the resurfaced yearnings he’d hadn’t allowed through time since he was too young to know better. Yearning for love. For a family. For what others had and he had never known.
Neither had Cassandra, not really. Her life had been almost as barren as his own and still, he had withheld his emotions from her. Why?
He was ashamed to admit it was because of fear. He, Neo Stamos, billionaire and all-around powerful guy, was terrified of not being worthy of his precious pianist’s heart.
Just as he had somehow not been worthy of his parents’ love. Only wasn’t that the thinking of his bruised child’s heart? Didn’t he realize as an adult, a rational thinker, that surely it was his parents’ deficiency—not his—that accounted for the lack of love in his life.
And didn’t he owe Cassandra something more than the residue of a painful childhood he’d left behind him long ago?
Silent tears rushed down Cass’s cheeks as she let herself into her house. She was furious with herself for crying, but couldn’t stop the emotional onslaught.
She knew Neo didn’t want her for anything but sex and friendship, only she hadn’t been able to help herself from hoping. She’d gone floating along in this little bubble of fantasy that their circumstances did nothing to pop.
He spent his off time with her. All of it. He called her several times a day just to talk. He was still learning to play the piano, though goodness knew he spent as much lesson time teaching her pleasure as she did teaching him music. They made love and spent the night together almost every day.
But the reality was, for him that was just friendship. Nothing more.
The problem was, she loved him and that love was burning a hole in her heart from staying hidden.
She wanted to get married. She wanted to have his babies and work with Dora to feed him healthy meals, but remind him that food wasn’t just fuel. It could be enjoyed.
Cass wanted so much she knew she could never have. As far as she’d come with her issues, she was no match for a billionaire tycoon that could have any woman he wanted. And should have one that could offer unrestrained ability to couple him to business dinners and parties, not be limited to an event or two every couple of weeks.
Even able to go in crowded public places, Cass was still horrifically shy and had a hard time putting herself out there for others to get to know. Neo acted like he didn’t mind, but that was because they were just friends. Anything more would be unthinkable.
She shied away from the music room and her bedroom was not where she wanted to be right now, either.
She stood in the hall and looked around her and wondered for the first time what she was doing living in her parents’ house. It wasn’t as if the memories of them all living here together were so good for her.
And yet she clung to the house as a link to the only people who had loved her, if only a little.
Neo found Cassandra in her small study when he finally reached her house. Red-rimmed eyes testified to the tears she had shed and his heart caught.
But far more alarming was what was on her computer screen. “You are looking to move?”
“Why not? There is nothing holding me here.”
Paralyzed by unexpected pain, for a moment Neo could not breathe. “I am here.”
She gave him a measuring look. “For how long?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll eventually tire of our benefits and start dating other women again.”