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.