Very few developers could make that claim, and none as successful as Stamos & Nikos Enterprises.
“Neo and I learned early to see the good in wherever we were.” He laced their fingers together, giving her a look that implied he wasn’t just talking about property development.
“Even the orphanage?” she asked softly.
“I admit I saw more good there than Neo did.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“That’s a pretty nice talent to have. I wish I’d had it as a child like you did.” She might have found moving around as much as her family had done easier than she had. “Heck, I wouldn’t mind having it now.”
“Don’t play down your strengths. That was one of the first characteristics I admired in you.”
“Definitely. When you look at a property, you do not see what is, but what could be.”
“That’s not the same thing.”
“No, but it comes from the same attitude.”
“Then why was I such a miserable kid?” She felt like an idiot asking that. She’d been a grown-up for a long time. The little girl that found changing homes and schools every couple of years so traumatizing was long gone.
“It wasn’t an inability to find the good in each new situation that your father’s military career led you to that made you so unhappy. It was the fact you found so much to love and enjoy in each new place and that got ripped from you with every new reassignment.”
Feeling light-headed, and not from the panoramic view of Athens, she swallowed after developeing a suddenly dry throat. Because Zephyr was exactly right. Every time she had found the place she wanted to occupy in her new world, she had been ripped away from it.
But still. “Lots of kids grow up the way I did.”
“That doesn’t make it any easier on each one that does it. There were more than two dozen other children in the orphanage my mother abandoned me to. That reality did not make my own situation any easier to accept when she left me behind.”
“Your mother abandoned you to the orphanage?”
Zephyr walked to a viewpoint that overlooked Hadrian’s Arch. He still had hold of Piper’s hand, so she came with him. Feeling like the only connection he had with the present was their entwined fingers, he could not believe he had shared that information with Piper. He’d never even talked about it to Neo. Yet, he knew he was going to tell Piper the truth now.
Maybe not all, but at least some. He just didn’t understand why.
“How old were you?” she asked, after several moments of somber quiet between them.
“Four, almost five.” He looked down at her to gauge his tenderhearted lover’s reaction.
She did not disappoint him. Her pretty blue eyes glazed over in shock. “I thought you were a baby, or something.”
“No. My mother was a prostitute.” Again, a sense of utter unreality that he should be telling Piper these things assailed him. “One of her clients fell in love with her and wanted to marry her, but he didn’t want a living reminder of the life she’d led before they met.”
As an adult man, he could almost understand that. Not forgive, but understand. As a child who had adored his mother, the only bright constant in his short life, the one he had relied on entirely for acceptance and love, he hadn’t been so wise. Neither his child’s mind, nor the heart he’d later encased in impenetrable stone, had been able to comprehend his mother’s actions, or even her husband’s attitude.
The man had been kind enough to the small boy the few times they met before he decided to buy Leda’s freedom from her procurer, Zephyr’s father.
“But you were her child!” Piper’s obvious shock nearly ripped her hand from his grasp.
He tightened his grip, unwilling to let her go. “My mother visited. Once a month, but I learned to wish she wouldn’t.”
“Because she never took you with her when she left.”
“No.” No matter how he’d begged at first.
“When was the last time you spoke to her?”
“Last month.” But he hadn’t seen her since he’d run away from the orphanage with Neo, this time by Zephyr’s choice.
Piper stared up at him, her eyes swimming with emotion, her mouth opening and closing, but no sound coming out.
He took pity on her clear inability to fathom this state of affairs. “I contacted her after I made my first million. She was glad to hear from me.”
“You sound like that surprised you.”
“It did. Even though I was now wealthy, there was no guarantee she would want the reminder of her past.”