He was dead serious.

“Why wouldn’t I be? Regardless of what I just said, I do not anticipate falling in love like Neo, but one day I will marry and procreate. Why build an empire if I have no intention of leaving it to someone?”

She didn’t mention his nieces and nephew. Clearly, that wasn’t what he meant. Zephyr wanted his own family. “But you don’t think you will ever fall in love?”

“No.”

That made more sense, even if it hurt enough to make it difficult to breathe.

“But…”

“But what? You loved your ex-husband, yes?”

She grimaced. “Yes.”

“And did that bring you happiness?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think love can happen, or make me happy when it does.”

“Perhaps it will happen for you again one day.”

“Maybe it will.” It already had—with him—and his revelations on the Acropolis had only cemented that fact.

However, she could see it wasn’t a truth he would be pleased if she shared. No matter how much that situation hurt her, she could not change it. She suddenly realized she was very likely to pay the price for another woman’s actions. Actions that were decades old, but had not lost the power to hurt or mold Zephyr’s actions.

But Zephyr’s heart was not available to her and might never be.

His lips twisted in distaste. “Love is a messy emotion.”

“No question, but it’s good, too.” Surely he could see that, especially now that Neo was so happily in that state?

“You don’t regret loving Art?” Zephyr asked with calculated cool.

“No. I regret that he was a cheater and a liar and that his love was more words than substance.”

“How is that different from regretting loving him?”

“My love was a good thing.”

“That ended up causing you pain,” he observed wryly.

She couldn’t deny it. Loving Art had nearly destroyed her on every level. And loving Zephyr didn’t look like it was going to be a much better prospect. At least she knew where she stood with him, though.

That was something, wasn’t it?

Zephyr gave one of those self-deprecating smiles he used when negotiating and it made her stomach clench to have him use it on her. “Look, I’m not trying to be the Scrooge of happily ever after, but you and I both know someone loving you is no guarantee they won’t betray you.”

“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t open yourself to love at all.” She tried to keep the desperation his attitude evoked out of her voice. It wasn’t his fault she’d been dumb enough to fall in love with the wrong man. Again.

“It works for me.”

And she couldn’t fault him for his attitude. Now that she knew his mother had abandoned him to build a better life for herself, Piper couldn’t help understanding Zephyr’s distrust of love.

“But Neo loves Cassandra and vice-versa. Or so you said.”

“Cassandra is one woman in a million.”

The pain those words caused took Piper by surprise, making her heart cramp and her whole chest cavity hurt. Because they implied she was not such a woman. Who was she kidding? Certainly not herself. This whole conversation put Zephyr’s attitude toward her in stark relief.

He didn’t love her. Not even a little. He didn’t anticipate loving her, either. Not ever. Which was really not what she wanted to hear. The pain coursing through her mocked all the promises she’d made to herself after walking away from Art. She wouldn’t lose her livelihood when she and Zephyr’s sexual relationship ended, but she wasn’t sure her heart would survive, even if her business did.

Piper was head over heels in love with a man who did not believe in the concept for himself, and moreover he looked forward to marrying one day. Only Zephyr clearly did not intend that woman to be her. Not when he so blithely told her maybe she would find love again one day.

He’d reneged on his own words of maybe finding love and she felt like retracting hers as well. Was the prospect of love worth the possibility of this pain again?

She remembered the last time she had felt this awful inability to breathe. It had been when she realized once and for all that Art did not love her and never had. And once again, for her pride’s sake and maybe even for Zephyr’s sake, she had to hide the devastation going on inside her.

“I think you might be right,” she said, trying not to choke on the words.

“About what?”

“I do a pretty sucky job deciding who to fall in love with.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

She laughed, but felt no humor. “Thanks.”

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