“If you say so.”
“What I say does not matter. On the other hand, what you and Piper say is of utmost importance.”
“She said she would call, and she has not,” Zephyr all but growled.
“Be patient and believe in your friendship if you will believe in nothing else.”
“I have no other option.”
“Then make it work for you, that is what men like us do. We do not give up.”
That was one truth Zephyr could not deny.
Neo left and Zephyr forced himself to get to work on the piles of urgent papers and messages stacked on top of his desk from his time out of the office. It was nine o’clock that night before he admitted temporary defeat and left his office.
Piper still had not called, though he had called her on the hour, every hour, since the afternoon.
Piper sat outside the Seattle Aquarium, watching children and adults come and go. Her hand rested against her lower abdomen. She didn’t feel any different. Her body had not changed at all, but inside her womb a baby grew. Her baby. Zephyr’s baby. Their child.
The wholly unexpected fulfillment of one of her dearest hopes.
She should have called right away and told him the news, but she couldn’t. She had to think and she couldn’t do that around him right now.
She loved a man who had taken great pains to make sure she understood he would never love her. And that same man was going to ask her to marry him. She was sure of it.
Because she carried his child.
In a normal world, that would result in an immediate and outright refusal on her part. Before meeting and falling in love with Zephyr Nikos, she would never have even considered for one second marrying a man who did not profess to love her. But Zephyr’s perspective was a unique one.
In his world, love guaranteed nothing but pain. He hadn’t come out and said so, but his story about his past made that clear. He had loved his mother and she had abandoned him to an orphanage. He had loved both of his half siblings, but they had been taken from him.
Even if he did love Piper, he might never be able to admit it.
One of the questions that chased round and round in her brain was whether or not she could accept that and marry him anyway. She had no doubts about her ability to raise this child on her own. She was an educated woman with her own successful business. She wasn’t a billionaire, but she wasn’t a pauper, either.
Zephyr could be part of the baby’s life without marrying her as well. But he couldn’t be a full-time dad if they didn’t live together. Even in the best shared custody arrangements, both parents were forced to take a less pervasive role in their child’s life.
And Zephyr wasn’t going to be content with the role of part-time dad. Just because she refused to marry him did not mean he would not one day marry. He didn’t just want to be a father; he wanted a family. That had been obvious when they’d visited the aquarium together.
He wanted what he saw all around him, and she could not blame him.
Which led to the other question that chased the first one over and over again: could she bear to stand aside while he married another woman and built a whole family with her? Could she stand her own child only having half-time with his or her daddy while others that came later got him each and every day?
Unlike Zephyr, her time at the Seattle Aquarium was doing nothing to help her think of answers to those hard questions.
Zephyr let himself into his empty apartment, annoyed when he realized the cleaning service had left the lights on in the living room again. His power bill was not the issue; indiscriminate wasteful use of the planet’s resources was.
It had been almost a week since Piper was supposed to have called him. She hadn’t been in to work, at least according to her assistant, Brandi. He’d gone by Piper’s apartment, but she hadn’t answered the door. Her phone had to be off and he’d finally stopped calling, but each day that went by echoed feelings he thought he would never again have to experience.
The fear of being abandoned was a live thing inside of him, but he hid it, even from Neo. He couldn’t stand the feeling of helplessness that grew with every hour she did not call. Had he lost his friend? Was she going to try to keep him from his child if she was indeed pregnant?
One thing he knew was that he might feel helpless, but he wasn’t. If she carried his child, she was not going to keep it away from him like his brother and sister had been. He would be a part of this child’s life, even if marrying its mother wasn’t an option.
He would fight for custody. She could be the weekend parent, if she didn’t want to marry him. She was still building her business, she’d said so herself. He could free more of his time to parent their child hands-on and any decent judge would see that.