He turned away, tension radiating in every inch of his sixfoot, three-inch frame. “You never asked me about my father.”
“You know who your biological father is?” she asked in shock. She’d just assumed his mother had not known which of her clients had sired her oldest son.
“Well, don’t make a meal of it.” She pulled him around to face her. “Tell me.”
“If you talked to the other men of his class, they would tell you he was a respected olive grove owner from an honorable family who was lucky in his investments. Only he and his wife had luxurious tastes in living that could not be supported with his olive income. He made investments, but not of the respectable kind.”
“What do you mean?”
“He invested in a stable of women, and yes, that is what he called them. He treated them as well as he would horses, I suppose. He provided for their physical needs, while expecting them to serve his customers. And him. My mother was his favorite. He was the only man allowed to copulate with her without using a condom.”
“He kept her working for him, even after she had his son?” What a prince…not.
“He did not recognize me as such. Not until I was older and he realized his legitimate wife was never going to give him an heir for the family’s grove. He came to the home with the intention of claiming me. He thought I would be grateful he wanted to ‘adopt’ me.”
“What a morally corrupt, not to mention selfish, slimeball.” Her heart ached for the child Zephyr had been and for the man whose ability to trust and love had been so damaged.
“That’s how I saw it. I had no intention of playing dutiful son to a man who treated my mother like a commodity and was content to leave me in an orphanage for years.”
“That’s when you and Neo ran away from the home, isn’t it?”
“Yes. He’d had much looser restrictions on him while living with his mother, before she died. The home felt like a prison to him.”
“So, you two took off together.”
“And helped each other build lives as far from the ones we’d been born to as it was possible to get.”
“You both succeeded admirably.”
But she was still interested in what had made him go tense. “So, you brought your dad up for a reason right now.”
“You are right.” He sighed and tried looking away again.
She wouldn’t let him. “Tell me.”
“When I was in a position to do so, I made sure the truth of his investments was brought to light.”
Ah, that made sense. “That ruthless side of yours showing itself.”
“Did he go to jail?”
“Ohi…no, he had money. He paid his way out of trouble, but he couldn’t pay his respectable wife to stay with him. In a true twist of irony, he ended up married to one of his prostitutes and she’s given him two children. Both daughters. She rules the home every bit as ruthlessly as he used to rule his ‘stable.’” He stopped, his body going rigid, an expression of horror crossing his features. “We are not inviting them to the wedding. The girls are too young to know who or what I am and I have no interest in recognizing that pimp as my father.”
She shuddered. “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t even consider it.”
Relief showed on his face. “So.”
He looked at her like he couldn’t quite figure out what was going on in her head. Since that was usually her role, she got an inappropriate little thrill from seeing the shoe on the other foot for a change.
“I am a very ruthless guy.” He made it sound like that was some big revelation.
“It’s a little disturbing,” she said, unable to resist the urge to tease a little.
“Disturbing enough to make you question your decision to marry me?”
She refused to treat this like a serious question. “That depends.”
“On whether there are any other people you feel the need to ‘tell the truth’ about.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him, making it clear that she was joking.
He, however, looked as serious as a heart attack. “No.”
“I was joking, Zee. I’m not really worried about it. Nothing I learned today changed in any way how I feel about you.” She spelled it out for him because he seemed to need that.
“You do not think I am like my father?”
“What?” She grabbed his shoulders and tried to shake him. It didn’t work, him being the buff stud that he was, but he got the idea. “How could you ask that? You are nothing like that user.”