Harlequin Presents #2935
Originally published: 08/01/10
Self-made billionaire Zephyr Nikos has come a long way from the streets of Athens, but his heart is stone-coldlike marble. He can’t offer Piper Madison his love; instead he offers her his worldfine dining, private jet, rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful….
As their desire heats up and finally reaches boiling point, Zephyr and Piper must end their affair before one of them gets hurt. There’s just one small complication…Piper’s pregnancy test just came back positive!
“The Greek’s Pregnant Lover sweeps from Athens to Seattle with a whirlwind romance readers will love.”~Kathy’s Review Corner
“Complex characters, exotic locals, and a compelling plot snares the reader from the first, unfolding smoothly to deliver a happily ever after that ends with a sated sigh.”~CataRomance
“4.5 stars…loved it!” Penney, Goodreads.com reader review
“I absolutely adored The Shy Bride (Harlequin Presents) and have re-read it several times. The Greek’s Pregnant Lover is an awesome follow up. While The Shy Bride (Harlequin Presents) felt more tender and had a wonderfully natural progression, The Greek’s Pregnant Lover (Harlequin Presents) is classic Harlequin Presents. It has one very important distinction from others in this genre, however. The hero and heroine actually communicate. I KNOW!” ~Annemarie, amazon.com reviewer
“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 her own chuckle.
There had been a time not so many years ago that her fondest hopes included being in that exasperated mother’s place. Those dreams had died along with her marriage and she had accepted that. She had. Yet as much as she wished they didn’t, those old hopes still caused a small pang in the region of her heart in moments like this.
But dreams of children definitely had no chance of resurrection in her current situation.
Trying to let the low level background hum created by the plane’s engines soothe nerves already stretched taut, Piper leaned back in her seat and looked away from the domestic tableau.
It didn’t work. Despite her best efforts, her heart rate increased as anticipation of her arrival in Athens thrummed through her. She couldn’t stop herself looking out the window, her eyes eagerly seeking evidence of the airport.
For hours it had been nothing but blue-gray water with squiggly lines of white indicating capping waves. Then they’d flown over the southern tip of Italy’s “boot heel” and she knew they were almost to their Athens destination. And she was less than an hour from seeing him. Zephyr Nikos. Her current boss and part-time bed partner.
She was more than a little keen to see the man and the place of his birth. Besides, who didn’t want to visit paradise?
For that’s where they were ultimately headed, a small Greek island that at one time had been the vacation home of a fabulously wealthy Greek family. Not so flush now, the patriarch had sold the island to Stamos & Nikos Enterprises. Zephyr and his partner, Neo Stamos, planned to develop it as an all inclusive resort-slash-spa and retreat. And she’d been given the interior design contract for the entire facility, with a budget large enough to bring in whatever kind of help she needed to see it to completion.
She was beyond excited about being brought in at the ground level on such an expansive project. It would be an amazing coup for her business, but satisfying personally on a creative level as well. Even so, her current sense of keenness was predominantly for the man who waited for her there.
She had spent the last six weeks missing Zephyr with an ache that scared her when she let herself think about it. She should not be so emotionally dependent on a man who was only sort of her lover.
She bit her lip on a sigh.
They were involved sexually, but not romantically. They weren’t anything as simple as casual sex partners. That would be too easy. She’d know exactly how to handle her one-sided emotional entanglement then. But they were friends too. Good friends. The kind of friends that hung out at least once a week before the sex benefits started and that increased to multiple times a week when they were in the same city.
To complicate things even more, he was also her boss.
Again…sort of. His company had hired her personal design firm for several projects over the past two-plus years, though this new development was by far the biggest and most far reaching for her. He would be her boss in actual fact if she’d let him too.
He’d offered her a staff job with salary and benefits she’d had a hard time turning down, but Piper had no desire to work for someone else. Not again. Not after losing both her husband and her job in one fell swoop barely only six months before she took on her first project with Zephyr’s company.
She’d vowed then that she would not allow herself to ever be that vulnerable to upheaval again.
She’d thought marrying Arthur Bellingham would give her the stability she craved, among other things-like that family she’d dreamed about. It had turned out just the opposite though. Art had shredded her emotions before tearing her life apart piece by piece until all she had left was her talent and her determination. She would never be in that place again.
Not even for Zephyr. Not that the sexy Greek real estate tycoon was offering her marriage, or even commitment. He’d offered her a salaried job. That was all.
If she wanted more, she certainly wasn’t saying so. Up until the past weeks long separation, she hadn’t even admitted it to herself. Telling him wasn’t in the cards she planned to play. Not when doing so would spell the immediate end to this whole friends-who-are-sexually-intimate situation.
And maybe their friendship as well.
Zephyr waited for Piper near the luggage carousel. He hadn’t seen her in six weeks. She had been on a job in the Midwest and he’d known if he didn’t offer her the Greek job, he probably wouldn’t see her again for another two months, or more.
Not that she wasn’t the best interior designer for the job, but this project was bigger than anything she’d taken on before. He knew she could do it though. And it wasn’t as if he needed to explain his choice to anyone. That was one of the benefits to being the boss. The only person who might have something to say about it, and only because they were both working on this development for the first time in years, was his best friend and business partner, Neo Stamos.
However, the man was knee deep in wedding preparations right now. Cass might not want a big production, but Neo wanted their small wedding to be perfect in every way. Hell, Zephyr was surprised his friend hadn’t insisted on designing and building a venue just for the event.
A group of new travelers surged toward the luggage carousel, bringing Zephyr’s thoughts firmly to the present. He scanned the crowd for Piper’s beautiful blond head. There she was, her attention caught by a small boy talking animatedly to his mother. The skirt-suit in Piper’s signature blue she wore highlighted her curves deliciously, while managing a claim to elegance. Yet, he doubted it was a designer label.
Piper’s business was still operating on too fine a line for her to splurge on clothes, or even an apartment much bigger than a closet. He’d offered her a job that would have made it possible for her to live at a higher standard, but she’d turned him down. Twice. Damn, the woman was stubborn. And independent.
He wondered if she would turn down a shopping spree in Athens’ fashion district?
She looked up and their gazes met. Eyes the color of a robin’s egg filled with warmth and pleasure as they landed on him, her bow-shaped lips curved in a gorgeous smile. That look struck him like a blow to the chest.
He felt a grin take over his mouth without his permission, a more honest smile than anything that usually masked his features. Not that he had to hide that he was pleased to see her. They’d hit it off when he hired her to update the main offices for Stamos & Nikos Enterprises a little over two years ago. Their friendship had only grown since. The addition of phenomenal sex to their relationship had only improved the situation as far as he was concerned.
In fact, Piper had been the reason Zephyr had encouraged Neo so strongly to develop interests outside their company, and to pursue his friendship with Cassandra Baker, the famous recluse master pianist. That had worked out better for Neo than Zephyr could have imagined. And Zephyr was happy for him. He really was.
However, it boggled his mind, to tell the truth. Neo in love. Zephyr shook his head. Sex and friendship were one thing, love something else all together.
Piper’s delicate brows drew together in a frown and she gave him a questioning look.
“It’s nothing,” he mouthed.
When she reached him, he pulled her into a tight hug. Her soft curves felt so good against him, the low level arousal he’d experienced since waking that morning and realizing he would be seeing Piper today went critical. Just that fast.
“I guess you really missed me.” She leaned back, a sensual chuckle purring from her throat, her eyes glinting with teasing humor.
Chagrin washed over him. He wasn’t some untried adolescent. Nevertheless, he laughed and admitted, “Yes.”
“When is our first meeting with the architect?”
“The day after tomorrow.”
“But you told me I needed to be here today.”
“You needed a break.”
“Building a new business is always consuming.”
He shrugged because he couldn’t disagree. For the first ten years he and Neo had built their fortune, they had worked weekends and long hours during the week and hadn’t taken so much as an afternoon off. Things had gotten a little better after that, though they were both too much of overachievers to develop much life outside their company.
After meeting Piper, Zephyr had started leaving the office around six instead of eight, but he still wasn’t great about taking time off. However, Piper had sounded exhausted the last time they’d spoken on the phone, and he’d determined she would take a break, one way or another.
“Agreed, but I did not think you would begrudge an extra couple of days in Athens.”
Her eyes lit up. “You mean I actually get to do some sightseeing before submersing myself in the job?”
“Exactly. I’d hoped you consider the next couple of days an information gathering time as well as our time on the island. We want the resort to fit into the island’s ambiance, but also reflect Greek culture.”
“Ambiance? I thought it was a private island. Empty.”
“The family leased out land for a small fishing village and a few farms for local produce as well as having their own fruit orchards and olive groves.”
“Oh, that’s perfect for what you are wanting to do.”
“I thought so.” But he enjoyed how in-tune with his vision she was.
“I’m glad I’ll have time to really get to know the area then. I like to try and make my designs reflect the local setting’s positive attributes.”
“I know and I’m sure you’ve done a lot of research on Greek culture already.” Heck, she’d researched it when they’d first met, telling him she wanted to understand him and Neo better as clients. He didn’t know how much it had helped her, considering he and Neo had left Greece behind so many years ago. But there was no denying Piper got him in a way no one else did. And her design updates in their offices had been perfect. “Nothing can replace experiencing an environment in person though.”
Unconsciously nestling her body into his, she smiled, clearly pleased. “True, but I didn’t know I’d have the luxury to do so with this job.”
He just grinned and shrugged.
She laughed. “Don’t fool yourself into believing I’m not aware you have your own agenda here. One that includes judicious amounts of time between the sheets. You’re a manipulator, you know that?”
She knew him well. “Is this a bad thing?”
“In this case?” She shook her head, her bright blue eyes going heavy-lidded. “No. Definitely no.”
That’s what he appreciated so much about her. Piper Madison was a gem among women, his very own polished diamond that did not require the setting of a relationship to shine. Unlike Neo’s less worldly Cass, Piper had no illusions of love and romance. She enjoyed his body as he found pleasure in hers. No morass of untidy emotions to navigate, which was a very good thing.
Because unlike Neo, Zephyr had no love to give. “Let’s get your case and we’ll head to the hotel. It is a spa-resort.”
Scoping out the competition, are we?”
“Naturally.” He gave in to the desire that had been riding him since her arrival and kissed her. And then he kissed her again for good measure. She tasted as sweet and arousing as always.
Eyes glowing with pleasure, she said, “Only, situated in the city, it can’t hope to offer what we, I mean Stamos & Nikos Enterprises, will.”
“There would be no point in developing a new property if we couldn’t bring something to the table no one else has already offered.”
Her azure gaze slid to his lips and stayed there for several seconds, and then she blinked at him with unfocused eyes for before seeming to remember what he’d said and smiling wryly. “Always the overachiever.”
“And you are not?”
“Hey, there’s more than one reason you and I are such good friends.”
“More than this, you mean.” He rubbed himself against her subtly.
She gasped and stepped back. “You are dangerous.” Letting her gaze drop to what he hoped his suit jacket hid from other’s gazes, she winked. “I think getting to the hotel is a definite necessity.”
“Are you tired?” He asked, tongue in cheek. “Need a lie down?”
“Get my case, Zephyr.” She gave him a look that said she knew exactly what kind of lie down he had in mind and she wasn’t necessarily averse.
“Don’t start in the Greek endearments unless you want spontaneous combustion right here,” she warned.
“But I like living on the edge.”
She gave a significant look to the baggage rolling by on the carousel.
He turned smartly and started looking for the zebra print luggage he had bought her after she complained about how her black suitcase looked like everyone else’s in the airport. She’d laughed at the loud black and white print on the cases, but she used it.
She’d only brought one midsize case and her carryon, so they were out of the airport and in the car he’d rented for the week a few minutes later.
“Mmm…nice. Definitely a step up from the Mercedes,” she said, rubbing the leather upholstery in the fire engine red Ferrari convertible.
“Don’t knock my car, it has heated seats and those come in handy in Seattle’s colder winters. And an open-option top would hardly be practical in such a wet city.” But he was glad she liked the Ferrari. He’d wanted to spoil her a little, since she was always so determined not to spoil herself.
“There is that.” She brushed her hand along the ceiling. “Are you going to lower the soft-top?”
“Of course.” He pressed a button and roof slowly disappeared.
Once the process had completed, he put the powerful car into gear and backed out of his VIP parking spot. With well-practiced movements in cut-throat driving, he maneuvered them through Athens toward their hotel. He swerved around a taxi that had stopped in a no-parking zone and then accelerated through a light turning red.
She put her head back and laughed out loud. “Oh, I like this. We really have two days for you and me to play, and nothing else?”
“Thank you, Zephyr.” She brushed a hand down his thigh.
Pleasure at both the touch and the gratitude he heard in her voice filled him. With an independent woman like Piper, it had been a risk to schedule vacation time for her without her knowledge. Even if he called it locale research. He was glad the risk had paid off. “What are friends for?”
“Is that all we are? Just friends?” she asked, not sounding particularly concerned.
So, he didn’t go into masculine panic mode. “In my world there isn’t anything just about being a true friend.”
“I understand that. All of my so called friends dumped me when I walked out on Art. I didn’t realize they were only interested in spending time with me if I came as part of a power couple.”
“Even though he cheated on you?” Zephyr asked in disgust.
“Art wasn’t the only one who believed that hoary old refrain he was so good at spouting.”
“Which one is that?”
“All men cheat.”
“The jury is still out on that one, but I was not about to stay married to a man who believed infidelity was as inevitable as the tide.”
“You know I think you made the right choice divorcing that louse.” At least her family had finally come around to that conclusion as well, even if her former friends had not.
“Me too. But unfortunately, that louse runs one of the most successful design houses in New York.”
“Hence your move to Seattle.”
“Exactly. There just wasn’t room enough in The Big Apple for both his ego and my career.”
The bastard she’d been married to had done his best to blackball her in the design community. Zephyr had returned the favor over the past two years and Tres Bon no longer held its prestigious top position status. Arthur Bellingham’s word might send ripples out in the city, but Zephyr Nikos sent out waves big enough to drown in the international community.
The bastard who had done his best to ruin Piper’s life was on the slippery slope of business decline already. Art would only find himself in deep, murky waters when he got to the bottom too.
Zephyr had never told Piper of course. She hadn’t been exposed to his ruthless streak and he saw no reason to change that.
“Well, I am glad you came to Seattle,” he said.
“Again, me too.” She tugged off her jacket, revealing the silky singlet she wore beneath it, and the fact she wasn’t wearing a bra. “I certainly made a better circle of friends.”
“Oh, I am round now?” he asked practically choking on his lust as her hardened nipples created shoals in the slinky fabric of her top.
He forcibly snapped his attention back to Athens’ typically snarled traffic, lest he cause an accident or do a poor job avoiding one. He could hardly do what he was fantasizing to her body from a hospital bed.
Having her in peril of the same didn’t even bear thinking of.
“Don’t be smart.” She tapped his leg, having the opposite effect to the one he was sure she meant to. “I have other friends.”
“She is your assistant.”
“I have friends,” Piper insisted stubbornly. “There’s a reason I’m not available every night to keep you entertained.”
Which wasn’t something he actually liked, so he let the subject drop.
Usually, Piper noticed every tiny detail of her surroundings, always looking for ways to improve her own sense of design and aesthetics. However, she barely noticed the earth tones and ultra-modern, simplistic design features of the luxury spa Zephyr had chosen for their stay as he led her through the oversized lobby to the bank of elevators on the far side.
She was too busy soaking in his every feature, her senses starved for the sight, taste and feel of him.
The past month-and-a-half had been harder than any separation they’d had to date. For her anyway. Maybe for Zephyr too, if the number of calls and texts she’d gotten from him was anything to go on. They’d had prolonged times apart before, but not since they started having sex regularly six months ago. Still, it wasn’t as if they were a couple. They were friends, who were also casual sex partners. At least that’s what she’d been telling herself since the first time they’d passed that intimate boundary nine months ago.
That first time, she’d thought it would be a one-off, something to get the sexual tension that had been growing between them out of the way of their friendship. She’d been wrong.
They hadn’t gotten physical again until three months later, but connected sexually several times a week since then. When he made it clear, again, that he did not see the sex as anything more than physical compatibility for stress release, she’d told herself she wasn’t ready for a committed relationship either, so that was just fine with her. Art had done a real number on her ability to trust and she had a business to build. She didn’t have a place in her life for a full-time relationship.
The only problem was: she wasn’t sure she believed her own rhetoric any longer. Her natural optimism was doing its best to overcome her painfully learnt lesson on the ways of men. The fact she was having such a complicated internal monologue on the matter was telling in itself, she thought with an internal sigh.
She’d been careful not to ask for promises Zephyr might break, or make commitments she wasn’t ready for.
But she’d come to realize over the past six weeks where she had subsisted on phone calls, texting, IM-ing and email that emotions didn’t abide by agreements, verbal or otherwise. That refusing to make a vow didn’t stop her heart from craving the security that promise implied. Nor did it stop her from living like she’d made her own promises.
She’d missed Zephyr more than she’d thought possible and wanted nothing more right now than to wrap herself up in him and soak in his essence.
He seemed to want the same thing. He hadn’t stopped touching her since they left the airport. He’d laid his hand over hers between shifts in the car and he’d kept his arm around her waist all the way to the room.
He opened the door with a flourish. “Here we are.”
The suite reflected the minimalistic décor from downstairs, but its spaciousness spoke of the ultimate in luxury. “This place is bigger than my apartment.”
“My closet is bigger than your flat,” he said, sounding unimpressed.
She grimaced at the truth of his words, but the curve of her lips morphed into a smile from the heat burning in his brown eyes.
From the feel of his arousal when he’d first hugged and kissed her hello, and the sexual need intensifying his features then and now, she expected to be taken against the door with a minimum of foreplay.
But that didn’t happen. He set her cases aside and then lifted her right into his arms, high against his chest, in a move that made her feel cherished rather than just wanted.
She quickly banished that thought even as her gasp of surprise escaped her. “Going he-man on me?”
“Spoiling you more like.”
“Oh, really? I could get used to this,” she teased.
He didn’t bother with a reply, but didn’t look too fashed at the prospect. So not good for the odd blips of emotion that had been pestering her lately. But that was one thing she could say about Zephyr Nikos, whether it be in his role as friend, boss or bed partner, the man did not stint on his generosity.
Despite his obvious desire, rather than showing mass amounts of impatience, he laid her gently on the big bed and seemed determined to reacquaint himself with every facet of her body. He drove her crazy with reticence while pumping her for information on her time away from him.
After he asked yet another question about her experience in the Midwest decorating the interior for a new office building, she laughed. “We spoke every day, Zephyr. I can’t think of anything I didn’t already tell you.”
The gorgeous tycoon actually looked like he might be blushing, his dark eyes reflecting chagrin. “I was just curious.”
“You know what I do on a job. I’ve done it for Stamos & Nikos Enterprises often enough.”
“Did you like the Midwest, better than Seattle?” he asked with what she thought was entirely mistimed curiosity.
“Are you kidding?”
His expression said clearly he wasn’t.
“I love Seattle. The energy in the city is amazing.” And he was there.
“That’s good to know.”
Suddenly, all his questions started to make sense. “You heard.”
The Greek’s Pregnant Lover
by Lucy Monroe
Traditional Greek Husbands mini-series
August 2010 North America