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"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 a 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 a blanket of cloud with the occasional break where the peaks of the Alps crept through. It had been a while since she spotted the last peak and she knew they were almost to their Athens destination. 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 spa resort. 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 heightened sense of anticipation 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 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 together 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 newly arrived 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 signature blue skirt-suit Piper 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's 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 altogether.
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 when he and Neo had been building 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 of a 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'd consider the next couple of days as 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 and 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 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 others' 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 with 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 carry-on, 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 a convertible 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 the roof slowly disappeared.