FREE ONLINE READ: A Peek into The Shy Bride and The Greek’s Pregnant Lover

by Lucy Monroe

For my compassionate and patient readers, and particularly those who have asked over the years: What ever happened to so-and-so, was their baby a boy or a girl, will their children grow up and get their own stories?” These vignettes peeking into the lives of past characters are for you!

These vignettes are not intended to be books, or even novellas. They do not follow typical story structure with a beginning, a middle, a story climax and an ending. The beginning for each vignette was the book it’s based on. Simply put, these are codas, the asked-for glimpses into the lives of favorite characters.

Each of those glimpses is different. Some are very short, others are near novella length and the rest fall somewhere in between. A few are sexy and sensual, all are a bit emotional, but a couple will take you on a new heart-wrenching journey with the characters.

All answer the question “What happened after the HEA?”

I’ll be releasing a new vignette every couple of weeks so be sure to keep an eye on the Harlequin blog as there will be seven in total. It is my sincere hope that you will find as much joy reading these peeks into the lives of the characters as I had writing them.

Love and hugs,

Lucy

***

 

Neo & Cass Stamos from The Shy Bride (2010) and

Zephyr & Piper Nikos from The Greek’s Pregnant Lover (2010)

 

Eight years after the epilogue from The Greek’s Pregnant Lover

Holiday lights turned the leafless branches of trees downtown into holiday glitter. The soft strains of Christmas music sounded from inside the stores along the street whenever a door was opened to let a customer in or out. Shoppers rushed by, bundled for the cold Seattle winter with splashes of bright red and green.

This was why Neo’s wife always asked to come back to Seattle in December. Cassandra loved living in the sunny climate of their Greek island, but she’d said she actually missed the cold and the uniquely festive atmosphere of Seattle at this time of year.

Unable to deny his brilliant pianist and composer anything, Neo made yearly plans to bring her Christmas shopping in Seattle. Not to be outdone, Zephyr had asked Piper if she wanted to come, and they’d been making it a family trip ever since, something they frequently did in their travels.

And Neo did not mind one bit.

Zephyr was the brother he had chosen and Piper was as dear as any blood sister could be.

“Have you decided what to get Cass for Christmas this year?” Zee stood beside him as they waited for their wives and children to meet them outside one of the many downtown coffee shops that served utterly decadent hot cocoa for the children and equally over-the-top sweet coffees for the adults.

Neo had never developed a taste for syrups, whipped cream or even sugar in his coffee, but Cassandra was addicted.

Neo pulled on the buttery-soft leather gloves his daughter had gotten him for Christmas last year, on a trip similar to this one and during the “no papas allowed” shopping portion. Eight-year-old Alethea had explained in that serious way she had sometimes that Neo didn’t spend all his time in Greece and he needed to be prepared. Which was true, but Neo did not do even one quarter of the traveling he once had.

He had a family to spend time with, an incredible wife and two wonderful children who fascinated, delighted and challenged him by turns.

“I’m taking her on a trip to Hawaii,” Neo said in answer to Zee’s question.

“Isn’t that kind of redundant, considering where we live?” Zee asked condescendingly. “She has a paradise of sunshine, perfect beaches and the quiet she needs to compose every day of the year on our island.”

Neo shrugged, unperturbed by Zee’s teasing. “She told me once that she loved her only trip to Hawaii and thought she’d never be able to return.”

“Because of her agoraphobia?” Zee asked, no judgment in his voice for the woman he loved like a sister.

Ne. She’s doing a lot better, but she’ll never be comfortable with crowded planes or tourist beaches.” And though they’d been many places since discovering her issues with traveling stemmed from flying in commercial planes filled with strangers and staying at busy hotels, Neo and Cassandra had not yet made it to the island paradise she remembered so fondly.

“Which means you rented suitable accommodation.”

“For a group of six, yes.”

“You want us to come, too?”

“What do you think?” Neo looked at Zee sardonically. “It is worth more than my fortune to try to take your son away from my daughter for two weeks of bliss in the sun.”

“They are as close as we ever were.”

“Perhaps one day they will be closer.” It was his and Zee’s fondest wish that his sweet, quiet little daughter would grow up to love and be loved by the already very protective Erastes, who was not quite a year older.

“You’d better not say that where Piper or Cass can hear you,” Zee warned seriously.

Neo grimaced. “I am not stupid.”

Each woman had made it abundantly clear that no one would be pushing her child into anything resembling an arranged marriage. Right now, the two children were dear friends, as addicted to each other’s company as anyone Neo had ever seen. Luckily for everyone involved, as in tune as they were with each other, they did not leave out Cassandra and Neo’s second child, Sofia, instead doting on the three-year-old in equal measure.

Alethea had gone right over to Erastes the day his baby sister died in her father’s arms while their mother wept silently and without stopping. Neo’s sensitive daughter had offered to share with Erastes the baby sister she barely acknowledged belonged to her parents, she was so possessive of tiny Sofia.

The devastated little boy had accepted and the family bonds had been cemented more deeply than ever between the Stamos and Nikos clans.

It had been a bleak time for all of them, though the experience had drawn the two families into an intimacy of friendship few could understand. Cassandra was one of the only people that Piper would even speak to for months after the devastating event.

Their tiny daughter’s death had been their second pregnancy that had ended in tragedy. Piper had miscarried when Erastes was two. They’d waited to try again until Neo and Cass decided it was time to have another child. The women had been pregnant together, although, once again, Cassandra had gotten pregnant first. Neo had teased Zee incessantly about that, right up until Piper went into labor only a few days after Sofia had been born. Nothing the doctors did could stop the baby from coming two weeks later and nearly three months early.

Tiny Adara had been born too soon to sustain life. Both Piper and Zee had struggled to cope with their grief while continuing to parent Erastes with an abundance of love and concern.

Four years later, grief was still a part of their lives and always would be.

“So, what you are saying is that you’ve used your wife’s desire to see Hawaii as a way to finish your Christmas shopping for the rest of us early,” Zee teased, unaware of where Neo’s thoughts had gone.

Neo laughed. “Not a chance. Casssandra would never let me get away with it.”

“Too true. That woman has you wrapped around her little finger with a double knot.”

“And you’re not as firmly wrapped around Piper’s, filio mio?” Neo accused.

But Zee’s complacent demeanor said he found nothing bad about that state of events at all. “I’m not ashamed to admit it.”

“Yet the prospect once filled you with a dread I wasn’t sure you were going to overcome in time to keep the wonderful Piper in your life.”

“Right back atcha, Neo.”

They both contemplated their near misses in silence for a minute before Neo spoke again. “What about you? What are you getting Piper?”

“I have no clue. What do you get a woman who doesn’t want anything?”

“Something intangible?” Neo suggested, not at all sure what that intangible gift could be.

“Great idea,” Zee said with heavy sarcasm. “Now as to the what? I cannot give her the one thing that might finally dispel the lingering shadows from her beautiful eyes.”

“She wants another child?”

“No, that would be too easy.” Zee sighed, his body rigid with a sudden tension. “She wants a guarantee the pregnancy would go well.”

“The doctor said the miscarriage and the early labor were unlinked and unlikely to be repeated as they had no root in her health.” Neo let his voice say what he thought of such empty assurances. “So then, how can you guarantee against something for which they could not find a cause?”

“Exactly.” Zee sighed more heavily this time, a new grief overlaying the old in his eyes. “I do not think we’ll be trying for another child.”

Neo nodded his understanding, unsurprised, but hurting for his friend and the woman he would consider his true sister for the rest of his days.

Once Zephyr Nikos had bought into the concept of wife and children, having his own family, he’d done it completely and had once shared with Neo that he wanted a houseful of children. But Neo knew that Zee was as reluctant for Piper to get pregnant again as she was. He would be surprised if his dearest friend had not already looked into ways to permanently ensure Piper didn’t have to face another tragedy on that front.

“Have you two talked about adopting?” Neo asked, as that seemed the most natural answer to the desire his friend had for a big family, a desire Neo had heard Piper claim to share more than once.

“She’s never brought it up.” And clearly Zee thought that such a suggestion should come from the wife he still considered fragile.

Neo wasn’t so sure he would agree with the assessment. Yes, Piper had been unutterably wounded. Yes, the talented designer and loving mom had grieved, but she was strong inside.

Like his Cassandra. Both women had spines of steel. Perhaps it was time Zee came to remember that fact about his lovely wife.

“But you want to,” Neo guessed.

“You remember what life in the orphanage was like, Neo. We could make a real difference in the life of a child, or children, that society has thrown away.”

“Do you want me to ask Cassandra, to feel her out about the idea?” Neo offered.

Zee’s expression turned resolute. “Ohi,” he denied in Greek. “But thank you for the offer. She is my wife. I must broach this subject with her myself.”

#

As it turned out, Zephyr didn’t have to open that conversation because Neo just couldn’t keep his oar out of Zephyr’s pond. However, in this instance, he might have to thank the brother he’d chosen.

Later that night, while the security specialist they’d hired because of his training in early childhood development stayed behind in the suite with three worn-out and sleeping children, Zephyr, Neo and their wives went out to dinner at one of the restaurants that Cass reveled in being able to go to, now that she’d gotten better at coping with her agoraphobia.

It was the revolving room at the top of the Space Needle, a thoroughly touristy spot in which to share dinner, but the food was good, the company better and the view magnificent.

Zephyr had been forced to step away from the table to accept an important call about one of their new properties in Hvar, a property that catered to the elite of the elite. After handling the problem, Zephyr came back to find Neo talking about their years in the orphanage and what a difference it would have made if someone who cared, who understood what it meant to be a parent, had stepped in to adopt some of those children.

“But not you and Zee?” Piper asked, a speculative look Zephyr couldn’t quite interpret in her pretty eyes.

Neo shook his head decisively. “We had each other. If one of us had been adopted, we would have lost that.”

He didn’t say what Zephyr knew he meant, though—that it wouldn’t have been worth it to have parents but not the brother of his heart. Zephyr agreed.

“Who needs parents when you have a true brother?” he affirmed as he sat down.

Thoroughly annoyed with that brother at the moment, he glared at Neo, willing him to let it drop.

Neo shook his head slightly and smiled at Piper. “Have you ever considered adoption?”

His beautiful, emotionally fragile wife looked startled, then thoughtful. But maybe not so shatterable. Hmmm.

“No. I…” She stared at Zephyr, hope burning in her blue gaze like it hadn’t since Adara’s premature birth and death hours after. “You want your own children. You’re building a dynasty.”

“A dynasty founded by two men who decided to adopt each other as family. Why would I feel the need to have my genes in all my children?” he asked, not understanding her reasoning at all. “There is no dream I would rather realize than to adopt a child, or children, from the orphanage that was my home when I met Neo.”

“A dream? That’s your dream? Why didn’t I know this?” Now she was looking cranky, like she always got if she thought there was some part of himself he’d hidden from her.

Piper had made the transition from obliging, no-commitment lover to a fully demanding wife who expected to share every aspect of his life. And Zephyr loved it. Loved her.

“I should have, but we were already pregnant when we married, then you had the miscarriage. I put my dream aside to grieve, to help you through your grief. Then we lost Adara and it simply did not feel right to tell you that I want to fill our island mansion with orphans who will never again have to wonder if they are loved by a parent.”

“Fill it?” Piper practically screeched. “There are twelve bedrooms in that mansion!”

“Neo and Cass already use three of them. Really, we can only reasonably lay claim to half. It wouldn’t be fair, otherwise, since we share the mansion.”

Each family had their own private family area and small kitchen, but the large villa was staffed by maids, a cook and a housekeeper who served everyone living there.

He smiled winningly at his wife. “And I suppose we must keep one as a guest room for when family visits.”

“We can put family up at the resort,” Neo offered helpfully as Zephyr’s wife paled with shock, but that hope that had sparked now burned brightly in her cerulean gaze.

“That’s four more children for us,” she said faintly.

“If they all have their own rooms, but you know, some children prefer to share. Living in the orphanage sends a person one direction or another.”

“What do you mean?” Cass asked, then recognition dawned in her compassionate amber gaze. “Oh, some children need the security of another person in the room after living dorm-style life and some desperately need their own space.”

“Exactly.”

“You want five more children?” Piper asked, obvious shock making her voice high.

This should not be news to her. There was a reason they’d gotten pregnant when Erastes was two. “I told you I wanted a houseful.”

“But I, you…we both have careers.”

“I’ve already cut my hours drastically. I can cut them again, if it means being the parent on the spot more regularly.”

“Zee would make a great househusband,” Neo teased, tongue in cheek.

But Zephyr had read about other billionaire dads doing exactly that and he knew what he wanted. Time with his family—a big family if he could have it, a small one if he couldn’t, but time with them, all the same. “Don’t knock it. If we can’t use our wealth to allow us the freedom to realize our personal dreams, what good is it?”

Neo went very serious. “I was joking, Zee, but not. Any child would be profoundly lucky to have you as a dad, especially the dad who dedicates his days to his family.”

“Ditto, but that should go without saying,” Zephyr said, tugging uncomfortably at his shirt collar.

“You two!” Cass laughed. “When I first met you, I thought you were surprisingly good at expressing emotion to each other. Only later did I realize how it pained you.”

“What do you expect?” Neo leaned over and kissed his sweet, still very shy wife, making her blush since strangers were around. “It should be enough that I never hesitate to express emotion with you or our children.”

“Oh, it is. I know what a lucky woman I am.” Cass’s amber eyes glowed warmly as she looked at her husband with adoration.

“You really want four or five more children?” Piper asked again, her shell-shocked expression again something he couldn’t quite read.

“Not all at once.”

She laughed. “That was a yes.”

He shrugged. What could he say? In many ways, he was a traditional Greek man who craved the big, crazy family. The fact he would be happy to adopt most of those children might surprise others, but it should not his wife. She knew every shadowy place in the heart he’d kept encased in marble until they met.

“Oh, Zee…I want more children, too. I just couldn’t handle losing another one the way we did.”

“I am aware, my love. I have spoken to my doctor about a vasectomy. I do not want you worried.”

“That’s not fair to you!”

Cass smiled like Zee had said something really romantic.

“Well done,” Neo affirmed.

“No, he shouldn’t have to do that because of my fear. The doctor said it might never happen again.”

“But they couldn’t guarantee it, and it would break your heart to try for a baby again only to have another tragic ending to your pregnancy. One miscarriage and one baby born only to die, that is enough. There are too many children in that orphanage alone who need a real family. That’s more important than the simple genetics of our children.”

“You’re not worried about getting a child who has personality or health defects from their parents?” Cass asked, not sounding like she thought he should be, but wondering all the same.

That was Neo’s wife. She would always make them face every issue and deal with it. She didn’t do stuffing feelings or hiding from fears. It was how in her gentle but firm way she’d helped to draw Piper back from the precipice of grief that had threatened to steal her life entirely.

So Zephyr answered with as much honesty as his “sister” demanded. “I am my father’s issue, but I am not my father’s son. I carry his genes. I could have taken his path but I chose a different one. Every child should have that chance.”

“Raising children is never easy,” Cass said softly. “We can only do our best and hope it is enough.”

Piper smiled at her friend. “You’re a great mom, Cass.”

“Even though I’ll never take my children to Disneyland or the waterpark they love so much?” Cass asked in apparent genuine worry.

“What do you think that lout you are married to is for?” Zephyr reassured her. “Neo and I are happy to do the amusement park duty.”

“They’re big kids, just like our children,” Piper agreed.

Cass smiled. “Agreed, but my point is still the same. We do the best we can with our limitations and those of our children. Sophia is already showing signs of being nearly as debilitatingly shy as her mother.”

“She won’t have the trauma of performing in front of terrifying crowds at such a young age,” Neo pointed out.

Cass acknowledged that point with a smile for her beloved husband. “But there’s every chance she will still develop some of my anxieties.”

Neo didn’t deny it and Zephyr knew that the four-year-old already struggled with interacting with anyone outside their two families. He knew what Cass was saying, too. She was implying that she’d passed on flawed genes to her daughter but wasn’t dismayed by that fact. It was simply a part of life and she and Neo would do their best to love and support their daughter so she was not as plagued by her challenges as Cass had been.

Piper looked from Cass to Neo and then finally at Zephyr. “I want to go to the orphanage next week, before Christmas.”

“Just like that?” her husband asked, a little stunned.

“It hurt Erastes when his baby sister died as much as it hurt us. He deserves a sibling.”

“Or two or, you know…four,” Neo teased.

But Piper didn’t so much as flinch. “The day after we get home. Please, Zephyr.”

“You do not need to plead with me, ever.”

“Not unless it’s for something I really want,” she said in that husky voice that always got to him, reminding Zephyr that the passion in their marriage was still red hot, despite grief, despite loss, despite being parents.

Lovemaking between them was intense, emotional and extremely satisfying. Still.

Always.

Forever, if he had anything to say about it. And he did.

He gave her a look that promised things behind closed doors he could not do now on a restaurant revolving above the skyline of Seattle. “If it is your wish, we can cut our trip short here in Seattle.”

“Oh, could we?” Hope he would do anything to help shone in her lovely blue gaze.

Neo and Cass showed just how deep their caring went, insisting on doing the same so they could be there for Piper and Zephyr from the beginning of the process of growing their family.

#

Piper stood on the balcony of the master bedroom in the island mansion she’d lived in practically since the beginning of her marriage. The Mediterranean stretched out in the gathering dusk, reflecting the orange and purple hues of sunset in majestic glory.

Hope kindled during that dinner conversation in Seattle burned brightly inside her, their talk with Erastes before putting him to bed cementing the idea that adoption would be good for all of them. Piper couldn’t believe she had never realized how much her amazingly strong, but surprisingly vulnerable, husband wanted to bring children who were without family or resources, as he had been, into their lives and make them part of the Nikos family.

Erastes had said that of course he wanted a brother or sister. He thought it was obvious he was supposed to be the oldest, but that was hard since he didn’t have a little brother or sister to protect and teach. “Alethea shares Sophia with me, Mama, but it’s not the same.”

“You don’t think having little brothers or sisters would be a challenge?” Zee had asked.

“Well, sure, Papa. Sophia can be a pain, but she’s still great. If I had a little sister or brother, I could share them with Alethea like she shares Sophia with me.”

Zee had smiled and told his son he thought that was eminently sensible before tucking him into bed.

When Piper went to kiss their son goodnight, Erastes looked at her in that way he did, like he saw the world through the eyes of an oracle. “If we found more children to share our family, I think you would stop being sad sometimes, Mama.”

She’d nodded, her heart too full for words, but her sweet son had touched that deep place Piper had been afraid to dwell in for the past four years. Her hope.

Uncertain faith in the future curled like warm tendrils around her heart as Piper waited for Zee to come to their bedroom. He’d insisted on calling the director of the orphanage, despite the late hour, to set up a meeting as soon as possible.

Recognizing the sound of his footsteps behind her, Piper turned to find her husband only a couple of feet away. His smile was pure masculine approval.

She returned it, familiar warmth heating her insides. “You like what you see?”

“Always, agape mou. You are more beautiful today than when I first admitted I could love you.”

“You were a tough nut to crack.”

“Not any longer. Not for you.”

“Are you really thinking about getting a vasectomy?” He’d truly shocked her with that pronouncement.

“It is scheduled for the week after next. I believed we were going to be in Seattle for several more days and needed some time between our return and the procedure to catch up on work.”

“Other women try again, after miscarriage, even after something like what happened with Adara.”

“Those women are not you, Piper. They have their own reasons for risking the pain you’ve carried with you since losing our first baby, but those reasons are not yours. They are not mine. You are my wife.”

“You don’t want to go through it again.” She should have clued in that she wasn’t the only one hesitant to risk tragedy a third time.

Her husband felt things deeply, probably because he didn’t like feeling at all, so when something got to him, like her, it got to him good and with three pronged hooks through his heart. When they’d lost their babies, he’d had to grieve that loss as well as the pain she could not hide or even minimize. Not even to spare the man who loved her in every way a woman could ever desire to be loved.

“I do not,” he confirmed as she had her mini revelation. “I have always dreamed of adopting children from the place that gave me Neo, but it was a dream I couldn’t even acknowledge to myself until I met you.”

“Then you couldn’t acknowledge it to me.”

“The timing wasn’t right.”

“But it is now.”

Ne,” he affirmed in Greek. “It is right. We can give a child or children with little hope for their future not only belief that tomorrow can be better, but a loving family to make it better in.”

“You know Cass calls Neo Superman?”

“I am aware.” Zee pulled Piper into his body, like he’d gone as long as he could without touching her.

She was used to it and reveled in their closeness, even as her own body began to respond to the physical presence of him so near. “I’ve always thought you were more like Batman.”

“Because I have a dark, tortured soul?” he asked, not sounding worried, as he might have done once, but definitely curious.

“Because you have a dark, tortured past that made you into a man determined to make the world a better place, especially for those he cares about.”

“You know what it does to me when you start handing out the compliments?” He thrust his hips against hers, letting her feel the evidence of his arousal.

“I think that happens when you think about going to bed with me.” It certainly seemed to be a nightly occurrence.

Ne. But also when you say nice things.”

“Or when I touch you?” she teased, letting her hand brush along the bulge in his slacks.

He groaned, the sound low and guttural. “Your touch is always welcome, my beautiful wife.”

“I’m very glad because I positively adore being able to touch you.”

“You cannot know what it means to me that you are not only willing, but eager to adopt a child with me, to give our son a sibling or two to call his own.” Zee’s words were emphasized with little kisses to her temples, her face, the corners of her lips and then finally her mouth when he’d finished speaking.

Piper returned his kiss, letting the fetters off her passion in a way she hadn’t done in a very long time. It was always good between them, but the lingering grief had muted what used to be incandescent.

Tonight, that unrestrained joy in physical intimacy was roaring through her again. Demanding she show this man just how much she loved and wanted him.

#

Cass came out of the bathroom wearing a silk nightgown the exact color of her eyes. It brushed the floor and its plunging neckline exposed her modest cleavage.

Neo waited for her on their bed, fully nude, the covers pushed to the bottom of the bed in obvious anticipation of what was to come. His sex was already hard and flushed with blood.

He smiled, green eyes dark with masculine lust. “You look way too tempting in that to wear it long. Did you buy it in Seattle?”

“I did. When Piper and I went shopping the first day without the children.”

“If this is what I can expect as my reward for staying with the girls while you shop, consider me on permanent standby for such an event.”

“You’re their dad, you’re already on permanent standby for any and all events related to our daughters, including keeping them occupied while their mother shops.”

His laughter sent frissons of pleasure through her. “Point.”

She crossed to the bed and climbed onto the mattress beside him, the silk skirt of her gown flowing around them decadently.

Neo pulled her close, running his hand up her thigh, ruching her gown up as he went. “This nightgown is smooth, but not as soft as your skin.”

She climbed over him, so she was sitting on his hard thighs, her tender flesh open to him, her body on display above him in a way she knew excited him to the point of breaking his rules about being patient and slow. “And nothing is as hard as you are.”

Neo growled and suddenly Cass found herself on her back, her husband’s hand on her most intimate flesh, caressing and testing her readiness at the same time.

“You’re very wet.”

“I was thinking about what we would do once I came to bed.” And with the inventive lover she’d married, she had a lot of fodder for her imagination. So much so that she’d gotten very aroused from her thoughts alone.

He touched the swollen bundle of nerves that gave her so much pleasure, caressing it in just the way that excited her most. “Did you think about this?”

“Not exactly that.” She’d thought about his mouth on her, like it had been so many times in their marriage, drawing forth ecstasy from her body the way she drew forth sounds from the piano.

With the touch of a master.

Neo caught on quickly and soon her imagination was reality, her husband bringing her to a climax before preparing her to take him into her body and building the pleasure again for another orgasm.

#

Zephyr felt like his brain was going to explode. Piper’s uninhibited passion ignited his own desire to an inferno of need. She touched him with an abandon she hadn’t shown since losing Adara, her beautiful face glowing with unrestrained pleasure.

She rode him, but just when he thought they were both going to climax, she shook her head. “Not yet.” Then she slipped away, the wet heat encasing his sex gone in a second, only to be replaced by her mouth.

She didn’t let him come that way, either, driving him to a fever pitch before pulling off, pressing a circle around the base of his sex with her thumb and forefinger.

He groaned, long and low, but didn’t mind.

However, when she began caressing him in a movement with her hand that emulated making love, he’d had enough. He flipped his gorgeous wife onto her hands and knees and drove into her from behind. She rammed herself backward, letting out a throaty sound of feminine approval when he pressed against her cervix. They made love with an abandon born of overstimulation and deep, abiding affection.

He reached around her to play with her nipples and then caress her clitoris as she met him thrust for thrust, telling him what a wonderful lover he was.

His climax took him by surprise and he was only saved from sexual ignominy by the fact that she screamed his name in release at the same moment.

They collapsed on the bed together, the hair at her temples wet with sweat, his back slick with it.

“That was…” Her voice trailed off like she didn’t have the words.

He knew what she meant, though. “Yes, it was.”

“I love you, Zephyr. Thank you for finding a way for our family to be what we’ve both always dreamed it could be.”

“You would have thought of it eventually.” Her heart was too generous not to have.

“I was too mired in guilt over not wanting to risk pregnancy again, but I’m so happy now.”

“No more guilt?”

“No. I think it’s really gone.”

“Good.” His wife should not hurt. He couldn’t prevent what they’d already lost, but he didn’t want her feeling any pain if he could help it.

“What did the director at the orphanage say?”

“That the report we provided from Hawk Securities would be sufficient and more comprehensive than any background check they could run, and that while it might take more time to make things legal through the courts, we could meet the children in a nonstressful event and find the one who will be our next son or daughter.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

She was so happy at the news, they ended up making love again.

#

Neo went boneless on top of Cass after they both climaxed. For just a few seconds, he allowed himself to rest completely on her and she loved this moment as much as any other part of lovemaking, including the mind-numbing orgasms she found with him.

In these few seconds she felt utterly and totally one with her handsome and loving husband.

After a time, he moved off her to go to the bathroom and get a cloth, fulfilling the second ritual she enjoyed so much, when Neo tenderly cared for her comfort each and every time after they came. She’d told him she could take care of herself. Her legs weren’t that wobbly afterward, but he never stopped the ritual that showed how very much he cherished her.

They snuggled after, under the bedcovers they’d pulled back up.

Cass laid her hand on his chest, feeling his steady, if still rapid, heartbeat. “Did you know Zee dreamed of adopting?”

“No, but it doesn’t surprise me. Not after his childhood.”

A childhood very similar to Neo’s, if different in a couple of significant ways. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Did you want to adopt?”

“We have two wonderful children.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“If we want another child, we do not have Zee and Piper’s tragic past stopping us from trying for another baby.”

“That’s not an answer, either.” In fact, the more her husband talked, the more she believed he was avoiding the question. But why?

“Okay, yes. Ne,” he repeated in Greek. “I cannot imagine anything more right than to welcome a child into our family who would not have to be alone in the world any longer.”

“Like you were alone?”

“I had Zee.”

“But no parents, no one to cushion your fall if you failed.”

“Neither did you.”

She smiled, loving the way he always thought of her and the life she’d led, never downplaying it. “No, I didn’t. I think Alethea and Sophia would make great sisters to another child.”

“You want to have another baby?” he asked carefully.

“Not particularly. I’m not one of those women who loved being pregnant, but more importantly, I think our family has a lot of love to give and there are children who could benefit from that love already walking this earth.”

“I agree.”

“Does that mean we’re growing our family?”

“Are you sure you want to?” He couldn’t hide the hope that infused his voice.

Not from her.

“Yes, I’m more than sure. I’m positive.”

Neo grabbed her close and kissed her within an inch of her life. “I love you, Cassandra Stamos. My wife. My beloved. My everything.”

“And I love you, Neo Stamos. My husband. My life. Father to all my children.”

#

Erastes looked around the holiday party at the orphanage his dad told him he’d lived in as a boy. It wasn’t a bad place he supposed, but the children here didn’t have moms or dads or grandparents or aunts or uncles…nobody who wanted them to live with them and be their family. That made him sad.

He couldn’t imagine life without his strong papa or wonderful mama. He knew he was lucky to have them for parents. They never yelled the way some parents at the resort did. They didn’t want to send him away to boarding school like he’d heard about from some of the children who’d come with their parents to the resort on Erastes’s island home.

So the nine-year-old had known for a while he was lucky to have the mom and dad he did. He’d just never realized he was lucky to have parents at all, not until they came here.

He wanted his own brother or sister, or maybe even one of each. His dad teased his mom with wanting to bring home a whole dormitory, but Erastes didn’t think their house needed any more bedrooms. Wasn’t that what a dormitory was?

He noticed a boy, off by himself. He looked younger than Erastes, based on his size, but his expression made him seem like he could be older.

Bored with the adults’ discussion, Erastes went to introduce himself to the boy. He put his hand out like his papa had taught him. “Hello. My name is Erastes.”

The other boy took his hand and shook, but it was like he didn’t really know how. “I am Timos.” He indicated a tiny girl beside him, with dark curls like his but blue eyes like Erastes’s mom’s. “This is my little sister, Daphne.”

“Hello, Daphne,” Erastes said to the little girl. “Nice to meet you.”

His father said that was the proper way to greet someone new. Erastes thought it was strange. How could he know if he liked meeting someone until he got to know them? Maybe they didn’t like playing any of the same games. That wasn’t really nice to meet was it?

“She doesn’t talk,” Timos informed Erastes with a scowl.

“At all? Not even to you?” Erastes asked, shocked.

Sophia was really shy, but even she talked to family. Sometimes more than Erastes or Alethea wanted.

“No. She’s not broken, though,” Timos said really loudly.

Erastes looked closely at the little girl, but she didn’t have a cast anywhere, so he figured Timos was telling the truth. “I didn’t say she was.”

“Some people do.”

“People say she’s broken?” Erastes asked, surprised again. Then he thought about it. “Some people say my aunt is broken, but she’s not. Aunt Cass is a master pianist, but she doesn’t like to play in front of crowds.”

“That’s not broken. That’s just smart,” the other boy said.

Erastes had to agree. “What happened to your mom and dad?” he asked bluntly, then thought maybe he shouldn’t have.

Papa said it wasn’t polite to ask questions that were too personal.

Mama said no question was stupid, but some could be uncomfortable for other people.

Timos didn’t look like he liked that question, his face sort of screwing up in a way that made Erastes think he was trying not to cry. “They’re gone.”

“I’m sorry.”

Timos shrugged. “Why are you here?”

“We’re looking for a new brother or sister for me.”

“Your parents are rich, aren’t they?” Timos asked. “They can take really good care of a little girl.”

“Yes.”

“Daphne is a really good girl. She never gets into things she shouldn’t and she doesn’t break toys.”

“You want me to make Daphne my sister?”

Timos’s eyes filled up with tears and Erastes felt like he’d hurt the other boy again, but he hadn’t meant to. “She needs a better home than this place. She deserves a mom and a dad.”

“What about you? Don’t you want a mom and dad? Maybe a brother?”

“Daphne is more important.”

“But don’t you want to stay with her?” Brothers should stay with their sisters.

Erastes still cried sometimes because the baby sister his mom had been going to have never came home. He did it at night in his bed, but he thought his mom still knew.

“I can’t stay with her. Everybody says that older kids don’t get adopted. Daphne is still little. She’s only three.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m seven.”

“I’m nine,” Erastes said, to make things even.

“Do you want a little sister?” Timos asked in a way that Erastes knew meant he really hoped the answer would be yes.

“I think I want both.”

“Both?”

“A little brother and a little sister. Alethea shares Sophia with me, so we have to share Daphne with her. It’s only fair, but you would be just my little brother. I can teach you stuff. Papa says I’m smart and I’ll make a really good big brother.”

“Who is Alethea?”

“She’s my best friend. Her little sister Sophia is four and I like being her sort-of big brother, but I want my own little sister and brother.”

“Both? You want two? Even though I’m seven?”

“You can play games with me. You’re not too little. Alethea will like you, too.”

“Who is this?” his mom asked from behind Erastes.

He turned to face her. “I found my new brother. He comes with a little sister, too. It’s perfect.”

#

Piper couldn’t believe her son had picked out a little boy to take under his wing and that little boy fit so perfectly with their family. Timos was seven years old and had been taking care of his sister on the streets when a good Samaritan brought the two children to the orphanage. The little girl didn’t speak, but the director was confident that with speech therapy she would one day.

Erastes was adamant that no other child would do.

They’d been back every day to visit Timos and the tiny Daphne, Piper’s heart pierced by the two children her son had found. She noticed that Timos had a friend he was fiercely loyal to, another boy  a year younger than him. The two reminded Piper so much of Neo and Zee, she wasn’t at all surprised when Cass and Neo talked about adopting Basil.

After two weeks of daily visits and a couple of home visits for the children, the Stamos and Nikos households were enriched by three.

Zephyr and Piper adopted Timos and Daphne, thrilling Erastes, who promised to be the best big brother ever in the history of big brothers. Neo and Cass did adopt Basil, and the little boy was so happy to have a family that he cried for a solid hour. He got along great with Alethea, and even the very shy Sophia treated Basil like the long-lost brother he’d become.

Piper would never forget the babies she had lost, but she would spend the rest of her life rejoicing in the son and daughter she’d found to share her life with Zephyr and their precious Erastes.

 

 

 

About the Author

With more than seven million copies of her books in print worldwide, award-winning and USA TODAY bestselling author Lucy Monroe has published over sixty books and had her stories translated for sale all over the world.  While she writes multiple subgenres of romance, all her books are sexy, deeply emotional and adhere to the concept that love will conquer all.  A passionate devotee of romance, she adores sharing her love for the genre with her readers.

 

Look for Lucy Monroe’s next title from Harlequin Presents:

Kostas’s Convenient Bride

Coming May 2018!

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