“You thought money was all you had to give her.”
Naturally. He’d never met a woman who didn’t appreciate financial gifts, his mother setting that precedent early for his young mind. “Why would I believe anything else?”
“She was glad you were safe, though, wasn’t she? I bet she cried that first time you called her.”
That time and almost every one since. “You are right.” Not that he understood why.
If his disappearance was such a hardship on his mother, surely she would not have dumped him at the orphanage in the first place? Nevertheless, she had not abandoned him entirely.
“She paid the orphanage to care for me.” He had discovered that when he made his first donation to the home long before he amassed his first million.
It was the reason he had contacted her later. Without the knowledge she had attempted to provide for him in some way, he did not think he ever would have. But nothing could have altered the path he had taken with his father.
“Are we going to see her while we are here?” Piper’s voice dripped with the emotion clouding her expression.
“Of course, I’m sorry.” From looking on the verge of tears, Piper went to embarrassment in a single breath. “There’s no reason to take your friend to visit your mother.”
“It’s not that. She would like you.” How could she not? Piper was a very likable woman. “However, I have no intention of seeing my mother.”
“What? Why not? Surely we have time. Even if she lives on one of the islands. We can skip the sightseeing.”
“She lives in Athens. I bought her a house in Kifissia.” The distance between that district and the one he had been born in was measured in more than kilometers, though.
Piper’s brow furrowed. “According to the guidebook in our suite, that’s the elite part of town.”
“Is that what it said?”
“Well, as good as.”
“The book is right. The wealthy have inhabited Kifissia for generations.”
“And you bought your mother a house there.”
He shrugged. What did Piper want him to say? He had wanted to give his mother a physical break from the past.
“Yet you are not going to visit her.”
“No,” he confirmed.
“I have not seen her in more than twenty years, Piper.”
“But you said you spoke last month.” The confusion on Piper’s face was adorable.
He kissed her. Not passionately, but he could not resist the innocent incomprehension covering her features.
“It was her birthday. So, I spoke to her.”
“You call her once a year, on her birthday?” Piper guessed.
“Yes.” The year after he first reconnected with Leda, he had made the mistake of asking what she would like for her birthday.
He’d become too ingrained in American customs. And he’d wanted the excuse to give her something nice, something to show her and the man she had married that Zephyr wasn’t such a dead loss after all. He wasn’t a lame puppy to be abandoned.
But his mother hadn’t asked for a designer handbag, or a new television. She’d only wanted one thing. For Zephyr to call her once a year on her birthday, so she could know he was doing all right. She could follow his success in the papers now, but he still made that call.
Once a year.
“Does she call you?”
“I have asked her not to, unless there is a problem with my brother or sister.” Keeping his mother at a distance was necessary and he could not change that.
“You have a brother and sister?”
He had expected some kind of criticism for his coldness toward his mother, but Piper hadn’t focused on a situation he could not change. She’d zeroed in on the one reality he found truly important. His sister and brother.
“They are half siblings, but I feel a responsibility toward them nonetheless.”
“How old are they?”
“Iola is twenty-nine. She is married to a good man and has three children of her own.”
Six years younger than him, his sister had been born a year and a half after he went into the home.
His mother had missed her visit with him that month and the one after. He’d thought she’d finally grown tired of coming to see him and wasn’t coming back. But she’d returned and she’d had a beautiful baby with her when she did.
“Have you met the children?”
“Yes, Iola insisted.”
“You sound like you don’t understand why.”
“I’m the bastard child her mother gave birth to when living a life they would all rather forget happened. My sister doesn’t even remember meeting me. She was too young the last time I saw her.”