THE port of Seattle didn’t look so different from some of the hundreds of other ports Neo Stamos had been in since joining the crew of the cargo ship Hera at the age of fourteen. And yet it was unique from all the others because this is where his life changed. This is where he would walk off the Hera and never walk back onto it.
He and his friend Zephyr Nikos had had to lie about their ages to join the Hera‘s crew six years ago, but that had been a small price to pay in order to leave behind the life they’d known in Greece. Neo and Zephyr had been Athens street thugs that found a common desire—that of making something more of their lives than rising to the top ranks in their gang.
And they were going to do it, twenty-year-old Neo vowed as the sun broke the eastern horizon.
“You ready for the next step?” Zephyr asked in English.
Neo nodded, his gaze set on the port growing closer by the minute. “No more living in the streets.”
“We haven’t lived in the streets for six years.”
“True. Though some would not consider our bunks here on the Hera much of an improvement.”
Neo agreed, though he didn’t say so. Zephyr knew and shared his feelings. Anything was better than scavenging to eke out an existence that still required living by someone else’s rules. “But what is to come will be even better.”
“Yes. It may have taken six years, but we have the money to take the next step in our new lives.”
Six years of a hell of a lot of hard work and sacrifice. They had saved every drachma possible of their earnings. For two men who had grown up in an orphanage and then the streets when they ran away, that had been a lot. They knew how to come by clothes, books and other necessities through interesting if not necessarily legal methods. Not unless one considered underage gambling a stumbling block to legality.
When they were not working, or gambling to augment their meager salaries, they had been reading everything they could get their hands on about business and real estate development. Each had become an expert in a different aspect of the field, combining their superior brainpower rather than duplicating effort.
They now had a detailed plan to increase their assets through initially flipping houses and, eventually, full-scale, high-end real estate developments.
“Next it will be business tycoons Zephyr Nikos and Neo Stamos,” Zephyr said with conviction.
A slow, extremely rare smile curved Neo’s lips. “Before we are thirty.”
“Before we are thirty.” Zephyr’s voice was filled with the same determination Neo felt deep in his gut.
They would succeed.
Failure was not an option.
“THIS is a joke, right?” Neo Stamos stared at the fancy certificate with the logo of a local charity fund-raiser on it.
His oldest and only real friend, not to mention business partner, Zephyr Nikos had to be kidding. He had to be. No way could the certificate be meant for Neo. He had to have gotten it for someone else and was using it to pull Neo’s chain before giving it to them.
“No joke. Happy thirty-fifth birthday, filos mou.” Unlike in the early years of their friendship when they had tried to speak only English to one another to improve their grasp of the language, they now spoke in Greek so they would not forget their native tongue.
“A friend would know better than to give me such a gift.”
“On the contrary, only a friend would know how appropriate, how needed this little present is.”
“Piano lessons?” A year’s worth. No damn way. “I don’t think so.”
Zephyr leaned against the edge of Neo’s handcrafted mahogany desk that had cost more than he had earned his first year of gainful employment. “Oh, I do think so. You lost the bet.”
Neo glared, knowing anything he said in repudiation would sound like whining rather than the rational argument it would be. As they had so often reminded each other over the years, a bet was a bet. And he should have known better than to make one with his shark of a friend.
Zephyr’s gaze reflected his knowledge of Neo’s quandary. “Think of it as a prescription.”
“Prescription for what? A way to waste an hour a week? I don’t have thirty minutes to waste, much less a full hour.” Neo shook his head. There was a reason all of his designer suits were purchased and tailored by an exclusive men’s dressing service, and it wasn’t because he liked to shout his billionaire status to the world.
It was because Neo Stamos did not have time to shop for himself.
“Unless you know about something I do not…” Like the cancellation of one of their property development projects going on worldwide. “There is no place in my schedule for piano lessons.”