He shrugged. “Or don’t. I told you, Taylz, I know nothing about art. I’m just slinging around some high-concept theories I read on the internet.”
She relaxed back into easy camaraderie. “At least you don’t have an online photography degree.”
“Not a bad idea. I could offer classes and make some big money.”
“Speaking of work, you’re with me Friday night for the big bachelorette party, right?”
His face told her he was not enthusiastic. “Yeah. I’m rarely asked to capture someone’s last shot at freedom, but these girls are photo crazy and don’t want to be tied to their phones all night. They want the whole thing documented—even the strippers. It’s going to be painful.”
“Hmm, tipsy, attractive women dressed in skimpy clubwear all riled up? Yeah, sounds like a real drag.”
He glared. “It is. It’s not like I’m going to find a quality woman to date there. Cassie is only twenty-two, and so are most of her friends. That’s practically jailbait for me.”
She sighed. “You are so set in your ways. Don’t worry, I’ll cover for you. I have a long list of itinerary items to keep them occupied and make your job easier.”
“Good. I’d better head out, too. Catch you later.”
After he left, Taylor wandered around her workroom, trying to psych herself up to attack a new canvas, her mind already clicking madly through a range of images that had been haunting her. But Pierce’s words resonated with a warning she wished she could ignore.
Was her work lacking because she wasn’t allowing herself to open up?
She bit at her thumbnail. Emotion had always been difficult for her. She was different from Avery and Bella. For a while, she’d wondered if something was wrong with her whenever she watched her sisters scream happily on Christmas morning or sob over breaking up with a boy. Even her mother had consistently lectured her on opening up more, as if she was afraid that Taylor would never experience joy.
But she did. Quietly. Inside.
She hated saying mushy things or feeling vulnerable. She liked a certain amount of control where she felt safe. Humor and sarcasm were her favorite tools. She made witty jokes and mocked open affection to hide the fact that she was different. Ever since she was young, she’d looked upon the world through a strange filter—a glass wall that kept her separate from the ups and downs of people flinging themselves into intense relationships in the quest for love. But she’d never ached with that type of need to connect.
Why was it so difficult for her to be vulnerable? To be as connected with the world as her sisters were? To crave a lasting love and children and a stable home? Why did she have to be so different?
The questions consistently puzzled her, especially when her emotions were easier to get in touch with when she was dialed into her muse and working on her art. Allowing her fingers to guide a brush opened up the vault of innermost fears, dreams, passions, and heartbreak she spent her waking hours trying to wrestle. It was the way she made sense of things.
Connecting with her creativity allowed all her barriers to crash down.
She just couldn’t do it with another person.
She blew out a breath and frowned at the blank canvas, her thoughts still skittering like a kitten chasing a ball of yarn.
Her sisters and parents had often claimed surprise at Taylor’s ability to sketch something that made them feel a certain way, and they always encouraged the pursuit. But when she went to college, she’d still looked at art as a beloved hobby, not a career. She’d never thought she could make a living of it, so she’d taken some classes and studied technique mostly from books and YouTube, keeping her formal studies to more practical pursuits.
Now, after spending years at Sunshine Bridal, she understood that she had a special opportunity with this art show. Yes, Carter had used his contacts to help her get her foot in the door. But what she did with that opportunity was the crux of what mattered. Carter could only get her so far.
She needed to do the rest.
Frustration nipped at her nerves. Ah, hell. She was done analyzing. She needed to do one thing now.
Get shit done.
Taylor got to work.
Pierce watched the sexy blonde raise her beer bottle in the air and gyrate on top of the bar. The bartender, Mike, shot him a pleading look, but Pierce just shrugged and lifted his camera to capture the shot. Dancing girls were not allowed on the bar, but this group seemed to have taken over by sheer enthusiasm and dedication to the art of partying.
God, he was getting too old for this.
Harry’s was their second stop of the night. At least the evening wasn’t too muggy, and they could enjoy the outside bar, which overlooked the beach. He watched Taylor work the room, making sure all the girls were accounted for and having fun. They’d started with signature martinis concocted specifically for the bride at Iron Pier, then made the walk to Harry’s. The band was a mingle of rock and pop, the perfect accompaniment for a casual Friday night.
The bride, Cassie, wore a veil and a cropped wedding dress. The bridesmaids wore tacky rainbow dresses. Taylor had spearheaded a “worst dressed” contest and had them all parade in front of the crowd in a mockery of a wet T-shirt contest. Everyone seemed to love it.
With her pink hair, slim black pants, sequined tank top that declared “Den Mother for Drunken Bridesmaids,” and her favorite combat boots, Taylor looked young enough to be one of them. Of course, she’d rather die than put a ring on before thirty. Or even forty. Pierce doubted she’d ever get married, with all her big plans and goals, unless she really fell in love.
The idea made his nerves tighten and his skin itch. He couldn’t imagine another man in her life. She’d always belonged to him.
He took a few pictures of the group doing shots and hugging each other, their emotions close to the surface from both the event and the alcohol. As the band began to play slower songs, he sensed the mood changing, and on cue, Taylor jumped in.
“It’s time to go to Carney’s!” Taylor shouted, holding up her shot glass, which he knew contained only water. “Are you ready for the scavenger hunt of the century?”
The girls whooped, jumped, and followed her like baby chicks who were a bit wobbly. They attracted a crowd as they walked down the busy, crooked sidewalks. People pointed and laughed at the dresses and the revelry vibe. By the time they’d reached the bar, they’d picked up a small group of partyers who wanted to join them.