“If anyone can do it, Taylor can,” Jose said. “That’s why she’s the most badass planner of the century.”
She winked at him. “I’m going to try my very best. What do you think?”
“Definitely. We’ll try anything,” Marcus said. “Should I send her alone?”
“She’s welcome to bring a friend, or you, or anyone who makes her feel good about herself. But I’ll take good care of her, so she shouldn’t be afraid to come alone. Besides, I’ve been dying to meet her. I bet your mothers fight so much because they’re alike. They raised two amazing men.”
Jose blew her kisses, his eyes wet. “I just adore you, Sunshine. Thank you for making us feel better.”
She didn’t like mushy interactions, so she quickly brushed off their thanks and walked them out. But afterward, she found herself thinking of the two men and their commitment and how nothing seemed to divide them, even their families. Instead, they stuck together. That was the type of partnership that might be able to last a lifetime.
If she believed in it.
She quickly checked her cell phone but found no texts from Pierce. Guess he’d accepted her excuse and wasn’t going to push. Then again, he seemed to sense when she needed space, or a shove. As usual, he’d chosen correctly.
Groaning, she trudged back to the conference room, where she laid her head on the smooth, cool table. How should she handle this? Laugh it off and pretend it meant nothing? Insist they never speak of it? The sex was phenomenal, but they’d been drunk. It couldn’t be that good when sober. Their first two attempts at kissing had fallen completely flat. She’d never looked at Pierce and craved to jump his bones. What the hell had happened to them?
“What are you doing here?”
She jerked her head up and stared at Avery, who was looking at her with too much suspicion. Crap. She had to keep this thing locked up, or the gossip would be too much for everyone. She forced a careless shrug. “Jose and Marcus had an emergency. I came in to take care of it.”
“Oh no, I hope they’re okay,” Avery said, dropping her large tote and laptop on the purple couch. “Were you able to fix it?”
“They’re fine, and I’ve got a plan. I’m not worried.”
Avery smiled. “You never are. Meanwhile, I’m running around like a crazed chicken, trying to lose these damn five pounds. I’m hungry, and I think I’m getting mean.”
Taylor frowned with concern. “Listen, babe, you need to stop putting all this pressure on yourself because you’re afraid if you don’t have a perfect wedding, people will gossip and say you’re not a great wedding planner.”
Avery gasped and dropped into the seat next to her. “How did you know?” She nibbled at her lower lip. “I just want to look good in the dress.”
Taylor softened at her sister’s low voice. “You will, because you’re gorgeous and already the perfect weight, and Carter loves you. Please don’t ruin your moment by worrying over silly things. Bella and I are here for you. We’ve gone over every detail, and it’s perfect. And if something does happen, who cares? We’ll fix it, like we always do. Okay?”
Emotion burned in Avery’s hazel eyes. “Yeah. Okay. Thanks, T, I needed that today.”
“Good. Now, for God’s sake, go to Madison’s Bakery and get a chocolate croissant. And tell Carter to eat one, too. He deserves it.”
Avery laughed. “I will. How did your bachelorette party go last night? You were out drinking late, huh?”
She stiffened. “How did you know?”
“Gabe said he ran into Winona at the coffee shop. She told him you and Pierce were doing shots all night. What brought that on? Did Cassie drive you insane? Were the girls too crazy?”
Relief poured through her. “No, the girls were fine. We just needed to blow off some steam.”
The memory exploded and took her off guard.
His lips slid over hers, teasing. The hot, wet thrust of his tongue as it dove in, gathering her taste. His teeth nipped as he pushed the kiss deeper, touching the very depths of her inner soul.
Smothering a shriek, she jumped up from the chair. “I gotta go. Stuff to do. See ya later.”
She raced out of the room as if she could outrun the memory.
Unfortunately, it followed her—haunted her—and she realized there was nowhere else to run.
She had to talk to Pierce and fix it.
Pierce looked down at the sixteen-by-twenty portrait with a sense of accomplishment. He’d gotten lucky and liked a lot of the pictures in the batch, but having one masterpiece was always his goal. He’d found over the years that if he presented a large batch to his customers, they riffled through them like toddlers with too many presents on Christmas. They got distracted. Nitpicky. But when given fewer choices with better quality, they were happier.
He smiled at Octavia and the cooing Jasmine, then turned the framed canvas around. “What do you think?”
Octavia sucked in a breath. “Oh, Pierce. It’s beautiful! She’s so full of joy!”
He set the portrait on the display and walked over, kneeling in front of his new friend. Jasmine squealed, reaching out chubby arms, and he tickled her under her chin, enjoying her reaction. “It’s her natural state, but hard to capture in fleeting moments. I guess I got lucky.”
The memory of himself falling poked him, dubbing him a liar. But in this case, it didn’t matter. Might as well save his dignity. Jasmine wasn’t going to tell on him.
“No, it’s more than that.” Octavia walked over, studying the canvas. “You captured something within her that shines.”
Jasmine was sitting with her legs stretched out, her dress falling perfectly around her, bare feet poking from underneath the hem. As she stared straight into the camera, her giant smile flashed two baby teeth and lips shiny from drooling. Almond-shaped, dark eyes sparkled with a fierce mischief that gave a glimpse into her personality. Energy vibrated around her, barely held within the frame of the camera lens. Her face was a gift to capture.
Jasmine wriggled to get to him again. On impulse, he lifted his arms. “May I?”
Octavia handed him the baby, who began immediately investigating his face, finding his rough, shadowed jaw fascinating. Her babbling charmed him. He wondered what went on in her mind. Was she finding out all the things she loved and didn’t? Did she dream? Was she at peace as long as she was around someone who made her feel safe? The questions zigzagged in his mind, and a pang shot from his gut, the beginning of a stirring he’d never really connected with before.