He imagined having his own child, created from love for a woman who was still nameless and faceless. Imagined experiencing that level of love and devotion for himself. Pierce wanted it all one day, with someone who knew his heart and soul and would be proud to walk beside him.
The bell at the door tinkled in warning. Most clients waited outside in the waiting room, but he heard the steady stomp of heels and looked up to see Taylor poised in the doorway.
His breath caught.
Her gaze studied him with Jasmine, comfortably cuddled in the crook of his arm, her tiny hand resting on his cheek. For one brief moment, the air caught fire and sizzled. His chest tightened, and need raged from within, overtaking him and throwing him into confusion. What the hell was going on here?
Taylor stepped back, jerking her gaze away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were with a client,” her husky voice drawled.
“Taylor! It’s Octavia—remember me? Avery planned our wedding.”
Taylor smiled, walking in to join them. “Of course I remember. It’s so great to see you! Is this the new addition?”
“It most definitely is. I had Pierce take some pictures, and I’m knocked out. Didn’t he do an amazing job?”
Taylor stared at the canvas thoughtfully. He waited, because he knew she wasn’t one to pull punches, though she’d be polite in front of Octavia. He’d know the lie in her eyes, though.
“It’s gorgeous,” she said. “Then again, look at your daughter. He had perfection to work with.”
Pierce shifted the baby in his arms, wondering why the hell Taylor refused to look him in the eye. Hell, she hated it. Was it too generic? Maybe he was wrong to think he’d captured Jasmine’s personality shining through. Maybe—
She swung her gaze around, and he froze. So many emotions swirled in those golden-brown depths that they seemed to hit him in the chest all at once.
Admiration. Affection. Respect.
Octavia seemed oblivious to it all. “A few hours in this man’s company and my daughter’s smitten. Pierce, you’re going to make a wonderful father one day. How are you still single?”
He forced a smile but noticed Taylor stiffen. “I guess I haven’t met the right one yet,” he said casually.
“Well, I’d be happy to help you out. Just say the word, and I’ll set you up—I can think of a dozen women who’d be lucky to date you. Did my friend contact you about doing his son’s birthday party?”
Pierce nodded. “Yes, but I couldn’t take it on due to a conflict.”
Octavia sighed. “I’m not surprised. Your schedule must be overbooked, with every couple begging for you to do their wedding. I never realized how intimate photography is until my wedding. To be able to trust someone to capture your most precious memories is special. Cape May is lucky to have you.”
He was struck by the beauty of her comment. Jasmine took the moment to coo loudly in agreement, making them laugh.
He glanced at Taylor and saw a smile touching her lips as she took in Jasmine. But shadows danced in her eyes, causing his gut to clench.
She turned around quickly. “I’m going to let you two finish up. Pierce, I’ll check in with you later. Octavia, it’s always a pleasure to see you.” Then she disappeared.
Pierce gave Jasmine back to her mother and finished up the appointment, pleased with the sale. He made a few phone calls, tidied up his desk, and went to go find Taylor.
He made his way toward her house, sensing she’d be trying to throw herself into work.
He rang the bell. When she didn’t answer, he used his key and went into the workroom.
No music today. The stark white canvas in front of her held nothing. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, chin propped in her hands, staring at the wall. She wore frayed denim shorts and a black halter top. Her hair was pinned up, displaying the flock of sparrows taking flight at the nape of her neck. She was barefoot. A silver skull ring adorned her second toe.
Slowly, he walked over and dropped beside her. They were quiet for a while, letting the silence settle between them and fill in all the jagged cracks.
“Still blocked?” he finally asked.
She nodded. Began picking at her thumbnail. Her red polish was scraped off on both thumbs. “I liked the picture of Jasmine.”
“Thanks. What bothered you about it? You were looking at me funny.”
A sigh spilled from her lips. She focused on her nails. Strands of pink hair escaped her topknot and swung past her cheek, hiding her face from view. “I don’t know; some things just hit me. You were so natural holding the baby, and she was really happy. I just pictured you with a ton of kids one day. Even Octavia noticed it. You were born to be a dad. And I realized when that happens, you won’t be mine anymore.”
He caught his breath. Raw emotion smacked him like a sucker punch. God, he’d forgotten how brutally honest she was. The sacredness of their friendship crippled his words and actions. Normally, he’d reach out and hold her close for comfort. They’d figure it out together. But now, he hesitated, afraid to confess too much or too little.
He couldn’t get last night out of his mind. The memories came slow and steady, a tumble of images that reminded him of how much he’d loved having her in his bed. He also knew it had been a moment that they couldn’t repeat without veering into dangerous territory. But her confession demanded an honest response.
“I worry about the same stuff with you. That you’ll go to Paris and meet all these highbrow art people and leave me behind.”
She gasped and looked at him. “I would never do that.”
He smiled and tucked her wayward hair behind her ear. “Well, I’d never dump you for a baby mama. We’d change and grow together. All of us.”
She wrinkled her nose. “That sounds a bit creepy. Like we’d be a threesome.”
Pierce laughed. “Not in that way. I don’t know what’s going to happen with us, Taylz. We just need to focus on the time we have together and take advantage.”
“Oh, I think we took advantage.”
He shook his head in amusement. “Yeah, guess we did. But this weirdness between us is freaking me out. We have to talk about it.”
“Ugh, I hate deep talks.” She rubbed her eyes as if trying to get rid of an image. “I saw you naked.”