He smiled, and warmth flooded her body. “Think we already started,” he murmured against her lips.
She pulled back an inch. “But we can’t screw up us,” she said. “This friendship-with-benefits thing has been amazing, but the moment it gets wonky, we have to stop.”
“We will. We’ve been clear with each other from the start. We can handle it.”
She looked into his eyes and believed him. “Maybe me leaving this fall is a good thing. It will be healthy for us to live apart for a while. Figure our careers out.”
“Just don’t go falling in love with some lame French guy who thinks he’s better than us because he eats smelly cheese,” he warned.
She laughed and kissed him. “Deal. As long as you don’t fall for some hippie, yogic chick who wants to teach you about the spirit of the earth while sleeping naked under the stars.”
“Not my type. But now you’re turning me on.” He scooped her up, turned off the TV, and carried her to the bedroom.
“We didn’t get to see the ax part,” she protested, but the heat in his gaze and the way he looked at her made pure need explode within her until she was tugging him to the bed and wrapping her legs around him.
“‘Here’s Johnny,’” he whispered, lifting his brows in a crazy way that made her snort with humor.
“You’re so weird.”
“And you’re hot.” His hands ran up and down her naked form. She arched under him and moaned. “I should photograph you like this. I’d make a fortune.”
“My breasts are too small.”
He tweaked a nipple, then leaned down to suck it in his mouth, giving her a tiny, punishing bite. “Don’t ever say that again. You’re perfect.” He stroked her hip, trailing fingers lightly down her mound. “You’re a gift.”
Her tummy tumbled and her heart soared, and then he was crushing her into the mattress. They made love with a hungry type of devotion reminiscent of their conversation, as if each physical motion was an imprint of their emotions.
Taylor surrendered to all of it, knowing that sometimes the sweetest, most precious things were the ones that could never last.
July whipped by at a record pace and melted into August. Pierce spent the height of the summer season working back-to-back weddings, restructuring his business to gain more creative freedom, and spending nights with Taylor. It was almost as if their lives were in pause mode. He needed to remind himself that she’d be leaving in a few weeks for the biggest opportunity of her life.
He wanted to have the same feeling about the new direction for his own career. He’d spent as much time as possible between his regular gigs trying to expand his contacts. He’d researched other photography niches and had messaged various friends in the business about other opportunities. His Instagram profile had been woefully inadequate, so he’d bulked it up and changed his sample work, showing more of a widened interest beyond weddings.
But each time he’d gotten a lead, he was blocked by his background. He’d queried some magazines, but they only wanted wedding photographs. His stock pictures hadn’t made a sale. He scored more likes on Insta, but nothing ever came of them. Even the local news outlets he’d pitched only wanted his feedback on the top destinations to get engaged or married or go on a honeymoon.
His expertise in this niche was limiting his other options.
It totally sucked.
He’d just finished uploading a new set of images onto some photo sites when his cell rang. Pierce didn’t recognize the number but picked it up anyway. “Hello?”
“Pierce Powers, please.”
“That’s me. How can I help you?”
“This is David Walker over at Escape magazine. I got your query and photo samples and wanted to see if you’d be interested in an opportunity.”
Pierce tried not to reveal his rapidly pounding heart and kept his tone calm. Escape was a well-known online travel source with highly rated articles and top-notch photography. He’d tried a few times to get a contact there, but it was a hard business to break into. “Thanks for calling. I’d love to hear about what you have available.”
The man snorted. “Well, to be blunt, I’m trying to fill a hole in our feature schedule, and my in-house photographers are unavailable. We’re looking to do a full spread on Cape May, but I don’t want the damn cookie-cutter stuff. Show me something I haven’t seen a million times,” he said, his voice brisk and gruff, as if he’d smoked for a number of years and was still pissed he’d quit. “Give me some unexplored territory and interesting reasons I want to spend my precious beach time there rather than the Hamptons or Ocean City, Maryland. I’m not as worried about the write-up as the pics—I have some talented writers in house that can do the copy. Can you deliver?”
Pierce wasn’t sure, but he was determined to grab any opportunity that didn’t have a wedding in it. “Sure can. When do you want them by?”
Pierce winced, but at this point, he didn’t feel like he was in a position to be able to push back. “I can do that.”
“Good. I’ll send you the contract. Get back to me with any questions.”
The brief call was over before he could think of anything to ask. Pierce thought about the hidden areas he loved so much in his hometown, but inspiration wasn’t sparking in his brain. He only knew that he refused to document another dying sunset or a seagull that had been used to depict every other coastal beach in America a million times before. David wanted him to look deeper.
Which meant he needed to search for the unexpected.
Motivated by a tiny kernel of excitement for the unknown, he hurriedly finished up his paperwork and put a sign on the door that he was closed for the rest of the day. He stashed his various pieces of equipment in the car, then headed out to Sunset Beach in West Cape May, tucked away from the main flurry of activity on Beach Avenue. He drove out, enjoying the more rural atmosphere. Instead of houses squished together with a tiny fence separating them, farms took up more acreage, including the popular Willow Creek Farm and Winery. The beach was a magnet for tourists looking to investigate the lighthouse, watch the sunset, and hike. Since the shore was filled with pebbles, it wasn’t as conducive to swimming, and the Delaware Bay side here had no waves.