Pierce parked, grabbed his bag, and headed to the lighthouse. It cost ten dollars to take the 199 steps to the top of the tower, so he paid his fee and climbed, needing a new perspective before he set out. At the summit, he caught his breath and stared at the stunning view of man and God fighting for space.
God won every time.
Water and sky dominated amid the houses and the people trying to crowd in. He thought about the balance of things and how a simple photo could evoke joy and wonder and rouse questions. He loved the idea of deepening his connection to an audience broader than a wedding couple’s friends and family. This was a chance to explore bigger possibilities, and he didn’t want to screw it up.
He took a few random shots, getting warmed up, and caught sight of a woman in a breezy, long skirt and white camisole. She hugged herself, her long dark hair blowing in the hot wind, her profile blurred from his perch far away. But there was something in her body language that called to him—a fragile loneliness that drew him. His shutter clicked madly, and he thought briefly of Taylor’s woman on the cliffs.
He climbed back down and walked to where she still stood. He looked around, but she seemed to be alone. “Excuse me?”
She turned around, obviously startled. “Yes?”
He rubbed his head, feeling like an idiot. “Just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
She blinked, as if not believing him. Maybe she thought he was either hitting on her or a crazy killer.
“Sorry,” he said, lifting his hand. “Didn’t mean to intrude.” He turned to go.
“No, I’m sorry, you just surprised me. I’m fine. Thanks for checking,” she said, a sweet smile curving her lips. Her eyes were dark brown, her skin a warm gold, and she was beautiful in that quiet sort of way: a woman who struck him as a bit shy and careful with her words. “I’m not going to throw myself into the water, if that’s what you’re wondering. Not that there’s any moody cliffs to dive off anyway.”
He laughed. “Good to know.”
She reached out a hand. “I’m Samantha.”
He took it and shook. “Pierce. Are you on vacation?”
“Oh no, I actually work at the taco place a few miles from here. When I’m on break, I like to drive here. It’s peaceful. Quieter than the main beaches.”
“Yeah, it is. I live here, too. I own Powers Studios in town.”
She glanced at his cameras. “I think I’ve seen you around. Oh, your ad is in Exit Zero magazine, right?”
“Yeah—that’s my big-time advertising,” he said wryly.
“Are you taking pictures of anything specific?”
“No, I’m looking for inspiration.”
“Oh, have you ever photographed that purple house on Perry Street? I always walk past it and feel like it’s from a fairy tale.”
He grinned. “That’s actually a friend of mine’s house. Avery Sunshine. She owns Sunshine Bridal.”
“Oh my goodness! Well, please let her know I adore her house.”
She laughed again. “Well, I’m sure you’ll find something inspirational. I’m new to the Cape—I just moved here.”
He thought he heard a New York City accent. He’d know for sure if she uttered the word coffee. “You’ll love it. Lived here my whole life and always found living by the beach to be a bit magical.”
“I’m all for magic. Do you happen to have a card or something? I’ve been working so much, I’m not getting out to meet people. It’d be nice to know someone in town.”
“Of course.” He handed her a business card from his bag. “Contact me anytime.”
“Thanks. If you need me, I’m at Key West Tacos—ask for Sam. It was nice to meet you.”
He said goodbye and kept walking down the shoreline. Funny, he’d never thought of Avery’s house as anything special because he was used to it. If he was going to photograph Cape May for Escape magazine, he needed to view the place through the eyes of a new person. Like Samantha.
Newly motivated, he spent the next few hours shooting with a new perspective. He stayed for the sunset celebration, one he’d grown up with and knew in his bones, but this time, he caught the wonder on people’s faces as the music soared and the US flag flapped in the wind, and darkness teased the edges of the shoreline, exploding it into a thousand shades of rose and gold.
Pierce didn’t need to capture the sunset. He needed to capture the emotions the sunset stirred, and that always led him back to people. As much as he loved natural shots, he was more of a portrait artist than a naturalist. But if he could combine the two, maybe the result could be what he’d been searching for.
When he finally returned home, he felt as if he’d unearthed a secret that would take him on a whole new route for his career. Excitement stirred within him, and he looked at the time, wondering if he could text Taylor.
Better not. It was late, and she was probably working herself.
Instead, he lay on his couch, ate a late-night snack, and watched a few episodes of Impractical Jokers before going to bed.
The moment he collapsed in his sheets, he turned his head and caught her scent.
And missed her.
Taylor surveyed the workroom. Excitement nipped her nerves as she realized she had one last painting to do before she was done.
She’d talked on the phone with Luis after sending him some pics, and they’d discussed the different ways to stage her portion of the studio to best exhibit her collection. He urged her to come up with an overall theme, citing it as an important element to the success of her work. She had a hard time not laughing at that statement.
God, who would have thought her paintings needed a theme? She’d chased the nameless, faceless woman through her dreams, but Luis wanted a backstory—a way to explain to people what her thinking process was and the overall arc of the work.
At least she got to paint first, then come up with her theme. She guessed this was like writing a book before composing the marketing hook. The author needed the story, but the sales team needed to sell copies. Business and art working together.
Still, thinking of it as a body of work helped. Because she’d decided to put the woman in a red dress for consistency, in the ones where she was naked, Taylor had added flashes of red color in the mud earth, the crushed leaves, the flash of a squirrel, and other tiny touches to weave a thread of unity into each painting.