A muscle worked in his jaw. She held her breath as she waited for him to say something that would change everything, but then the moment passed, and the intensity drained from his gaze. His tone was falsely light. “Never mind. I get what you’re saying. How about we just agree that until you leave for Paris, we won’t see anyone else. Let’s just enjoy each other and what we have. Okay?”
Relief loosened her muscles. “Agreed.” All she wanted was for things to continue smoothly and for nothing to break their current bubble of happiness.
“Good. Now, tell me how much you got done.”
She grabbed another slice and settled back in her seat. “I have one canvas left—the final culmination. I need to refuel and get back to it.”
“Need help? I can mix paints. Clean your brushes. Inspire you.”
She laughed. “Hmm, I always wanted to re-create that Titanic nude with a man. You good with wearing the jewel and nothing but a mysterious smile?”
“If it will impress your art curator, I’ll do it. What are friends for?”
They smiled at each other. She grabbed a napkin and motioned him forward to dab at his chin. “Sauce. You always did eat pizza like a five-year-old.”
“At least I don’t leave my crust. It’s a crime—bread is life. Give it to me.”
She made a face and handed over her crust. Then went for a third slice.
“Do you still need the painting you gave me?” he asked. “I know Carter said it completes the set, but I wasn’t sure what you’d decided.”
“I’d like to bring it with me for the show, but I won’t sell it.”
“What if they offer you a million dollars for it?”
“I still won’t sell it. I promised it was yours, and you loved it before anyone else—you believed in me before anyone else. I don’t take back gifts.”
He stared at her, a slow smile curving his lips. “That’s one of the sweetest things you’ve ever said to me.”
She rolled her eyes. “No, it’s not. I called you hot. Said you had an amazing ass. I’ve termed you talented. The compliments go on and on.”
“I think this one is the best, if you’re saying I’m worth more than a million dollars.”
“Duh. You’re worth more than anything.”
He blinked, obviously surprised by her admission, and she hid her flaming cheeks by busying herself with the plates and garbage and making the table tidy. Suddenly, he snagged her wrist and whirled her around. She fell against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her hair. “Well, I wouldn’t trade you for the Hope Diamond.”
“Show-off,” she whispered.
He took her mouth and kissed her deep and long and slow. She surrendered full control and just let him take her away on a flood of warmth and arousal, her body molding perfectly to his. She protested when he finally stepped away, his hair mussed and his eyes bright with desire. “You have to work,” he said. “Playtime is after.”
She groaned. “You said you’d inspire me. How about a quickie?”
He laughed and backed up with his hands in the air. “Nope. I’m gonna crash on the couch and wait while you create magic. Think of me as a reward.” He posed like a model, sticking out his chest and flexing his biceps. She grabbed a paper plate from the pile, tossed it like a Frisbee, and nailed him in the chest. He pretended to fall, groaning dramatically.
“You are such a dork.” Shaking her head, she wrapped up the leftover pizza and poured herself a glass of white wine. “I’ll give it another hour.”
“Sounds fair. Aren’t you going to recycle that?”
She looked at the box. “Later.”
He actually twitched. “I’ll get it.” Pierce hated for any recycling items to lie around and needed to place them in the bins ASAP.
She was used to his quirks, but she still enjoyed teasing him now and then. “Great. Can you also take out the half-and-half cartons and the seltzer bottles?” she asked sweetly, pointing to the bulging bag where she temporarily stashed junk in order to save herself a walk to the curb.
He groaned. “Taylz, why is it so hard to walk a few hundred feet?” he muttered under his breath. He scooped up the rest of the stuff and marched outside.
“Thanks,” she called out. Now, if only she could teach him to cook, they could practically live together.
Amused, she took her wine and went to her workroom. She spent the first fifteen minutes trying to get back in the mood. She fiddled with the music, mixed different colors, and nibbled at the end of her paintbrush, waiting for the woman to speak. She let her mind wander, touching like a bouncing ball on various memories and thoughts, and finally a garden took hold in her vision. A garden of roses, crushed on the ground by treading feet, broken petals strewn like tiny deaths. The woman felt all of it.
Following the image, she began to create the setting and build from there. Soon, she lost all track of time. It was only when she realized her bladder was about to explode and her wine had grown warm that she surfaced.
After stretching her muscles, she hurried to the bathroom, washed her hands, and walked into the living room. “I worked, so you’d better be ready for me to collect,” she said loudly, following the sounds of the television. Then stopped.
Pierce was asleep.
Spread out on her sofa, he clutched a throw pillow under his chin and snored softly. She walked over and smoothed back his hair before lowering the volume on the TV. Poor thing was exhausted. She thought about waking him, but he needed the sleep.
She felt surprisingly awake, with adrenaline still buzzing in her veins, pushing her to ride the wave until she collapsed. Might as well work while he slept.
She grabbed a blanket from the chair and covered him, pressing a kiss to his forehead. He grunted and frowned, then settled back. Taylor watched him for a while, her gaze caressing his features, and she wondered when she was going to stop lying to herself. Since they’d begun having sex, her feelings had been changing. Growing. Morphing into a live, chomping beast, when before the beast there had just been a sleeping dragon.
Of course, there was nothing left to do except ride it out. Paris was her escape from the truth of her burgeoning emotions, and the end that was meant to be. Someday, he’d marry another woman. Settle down with children. Have the life he’d always intended.