“Ah, I should do that with my kitchen.”
She snorted. “You barely have any spices. The only reason I do is because Bella buys them for me.”
“That’s true. Cheddar or mozz?”
“Your painting is extraordinary.”
She froze, her mug halfway to her lips. “You think?”
He turned and gave her a look that stripped away her barriers and dove deep. “I know. There’s so much there, Taylz. It will be a perfect final piece.”
Lightness spread through her insides. “Thanks.”
“Welcome.” He paused. “You haven’t had any artist’s block lately.”
“No. I guess my bitchy muse decided to finally behave.”
He tilted his head, regarding her thoughtfully. “I love all your paintings, but the ones you’ve done the past few weeks are on another level. They seem to have more . . .” He trailed off, then ducked his head. “Never mind.”
“No. More what?”
A tingle rose up her spine as he gave her the words almost reluctantly. “Emotion. You seemed to have tapped into this huge well of emotion that makes the paintings extraordinary.”
Suddenly, she ached to hold him. To allow herself to soften against his hard muscles and let go.
She ducked her head, trying to hide her emotions. “That means a lot,” she said gruffly.
When she looked back up, he was smiling at her, as if he knew she’d gotten shy over the compliment.
Taylor blew out a breath and fell back into her comfort zone. “I don’t like mine burnt, remember?”
“I remember.” He slid the omelet out of the pan, looking proud of himself. “I’m getting better.”
“You are, but I think you need more practice. Maybe a few dinners under your belt.”
He shook his head and began cooking his own. “You wish. As long as we have Bella, we’ll never starve.” Bella was the best cook in the family and invited him over regularly to eat with everyone. Taco Tuesday was his favorite night.
He plated his omelet, and they ate together in companionable silence, enjoying their food. She wondered if there’d ever be another man who knew her as well. Maybe that was why long-term dating was hard for her. All those new things to explore with another man intrigued so many women, but she’d rather be with someone who knew her quirks and what pissed her off, and liked her anyway. It certainly saved a lot of time, especially if you were crafting long, detailed summaries to impress strangers on dating sites. Bella had always said she’d be better off with a matchmaker because Taylor was too impatient to experiment.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked, refilling her mug.
“Thanks. Just how much I hate dating.”
He grinned. “No one likes dating. But if we didn’t do it, the population would die.”
“I think people should just know right away how they feel and not waste time. All this compromising and angst and guessing if the guy is gonna call or not pisses me off.”
“You date a lot,” he pointed out. “Last year, you were out every weekend with someone different.”
She scowled. “I’d decided to give it a real try. Figured the more men I met, the better the odds I’d meet someone I could stand for more than a night.”
“Guess I’m the only one who succeeded,” he said smugly.
She laughed. “Guess so, Mr. Arrogant.”
“Hey, you’re the one who keeps telling me how nice my ass is.” He winked, got up, and did a little shimmy. “Plus, I got the moves.”
He was so silly and nerdy and sexy that she began to actually giggle. Then she heard a sound, and the rest happened in slow motion.
“Aunt TT, Mama said I need fruit in my lunch box, but we ran out, so can I have a—Pierce! Hi, Pierce, are you here for breakfast?” Zoe’s high voice echoed through the kitchen.
“Zoe, I told you to knock—oh my God!” Bella grabbed her daughter and turned her around, giving Pierce just enough time to duck behind the high counter.
Taylor froze, staring at her sister and niece in sheer panic, realizing she had a naked man hiding in almost full view in the middle of her kitchen.
“Mama, look, Pierce is here!” Zoe said brightly, trying to wriggle out of Bella’s arms.
Had she seen anything? Hopefully, Pierce had ducked in time, and her niece had missed an early biology lesson.
“Um . . . yes . . . isn’t that great?” Bella stammered, eyes wild in her face as she glanced back and forth between them. “But, um, they’re doing some grown-up things now, so we’d better go.”
“How come Pierce doesn’t have a shirt on?” Zoe asked. She swiveled her head, obviously wondering where he’d gone. “Pierce! Where are you?”
A lone hand raised above the granite countertop. “Hi, Zoe.” His head bobbed up. A sick smile twisted his lips. “How ya doing?”
“Good. I came to get fruit for my lunch. Where are your clothes?”
Taylor suddenly came to life, springing from her chair and laughing a bit manically. “Pierce came over for breakfast and spilled food on his outfit,” Taylor explained, giving her sister the stink eye. “He’s waiting for them to come out of the laundry. Do you want strawberries or apples?”
“Strawberries, please. Once I got peanut butter on my pink sparkle shirt, and I cried ’cause I thought it was ruined forever, but Mama fixed the whole thing, so don’t worry, Pierce.”
“I won’t, sweetheart.”
Taylor shoved a carton of strawberries into her sister’s hands. “Here you go! Well, you’d better get moving, or you’ll be late for school.”
“Okay. Bye, Aunt TT. Bye, Pierce!”
“Bye,” Pierce called out weakly.
Bella pursed her lips. “I’ll talk to you later.”
Taylor winced at the threat in her voice. “Boy, I can’t wait.”
With one last lingering look, her sister escorted Zoe out and shut the door.
Pierce stood up and groaned. “We are in so much trouble.”
Taylor tapped her lip in thought. “We can deny it. Say your clothes really were in the laundry.”
“Are you kidding me? They’re a bunch of sharks—they’ll eat us alive.”