She hurried off, and Taylor busied herself with her phone, trying to pretend her world hadn’t just tilted upside down. My God, was this what everyone thought about them? She’d always encouraged Pierce to date, and vice versa. Apparently, they’d given off an entirely different impression.
At least Kimmie didn’t seem to think they were sleeping together. She’d specifically used the term best friends, which they were. Maybe Kimmie was overreacting and others didn’t think that way. Plenty of women had asked her straight up if she and Pierce were together, and she’d always said no, backed off, and invited them to give their luck a try.
How did that seem possessive?
Her thoughts spun out of control. Should she tell Pierce? He’d probably be just as shocked as she was. Or maybe they’d both end up laughing their asses off about it and toss the silly observation to the side.
She ate her salad, settled her check, and walked home, briefly wondering if she’d been the main obstacle to Pierce finding lasting love. He’d always been clear in his intention to settle down and get married. He wanted kids. Had she been subconsciously stopping him from those dreams, afraid she’d be left alone?
A shiver shook through her even as the sun burned her skin. Normally, she’d dig deeper into the theory, maybe even discuss it with Pierce. But with such a short time left, did it really matter? Soon he’d be free to pursue anyone and not have to worry about anyone else’s opinion but his own.
Maybe this whole thing had been fated to happen to them. After all, something this good couldn’t be real or lasting. It was just the thrill of temptation and secrecy, combined with being so comfortable with each other. There was no “getting to know you” period or awkward conversations about what one liked or didn’t. Just great sex, trust, and perfect companionship.
It was easy. Too easy.
When she got home, Taylor was calm. She decided she wouldn’t mention it to Pierce. The paintings would be sent overseas, and soon she’d be packing for Paris. It was silly to worry now. They didn’t have much time left.
She wanted to make it perfect.
“Ready for some touring?” Pierce asked.
Samantha shot him a sunny smile. “Definitely! I’m so happy you called and offered to show me around. I hope you’re not taking time out of your schedule because you pity me.”
He laughed and pulled away from the curb, heading out. “Of course not. Actually, you’re helping me. I have to finish up a series of photographs I’m working on for a magazine, and I’m seriously lacking inspiration. Figured we’d hit the road and do some exploring together. You’ll learn more about Cape May, and I’ll get some new shots.”
Sam settled in the seat with a sigh. “Sounds perfect. I was starting to take on extra shifts out of boredom. Plus, I’m worried about the smell.”
“Tacos. I go home and all I smell is tacos.”
He grinned. “Well, I figured we’d grab lunch at a popular spot known for their organic, fresh food. You’ll have to do without salsa and guac for a day.”
They fell into easy chatter as he drove deeper into West Cape May. Sam’s personality was open and warm. With her long dark hair caught up in a simple ponytail, and her outfit of denim shorts, white cotton blouse, and Keds, she reflected a woman who was comfortable in her own skin. She’d been on his mind, and he’d reached out on impulse, figuring he’d enjoy her company and be able to help her feel more comfortable in her new hometown.
He turned onto Stevens Street, passed the sign that announced their arrival at Beach Plum Farm, and parked. They climbed out of the car, and he grabbed his equipment, hoping he’d be able to nail down his final selections for the Escape collection before deadline. He didn’t want to lose his second paid gig that had nothing to do with weddings.
“This is incredible,” she breathed, taking in the sprawl of farmland and the rustic brown Amish barn that held buckets of charm. “I had no idea this was here.”
“There’s a ton of hidden places on the Cape. Best thing to do is rent a bike and just poke around, but we need a car today for the other spot I want to take you.”
“I can’t wait to explore.”
“Then let’s hit it.”
They took the walking path to the main farmhouse. Lush green lawns, sculpted shrubbery, twisted wood, and bright bursts of flowers led the way. Patio tables with umbrellas had been set up, with small groups of people hanging out, snacking on treats, and enjoying the day. Inside, long wooden tables allowed patrons to eat the farm-fresh produce of the day. The market displayed the wares of local vendors who made jams, honeys, pastas, and wine. Fresh fruit and herbs were held in baskets, and the two-level store boasted an array of vendors offering household goods, towels, signs, and body creams and soaps.
Sam squealed in pleasure, turning around with wide eyes. “I have died and gone to heaven,” she announced. “I hope you don’t mind women who like to shop, Pierce.”
“I always encourage shopping local,” he said with amusement. “Do you want me to show you the grounds first or eat?”
“Let’s work up an appetite.”
He greeted Emma, who worked the kitchen, and Anthony, who ran the farm, chatting briefly with both and introducing them to Samantha. Then he led her down one of the walking paths toward the marshes. “The farm has sixty-four acres and provides food for the local restaurants,” he explained, grateful for the cool shade of the trees from the sun’s hot sting. The ground was soft and silent underneath their feet, but the air was filled with a musky, earthy sweetness and the sounds from the endless calls of birds and the scrambling forest creatures playing a lively game of tag.
“It’s like a different world,” she breathed in amazement. “The closest I’ve gotten to this is the Bronx Zoo.”
“City girl, huh?”
“Born and bred, with the accent to match.”
She didn’t offer more, and he didn’t want to pry. “Well, the Cape May Zoo is a great place to check out, too,” he said, lifting his camera to zoom in on an interesting sprawl of wildflowers housing a gorgeous monarch butterfly. His skin tingled at the shot. The colors of insects and flowers blended together like one of Taylor’s palettes in her workroom, blurring lines and boundaries. A few seconds later, the butterfly took flight and the moment was gone.