He understood. It must have been deeply personal, and he was happy she’d dug so deep. He wished he could have seen it. “Just remember my wall looks bare and pathetic now. Don’t sell my painting,” he teased.
“I promised, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, you did.” They stared at one another in silence. He felt her nervous energy and tried to help. “You know what they tell artists, right? The only thing you can control is the quality of your work. Of doing your best at the time—no more. Then it’s out of your hands and doesn’t belong to you anymore. Do you feel good about what you painted?”
Her body relaxed, and her slow smile was like the first trickle of dawn illuminating the darkness. “Yeah, I do.”
“Then the rest is out of your control. It’s time to enjoy the ride.”
She jerked her chin toward the photographs. “I should say the same for you. Your point of view is changing. No more weddings.”
“I’ll finish up my commitments, but yeah, I’m taking a break from new clients. You know, I’ve been restless for a while. Couldn’t figure out why. But yesterday, it was like I saw Cape May for the first time, through a clear lens, and I fell in love with this town all over again.”
Her hand reached out and linked with his. He wondered at the strange look of sadness flickering over her face. “Because this is your home. It owns your heart.”
He opened his mouth to share his newest realization—that as much as he loved his beach town, he was ready to explore other settings and allow his creativity to blossom; for the first time, he craved travel and new experiences, and wondered if he’d been so stuck in what he imagined his life would be that he hadn’t given himself permission to change his mind and alter course. But before he could speak, she’d stepped into his arms. He sank into her, kissing her deeply, savoring her taste and texture, trying to show her physically how much she meant to him. God, he wished they’d made this agreement sooner, when they’d had all the time in the world to explore it.
The bell outside tinkled, warning of a visitor, and they stepped apart.
Samantha popped her head in. “Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were with someone.”
He smiled and waved her in. “It’s okay. I want you to meet Taylor Sunshine. This is Samantha. She works at Key West Tacos and is new here. We met over at Sunset Beach, and she approved me using her as a model.”
The women smiled and exchanged a handshake. “Then this is you,” Taylor said, pointing at the picture. “It’s so beautiful.”
“Oh, I didn’t do anything. I was just indulging in being a kid again,” Samantha said. “He has amazing talent.”
“Yes, he does.” Taylor shot him an odd look but held the smile. “I’d better get going. I’ll see you tonight, Pierce. Nice to meet you.” She hurried out the door and left them alone.
Samantha made a face. “I’m really sorry I butted in. I came into town to pick up lunch and figured I’d swing by to thank you for yesterday. Oh my God, is this the rest of your work? It’s stunning.” She studied the lineup with obvious pleasure. “Are these for your collection?”
“Yes. We’ll see if they sell.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind they will. You have this way of making me feel like I’m right there. How do you capture the light like that? In my picture, it looks like I’m almost ethereal.”
“Each time the swing moved, the light danced. I was only chasing it.”
“It’s a lost art. Everyone uses their phones and computers, but I think we’ve forgotten so much of the creative process. It’s sad.”
“It is sad. Makes our lives both easier but also harder. Less pressure to think and dream and figure things out ourselves.”
“Yes.” She smiled, and he liked the way her entire face lit up. The easy energy between them calmed him. Already, he sensed she’d be a good friend to have. “Well, I’d better head out. Just wanted to tell you again how much I enjoyed yesterday. Let me know if you want to grab coffee or lunch this week.” She hesitated, her body rocking back and forth slightly in obvious awkwardness. “I promise I’m not asking you out on a date,” she said with a self-mocking laugh. “It was just really nice to feel like I’m a part of this town.”
“Don’t apologize. I’d love to hang out with you. Saturday works for me. Nine a.m. breakfast? Have you gone to Harry’s yet? They have great omelets.”
“No, that sounds good. Thanks. See you Saturday!” She bounced out, her ponytail bobbing.
He imagined how hard it would be to be new and need to make friends. Sam was easy to be with, though, and he still expected a text from Nick about asking her out. He’d make sure to try and introduce her to some of the waitstaff at Harry’s, too.
The rest of his afternoon consisted of an engagement shoot on the beach. Then he had enough time to shower and change before heading to Bella’s. The guys were already there, and he smiled as he crossed the threshold, enjoying the usual chaos of Taco Tuesdays.
Bella and Gabe were in the kitchen, chopping and grilling. Taylor was setting the table. Avery and Carter sipped red sangria and offered advice to Gabe, who wasn’t comfortable in the kitchen but was open to Bella teaching him some skills. The scent of onions, peppers, and spicy meat filled the air, and Pierce’s stomach growled. He’d forgotten to eat today in his need to put together those photographs.
Zoe rushed over and gave him a big hug. “Hi, Pierce! Did your stains come out of your clothes?”
He pressed his lips together and knelt in front of her. “They did. Thank you for caring—it was my favorite outfit.”
“The light-blue shirt and cool jeans with the holes in them.”
“Oh yes, I like those, too. I made some new pictures today with the new coloring book Gabe got me. Wanna see?”
“Of course. One day, you’ll be a famous artist like your aunt.” Zoe was obsessed with all types of art and loved to practice with Taylor in her workroom.
“I’ll get them!”
She rushed off, and he made his way to the kitchen to pour himself some of the homemade sangria.
“Ouch! That hurt!” Gabe yelled, jerking his hand back from the skillet. He glared at the sizzling meat. “How do you get the oil to stop splashing?”