Forever in Cape May

Page 50

Avery and Carter left, and Bella and Gabe began to get Zoe ready for bed.

Pierce stacked the last dish in the washer, loaded up the detergent, and started it. Then turned. “Do you want me to stay tonight?” he asked softly.

The rules of asking had blurred in the past weeks until they’d just fallen into a routine of being together. But tonight, he needed to hear the words from her lips.

She regarded him in surprise but seemed to sense what he wanted. “Yes. I want you to stay.”

He smiled. “Good. I have a present I want to give you first. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

He dried his hands on the dish towel, then walked to his car to retrieve the package. He laid it on the coffee table, enjoying her curious expression.

“What is it?” she asked.

“It’s a wrapped gift,” he said seriously.

She hit him in the arm. “Pierce!”

“Just open it, okay? God, you really do hate surprises.”

“True, but I do like gifts.” She gave him a grin and pulled off the paper, lifting the book from the remnants. She caught her breath and stroked the fabric cover that read TAYLOR’S SCRAPBOOK.

“Oh, you didn’t,” she breathed, eyes wide with delight.

“I did. It’s for Paris and wherever else your dream takes you.”

Silently, she flipped through the pages. They told a story from past to present—a girl with big buck teeth at seven years old, an awkward teen through middle school, joyful Christmases with her sisters and parents, her prideful expression when she won the ribbon for track senior year.

Her hands shook as she got to the end and found a picture of them together at some event, their heads close, arms wrapped tight around each other, smiling goofy and happy as if the camera had been the first one to pick up their true love for each other beyond simple friendship. It had taken him endless hours to decide which pictures to choose, but he’d eventually gone with his gut.

The very last picture was his favorite.

Taylor sat on the yellow couch, knees up, head tipped back, pink hair like a punk-rock halo, laughing up at her sister with an open joy that made the world want to be part of their secret.

She closed the book and looked at him, those golden-brown eyes shining with a hint of tears. “This is the most amazing gift I’ve ever gotten,” she said with a seriousness that shook him to the core. “When did you take that last picture of me?”

“At Zoe’s graduation party from kindergarten.”

“I look different. I’m not scowling.”

He smiled, touching her cheek. “You don’t scowl all the time.”

“True.” A frown creased her brow. “I think that picture is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen myself photographed.”

His gaze locked with hers. “That’s the way I always see you.”

Her body jolted as if touched by an electrical current.

Without another word, he placed the book back on the table, stood, and took her hand. Their fingers entangled together. “Come with me.”

He led her straight to the bedroom. This time, there was no mad rush or craziness to be with one another. He went slow, savoring every catch of her breath, gleam in her eye, and reaction of her body. Clothes fell away. His mouth and hands drifted over her skin. She melted against him, and he carried her to the bed, laying her out before him to worship. They made love with excruciating patience that only added to the need, softening all the edges between them, breaking down the final barriers he’d managed to keep erected. Knowing they had only a few days left added a bittersweet agony to the encounter, but Pierce didn’t try to fight it.

When he slipped inside her, it was like coming home. She squeezed him tight, whispering his name, and he gently took her on a ride, refusing to let the sharp hunger take over and determined to accept every bit of pleasure and pain twisted together in one beautiful melody.

She broke apart beneath him, and he watched her face, treasuring the gift. When he let himself go, he gave her all of him in the quiet darkness, allowing the final denial to drift away as he realized that he had always loved her and would continue loving her even after she left.

Quiet, he tucked her into his arms, stroked her hair, and said nothing.

Neither did she.


The night before she left for Paris, Taylor stopped at Pierce’s house to say goodbye. She had an early-afternoon flight the next day and still had to finish packing and spend time with her sisters and Zoe.

Her mind was clear on the path they’d both chosen, but the idea of walking away with a hug, a farewell, and a decision to go back to being platonic friends made her stomach twist with nausea. As she walked through Pierce’s door and he gave her his beloved lopsided grin, Taylor wondered if she could let him go in order to chase her bigger, shinier future. Last night had been earth-shattering—as if they’d stopped being two people and had melded into one. She’d had plenty of weekend flings and had never had problems walking away. She’d always been termed the “guy” in the relationship, because she easily separated sex from emotion. Sex was physical, an act enjoyed by both parties if they had consent and respect. She’d assumed sex with Pierce would be the same, but instead she’d been horribly wrong.

And now she was going to pay.

He handed her a beer and frowned. “You look upset. Are you freaking out about tomorrow?”

She swallowed back the impulse to ask if they could work something out. Maybe they could continue their relationship long distance? She wouldn’t be in Paris forever. She’d visit her family often.

But the answer floated up inside her and quieted the urgent voice.

He doesn’t want what you want.

Pierce deserved to pursue his own happiness now. She’d no longer be there to block opportunities for him to find a woman to settle down and raise a family with, and to develop his photography business in a way that would excite him again. And she couldn’t stay with him without wondering if one day she’d regret not chasing her own dreams, miles away from his beloved home.

No. This was the only choice they could both make.


She shook her head and walked toward the kitchen, taking a sip of beer. “Sorry. My mind’s just all jumbled up. I promised Zoe I’d be home early to tuck her in tonight. Bella said she’s upset.”

“Don’t blame her—you guys are super close. But she’ll forgive you after her first visit to Paris and you feed her bread and chocolate.”

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