She gave a half laugh. “That’s true. At least I’ll be back next month for Avery’s wedding. Hell, maybe even sooner, if my paintings tank and Luis yanks my free ride.”
“That’s not going to happen,” he said quietly. “You have your plan B, remember? And even though you’re scared, I think you know this exhibition will change everything.”
“It’s what you always wanted.” He paused. “Right?”
Her throat tightened. Why did she feel so raw and vulnerable? Pierce was acting perfectly. There was no pressure for her to stay or declare feelings for each other. He was supportive and encouraging of her art. He seemed poised and genuinely happy she was pursuing her dream. She had no right to change the rules at this point, and no idea if she had the guts to try. “Right.”
He nodded, ducking his head to stare at his beer. When he looked back up, something flickered in his eyes but was gone in a flash.
Just a trick of the light.
He tipped the bottle up and clinked it to hers. “To the next great adventure.”
She accepted the toast and drank. Shifted her weight. “Did you hear back from Escape yet?”
He set down his beer and stood with his feet braced apart, his arms tucked into each other. “Yeah, David loved it and asked me to do another spread. It’s another beach theme, but flexible, to include portraits.”
“For Cape May?”
“No, he wants me to expand, so I’m going to take a few days and do some road trips. Poke around. If something interests me, I may try to get my own collection together to sell. I like the possibilities now that I’m not tied to strictly weddings.”
“Makes sense. I’m happy for you.” Watching the excitement flicker on his face when he talked about his photography made Taylor feel a sense of joy, knowing how important it was to feel fulfilled. She had an idea he was only getting started with what he could do with his talent.
Just like her.
Too soon, their beers were finished. “I’d better go. They’re all waiting for me.”
“Don’t forget your neck pillow, and take Advil with you in case you get a headache.”
He walked her to the door. “Text me when you land. I don’t want to bother you while you’re getting ready for the exhibition, so call me when you have time.”
She touched his arm. “You’re never a bother.” She paused. “You’re . . . everything.”
His gaze crashed into hers. Suddenly, he was reaching for her, cupping her jaw, his mouth sliding over hers with a delicious precision and tenderness that made tears sting her eyes. She gave in to the kiss, the hot thrust of his tongue, the spicy masculine flavor and scent that swamped her senses. She tried to relay with that last kiss how much she’d miss him. How much she cared. How he was the most important person in her life.
How she loved him.
He eased away and ran the back of his fingers down her cheek. “We had a hell of a ride.”
A sad smile touched her lips. “Yeah, we did.”
He pressed his forehead to hers. “Bye, Taylz. Love you.”
Her voice choked out the words. “Love you, too.”
She left and wondered why the pain of what she was leaving behind seemed to override her excitement about the future.
The next morning, Taylor was stressed and jumpy but figured she should have something with a good amount of protein before her long flight. After placing a call to Harry’s, she headed out to pick up her coffee and favorite crab-and-avocado omelet—made without the basil. She shook her head and smiled as she walked in, thinking again about Pierce.
She’d grabbed her phone to text him a hundred times this morning before placing it back down. They’d said their goodbyes. Chasing him down for another emotional encounter wouldn’t help either of them. Still, she craved seeing his face one last time.
Sighing, she stopped at the hostess stand. “Hey, Valerie, I called in a breakfast order and coffee.”
The young girl nodded. “Sure, let me go get it. You paid already, right?”
“Yep, all set.”
“Be right back.”
Taylor leaned against the wall, lost in her thoughts, until a few steady bursts of laughter echoed in the air. Well, someone was happy this morning. Funny, too, the laugh sounded familiar. Almost like . . .
Her gaze swept the restaurant and landed on Pierce. He was at one of the tables behind the bar, engaged in a lively discussion with that Samantha woman he’d introduced her to. One of the waitresses stood by their table, giving a hoot and a high five to Sam, as if they were bonding. Pierce shook his head and said something that made them all laugh again.
God, they seemed so . . . close.
Then it hit her full force: Pierce was already moving on without her.
Her stomach clenched with nausea. She staggered back, desperate to hide her presence, and tried to get her shit together. Maybe it was a final slap of punishment for breaking their sacred blood vow.
“Here you go!” Valerie said cheerfully, giving her a bag and a cup of coffee. “Hey, good luck with Paris. We’re all so excited for you.”
She smiled sickly and retreated a few steps. “Thanks. So sorry, gotta go, don’t want to be late for my flight.”
Taylor ran out of Harry’s without looking back, the sound of Pierce’s laugh still ringing in her ears.
Paris was a feast for the senses.
Taylor was overwhelmed by the sheer energy and grace of the city. Luis had settled her into a quaint studio apartment near the Eiffel Tower. With a barely there kitchen, white walls, a small, glittery chandelier, and a bed that was also her sofa, it was everything she’d ever need. Luis had cleared one corner to stack a few canvases, easels, and paints. A window led to a small wrought-iron balcony, which held cheerful geraniums and a café table and chair. It overlooked a narrow Parisian street and faced a large yellow apartment building, so she could pretty much raise her glass of wine and toast her neighbor.
She loved every detail.
The first few days had consisted of visiting the gallery, approving the setup, and meeting the other two artists who would also be exhibiting at the show. The space was large and airy, and each of them had their own sections with various spotlights spilling onto their work, bathing it in a glow. The sleek and modern decor of black, white, and red was its own canvas to highlight each artist’s specific display.