She opened her mouth to say something, but a small man dressed in a sleek, slim suit with impeccable gray hair and bright-blue eyes stopped before them. Taylor introduced Pierce quickly to Luis, and they exchanged pleasantries until he directed his next words to Taylor. “Ma chère, the feedback on your paintings is incredible. Everyone is simply buzzing, and there are many interested in buying.”
Shock radiated from her form. “Really? You think we’ll actually sell one?”
The man laughed and patted her shoulder. “All of them, I’m betting on.”
“Except the third one,” she said.
Luis frowned. “What do you mean? Some may be interested in buying the entire series!”
Her chin jutted out stubbornly. “I promised not to sell the third one. Remember I told you?”
“I thought you were joking,” Luis said.
Pierce’s jaw dropped. “Taylz, sell it! I was just messing around with you. I won’t let you miss an opportunity to sell the whole series just so that one can hang in my office.”
“I made a promise, and I’m keeping it. Luis, I’ll be happy to paint another one on commission for whoever buys it. We can negotiate terms.”
Luis glanced back and forth between them, as if trying to figure out their relationship. “Very well, ma chère. We shall see what happens.” He shook Pierce’s hand and headed toward the artist with the murals.
“Are you kidding me?” he hissed once Luis was out of earshot. “Why are you being so pigheaded? Just sell it and paint me another one.”
She waved her hand in the air. “Carter would have never seen that painting if you hadn’t hung it in your office and insisted it was good enough. You’ve been supportive of me from the very first time I confided I dreamed of being a big-time artist, and pushed me to take chances. That one belongs to you.”
Staggered, he fought the impulse to kiss her cherry-red lips and tell her the truth. That he was crazy about her, that he didn’t want to walk away or pretend they were something else, that he’d blow up his entire life at home and follow her around the world if she wanted him. But another patron came by, and for the next few hours, he watched Taylor discuss art and her work like she’d done this her entire life.
Pride coursed through him. She was in her element within this highbrow crowd. All her work and perseverance had finally paid off, and he was blessed to be the one standing beside her, watching her fly high. If only he could hold her hand, touch her, kiss her as her lover who had the right.
Not just be there as her friend.
Pierce knew that tonight, everything had changed.
He just didn’t know how.
They walked to her apartment together. The night air was like a warm kiss, and their shoulders brushed, giving her tingles, like she was with her first boyfriend and dying for him to hold her hand.
Her heart danced.
He’d come for her.
The knowledge he’d flown to Paris to be with her for her big night went beyond friendship. It was an act she’d always treasure and remember, and once again, she was reminded of how, other than family, Pierce was the most important person in her life.
“Did you get a hotel room?” she asked, her heels clicking against the pavement.
“Yeah, I’m a few blocks away. How’s your apartment?”
“Tiny. No real kitchen. A balcony, a sofa, and a place to paint.”
He grinned. “Perfection.” They walked in silence, each deep in thought. “When will you know how many sold?”
“Not sure. Luis will get back to me in a day or two. Whatever didn’t sell he’ll either decide to buy for his own inventory, or I can keep it.”
“They’ll all sell.”
“Maybe.” They reached her place, and he paused on the step. “You’re coming in, right?”
His gaze searched hers. “To see your place? Sure.”
Uneasiness unfolded. It was obvious he was wary she’d jump him. Was she reading the signals all wrong? Did he really come here just as her friend and with no intention of sleeping with her again? Why was she torn and confused when she was around him, yearning for something she knew they couldn’t have?
Pissed off at her weakness, she climbed up the multiple flights of stairs, led him inside, turned on the light, and lifted her hand. “This is the whole thing.”
He took a few steps, studying the decor and the little touches that added to the room. Then he opened the window and peeked out the balcony. “Taylz, I love it. Whenever I think of a real Parisian apartment, this is what comes to mind.”
“I know, right? There’s just enough space, and the sofa bed is actually comfortable. They even left me fancy satin sheets.”
He stared at her, and she forced a laugh, fighting the flush threatening her cheeks.
“Um, want some water? Or some red wine?”
A heavy silence settled over the room. She shifted her weight and picked at her thumb. What was going on? Why was everything so damn . . . awkward? “When do you fly back out?”
He leaned against the window. “Two more days. I figured I’d get some sightseeing in. Brought my camera equipment to take some photographs. Build my portfolio.”
“You have time to show me anything, or will you be busy with Luis?”
“Of course I have time to tour with you. Why are you acting so damn weird and . . . tense?”
“I’m not! I’m getting the vibe from you. I don’t know what you want.”
She gasped. “That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said. You flew across the ocean to be with me tonight, and now you’re acting like we’re casual neighbors who occasionally grab a cup of tea together.”
A low growl emitted from his throat. “I’m trying to give you space, okay? It was hard for me to watch you surrounded by all those people and feel like I couldn’t hold your hand or touch you the way I wanted. And I swore just because you didn’t want what I want, I wouldn’t act like an asshole.”
“Well, you are.”
“Acting like an asshole! For God’s sake, just tell me the truth—what do you really want? I don’t like playing these games, especially with you.”
Pierce was a force to be reckoned with when he lost his temper, because it was rarely seen. His nostrils flared, and his gaze narrowed, and his jaw clenched. He seemed to grow taller, stretching to his full height, and then he closed the distance between them with an edge that thrilled her to the core. “You want to know what I want?” he gritted out, eyes burning like jeweled jade. “You. Ever since I got off the plane, I’ve dreamed of kissing you, and stripping you naked, and fucking you senseless. How’s that for the truth? And I know we agreed to go back to a platonic relationship, and it’s supposed to be neat and tidy, but I don’t give a shit anymore. I’m here till Tuesday, and I want you in my bed. I want you to be mine.”