“Cool. Bet a picture of the tower will bring in some decent money.”
He shook his head, still focused on the lens. “Nope. You can’t sell a picture of the Eiffel Tower illuminated—the French government doesn’t allow it. It has to be for personal use only.”
“Damn, I thought all important monuments could be photographed for profit.”
“No, but I can use it to impress my friends and clients.”
She grinned. “Envy. That’s even better than money.”
He laughed and sank back into his work. It took him a good hour to get all the shots he wanted. He moved the camera to different angles, capturing the row of statues as if they were looking at the tower, then did a few with the monument straight out, highlighted against the sky. He danced around his equipment, seeing something through the lens she was incapable of. It was almost as if photography was consistently chasing the idyllic picture in a vision, which was exactly how her artwork evolved.
Maybe it was another reason she felt so close to him. They understood each other’s creative souls and goals, and with that came a certain respect. She could have easily watched him for hours at his craft, finding peace in his purpose.
When he began to pack up, she asked, “Did you get what you wanted?”
“I did.” His features took on a satisfied, almost blissful look. It was so very familiar, and her body immediately responded, softening and melting in anticipation. He seemed to notice, and suddenly the air sparked around them, bringing that delicious sexual tension to the forefront. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Because you have the exact same expression on your face that you do after you orgasm.”
He stilled. His pale-green eyes filled with a fierce hunger that drove the breath from her lungs. “Photography and sex have many similarities. First, the pursuit—a seduction of sorts to remove all obstacles to get to the target.”
A husky laugh escaped her lips. “Sexy.”
“Hmm, it is.” He moved a step closer. “Sweet anticipation takes over your mind and body. You can practically smell victory. Knowledge of the pleasure that’s about to come shakes through you.”
She licked her lips, caught up in his seductive gaze. “What’s next?”
“All of the focus and effort chasing that one perfect moment suddenly explodes through you. With the click of the shutter, you’re released, and it feels so damn good, it’s like you’re flying.”
She yanked his head down and kissed him in the Paris square, with the Eiffel Tower beaming a thousand lights from behind. A scattering of applause sounded around them, obviously celebrating young lovers grabbing a fleeting moment in time to always remember.
“Let’s go home and take some pictures,” she whispered in his ear.
He laughed and grabbed her hand, and they ran the entire way back.
The next day, they visited the catacombs. Traveling down the tight spiral staircase consisting of 130 steps, it was as if they’d reached the bottom of the earth. They silently walked through endless, twisted rows where hundreds of skulls were displayed, stacked on top of one another in a horrifying art exhibit. When she reached the children’s section and the stoic, stamped brass signs declaring its innocent residents, shudders racked her body.
By the time they’d climbed back up into the light, Taylor was clinging to him, desperate to celebrate life again, so they headed to Versailles and steeped themselves in opulence at the king’s palace. Room after room of gilded gold treasures, exquisite tapestries, rich paintings, and antique furniture took their breath away. They took selfies in the Hall of Mirrors and walked the elaborate gardens, videoing the water shows and getting lost in the tangle of mazes stretched out for endless acres.
Time stopped. They became caught up in details of each other amid the glorious background of Paris. Taylor knew she was in a temporary time warp of their making, and she refused to waste a moment worrying about the real world.
Until the real world called.
It came later that afternoon, while they were eating french onion soup with gobs of cheese and home-baked croutons in a crowded café.
“It’s Luis,” she said, putting down her spoon to take the call. Her palms were sweating, knowing this was the news that would set up her future. She wondered if by failing, she could still win. If Luis had bad news for her, then she could go back to Cape May and tell Pierce she wanted more than friendship. They’d settle together in their beach hometown. He’d return to portraits, she’d work at Sunshine Bridal, and their future would be stable and secure. With him by her side, maybe a life of home, hearth, and family would satisfy her.
The image punched her straight in the solar plexus. She knew deep within that she’d slowly wither and die if she was stuck in Cape May in a traditional marriage and life.
But that was the only way she’d get Pierce.
He watched her across the table with a frown. “You have to answer it, Taylz,” he said as she sat there, caught in a panic. “Whatever he tells you, it will be okay.”
She dragged in a breath and hit the button to answer the call.
“Ma chère,” Luis greeted her warmly. “I have fantastic news for you. We have officially sold all of your paintings. The show was a complete success, just like I believed.”
She blinked, wondering if she’d heard correctly. “You . . . you sold them all?”
A chuckle spilled into her ear. “Yes. Except the one you refused to let me sell. As you requested, I told the buyer you’d be willing to work with him on another to complete the set, but he pushed back hard. If you change your mind, I can double the price.”
Her throat dried up. She croaked out her next question. “How much?”
“A hundred thousand dollars for the entire series. We have much to talk about. Can we meet tomorrow morning?”
One. Hundred. Thousand. Dollars.
Her hand trembled violently. “Yes. Tomorrow morning is good.”
“I’ll pick you up at nine a.m. Now you must go and celebrate. See the city. Drink champagne. Engage in wicked, wonderful activities. Your life is about to change!”
The phone clicked.
“What?” Pierce asked, reaching out to grab her still-shaking hand. “What did he say?”
“I sold them all.” Her voice sounded high and faint. “I sold them for one hundred thousand dollars.”