Forever in Cape May

Page 58

“We had a bidding war for the series,” he said briskly, “which means we should have even more success with your next exhibit. Now my vision is to secure a solo show rather than combined, and plan your official debut.”

“I thought this was my debut.”

“No, that was strictly introductory to see if your art resonated. I have instincts, but until I put out the bells and whistles before a wide audience, I never truly know. Do you have an idea of what your next projects will be?”

She hesitated. “I’d like to say yes, but most of my work comes from hours in front of the canvas until I’m drawn to paint. It’s a bit of a meandering process, I know, but I can assure you I don’t take it as permission to goof off for long periods of time. It’s through the discipline of sitting and waiting that I get there. So no, I can’t give you a neat, detailed outline of what you’ll see, if that makes sense.”

“It does, and work ethic is critical, which you’ve shown. You delivered the first time; you shall deliver the second. Which will be in your contract anyway,” he said with a twinkle in his blue eyes. “What I’d like to discuss is your vision for your career. Where you want to work. Time schedule. I want both of us to be satisfied that we’re moving forward but not draining the well too fast. I’ve seen many young artists burn out in a glorious rush, never to paint or sculpt again. I will not let that happen to you.”

She smiled. “I will not let that happen to myself,” she said firmly. “But I do appreciate the intention, and I’m open to your guidance since you’re the expert.”

He nodded, respect gleaming in his eyes. “Very good. After your debut, I was thinking we could go to Italy. I have another successful gallery in Milan I think you’d do quite well at.”

“It sounds wonderful, Luis,” she said. “The more I explore, the more inspiration I get. But my family is in Cape May, and I also can’t imagine myself not seeing them for a year at a clip.”

“You can work anywhere you’d like, ma chère. I’d like you to stay in Paris, though, for the next six months. We need to work on your connections and build your business résumé. I think some art classes will also help, so I’ll arrange some private tutoring with some of our masters. Think of it as an apprenticeship. By the time of your debut, we’ll be ready to launch your career, and you’ll have more flexibility in your schedule.”

Excitement stirred in her gut. This was everything she’d ever wanted, worked for, and dreamed of. But in that moment, she was thinking of one person—Pierce—and the confession he’d whispered in the dark last night, thinking it had gone unheard.

He loved her.

It had taken all her control not to reach for him and tell him she loved him, too. That she didn’t care about the obstacles or distance between them. That she wanted to try.

Instead, she’d remained silent, sensing a choice ahead: her career or Pierce.

She couldn’t have both.

She’d be in Paris for six months, then Italy, then maybe return to Cape May. Yes, she’d visit her sisters and spend long weekends and holidays there—maybe even a few weeks in the summer, maybe a few months if she wanted. But Pierce was tied to his photography studio and his home. God, he’d openly admitted that he’d rediscovered his true love for Cape May during his pursuit of the Escape collection. Trying a long-distance relationship, where he sacrificed his own dream of a settled, long-term relationship that led to marriage and kids, was a recipe for heartbreak.

The end of their friendship.

They could hurt each other in the quest for love. If she sacrificed her lover, she’d still have an opportunity to salvage the friendship. Right now, they were lucky. They still remained in the safe zone.

It was crucial they stay there.

“Taylor?” Luis frowned. “This is a big decision. You need to be a hundred percent committed. I am going to put all my efforts and resources into making you a successful artist, but it will take all of your time and focus, too. Is there something I need to know? Something holding you back? This is the time to discuss, not afterward, when too many people are counting on you. Do you understand?”

She did. Funny how she could reach her dream while her heart slowly crumbled in her chest. How she could achieve one stunning success yet lose what was most precious to her. The angles and sharp curves of life lay before her. It was up to her this time to choose the road she wanted. This time, it wasn’t like that frantic middle-of-the-night phone call in college. She didn’t need to return home to save the family business. This time, nothing could stop her except herself.

Hadn’t she waited long enough?

Taylor squared her shoulders. “I understand, and I’m completely dedicated to my career. I’d like to go over the details of the contract. As for the schedule, I love the idea of getting business savvy and taking classes. Whatever will help make me a stronger artist, I’ll embrace.”

He nodded, obviously pleased. “Then we’ll go over the contract.”

“I’ll need to send it to Carter’s lawyer, who will be representing me now.”

“I would be upset if you didn’t,” he said with a touch of humor.

“One other thing.” She took a deep breath. Her heart begged her not to utter the words, but it was the only way she could think of to show Pierce she was putting her career first and leaving him behind. “I’d like to sell that painting in the series, after all.”

He stared at her, looking surprised. “Really? You were quite stubborn about keeping your promise to your friend. Are you sure?”

She thought back to the conversation with Kimmie and knew she didn’t want to be the one to continually hold Pierce back from finding love with a woman who better matched his own goals. Agony speared her, but she only saw one road left to take—one way to set him free. She prayed they’d heal with time and space. It was a gamble she had to risk. “I’m sure.”

“Then I shall reach out and secure an outrageous price that will make the sacrifice worth it. Yes?”

She forced a smile, even though her bottom lip trembled. “Yes.”

It was done.


Pierce hummed to himself as he sat on the balcony, waiting for Taylor to return.

He’d been up all night, excited to finally tell Taylor his decision. He was done worrying about pushing her too hard, afraid of her rejecting him as a lover in order to save their friendship. Why were they both lying to each other, pretending nothing had changed? Why were they trying so hard to ignore the fact that they were in love with each other?

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