He smiled, enjoying being able to study her without her squirming or pushing him away. Her appearance didn’t properly reflect her personality, even with the nose stud, pink hair, and multiple tats. He’d never known anyone who could match her sharp wit and droll humor—able to deliver a stinging one-liner without thinking. She was hell on egotistical men who thought they could mansplain something when she’d asked a serious question. He liked to pretend he didn’t know what was going on, just so he could watch her tear assholes apart with the weapon of her tongue.
The woman was hot.
Too bad they weren’t sexually compatible. Or maybe it was a good thing. Sometimes, when he looked at her, an awful longing overcame him, as if his soul cried out that she was meant to be his. But logically, he knew they were a terrible fit. She wanted to fly, and he wanted to roost. She didn’t believe in marriage or having a family of her own, and he dreamed of both. As friends, they were perfect. As lovers?
Taylor was his confidante, his partner in crime, and the only person who knew who he truly was, all the way back to their youth. Sometimes, he dreamed they could share a life together without the pressure of sex, but Taylor embraced her sexuality wholeheartedly and made no apologies. That was another thing about her he admired, even though he felt as if her partners were barely scratching the surface of what she really needed. Lately, her face seemed to reflect an emptiness after her encounters, as well as a glint of frustration in her eyes. As if she’d hoped for . . . more. Was she seeking a partner who could offer additional qualities rather than only sexual satisfaction? Maybe once she left Cape May, she’d slake the restlessness in Paris, or Italy, or wherever she ended up.
But it wouldn’t be with him.
Ever since they’d met, he’d been struck by her obsession to discover what was around the next corner, as if she was consistently searching for an answer to all the questions that buzzed in her creative brain. It was the biggest difference between them. He was happy with a beer in his hand, the ocean at his front, and his feet on the familiar, crooked sidewalks of home.
At least, until lately.
Something had stirred inside him—his own sense of restlessness that he couldn’t figure out. He kept coming back to the work front, wondering if it was time to try something different from photographing weddings. His own creative muse was itching to investigate a side path and see if it would help smooth the sudden rough edges.
Change was seeping into the air. With every breath, he sensed it might be best to embrace it rather than fight it.
Pierce smoothed back Taylor’s hair, took one last lingering look, and headed to bed.
Taylor propped her iPad in front of her, sipped her dark-brewed coffee, and tried to muster some enthusiasm. God, she hated Mondays. They were stripped of any fun, and the morning conference meetings at Sunshine Bridal reminded her how jam-packed their summer wedding calendar was.
She gave a half nod to her sister Bella, who was already sitting with her folders neatly out, a zen smile on her face. Her blonde locks were caught up in a loose ponytail, and she gave off a calm, focused aura. Taylor knew she’d been up since five a.m., gotten Zoe off to school, and completed her morning run. Yet she looked ready for a long day ahead.
A minute later, Avery walked in, the oldest of the three. “Good morning, everyone! It’s going to be a great day,” she practically sang, her energy and enthusiasm more potent than a double espresso. She headed to the conference table with her usual coffee and chocolate croissant, but Taylor noticed this time that it was cut in half. She smirked. Guess those five pounds were more serious than she’d thought, if she was sacrificing half her favorite pastry. Not that her sister needed to worry about her weight. She’d always been a bit envious of Avery’s curvy body and wildly curly hair. Her own body reminded her a bit of a boy’s—small breasts, straight hips, thin frame, and long limbs.
Taylor shook her head. “Aren’t you tired of being chipper all the time?” she grumbled, picking at her scarlet-painted thumbnail. She dragged over the other chair and stretched out her black combat boot–clad feet. She may be forced to wear a boring work uniform for weddings, but for conferences or appointments, she preferred her own wardrobe—namely, loose, cool clothing with a bit of a personality. Today, she sported a black T-shirt with #unimpressed on the front and had paired it with olive-green cargo pants. When she dressed like a bit of a badass, it gave her some extra pep.
Avery grinned and sat down. “Nope. I find if I’m focused and positive in the beginning of the day, it sets up the rest for success. Don’t you agree, Bella?”
“I agree,” a male voice boomed out. Gabe, the fourth member of the Sunshine Bridal crew, entered the conference room. He set down his espresso and walked directly to Bella. Handing her a coffee, he then pressed a kiss to her lips, his dark eyes lit with a male possessiveness that could have made Taylor swoon if she’d been the romantic type. “Hi, sweetheart,” he murmured.
Bella smiled with a sweetness that tagged her as completely smitten with her new love. “Hi, baby.”
Avery sighed. “You two are just the cutest thing ever. I’m so glad I made you work Adele’s wedding together.”
Taylor arched a brow. “Excuse me? That did not get them together. It was my wise counsel that made Bella finally see the light.”
“You wish,” Avery sang, clicking on the keyboard.
Gabe laughed and took his normal seat next to Avery. “You were all responsible for us getting together,” he said. “We couldn’t have fought our own demons without your support.”
Gabe had started as Avery’s full-time assistant, then had moved to take on his own client list. He’d been in love with Bella since the moment he’d laid eyes on her, but it had taken three years for Bella to finally realize he was her soul mate. It had been a rocky journey, but seeing her sister and Gabe so happy and settled now made her feel even more confident about leaving in a few months. With Avery’s wedding to Carter coming up in October, nothing was holding Taylor back from leaving. Both her sisters would have men who loved them to walk by their sides. She couldn’t ask for anything else.
God knew, that’d never be her path. She didn’t believe in marriage or declared love or any type of thing in life that imprisoned with good intentions. The idea of being tied to someone who got a say in your life filled her with distaste. She imagined her future filled with travel, adventure, art, and big experiences.