“Are you happy in Paris?”
“Are you more happy in Cape May?”
She frowned at the odd question. “I’m happy in both places. When I’m here, I get to be with my all-time favorite niece and my family. When I’m in Paris, I get to paint and explore new things and meet new people.”
“Oh. So you can have a home, and be somewhere else, and not have to choose?”
“That’s right. Home is a place you can always return to if there’s people you love there.”
“Like Mama and Gabe, and Aunt Avery and Uncle Carter, and Pierce?”
She jerked, staring at her niece. A shiver of awareness trickled through her. “Yeah, just like them.”
“Good, then I can go away to places like Disney World until I get lonely and want to come home.”
The words echoed in her head over and over like a haunting mantra.
You’re my home.
Pain exploded within. Tomorrow, she’d be safely in Paris, where she could bury herself deeply and hide her wounds. No one knew of her suffering, since she’d carefully kept everything from her sisters. But the loneliness washed over her like the ocean waves, dragging her under, and in that moment, she made a decision.
She needed help. Someone to talk to and confide in.
She needed her sisters.
“Hey, sweetie, you keep painting, okay? I’m going to get your mom so I can talk to her for a minute.”
She grabbed her phone and sent a text. Can u come down?
Within minutes, Bella walked through the door. “Tired of babysitting already?” she asked cheerfully. “Wait till she’s old enough and I can send her to Paris. You’d better start saving—my girl has designer tastes already . . .” She trailed off, staring. “What’s the matter? You look . . . sad.”
“Sit down. Is Zoe in the workroom?”
“Yeah, she’s fine for a while.”
Taylor settled next to her sister on the couch, trying not to avert her gaze from Bella’s probing blue eyes.
“Uh-oh. It’s bad. And you’ve been keeping it from us.”
Taylor tried to find the words to explain the crap show that was her current life. She came up empty.
“It’s Pierce, isn’t it?”
Taylor nodded. “Yeah. I lied. We never politely agreed to go back to just friends. We were sleeping together in Paris, but things got way too intense. After Luis told me I’d be in Paris for the next few months working on a new exhibition, I decided it was best to break the whole thing off. I thought I was doing a good thing for Pierce.”
“For Pierce, huh?”
She blew out an annoyed breath. “Why does everyone always question my motives?”
“Because it sounds too familiar. I broke up with Gabe to protect myself, while I told myself the whole time I was doing it for him so he wouldn’t be trapped here in Cape May with a single mom. In fact, you were the one who called me out on my bullshit, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. But Pierce has always told me he wants stability. His studio, his home, a wife and kids. It’s everything I don’t want. Suddenly, we were this new thing together that came out of nowhere, and I was afraid if I tried to change him to be something I needed, we’d end up resenting each other. What if we regret giving up our dreams to be together?”
Bella nodded with sympathy. “I get it. And it does make sense. But it seems to me you guys are already experiencing regret. Go back to the beginning, and this time, tell me the truth of how things went with you two. All of it.”
She did. She told her sister everything, refusing to hold back. When she was done, her entire being felt lighter. “Is this how you felt after you told me about Gabe?”
“Like a giant weight was lifted off my shoulders? Yeah. ’Cause I was finally being real with myself.”
Bella smiled. “Before we go any further, we need to get Avery on the phone. I really want her input on this, too.”
“Absolutely not. She’s on her honeymoon, and I’m not bothering her with this junk. She doesn’t need to hear about my emotional baggage.”
“That’s not very fair, is it?” Bella asked quietly. “Why should you make the decision about what we get to care about? We both love you and want to help you, like you helped us.”
“Nope. I don’t need to FaceTime her and get an eyeful of bleach-worthy moments. I was already under her skirt at her wedding, remember?”
Bella sighed and shook her head. “Just be honest with yourself, babe. You didn’t want to tell us because you wanted to bury your feelings. Pretend everything is fine. How’s that working for you?”
She groaned and picked at her thumb. “Dammit, don’t use that old Dr. Phil line on me. It’s probably trademarked anyway.”
“Fine. It’s all shit, okay? I’ve been a mess since Pierce left Paris. I was the one who chose to send him away, and now I’m devastated he’s moving on. I’m fucked-up.”
Bella raised a brow. “Yeah, you are, but so are all of us. That’s why we need to stick together and help each other.”
They got Avery on FaceTime. Their sister was wearing a wide-brimmed, obnoxious hat and seemed to be in a giant field. “Hi, guys! Check this out!” She waved at the camera, then moved it so they could focus in on the group of giraffes walking gracefully past. “Isn’t this amazing? We’re on a safari. We’ve seen so many amazing animals in their habitat.”
“We’re so happy you’re having a great time,” Bella said. “Please send pics. Where’s Carter?”
“Talking to one of the safari guides, trying to find more ways to help stop poachers. If he could cart the elephants home, he would, even though it would piss off Lucy.”
“He’s such a softie,” Bella said with a laugh. “Listen, do you have a few minutes to talk? Taylor is having a crisis.”
“I knew something was wrong! It’s Pierce, isn’t it?”
Taylor’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”
“I sensed this new tension between you, but I also know how you refuse to talk about things until you process them. Now, catch me up.”