Forever in Cape May

Page 69

He stopped cold.

“It’s me.”

Pierce stared. His throat dried up and his skin itched, every part of his being crying out to touch her. At the same time, a helpless frustration and anger rose up. Why was she here? Did she want to torture him by offering more excuses of why they couldn’t be together?

His voice sounded like gravel and grit. “What are you doing here?”

She gave a half laugh, then began to pick at her thumbnail. “I . . . I flew home early. I wanted to see you. I brought you something.”

“I can’t, Taylz.” He shook his head, his insides raw with the effort to pretend she didn’t affect him. “You have to go.”

“Please, Pierce. Let me show you this.”

Before he could say anything else, she propped the door open and dragged in a large canvas wrapped in a sheet. She laid it against the wall and faced him. It was the naked fear and vulnerability on her face that made him pause. The air thickened and stirred. His breath strangled in his throat as he waited for her to continue.

“I have stuff to say. I’m asking you to listen.” She tucked her hair behind her ear, stood tall, and lifted her chin. Her nose stud winked in the lamplight. “In Paris, I thought there was no chance for us. I’d convinced myself we not only wanted but needed different things, because that’s what we’d been saying for years. But those were things we said when we were young and naive. When we were children. I just never had the guts to even ask myself if I wanted something different.”

He understood, even as sadness leaked through him. She’d come here to present her case, but she still didn’t realize it made no difference. He didn’t need explanations or rationalizations or an apology. He needed her to confess her real feelings—to give him everything she had inside and offer it to him with no strings. It was an act he knew Taylor couldn’t do, and trying to change her wasn’t fair to either of them. “Taylz, you don’t have to—”

“Please listen. When you left, I figured we’d fix it. Give us some time, and we’d go back to the way it was. But after I saw you at the wedding, I realized how badly I needed you—not as a trusted buddy, but as a partner. A soul mate. My better half. But you said it was too late. I hadn’t proven to you that I was strong enough in what we’d found together to know it was greater than anything we had originally planned or thought we wanted.”

Suddenly, he sensed what was behind the sheet. He shook his head, raw at her speech, still wondering what she was trying to prove. “You didn’t have to get the painting back.”

“I didn’t. Because we’re past that painting. In fact, I learned something else about myself and my artwork. My paintings were most powerful when I connected with my emotions and let you in. The more I pushed you away, the more I was blocked—like looking at the world through a glass wall. But by loving you, I’m able to smash right through that barrier, and now there’s nothing left holding me back.”

Her voice shook. “I’m ready for anything, as long as I have you by my side. I love you, Pierce Powers. As a man, a friend, a lover, a confidant, a partner. I want to travel and make glorious art and watch you light up the world with your beautiful photographs. I want to go where you go. Sleep with you every night and wake up with you every morning. I’m not looking for halfway; I’m looking for everything you are. If you can forgive me.” She ripped off the sheet and slowly sank to her knees in front of him. “If I’m enough.”

He took in the magnificent painting before him. It was reminiscent of the final picture in her series for the art show—a retelling of the woman on the cliffs. The woman was kneeling in front of the man, but this time she faced him with clear, determined eyes, the love and longing carved out in every line of her features, every muscle in her body, hands reached out in supplication and surrender. Her message was bright and clear to the world who viewed it.

Love me.

And this time, he recognized the woman immediately, because her beloved face was in the woman who knelt in front of him.

Taylor had painted herself.

There were no gardens or flowers or broken roses or thorns. Instead, they were on a beach, and she knelt in the sand as the sun shone down on them, the ocean waves roaring in the distance.

The man was no longer in shadow, either. His long dark hair was tied back at his nape. Green eyes stared straight at the woman with determination and a raw type of victory, as if he’d been demanding her surrender over and over, only to be turned away over and over . . .

The man was him.

Everything he’d ever sought or dreamed of radiated out at him from the canvas. His hands shaking, his gaze flicked back to her, where she held out her hands just like the woman in the painting.

“I love you. I have always loved you.”

He crossed the room, yanked her up into his arms, and crushed her with trembling arms that refused to let her go. “I love you, too,” he said against her lips, and then he was kissing her, hard and deep and long, claiming her in the way he’d always wanted—as his partner, his love, his heart.

His best friend.

“I’m sorry it took me this long,” she whispered against his mouth. “You can hold it over my head forever.”

“I’ll take you up on that,” he said, smiling, pressing endless kisses to her plump red lips, his hands running up and down her body. “But you’ve always been worth waiting for.”


The Christmas tree sparkled with ropes of multicolored lights that Zoe had generously applied. Outside, snow dusted the sidewalks and roads, crusting the trees and cloaking Cape May in a winter wonderland.

Taylor handed out the mugs of hot cocoa. “This one’s for Zoe,” she said, sliding it down the table. “Extra whipped cream.”

“Thank you!”

“Welcome, honey. Avery and Carter—whipped, shot of espresso,” she called, deliberately handing her sister the Grinch mug.

“Thanks—hey, you know I like the Disney one!”

“Tough, that one’s mine. Be happy with the Grinch, or Santa will put coal in your stocking.”

Zoe burst into giggles, especially when Avery stuck out her tongue.

“Irish cream shot, whip, and peppermint stick?”

“Me,” Bella called out, scooping up the two mugs for her and Gabe.

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