Pierce spent the next hour chasing Jasmine’s expressions while she went about her day. Octavia changed her into different outfits, each cuter than the last. They took her outside for a few attempts at shots, and he grabbed one great candid of her staring up at the sky after hearing a bird screech. The light was good, but his skin itched with the knowledge that he hadn’t gotten the money shot. Not yet.
He’d learned early on in his career that one perfect shot was more important than various average ones. He was looking to grab a piece of the person’s inner being—even a tiny glimpse. That unique something inherent in everyone but hard to share, which was usually easier with a baby, who had nothing to hide.
They went back inside. “She’ll need her nap soon,” Octavia said. “Do you think you got enough?”
He did, but not the one he wanted. He hesitated as Jasmine gnawed on her hand. “We’re good,” he reassured. “Why don’t you go get ready to put her down, and I’ll watch her?”
“Thanks, I’ll be just a minute.”
She disappeared, and he turned to Jasmine, who began to whine, obviously ready for a rest. She crawled over to the empty basket and began hitting it, trying to topple it over in toddler fury, then reached for her cup of Cheerios on the coffee table. It had slid to the middle, and her chubby arms couldn’t get to it, so she let out a shriek.
He laughed. “I’ll get it for you; calm down. You and Taylor would get along perfectly.”
He took a few steps forward, and his heel caught on the edge of a LEGO block with wheels. In seconds, he knew he was going down, so he automatically cradled his camera and hit the floor with his ass. The carpet cushioned the blow, but the surprise of it took him a moment to register the embarrassment of a fall. At least no one saw. Well, except . . .
The burst of baby giggles exploded in the room. His gaze met Jasmine’s wide brown eyes, filled with glee and mischief, and he hurriedly brought up his camera and began snapping. “Thought that was funny, huh?” he asked, grinning, while her delighted expression filled his lens.
“What’s going on out here?” Octavia asked, walking in and laughing. “Oh, you got a good laugh from her. What’d you do—stand on your head?”
He winked at Jasmine. “Something like that.”
Octavia scooped her up and pressed kisses to her fat cheeks. “I’d better get her down.”
“I’m all set here. I’ll grab my stuff and let myself out. I got some great shots, so I’ll call you by next week.”
“Thanks, Pierce. This meant a lot to me.”
“Me, too. Bye, Jasmine. Thank you for allowing me to make you laugh. I think it was the highlight of my week.”
“Hey, she’s here anytime you want to babysit!”
He laughed, packed up, and headed home. His head buzzed with the anticipation of developing the new shots. Hopefully, he’d gotten what he wanted, and Octavia and her husband would be happy. It would hang on their wall—a flash of memory forever frozen in time for both of them to always remember.
Yeah. His job was pretty fucking cool.
If he could just fine-tune exactly what he was missing, everything would be perfect.
Taylor headed down the crowded sidewalk, weaving her way in and out like an expert. It was a beautiful summer night in high tourist season, and people flocked to dine and shop. She waved to Emily, standing outside the Fudge Kitchen and giving out samples with a fitted plastic glove. The small arcade blasted noise and flashed brightly, strollers bullied their way through long lines, and families slurped double scoops of ice cream from Uncle Charley’s.
The sounds and sights of Cape May flowed over her, both bitter and sweet when she thought of how long she’d wanted to escape, only to find herself right back home. Now, with her trip looming, she gazed at the town with more forgiving eyes, and admitted that her heart still recognized the only place that contained her memories and shaped the woman she’d become.
She cut past Congress Hall and headed to the Rusty Nail. She’d almost canceled tonight to paint, but her muse was being a cranky little bitch, so she figured a cocktail, an appetizer, and a handsome face might help. Rick was hot, with giant steroid-type muscles, but a bit simpleminded. Usually, she stayed far away from the type, but he was just entertaining enough for her to spend a few hours with him. She hadn’t taken him to her bed yet, but the possibility was there if things felt right.
The music lured her closer, and she nodded to the hostess while she made her way toward the tiki bar. She scored the last stool in a corner and surveyed the place. The cool Caribbean band played Bob Marley while some people danced around the firepit. A group of men played a lively game of boccie on the side lawn, and picnic tables were packed with platters of fish and fried delights, set off by island-style cocktails with more visual appeal than alcohol.
She settled in with a sigh and ordered a sauvignon blanc.
“Aren’t you supposed to be painting?”
She swiveled her head around. Pierce held the neck of a beer bottle loosely by his fingertips. His grin flashed a set of perfect white teeth, courtesy of two years’ worth of braces.
She shook her head. “I needed a break. Are you here with Carter and Gabe?”
“You just missed them. They cut out early, but I figured I’d stay.” He motioned subtly behind him.
Her gaze focused on the woman who was glaring at her with angry dark eyes, obviously waiting for her prince to return to his chair. She wore a white designer dress with too-high sandals that must have been hell on the sand. Heavy silver jewelry cuffed her neck and wrists. “She’s trying too hard. Who dresses like that for a beach bar?”
“She’s used to the city, that’s all.”
Taylor snorted. “If she’s jealous already, you got issues.”
One shoulder lifted. “Not gonna marry her. She’s a corporate-finance wiz. CEO of a bank. She’s smart.”
Taylor deliberately waved enthusiastically at his catch of the night and blew a kiss. The woman stiffened, her demeanor going ice-cold. Definitely not used to being in the passenger seat.
Pierce groaned and nudged her with his hip. “Cut it out. Thought you told me I needed to loosen up and go on a date.”
“Yeah, but with someone cool.”
“Are you here alone?”