Home > Secrets (Secrets #1)(2)

Secrets (Secrets #1)(2)
Author: H.M. Ward

Checking my watch, I hasten my pace. Although I don’t want this job, the University still checks to make sure I apply myself, which means at least showing up on time. I find the building and exit the elevator onto the seventieth floor. A silver plaque hangs on a dark door: LE FEMME STUDIOS.


I push through the door and step into a quiet office. I stop in my tracks. There is no one here. No receptionist. No employees. Turning, I look around the room slowly. Large portraits of Stevens’ work line the pale blue walls. All the surfaces—the desk and coffee tables—are pale blue glass. A to-die-for view of the Manhattan skyline fills the windows that line one wall. It’s a sight that costs a fortune, a clear status symbol to anyone who walks through the door.

I step further into the room, “Hello?” My voice doesn’t really come out. Why am I whispering? “Is anyone here?” I pad across to the window after looking over my shoulder. Convinced I am alone for the moment, I scan the city far below, and rest my fingers against the pane. “This must look amazing at night,” I mumble to myself.

“It does.” Startled by the male voice, I jump. My heart ratchets up a notch when I see that Cole Stevens is the one standing behind me, looking over my shoulder. He smiles down at me like my reaction was funny. He is older, close to forty, but you’d never think it by looking at him. Everything from his bone structure to his stance screams model. He has the kind of confidence that comes from a lifetime supply of money, and the designer clothes to match. Dark jeans cling to his narrow hips, topped by a white linen shirt that’s rolled up to his elbows. The top button is undone. Cole’s dark hair has that carefully messy look.

The man is famous, sexy, powerful—he’s also everything I detest. He spent the last fifteen years of his life making his name, but he did it on the back of his father’s fortune. I pay for college myself. There is a permanent rift between me and people like him, people who have had everything handed to them. That’s part of the reason I don’t want to work for Le Femme. Aspirations of being a wedding photographer for the affluent have been running through my veins for years. The idea of capturing a woman on the most important day of her life appeals to me much more than this fettishography kind of stuff that Cole shoots.

Cole’s hands are in his pockets, his blue eyes assessing me and my outfit. He seems like he’s been up for hours. He must be a morning person. That would make working with him even worse. People who thrive at 5:00am are freaks. Unlike me, dressed to impress.

Pressing my lips together, I peel my hand off my blouse and act like I was just brushing off a speck of lint. Confused, I look past him. I thought his assistant was doing the interviews. People like Cole don’t bother with college interns. Shaking off the shock of seeing him in the flesh, I introduce myself. “I’m Anna Lamore. I have an internship interview at seven.”

He pulls a hand out of his pocket, extending it to me. His shake is confident, his hand warm. “Cole Stevens. No one is here this early since its Saturday.”

His smile is kind, and it isn’t until now that I really look at his face. There are tiny wrinkles that line the corners of his mouth, like he smiles often. Taking his hand, I shake it and nod. His grip is gentle, but firm. Something about him sets me off kilter. Butterflies erupt in my stomach and I don’t know why. When he ends the handshake, Cole glances at me once more and turns away—gesturing for me to follow. I take in the posh offices as we walk down a long hall.

“Welcome to Le Femme,” he says. The casual tone of his voice makes me think his head isn’t as big as the media says. “As you know we are the world’s premiere boudoir studio, predominately shooting lingerie accounts for swank designers. We do everything in-house, from selecting models to make-up and postproduction. Nothing is out-sourced,” he stops and holds open a glass door. His hand flicks on the lights and we sit at a huge wooden conference table. This room has a much warmer feel than the waiting area at the front. Walking past him, I catch his scent. It’s a light clean fragrance. His eyes are on me as I pass, no doubt studying my absurd outfit.

I slide into a seat and lean back, steepling my fingers like I’m plotting to take over the world and smile at him. Cole tells me more about the company he created as I tap my fingertips together, trying to muster the guts to finish doing the things Sophia suggested so I can put this interview to rest quickly.

“The internship is a prestigious position, Miss Lamore. Many students compete to get it, and there is only one position. An internship here gives you access to employment with the company when you’re done. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re at the top of your class.”

His fingers tap the top of the table as he stops speaking. Cole’s gaze slides over my face, the slouch of my shoulders, and then drifts to my jeans that are rolled up to my knees, showcasing striped rainbow knee-highs. Sparkling yellow Chucks are on my feet. They match the tutu around my waist. His eyebrows creep up his face before he looks back up at me. I’m not certain if he’s questioning the data or stating that he can’t believe it from the sight of me. I should have been dressed in a suit. If I was brave and wanted this internship, I would have worn some fashionable business attire with a snazzy flare. But I’m dressed like a bedazzled circus clown. I had to make sure I don’t have any chance of getting this job, and showing up dressed like this would ensure it even if I did take Sophia’s suggestion a little too far.

Smiling, I nod, “Yeah,” my fingers tap on the table top, strumming like his. He notices the mirrored movement, and his eyes flick to my hand before returning to my face. “I’m the top in my class.” Silence fills the air before Cole finally speaks again. My manners are intentionally horrible. He notices my lack of proper decorum, my utter indifference. It’s screaming through my body language even when I’m not speaking.

Cole’s gaze narrows. The look he gives me is irritating. It’s smug, like he knows what I’m up to. Leaning back in his chair, he folds his arms over his chest. For an old guy, he’s pretty chiseled. “Let’s cut to the chase, Miss Lamore. I don’t normally do the intern interviews. Your resume looks the same as a hundred others. Your work demonstrates potential, but it’s nothing phenomenal.” He pauses, taking in my reaction.

I’m surprised at his candor, but don’t react. I don’t want this job, I remind myself. I have nothing to prove to him. I don’t care if he thinks I suck. I know better. I know Sophia Sottero was excited when she met me. I know I want that internship and not this one.

Cole leans forward, “The reason I wanted to meet you, the reason you caught my attention, was because you chose the worst interview time we offer... ” He grins at me, and leans back into his chair again. “It implies that you wanted this position very much.”

I shrug, folding my arms, mirroring him again, “It was the only slot left.” The lie slips easily off my tongue.

“No, it wasn’t,” he replies, leaning forward, calling me on the lie. There’s a gleam in his eye that wasn’t there before, like hot curiosity igniting a match-tip. His gaze is intense, and I can’t help but squirm when he looks at me like that. “You were the first person to sign up. So tell me something, Anna, if you would—“ he looks down at the ring on his index finger and then back up at me, “why did you wake up at the crack of dawn to come to see me? Why do you want to work for Le Femme?”

His words say one thing, but his tone says something else. It’s a dare, a challenge almost, to continue with my plan. My pulse is racing. I march ahead with my idea, muttering things that Sophia assured would get me tossed out. Ignoring that gaze of his, I lower my eyes and pick at my nail polish while I speak, “Well, Le Femme has been around for a while. I mean, the company itself was formed nearly two decades ago. I mean, you’re not a fly-by-night studio, so that’s appealing. But, you’re not ridiculously old, either.” I flick my nail and a piece of red polish flutters to the carpet. I continue speaking, watching it fall, “It’s not like you’ve never seen a digital camera and insist on using an ancient Brownie or something crazy like that.” Immediately, I want to laugh and shirk off the nerves that are spilling down my spine like ice water, but I can’t.

“Thanks,” he says, smirking at me, his eyes shifting to my fingers as I pick and flick. When the piece of polish lands on the carpet, we look up at the same time. “I’m thirty-eight by the way

I’m not old, he means, I have a lot I could teach you.

“Yeah,” I clear my throat and lean forward. I’m tactless, crass, and rude. Everything he wouldn’t want, yet he is looking at me like there is nothing he wants more. That gleam in his eye tells me that something is off. I redirect, trying to offend him, “Like I said, not that old.” I pat his knee like he’s a geriatric patient who got lost in the mall parking lot and lean closer, speaking a little too loudly, “I know things are changing fast and that’s why interns are good—they’re young and can help older people in our industry with shifting trends.” I wink at him and lean back in my seat. My heart is pounding in my chest. It’s the most brazen thing I’ve ever said to someone’s face. I slammed his age, ability, and company in one breath.

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