Home > Secrets Vol. 2 (Secrets #2)(15)

Secrets Vol. 2 (Secrets #2)(15)
Author: H.M. Ward

As I walk through the building, I flip on lights looking for him. Regina isn't around. She must have finished her work and went to dinner. I stop in the shooting room and look around. Memories of earlier in the day flood my mind. His hands on me, his lips. I want more of that - more of him.

"Miss Lamore," Cole's deep voice echoes through the space. He stands across the way on the other side of the shooting room in an adjoining hallway.

"This came for you. It looks important. Thought you'd want it." I cross the room and place it in his hand. When he looks down at it, he stiffens.

"Thank you." He turns to leave, but I grab his arm. Cole stops and looks down at my hand on his skin.

"Tell me," I demand, my voice firm. I fold my arms over my chest and look at the side of his face. "Tell me how you could do those things, say those things, and then walk away like it meant nothing?"

His eyes meet mine, "Because we don't belong together, Miss Lamore. Because it would be a horrible mistake to do more, to say more, than I already foolishly said. There's no future here," he gestures between us, "nothing to pursue. I apologize for not controlling my tongue. There's no excuse for it."

Each word feels like a barb in my heart. "I see." My voice quivers slightly. I don't understand. How is it a mistake? I have no idea, but from the look in Cole's eyes I can tell there is no way to convince him otherwise. I lower my head and look at the floor, at his bare feet. Cole seems like he can't wait to get away from me. He shifts his weight from foot to foot, looking anywhere - everywhere - but at me.

Finally, I say, "Maybe I should work somewhere else?"

That catches his attention. His brow pinches together, "Did Sottero talk to you?"

"No, Cole. She didn't. I just thought that maybe it would be too awkward to stay here, that I should - "

He shakes his head, "Anna, I won't be here much longer. It's only a few more weeks." He taps the envelope against his thigh and I glance down at it. "I promise that it won't happen again. Regina can show you a lot of what you need to know, and as for your skills - I think you'll be perfect for this position. I really hope you'll stay." As he speaks his voice softens.

"Cole, I don't understand why you want me to work here. There are more qualified people, honestly. And the staff..."

He looks up at me confused, "What about the staff?"

"Where are they? I thought you had more people. When we were in the city, you said they were out here, but now that we're out here, there's just Regina."

His gaze falls to the floor and he breathes in deeply. Shaking his head he says, "There are some things going on, some things that require me to make changes. I made them. And I only kept the best."

"Cole," I whisper his name and see him respond to my voice. I want to touch him, to push his hair back and open that letter than hangs in his hand like a lump of lead. That has something to do with this, I can sense it. But, before I can say anything else, he turns away.

"There's a shoot in the morning," he says. "Better get some rest."

Chapter 16

The shoot the next morning feels tense. Cole's out of sorts and silent. I speak for him, and take over the shoot without him asking me to. At one point he hands me the camera. "Time to show off, Lamore. Do your best. I have what I need." Cole moves to the back of the room and presses a button. Regina shows up and he disappears into the back, out of sight.

The client is patient. She knows of Cole and his work, and she trusts him. She doesn't bat an eye at Cole handing the shoot over to me, which makes me even more nervous. Why does everyone think I can do this but me? After a few poses I feel less nervous. I start to see what I want to shoot and I forget that I haven't shot on my own yet. I don't worry about Cole yelling at me for messing up the session. He trusts me, maybe too much. I glance around wondering where he went.

The client and I chat about lots of things until she asks, "Has Cole shot you?"

Her question takes me by surprise. I nod shyly, my cheeks flaming, "As a matter of fact, he has. Although I haven't seen the results yet."

She grins, "I hope you show off his work. There's something about the mind of an artist like Cole. I don't know. It's like he's broken and it just makes me want to fix him. At the same time, if he weren't so messed up, he couldn't create such beautiful work."

She laughs lightly and I stare at her. Is that what draws me to him? Cole's broken. He was abandoned by his parents, leading life totally alone - a life that no one knows about. Cole has been on his own since he was eighteen, since that picture of him in the army uniform. And now something else is happening to him, something that is weighing on him. She is right. I want to fix it. I want to let Cole know he's not alone.

The session continues and I steer the conversation away from Cole. Although I don't know where he's gone, I'm not sure if he can hear us. And a level of protectiveness washes over me when she talks about him like that. I don't know what's tormenting Cole, but I can't make light of it the way she does.

When she leaves, I try to find Cole, but I only see Regina. After the client leaves, Regina moves to the front desk to answer the phone and return calls.

"Where the hell did Cole go?" I ask.

She looks up at me, "I tried to ask, but he took off without a word. He looked pissed, Anna. What happened?"

Wide-eyed, I say, "Nothing. We were shooting, and then he shoved the camera in my hands and walked out. I didn't do anything."

Irritated, I push through the front door and walk outside into the afternoon air. The salty smell of the ocean fills my lungs as I walk down the path behind the studio. My heart falls into my shoes when I see him. He's sitting on a bench between two massive pines with his head in his hands, shoulders hunched toward the ground like he's utterly defeated.

I'm certain he knows I'm there by the time I step next to him, but he doesn't move. To see him like this consumes me with grief. It feels like there are two hands on my throat, pressing away the air. I slip onto the bench next to him. Looking at the scattered pines that stand between us and the ocean, I ask, "How long did it take you to pick this property for the studio? You wanted it for a while, didn't you?"

He doesn't move. After a minute, he turns his face slowly toward me, "How'd you know?"

I shrug, "It just seems like you're familiar with this place in a way that someone who's been here before would be. Maybe more than once." He smiles but it fades too fast. He rubs his hands through his hair and sits up.

"I came here a few times when I was younger. I told myself that if it went up for sale, that I'd get it. Everything about this place reminds me of things I love." He shrugs. "I didn't think I was that transparent."

"You're not," I reply. He arches a brow at me like he doesn't believe me. "That's the only thing that I figured out and I wasn't even sure I was right. "So, do you want to tell me why you walked out of the shoot?" He blinks once at me and returns his gaze to the ground. The expression clearly says NO. "Okay," I say, "Well, at least tell me you're leaving next time."

"There won't be a next time," he says and glances over at me, "I'm going back to the city. You can do this. I don't need me to be here anymore. Besides, there's something that came up and it would be easier to deal with if I were at Le Femme and not here."

My mouth hangs open and I try to snap it shut, but shock washes over me too quickly. After one solo shoot out here, he's leaving? Cole says nothing else. I don't know what to say. It feels like I should be excited, but I'm not. Everything feels wrong.

"So, it's just me and Regina?" He nods and doesn't look up. His gaze is on the ground, on the pebble path beneath his feet. "Cole," he lifts his head and looks at me. I want to take him in my arms and hold him. "You don't have to be alone." He laughs when I say it, but it sounds so tormented that I want to cry. "I'm serious."

"It's not an option for some people, Anna."

"Fine," I say and his dark laughter gets cut short. "Let's accept it. You and I are alone. We rely on no one. We sleep alone, if we sleep at all."

"What are you getting at?" he asks.

"Just that life doesn't have to be so damn lonely." My eyes meet his and I can't look away. Those endless pools of blue pin me in place. Inside my mind I'm pleading with him, begging him to let me in, but I say nothing. There's nothing more to say. Standing, I turn to him and rest my hand on his shoulder, and pause. There are so many things I want to say. I feel the words in my mouth, but I say none of them. My hand slips off his shoulder. I walk away and Cole lets me.

Chapter 17

Weeks pass. I shoot at the studio and the only person to keep me company is Regina. I try to work, to take care of the clients as best I can, but my mind keeps returning to Cole. I can't get him out of my head. Picking up my phone, I walk back into my room, and pull up his number. I've done this so many times, but I never press the button. As I sit down on my bed, I hold my thumb over his name. One touch and it will call him. I'll hear his voice again. Sitting perfectly still, I know I can't do it. There are too many things with him, things that can't be said over the phone. I have to be there to convey them in person. Why I let weeks go by is beyond me. Maybe I am a coward. Annoyed with myself, I throw the phone on my bed and pull on a pair of jeans and a tank top. I yank my hair into a ponytail and head toward the garage for my motorcycle.

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