Home > Secrets Vol. 2 (Secrets #2)(6)

Secrets Vol. 2 (Secrets #2)(6)
Author: H.M. Ward

She smiles like she's guilty and nods. "A girl's gotta make a living, Miss Lamore. And it's so much prettier out here than in Manhattan. No commuting. Can you imagine?"

I finally understand, "You'd be the assistant who stays out here, with me?"

She nods, smiling, hope flowing from her eyes. "That's the plan, Ma'am. So, what should I say?"

"Tell him I'll be right there. And Regina..."


"Don't call me, Ma'am. I'm younger than you. And if you talk to me like I'm an old person, I'll truly lose my mind."

Chapter 7

Cole downshifts the car and accelerates hard as we enter highway traffic. Narrow headlights shoot beams into the darkness as we navigate the back roads. The drive to civilization makes me uneasy. There is nothing around for miles. It looks like an alien abduction road. Cole's gaze keeps shifting to me, and makes me extra nervous. I can't tell what he is thinking. The sick part of my mind wonders if he is taking me into the strawberry fields to kill me. My pinky lifts for the door handle as we slow.

Shaking his head, he grins, "Dear God. Miss Lamore, just jump. If you really think I'm going to kill you, please jump now before I really do."

I scowl, "I'm not - "

"You are so. Your entire body is wound so tight that I could... well, never mind what I could do. I can tell you don't trust me." His voice is cold like I've offended him. After a moment he asks, "Do you care to tell me why? What have I done to warrant this reaction from you?"

Biting my bottom lip, I'm not sure if I want to answer. I'm still upset with him, but I find myself saying, "I don't really know you and I don't know where I am."

He glances at me out of the corner of his eye. His grip tightens on the steering wheel of his Porsche. "You're north of the studio, nearing the highway, with a man who values his reputation and wouldn't waste it on dumping your body in a farmer's field, no matter how much you irritate him."

"I irritate you?" I laugh. I fold my arms over my chest to make sure I don't flinch and reach for the door again. I mutter something about farmers and pitchforks.

He smiles, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. After a moment he says, "So, Miss Vanilla," my stomach drops when he calls me that. It brings back the dream and every sensation that lit my body on fire, begging for his touch. I stiffen. Cole glances at me and continues, "tell me why you so abhorrently object to fine art nudes. I find that ironic, being that you claim to be an artist and all."

He's baiting me. I know it, but I answer anyway, "I'm not Miss Vanilla, smart ass, so stop calling me that." I'm quiet for a moment, trying to put it into words. "As for the nudes, I think they belong in paintings, not photography. Nudes in photography usually equal pornography."

He laughs, a deep belly laugh in one short burst, "You actually believe that?" I nod with a serious expression on my face. "Then you're a hypocrite, Lamore. You can't be an artist and only value one medium and disregard the others."

"I am not," I say calmly. I'm holding my hands in my lap, watching the world zoom by. Cole's foot is heavy when he's irritated. I appear to have easy access to his crazy buttons and seem to be punching them like a typewriter tonight. "It's not the medium. It's the content."

"But the same content is okay in a painting?"

I nod, "Yes. Botticelli was an artist. Heffner is a pornographer. No one jerks off looking at Venus on a half shell."

His voice is charged with emotion, "Guys jerk off to all sorts of things, so that shouldn't be your criteria for anything. As for your identifying factors of what's art and what isn't, tell me - what makes something art? Can you define that?"

I think about it for a moment. In my gut I know. I know it when I see it. My lips part and I'm telling him, "It's art when it's evocative, when it can convey emotions and feelings to the viewer. An idea - or ideal."

"And sensuality doesn't count?"

"No. Well," I think about it. Sensuality isn't my issue. I'm not sure what is. I shake my head, not looking at him I say, "Yes, it counts." Cole is silent with a surprised expression on his face. I stare out the window as lights blaze by in the darkness. We're on the highway now, zooming closer and closer to his apartment. I'm nervous. Nervous of what I'll say. What I'll do.

His voice is soft, "Why? Why does it count?"

He's no longer challenging me, but sounds like he genuinely wants to know what I think. This entire conversation is way outside of my comfort zone, but I don't back down. I want him to see that I'm right and not just some crazy prude. Leaning my head back in the seat, I think. "Because it's an emotion. Sensuality isn't what I object to... it's more the fact that nude photos are degrading to women."

Cole laughs, "Oh my god! How many crazy women are living inside your brain? How do you manage with all of them in there telling you what to say? Does one tie the others up and randomly take over?"

"You're such an ass," I sigh, shaking my head at him. "You asked my opinion. Don't ask if you don't want to hear..."

"No, that was not your opinion. It was what you've heard, what you've learned. It isn't what you think. Last week I saw it on your face during those shoots. This kind of photography - this kind of work - isn't what you thought it was."

I shake my head, "No it isn't. None of this is what I thought it would be."

"That makes two of us."

Chapter 8

When we arrive at a tall building, it's late. He pulls up in front, gets out and walks around to my door. Before I can move, he has it open and pulls me up to my feet. Cole tosses the keys to a valet and we walk inside.

The doorman nods, "Mr. Stevens." Cole nods and passes him, his hand in mine tugging me along.

The elevator door opens before I know it and Cole leads me inside. When the doors close, my heart is pounding. I stare at him, remembering his hands on me... remembering the dream. I swallow hard.

Cole keeps his distance. I know where we're going even though he doesn't tell me. I figured it out somewhere on the highway back into the city. He is taking me to see those paintings, the ones he mentioned before. My stomach twists as he gazes at me. The elevator stops and the doors open. We're in the penthouse. His home.

Cole steps through, but I can't move. Fear snakes up my legs and binds me to the floor. Everything from the scent to the colors has my heart racing faster. It's Cole. This place is his haven, his security blanket. I don't belong here.

Before I can do something stupid, he sighs and walks back toward me. He holds out his hand, "Come on, Anna. I won't bite."

My eyes slide over his face and I put my hand in his. I don't like this. Being in his home is demolishing the remaining ill conceptions I have of him like a buffalo in a china shop. Everything just shatters. There is no cold sterile modern furniture. Everything is plush and warm, decorated in deep blues, browns, and blacks. It's not one of the museum homes of the wealthy, it's Cole's home and he lives here.

He flips on lights as we walk through. They illuminate the walls creating a subtle golden glow. Cole stops in the kitchen and goes to the cabinets, pulling out wine glasses. I don't say anything. I feel nervous and I don't know why. Part of me is scared that I'll agree with him and change my mind. The other part senses something about him, about Cole, that makes me nervous.

He hands me a glass of wine. "I don't know about you, but this is unusual for me." I know what he means. This situation makes him nervous. Since I feel the same way, I take the glass.

I follow him into a room at the back of the apartment. When I see the bed, I realize it's his bedroom and stop. It feels like I'm being strangled. My grip on the glass is so tight it could shatter. I raise the wine to my lips and sip, hoping it will calm whatever has me on edge. I enter the room behind Cole, but I don't see the art he wants to show me. The walls are barren like he hasn't decorated this part of the apartment. A large poster bed made from dark wood is in the center of the room. I look at it, thinking things about Cole that I shouldn't. Tearing my gaze away from the bed, I look down at the dark wood floor and glance around. There is a row of windows and a balcony that overlooks a perfect skyline.

I'm not sure where he's going, but Cole continues walking in front of me and crosses the room. My heart rate steadies, but there's still something intimate about this. I inhale a little too deeply and notice it's Cole's cologne that I like after I've already done it. Guilt flames my cheeks and I pretend that I didn't do it.

Cole passes straight through the room without comment, and pulls open the closet doors. A light pops on. It's a huge walk-in with clothing lining both walls and a chair. Oak drawers and shelves line the lower part of the walls. The room smells like Cole. I don't cross the threshold. I stop and watch him.

Cole crosses the wardrobe in three strides, and reaches for a knob at the back of the closet and pulls open a door. There's a tiny darkened closet back there filled with large rectangle-shaped sheets. Those must be the paintings. I don't understand why they are hidden in his closet if he values them.

He looks back at me. As if reading my mind, he says, "They're hidden for a reason. What I'm showing you is rarely seen. I'm curious what you think - and terrified." He swallows hard, his sapphire eyes on my face. He stands there for a moment, suspended like he can't decide if he wants to show me or not.

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