Home > Secrets Vol. 3 (Secrets #3)(9)

Secrets Vol. 3 (Secrets #3)(9)
Author: H.M. Ward

I stare at the sidewalk, at my feet as we walk. I’m barefoot. My thigh highs are in my right hand. I don’t really consider where I step. Jesse steers me around things that might puncture my feet.

“Penny for your thoughts?” he finally asks as we walk up my front stairs.

Leaning on the door, I turn back to him. “Why’d I let him do it? Why did I let him get to me like this? I can’t get him out of my head. He’s always there. His voice is always there echoing inside my mind.” I glance up at him and say what I’m thinking. “I’m an idiot. Sottero is right. She calls me Anna Idiot, you know, and she’s right. Only a total idiot, I mean a prime, grade A, kind of idiot would fall in love with a guy twice her age who doesn’t even like her. How am I supposed to deal with this? I don’t even know what to do, Jesse. There was no relationship. No breakup. There should be nothing to get over, but I feel like I’ve had my guts ripped out.”

As I speak, I slide down the door and sit on the front stoop. It’s nearly 3:00am and New York is as sleepy as it’s going to get. A couple walks hand in hand down the street, their faces close as they whisper to each other.

Jesse sits next to me and runs his hands through his hair. “Anna, you had a relationship. It’s normal to feel something when it’s over. It doesn’t matter what he says, I see it when he looks at you. He wanted you. He wants you still. I have no idea what’s holding him back, but I can’t say I’m not happy about it.” I lean on his shoulder and he puts his arm around me.

I sigh. “You sure you don’t want to be the rebound guy? All sex, no strings attached?”

He laughs, “You don’t want a rebound guy. They have herpes.”

This pulls a smile to my lips and I look up at him. He’s grinning at me. “Just wait a little longer. Deal with one thing at a time. Wait out Sottero, then deal with the rest.” I nod, accepting his plan, because I don’t know what else to do.


The knock on my bedroom door sounds like cannon fire. I groan for Emma to go away, but she comes in anyway. Crossing the room, she quickly flicks on a light. I bury my head under my pillow.

“Go away, Em.”

“Can’t babe,” she says and sits on the edge of my bed. “You need to get up.” The tone of her voice is wrong, even with the mind-splitting headache, I can hear it.

Glancing out from beneath the covers I ask, “What’s wrong?”

She hands me a newspaper, but I don’t understand. I sit up slowly and grab my head. The paper slips off my lap. Emma picks it up and gives it to me again. “Look, Anna.”

I force my eyes to focus and see a picture of Cole. The headline says MULTIMILLIONAIRE COLE STEVENS IS RUINED. My heart lurches as I clutch the paper and gasp. Turning to Emma, I ask, “What is this?”

She has that look on her face that parents have when they have to tell their kid that their puppy died. My stomach churns and I feel sick. She takes my hand like I’ll need her support. “I don’t know. It says that Cole was in a lawsuit and settled. His properties were awarded to the other party as part of the settlement. Le Femme is gone.”

“Oh, my God,” I can’t think. I can’t breathe. Wildly, I try to read the article, but my eyes won’t focus. “Who’s the other party? Who’d he settle with?”

“Sophia Sottero.”

The name smacks into me like a frying pan. “What? Sophia? How? What does it say? I can’t f**king see!” Tears sting my eyes and even the headline blurs.

“It doesn’t have all the details, but it sounds like they’ve been in a dispute for years and Cole finally settled to keep it out of court. His assets are going to be liquidated to pay off the settlement. It looks like a rape charge that was hushed. The article claims the nature of the attack was private and Sottero didn’t comment to the paper this morning.”

“That’s why she gave me the day off.” I rub the heel of my hand into my eyes. “I can’t believe this.”

Emma sits next to me and says nothing. Her hand is on my shoulder, then she just looks at me with sympathy. “Did he hurt you?” The question makes something inside of me snap.

“No!” I scream in her face. “He didn’t f**king touch me!”

She holds her palms up, “Sorry, I didn’t know how to ask and after reading this... forgive me, but I saw the way he looks at you. I just want to make sure you are okay.”

There it is again, that same phrase—the way he looks at me. I shake my head and instantly regret it. “How does he look at me, Em? Like an intern? Like a student? Like he can’t stand the sight of me?”

She tilts her head and snaps back, “No, Anna. Like he wants to tie you up and f**k you. Like he can’t get enough by just looking at you. Like he won’t stop if you ever give him the chance.” She spits out the words like they’re poison. Each one makes me feel more lost than I already am.

Near sobbing, I say, “He never looked at me like that.”

Em smiles and shakes her head. “He looked at you like that every day.”

Her words are too much. Tears spill down my cheeks and Emma’s tone softens, “Hey, I didn’t mean to dump this on you first thing, but it gets worse.”

Wiping the tears from my eyes I ask, “How can it possibly be worse?”

She turns to the page with the full article on Cole’s ruin and there is a smaller article across from it with information about the alleged sex scandal at the university. It ends with not naming the student involved. I glance up at Em.

“They figured it out?” I ask.

“Reporters have been camped on the front steps since 4:00am. You’re lucky you missed them last night.”

I bury my face in my hands. Shame floods me, flushing my entire body scarlet. This can’t be happening. I stumble out of bed and go to the window with Emma warning me to stay out of sight. I peek through the blinds and cringe. It’s true. There’s a swarm of people toting cameras outside. I suck in a sharp gasp and release the blinds.

Looking at Emma, I say, “What do I do?” My voice shakes. I need to cry or yell or something but my hangover prevents me.

Emma says, “We shove through them and get the hell out of here. We’ll hang out with your parent’s for a while and give them time to go away. They shouldn’t smear you for not wanting to talk to them about it.”

“But it makes him look guilty if I don’t.” I tilt my head back against the wall. My entire body aches. Why did I choose last night to drink too much? This kind of crap always happens to me. Once I decide to do something selfish, like wallow around in my own misery for a night, it blindsides me the next day.

“I just wanted to get over him,” I say to Emma with my eyes pressed closed.

“I know, Anna. I know.”


I get dressed and Emma says she’ll help me out the door. I don’t plan on speaking to them. I’m going to make a beeline for my bike and not come back until they’re gone.

“Ready?” Emma asks as she reaches for the front door knob.

I smooth my jeans and tug on my leather jacket. I look too badass to be taken advantage of -- at least I hope I do. I have no idea how I’ll react to their questions, so I put on the huge sunglasses Emma wore to a 70’s beach bash last year. They cover half my face.

“These are guilty glasses,” I tell her. They’re the kind movie stars wear when they get tossed in jail for drinking and driving or something equally stupid.

“You don’t look guilty. You actually look a little intimidating with that helmet under your arm. Listen, I’ll follow you to your motorcycle to make sure you get out okay. Just keep walking. Don’t stop.” I nod sadly. “You can do this, Anna. I know what they’ll do. This is my job, remember? I’d die to be able to interview you right now. Every single one of them is standing there hoping you’ll crack and say something worth reporting. They’re hoping you’ll say it to them, that they’ll be the reporter who gets the story.”

“Wait,” I say as she starts to open the door. Emma stops and turns toward me. “That’s not a bad idea. What if you interviewed me? What if you had the story so that they followed you when I walk out the door? You can tell them that you’ll answer a few questions and a full story will be in your paper.”

Emma stares blankly at me for a moment. “I can’t ask you to do that. So much has happened. I don’t want to make it worse for you, and a story might do that.”

I point at the people parked on the porch, “Too late for that, now. Let’s just try to control the carnage. Besides, I can’t hide out at my parents forever and Sophia expects me in tomorrow. It’s my last week.”

Her eyes bug out, “You’re still going?”

“I have to. What choice do I have?”

She nods slowly and crosses the room. “So, Miss Lamore,” she says in a different tone, one that tells me she means business, “come sit and tell me your story.”


The plan works. When I step out onto the porch an array of flashes blind me. They expect Emma to walk with me, but she stays on the steps and does as I asked.

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