Home > Secrets Vol. 5 (Secrets #5)(10)

Secrets Vol. 5 (Secrets #5)(10)
Author: H.M. Ward

“Do it.”

The article is short. It mentions that famed photographer Cole Stevens is changing his last name. While it might seem like a public interest story to everyone else, to Sophia it’s a bomb. It’s telling her to drop her lawsuit, that Cole is going to fight back, and that she will lose. It’s a very gentle, tactful way to warn her to back down. He surprises me with that, especially since Sophia is so vicious.


The article runs the day before the rescheduled hearing. I lift the paper and am surprised at the prominent location. The article is small, but Sottero v. Stevens has been in the papers on and off for a while now. I suppose that’s good, that there’s no way she’ll miss it.

Cole sees me sitting on the couch with the paper. He has a cup of coffee in his hand. He lifts it to his lips and sips it slowly before asking, “Well? Do you think that was worth doing?”

“I don’t know. Sophia seems kind of crazy. No one else will know what this means, but she will.” I twiddle the edge of the paper between my fingers and look over it at him. “What do you want her to do, exactly?”

Cole takes a deep breath and sits at the table. The open floorplan makes it feel like he’s not that far away. The living room bumps up against the dining room, and the couch where I’m sitting is positioned in between. “I want her to drop the lawsuit, but I don’t think that’ll happen.” He looks at the black liquid in his mug. “Ya know, I can’t help but notice that you didn’t accept my proposal until after it was confirmed that I’d lose everything.” He looks up at me. “I wasn’t going to fight back, they seized my assets, and I lost many of my clients, and then you decided to stick around.” He sounds like he can’t believe it. He looks at me from under his brow, the steaming cup in his hand.

His tone worries me. It makes my stomach clench and twist. “Money doesn’t matter to me, Cole. You have to know that by now. All my life, it’s been this poison hanging over my head. I take what I need and nothing more.” I shrug away the defensive feeling that’s coming over me. “I just don’t want it.”

“You’re afraid of it.”

“Maybe,” I say honestly. “There’s a duality with money, like you can chose to have money or love, but you can’t have both. They negate each other, or at least it seems that way to me. So yeah, maybe your money terrifies me a little bit.” I look up at him. The expression in his dark eyes is difficult to read. I can’t tell if I offended or amazed him. Funny how those look so similar sometimes.

Cole’s eyes lower. He looks at his mug as he speaks. “That’s part of the reason why I didn’t fight back with Sottero. I really didn’t want to. I thought I was being like my father, crushing a woman I already shattered. I never told Sophia that I was disinherited before I proposed to her. I couldn’t, and she had no idea. It hit her like a train. The ring wasn’t even taken out of the box. She slapped it from my hand, put it under her car, and ran it over. The look she gave me, Anna—damn—for the longest time I thought I deserved whatever she threw my way. My fortune, all of it was made because she inspired me in the first place.”

A string of images form in my mind. A young Cole returning from the army, wearing that uniform. The Tiffany’s box that was battered and locked in his safe. I blink these things away. They’re his ghosts and I wish they didn’t haunt him, but they do. I’m quiet for a moment and then something he’d said to me clicks into place. He owes her. He said it. He thinks that he’s indebted to her in a way he can’t repay. My mouth hangs open for a second and I think I understand. “She gave you your camera?”

He nods. “After I came back from the military, I was listless. I had nothing to do and nowhere to live. Sophia thought that I was on an international vacation for four years. I didn’t correct her. I couldn’t. She thought that I had no job because of my status, that I was a playboy like the papers made me out to be.” His eyes flick up to me. “Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about this, but I wanted you to know how I felt about it. I deserved what I got from Sophia, as far as I was concerned. I did f**k her over, in a manner of speaking. And the gag on speaking about the agreement to use my name and my disownment made it so I couldn’t respond. I deserve this Anna.” The way he says it makes my heart ache. I slip off the couch and hobble over to him. Cole’s eyes seek mine, looking for answers that he can’t find.

I sit in the chair next to him and take his hands in mine. “Listen, I don’t pretend to know what’s right and what’s wrong here. I hear the guilt in your voice when you talk about her, but Cole, I just don’t see it. Even if you led her on to think you were still the heir—which I don’t think you did—it’s been twenty years. She should have let it go by now. Even if she was burned, it’s unthinkable to stay mad this long.”

“I thought she loved me, Anna,” he says, but I can hear it. He means, Will you leave me, too? Have I deceived you so gravely that you’ll crush me as well?

The thread of insecurity is just that, a tiny string that tugs at Cole’s past and connects to his present. I want to snap it. I want to cut that thread and let things fall where they may. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now, than here with you. I’m not going anywhere. And if there’s ever a time that we have too much money, that it’s getting between us, we’ll fix it.”


“We’ll give it away. Cole, this is about us, now. I’m not Sophia. I want you for you—all of your kinky, sophisticated, sexy self—I want you. Nothing will ever change my mind. You think I’d share my name with just anyone?” I grin at him.

“You’re too good for me.”

I laugh. “I’d say the same thing about you. Apparently we both make each other better. Isn’t that what love is all about? It seems we stumbled on the fairytale without even trying.”

Cole smiles at me and something changes. I hear it in his voice when he speaks, “So, how far do you want to push this lawsuit? You want to just get her to back off or what?”

“Sophia’s reputation is hanging by a thread. I think that’ll do the most damage, if you want to do damage.” I think about Sophia and how horrible she is, how incredible arrogant and bitchy she acts. Her clients are leaving her. They can’t get away fast enough. One spark will ruin what she has left.

“Let’s see where we stand tomorrow and decide from there.” Cole puts his coffee down and pulls me onto his lap. He kisses the side of my face, and then holds me tight. I love every second of it.


“Miss Lamore, you mean to tell me that you have never seen any photographs or negatives of my client, Ms. Sottero, wearing this ring?” The lawyer is as nasty as Sophia. She’s a middle-aged lady with her dark blonde hair tied in a tight chignon at the base of her neck. Her gray suit fits her bean-pole body like a glove.

I shake my head and repeat myself, “No. I told you already.” Cole’s lawyer told me not to lie on the stand and I’m not. I didn’t see Sophia in any recognizable state, on a photograph or negative wearing that ring. I saw a nak*d chick on canvas wearing that ring.

The lawyer is exasperated. She comes at me again, her perfect face cracking with lines of fury. She presses her palms together. I look at the judge for a second, but he seems bored. The old guy is looking at something in front of him. I wonder what it is before I look back at Blondie. “Miss Lamore. May I remind you that you are under oath?”

“You already have.”

“Then, I must ask you to tell the truth. For the last time, did you or did you not see this ring in a photograph or negative of Sophia Sottero while you were in Cole Steven’s apartment?” Blondie presses her pointer fingers to her lips and stares at me. If her eyes had lasers, I’d be dead.

“No,” I say fervently, “I did not.” I look to my lawyer who squashes Blondie’s next needling of me since my answer is still no.

“Very well, Miss Lamore. Do you care to tell me how or why you recognized the ring my client was wearing the day you quit your internship at Sottero?”

“Why does this matter?” I blurt out.

Blondie opens her mouth to speak, but Cole’s lawyer is on her feet. They quibble back and forth and eventually Cole’s lawyer wins. I glance at Sophia. She looks mortified. I assume that Cole doesn’t let his lawyer off the leash, ever.

“Enough,” the judge utters. “If you have no further questions of this witness, that pertain to this case, she may be excused.”

Blondie bites her lip and returns to her seat. The judge hurries me off. I leave the stand and exit the courtroom. Reporters aren’t allowed near the courtroom, but they are close enough to snap pictures of me as I walk out. Ignoring them, I turn and walk the other way.

My heart is thumping. I’m lucky she didn’t ask the questions differently. Sottero must have thought I saw something else. Maybe she doesn’t know her photographs are paintings? I think about things as I stroll through the halls. I don’t know how much time has passed, but I’m aware that I lapped the building as I approach the ladies room. I don’t know how much longer Cole will be in there today. I walk into the ladies room to check my make-up. My eyes itch like crazy. The building has that old musty scent that makes my eyes water. I stand in front of the mirror trying to rub my eyes without messing up my eyeliner and mascara. I give up and rub like crazy, smearing one eye. After it stops tearing, I take a few things from my purse, intending on fixing it when I hear Sophia’s voice behind me.

“I can’t believe you perjured yourself for him.” Her voice is flat, but I know she’s livid. Sophia isn’t supposed to talk to me, but she doesn’t seem to care. “I know you saw that ring in those portraits.”

I turn to her, half my face rubbed clean of make-up. “Why do you even care? It’s not like…” those pictures matter anymore. I pause. It is like that. She wants those pictures. “Is that what this is about? Is that why you’re trying to seize all of his property, for those pictures?”

Her dark eyes meet mine and don’t stray. “I’ll hang you for this. Every single person of importance in Manhattan will believe whatever I tell them about you. It was bad enough when your hysterical boyfriend came to me about your relationship with Cole and I called the dean. I thought he was using you. I didn’t realize you were so devious, Anna dear.”

Rage shots through me. She did that? Sophia called the dean and cost me my internship. I want to slap Edward. He completely f**ked up my life. Was there someone he didn’t talk to? Furious, I hiss, “Devious? What is it that I was trying to do? Bed a man you broke?”

She laughs, “As if anyone could break that man’s heart. He doesn’t have one, Anna. Why do you think I’m standing here?”

“Because you’re a money grubbing bitch.”

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)