Home > Secrets Vol. 5 (Secrets #5)(11)

Secrets Vol. 5 (Secrets #5)(11)
Author: H.M. Ward

She snarls, “He took everything from me. He’ll do the same to you.”

“If you think that I’m listening to you again, you’re mistaken. I only do stupid once per person. Sorry, you used your turn already.”

Sophia’s eyes burn a hole in my face. “What will it take? A cut? You want his money? Fine. Consider it done. I’ve spent the past twenty years trying to erase that man and he won’t surrender the only thing I want.”

I stare at her. “Cole’s changing his name. There’s nothing stopping him from crushing you. He’s not going to let you win. Not this time.” I toss my make-up back into my purse, and turn for the door. Sophia grabs my elbow. I jerk to a stop. When I turn back to look at her, she’s in my face.

“Those pictures will destroy me. I built my name around being opposed to trash like that. I can’t be seen modeling in one of Cole’s risqué pieces. Find it, give it to me, and this is over.”

I yank my arm back. “Being a two-faced bitch is your own damn fault. If people find out, good for them.”


I’m sitting with Cole. We are at his favorite restaurant for dinner. It’s quiet tonight. There are a scattering of people at the tables around us. They lean in close and speak softly. The candlelight flickers between us, highlighting his beautiful face. I’m wearing a little black dress with my glittering Chucks. It earned us strange looks when we walked in, but my foot is still swollen. When I hobbled, holding onto Cole’s arm, to our table, the waiter made that ah-ha face. No one appreciates juxtaposition in attire, except hobos and artists. Cole smiles at me.

After we’re seated, I look at my hands and then back up at his face. “I know we said we wouldn’t talk about court tonight, but I need to tell you something.” I haven’t seen Cole since this afternoon. I didn’t get to tell him what transpired between me and Sophia. “It’s the paintings. She wants them.”

He has a wine glass in his hand. He stops, mid-sip, and his mouth falls open. He chokes out the words, “What? Why would she…?” he falls quiet and then nods, placing his glass back on the table. He shakes his head. “I can’t believe this. All this time, she wanted those pictures. Is that what she’s been after?”

“Cole, I don’t understand why she even wants them. It’s not like anyone would know it was her. They were taken twenty years ago. Not to be mean, but she doesn’t look the same anymore and with her anti-smut campaign, no one would think it was her anyway.”

Cole smiles softly, shaking his head. His dark hair moves like it’s caught in a breeze. I want to run my fingers through his hair and tug. However, I manage to remain in my seat and keep my hands to myself. He explains, “The original images showed her face. When I processed them and put them onto canvas, I altered the pictures to what you saw. They were supposed to be a wedding gift.” He smiles sheepishly. “Yeah, I stopped planning ahead after that. Anyway, Sophia never saw the images, but she knows what we shot. What you saw, well, those weren’t the original crop lines. Sophia doesn’t know what I have or what I don’t—she’s guessing—and after you mentioned that ring, she thinks you saw the portraits and assumed the worst.”

An idea bumps around in my mind like a ping pong ball. It jumps back and forth, forming a cohesive plan. It pulls a smile across my lips. I lean forward and rub my palms together like an evil villain. “You want to freak her out and shut her up at the same time?”

“You’re eyes are glittering in a savage, blood-thirsty way, Lamore. You’re a little bit scary right now.” Cole smirks as he says it. His foot gently brushes my good ankle and he winks at me. I smile back.

“What if you did a gallery show with those portraits—the version you showed me—as the center pieces? The unseen, early work of Cole Stevens. It could be the last show you do before you change your name. We could hype the hell out of it. People would swamp to it, including the media. Sottero would wet herself, until she shows up and sees what you did, which is spectacular by the way.” I grin at him and tap my fingertips together. Maybe it’s not diabolical, but it would get rid of her. Plus, it gives the world a glimpse of the Cole that I think is utterly fantastic. “Maybe she’ll buy them all. It’s the only way to make sure no one sees them again.”

Cole stares at me. I can’t tell what he thinks. Sometimes I wonder if he was made without a revenge bone. I think I have two. They’re both pretty small and weak, but when put together, they can be kick ass. Besides, Sophia needs to get over herself. She needs to see that she’s a hypocritical idiot. I know she’ll love those paintings, as much as I know she never saw them.

“When?” he finally asks. The waiter comes by with our order. The food smells heavenly.

After the waiter leaves, I say, “This weekend. It gives us a few days to pull things together. I can alert Em and she can tell the rest of the news people. I’m not sure about the gallery…”

“I can handle that,” he says cutting into a huge steak.

“And I want to design the invitations,” I’m giddy, bouncing up and down in my seat. I know exactly what I’ll do. I’ll use the left side of the purple painting that shows the curves of her waist and chest, but nothing else. They’ll be elegant, black and white, with a touch of purple. The invitation will be written on sheer rice paper, and attached on top of the gallery image with a purple ribbon. Sophia will recognize it, but no one else will.

“Remind me never to cross you,” Cole mutters, looking up at me.

“Dude, it’s been twenty years. It’s time for Sophia to learn her lesson already.”


The gallery is chic. That’s the only way to describe it. The walls stretch up into a dark copper ceiling. The foyer walls are done in midnight blue with thick, flocked wallpaper that makes me want to reach out and touch the velvet. The color combination makes the place feel warm and posh. The way the light bounces softly on the ceiling gives the illusion of candlelight, but without the flicker. Once inside, there is a myriad of walls with different pieces of Cole’s work hanging on each one. A single spotlight accents his art.

The series of works of Sottero line the center of the room. They stand out against gray walls, drawing the eye around the room. The entire show is breathtaking. As Cole leads me through the rooms, we enter the back wing. I stop short. There is a portrait of me—an image that was not in the LeFemme box. It’s a painting of me with angel wings made from paint and seemingly random objects. The exposure is perfect. My skin has a silky glow and is perfectly smooth. A piece of silk covers part of my chest, while crystals cover the rest of my nak*d self. My hair is blowing and I look completely and totally awesome. If someone thought I’m a goddess, that’s what it would look like. It is standing in a back corner, set apart from the rest. The entire show has a somber feel, like the artist feels lost. Looking at the rest of the pieces has a calming effect, but this one is different than the rest. It screams of hope and happiness. It doesn’t belong.

“Cole, this shouldn’t be here.” I say, turning to him with my heart racing a mile a minute.

“I should have asked you. I understand if you don’t want anyone else to see it—”

I take his arm, stopping him midsentence, and turn him toward me. Cole thinks I’m too prude to let him show it. “That’s not it, Cole. You can leave it up if you want, but it doesn’t blend with the rest of the show. Those works out there are all melancholy and pensive. This one…”

I don’t know how to compare it. There is no comparison. The front of the show is all tortured artist, and this is happy dude. The only speck of black on the canvas is a crow that’s in the tippie top of one of my wings. There are other things too, objects that mean something to me or us; a yellow sneaker, a tutu, a red ribbon. I can’t help but smile when I look at it, and I want his last show to be amazing. This is so different that I don’t know people will say.

Cole pulls me to him, wrapping his arms around my waist. “It’s perfect. It’s everything I was missing, everything that’s important to me, now.” He kisses my cheek lightly, searing my skin. My knees feel like jelly for a second and I lock them so I don’t fall over. I smile at him shyly.

He says, “I have something for you.” Cole releases me and pulls a black box out of his pocket. My eyes grow wide and I glance between his face and the ring box—that is totally a ring box. “You’re the only woman who would accept a proposal without a ring.” He grins and cracks open the lid.

Inside is the most beautiful ring that I’ve ever seen. It’s not a traditional engagement ring. There’s no single diamond set on prongs. Instead it’s a glittering blue stone the color of Cole’s eyes, set in white gold. It’s so simple and sophisticated at the same time. My hands cover my mouth as I gasp. I don’t know why I’m shocked, but I am.

I’m shaking too much to move. Cole reaches for my left hand. He pulls the ring from the box and slips it on my finger. It fits perfectly. I smile, stunned into silence before throwing my arms around his neck and kissing his face over and over again.

“It’s beautiful.” I breathe after we part.

“It’s a diamond. I saw the color and that setting, and knew it was perfect for you, my beautiful bride.” Cole leans close to my ear and presses his lips to my neck.

Someone says, “Ah-hem,” and Cole pulls away from me with a wicked smile on his face. “This is the infamous Anna, I assume?”

Cole nods. “Frederick, may I introduce my bride-to-be, Anna Lamore.” Fredrick extends a dainty hand toward me. He’s five foot nothing with wavy black hair and tanned skin. His dark eyes glitter like he’s stealing a cookie. I smile at him as we shake. “Anna, this is Frederick Supoe, the gallery owner.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I say. “Thank you for arranging this show so quickly for Cole.”

“Cole and I go way back. There’s nothing that pleases me more. He never shows certain works and I can tell from looking around that this is indeed the lost works of a lost man.” Frederick folds his arms over his narrow chest and moves towards the painting of me. He taps his front tooth and then points to the bright painting, “Except this one. This one is the most brilliant.” Frederick stares at it like he’s awestruck.

I don’t understand. I step next to Frederick. We’re nearly the same height. I glance at him. “Why?”

He doesn’t look at me. Instead he continues to gaze at the canvas. “Any man can be lost. Any man can capture that emotion in film or paint, but it takes a much more to pull up from the ashes and start again. That’s what this says to me. It says we have a new Cole. The piece is symbolic of his new name, of his new life. The front rooms are filled with the secrets of his past, but this—this is his future.” Frederick turns and looks at me. “You’re an impressive woman, Miss Lamore. I hope you’ll consider putting on a show here.”

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