Home > Secrets Vol. 5 (Secrets #5)(12)

Secrets Vol. 5 (Secrets #5)(12)
Author: H.M. Ward

I’m flabbergasted. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. Supoe’s Gallery is the finest in the city.

When I make a squawking sound, Cole answers for me, “She would love to.”

“I’ll be expecting it.” He winks at me before walking to the front of the gallery. It’s nearly time to open.

I want to jump up and down. Glee spreads across my face. Cole takes me in his arms and swings me around. Cole and I laugh as we whirl in a circle. I’ve never seen him so happy.


Emma arrives about half way through the show. The gallery is packed with people. She moves through, asking them questions and smiling. Periodically, the guy from the paper with the camera snaps a picture and they move on to the next person. I remain in the front, away from my canvas. I want the limelight on Cole. Besides, Sottero has yet to show her face. I would have thought that she’d arrive before anyone and snatch the pieces of her up.

I sit on a black bench in the center of the room. People move around me. I can hear them whispering about Cole’s work, about how he’s one of the most talented artists in New York. I’m happy for him. I can’t stop smiling.

I don’t notice her until she’s standing next to me. “Anna, dear.” Her voice is curt. Sophia Sottero stands rigidly at my side. She’s dressed in her normal pristine suit. There isn’t a wrinkle on the entire thing.

I don’t stand up. “Sophia.”

She doesn’t look at me. Her gaze is on the wall. Sophia’s eyes rake the paintings. Her body twitches with tension. “This was your doing.”

“Maybe,” I confess, and stare straight ahead as I cross my ankles.

“Is this because I helped the man who tried to rape you?”

My eyes cut to the side. I glance up at her face. A million emotions rage through my body. She mentioned that during her rant the other day. “No, but thanks for that. Getting raped is every girl’s dream. You basically pushed me straight into him.”

Her spine straightens more, if that’s possible. “I didn’t know.”

“That’s a pretty lame apology.” I don’t expect her to stay here chatting me up. She looks like she wants to slash the paintings and break every piece of glass in the place.

Sophia swallows hard, still keeping her chin high. “I’m sorry.” Sophia doesn’t blink. Her voice retains that hard tone she always has, but I can tell she means it. I say nothing because there’s nothing to say, so I nod. She stands next to me for a few moments longer before saying, “You knew these weren’t full nudes.”

“And you didn’t.” Sophia doesn’t respond. I add, “Nice way to try and get them—accusing a guy of molesting you and then trying to take all of his stuff when you notice he won’t fight back—that he can’t fight back. If you asked, I’m fairly certain that Cole would have given them to you.”

She takes a breath, but doesn’t look at me. “Things didn’t work like that, then. These pictures would have ruined me…”

“If they were dirty like you thought, if Cole was the sleaze you made him out to be, but he’s not and these are most definitely art. The only thing I find objectionable is the model. I heard she’s a real bitch.”

Sophia looks down at me. “Well spoken.”

I stand and step in front of her. Sophia’s dark eyes meet mine. “What are you going to do now? I heard you lost half your client base and the ones you retained hate your guts, but didn’t want to lose their retainer fees.” My brow lifts as I speak. I tilt my head to the side and fold my arms over my chest. “Incidentally, most of your staff showed up tonight and asked Cole for employment—the interns, too. It seems that you’ve shot your studio in the head.”

“Perhaps I did.” She doesn’t fight. It irritates me. Sophia has vinegar running through her veins. She’s as nasty as they come. This attitude is like her, but the comments are not. She turns and looks at the blue painting and says, “Where is Cole?”

Cole must have been watching us, because he steps up behind her and says, “I’m right here, Ms. Sottero.”

Sophia turns. She looks at Cole with fear in her eyes. “This is all that remains of that shoot, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

“I never believed you were capable of something like this. I thought everything with you would be panties and bare skin.” She looks at him for a second. “Apparently I was wrong and you have a very fearsome way of demonstrating that.”

“You forced my hand, Sophia. I would have left them unseen. I would have let things go, but you held onto the past so damn hard. It wasn’t good enough to part ways. You had to destroy everything you touched.”

“And yet, I didn’t destroy you.” She sniffles a sad laugh, “It’s quite the opposite, really. My studio is in shambles and I’m financially drained from pursuing a lawsuit that’s fallen apart. And your little intern here—”

“My fiancé,” Cole corrects.

Sophia smiles slowly, “Ah, well, your fiancé tells me that my staff has left me as well.” Cole nods, but doesn’t say anything else. Sophia sucks in a ragged breath and puts on a fake smile. She looks at me and then Cole. “I’m terminating the lawsuit.” Neither of us answer.

Everything she made crumbled in her hands. Sophia built her own empire and destroyed it, single handedly. Without another word, Sophia turns and cuts through the crowd, heading towards the front door.

When she leaves, I turn to Cole. Every muscle in his body is taught, like he’s ready to fight. “Are you all right?”

He pulls me into a hug, “As long as I have you, I am.” He kisses my temple and smiles before disappearing back into the crowd of people.

I smile at him and sink back down onto the bench again. The rest of the night passes in a blur. Several paintings sell for astronomical amounts of money, including the angelic portrait of me. The critics will write up their reviews tomorrow, but I already know what they are going to say. I heard the words fall from their lips. The show was adequate, but the piece that defined it was the last work of an earthly angel. There are pieces that an artist is known for, a piece that defines him and that piece is Cole’s.


Sottero makes good on her claim. The lawsuit ends as quickly as it started. Suddenly, there is nothing pulling at us, demanding our attention. We spend hours at the Long Island studio, sitting on the beach and watching the surf. Cole’s fingers weave together with mine.

The breeze blows his hair into his eyes and he pushes it back. The sky is gray, like it might rain and the air is nippy, like some artic air came this way early. We’re both wearing sweatshirts and jeans. The ocean roars, pounding waves into the sand. I wiggle my bare toes in the sand and look at his beautiful eyes.

“Have you given any thought to the wedding?” Cole asks me.

I grin at him and nod. “Maybe.”

“When did you become so allusive?” He smiles at me and bumps my shoulder with his.

“When I figured out that it drives you crazy.” I smirk at him in response and bump him back.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I won’t pin you on the sand and tickle you until you scream. I will get a date out of you one way or another.”

I laugh, not believing him, which is stupid. “Yeah, right,” I mutter.

Cole launches himself on me and within seconds he has me pinned. I squirm, trying to pull my arms or legs, but I can’t move. When Cole goes to tickle me, I say, “Don’t you dare!”

Cole’s fingers find my sides under the thick sweatshirt and wiggle against my skin. I laugh hysterically and try to get away. I manage to get an arm free and tickle him back, but the bastard isn’t ticklish.

“Pick a date, Miss Lamore.” The sky opens up and it starts to rain. The drops fall to the ground in big globs. The water is freezing.

“It’s raining!” I manage to say, but Cole doesn’t stop.

“So, pick a date.” Cole tickles me more and I squirm in the sand. Rain pelts my face and feels like ice. I’m the worst tickle ninja ever. I can’t get away from Cole and he seems impervious to tickles. So, I curl into a ball to attempt a lame defense.

Cole rolls me around on the shore like a cat with a ball of yarn. “Next summer?” he asks.

“No!” I laugh hysterically, tears filling my eyes. My clothes are soaking wet, as are Cole’s. Water pours off his face and splatters on mine. “Winter.” I’m breathing hard, but he hears me.

Cole’s fingers stop. He climbs on top of me and tangles his fingers in my wet hair. “Winter?” he sounds surprised. It’s fall. Winter is really soon.

“Yeah. I don’t want to wait.” I feel uncertain. The expression on his face is hard to read. “Is that all right? Did you want daffodils or something?”

Cole laughs, “I just want you, Anna.” He presses his lips to mine and I melt into his arms.

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