Home > Secrets Vol. 2 (Secrets #2)(5)

Secrets Vol. 2 (Secrets #2)(5)
Author: H.M. Ward

I walk through it, and touch the velvet blankets, and then the flocked paper on the walls. It makes my jaw drop. I notice things as we walk around. After seeing the shooting room, Cole shows me the office where I'll be working and which computer is mine. Everything is pink and black. The decor doesn't match his other studio. His branding is glaringly different, like he's trying to do something different out here, but for the life of me, I can't tell what.

Finally, I ask, "So what is this place, Stevens? It has your studio's name, but none of your branding. What gives?"

He leans on the reception desk and folds his arms across his chest, "It's a new division of Le Femme, a division that I'm putting you in charge of." He watches me from under dark lashes, waiting for my reaction.

"What?" I breathe, turning to him. Is he serious? He can't be. I'm an intern, which makes his suggestion insane.

"I'm trying something new. This was the reason I wanted you to take the internship with me and not Sottero. I've been keeping track of you for a while, watching you turn into the perfect artist to work here."

My eyebrow creeps up my face as he speaks. I don't ignore the fact that he's been watching me, but I can't get over the obvious. "But, I'm an intern," I sputter.

He looks at me like I'm insane. "So?" he shrugs. "And that's bad because - ?"

"Because I'm too young to be entrusted with something like this."

A dark brow lifts. He shakes his head, "Says who? You? You're telling me that you wouldn't want this? That you couldn't do it?"

My eyes narrow. I wonder what game he's playing, if this has something to do with last night or if he just wants to make me cry. I feel too emotional today. I can't handle his teasing, not after everything that's happened. "Don't jerk me around just because you can. We weren't all born with a silver spoon in our mouths. A job like this would matter to me--"

He cuts me off, "You don't even know what the job is." He's smug, "So don't go pulling the silver spoon crap. And for your information, this studio came from my own blood, sweat, and tears and no one else's. Both studios did."

I laugh. My arms fold over my chest defensively. "Yeah, right. The trust fund baby must have had a hard time getting everything set up." There's a bite to my voice when I speak again. It says don't screw with me and I know Cole senses it. "Every single thing you have was handed to you because of your name or your fortune. Don't tell me about blood, sweat, and tears. Those are things that you don't understand. The rich are cold conniving snakes, playing games for eternity, trying to outwit everyone around them, but in the end they lose - they always lose - because they find out they never had anyone who didn't love them for their money." By the time I'm done, my body is close to shaking. For some reason this feels incredibly personal. Steadying myself, I realize that it's because of my Grandmother and the effect she's had on my family.

Cole's brow inches higher and higher as I speak. "So, you think you have me all figured out?"

"I didn't say that." I want to tell him that I have him figured out, that he's just like the rest of them, but I know it's not true. There's a piece that doesn't fit. Trying to figure out Cole is like having a puzzle with several pieces missing. I have an idea of what's there, but without those pieces, I'll never see the whole picture.

He's silent, watching me fume. Finally, he says, "What do you want, Anna?"

I want you to want me. I want your arms around my waist, your hand on my cheek. I want to feel you against me. I want you... I don't say any of it.

I breathe hard, and look away. "Just tell me what you want from me. I've been jerked around enough for one lifetime."

He watches me like he's assessing something. His expression is unreadable. He glances down and says, "Fair enough." Our gazes meet when he looks up. "I want you to run this studio. My intention is to spend the summer with you, teaching you how. In the fall, I'll return to the city and we'll catch up a few times a year when we go over fiscal information. Like I said, I've been keeping tabs on you for a while. You have the skills needed to do this."

I eye him. He keeps skipping something, a pertinent detail. I still don't know what he's shooting out here, so I ask, "What type of studio is this?"


"Cole!" I'm yelling and I don't know why. It's my dream job, but instead of shooting brides, I'll be shooting nak*d women. Tears sting my eyes, but I blink them back. I turn toward him and he slides off the desk. I slam my hands into his chest. "How could you do this to me? You offered everything I want and everything I said I'd never do!" It isn't something that should leave me in tears, but I am balling. Tears race down my cheeks and I can't stop them.

Cole's fingers wrap around my hands, keeping my palms from shoving him again, "Why are you crying? I thought you'd be happy. You like it out here. Your family is nearby. You won't be alone. And the studio..."

I try to yank my hands away, but he doesn't let me. I feel the rhythm of his heart beating in his chest. I look up at him, "The studio is perfect. It's beautiful, but I want to shoot brides, not boobs. I can't do this! I can't!"

I threw everything away. Ditching Sottero screwed me. I can see the beginning and end of my career in this building. Although I don't mind shooting models, I don't want to do this forever. Le Femme is supposed to be a stepping stone. Cole is supposed to teach me. I know he has skills that Sottero doesn't.

"Listen," he snaps at me, tightening his grip on my hands. It makes my panic throttle down. "I don't think I was wrong. You can do this. You have the skills. You just have your head stuck in this fantasy of being a wedding photographer. Why? Why does it matter so much that you shoot brides?"

"Because it's the most romantic moment of their lives. It's the most important."

"And this isn't?"

"No! It's not! These are please f**k me pictures. These aren't even art. Cole, the fact that you - "

He drops my hands like I've burnt him and shakes his head. He turns away from me and runs his hands through his hair. "Anna!" His voice booms. When he turns back his blue eyes are livid. I've insulted him. His jaw twitches like he wants to say things that he bites back. Finally he says, "If you can see this is art - if you see that this is romantic and important - will you do it? Will you try?"

"There is no way that I'll ever say that."

He laughs and shakes his head, "You are such a pain in the ass. Just say yes or no. If you can see that it's art will you do it?"

His laughter disarms me a little bit. I nod and fold my arms over my chest. "Yes. Now please prove to me that you haven't f**ked up my life beyond repair. Show me the artistic boobies so I can go beg Sottero for a second chance next year."

Cole growls, leaning close to my face, "The only person you'll ever beg for anything will be me."

My heart is pounding. I can't breathe. I want to punch him. I want to kiss him. This arrogant bastard thinks that I'll believe anything he says, and he says he made this place for me. I can't let him get under my skin like this, but he's already there.

I lean closer to him and breathe, "I'll never beg you for a single thing."

Chapter 6

Cole avoids me for the rest of the day. He probably doesn't have any ideas on how to prove to me that this studio is artistic. I'm sitting in my new room, on my bed, with my head against the wall. It's a little guest room off the main hall.

A girl wraps her knuckles on my door and pushes it open. "Hello?" she says. A massive amount of red hair peers around the door with a strikingly pretty pale face at the center. Impossibly green eyes blink at me. "Are you Anna?"

I nod and scoot the edge of my bed. "Yes. Can I help you?"

She walks into the room. "I'm Regina Davenport. I'm Mr. Stevens' assistant. I heard you're the new intern, well, the only intern."

Confused, I ask, "What do you mean?"

She laughs, "I'm sorry. I thought it was common knowledge. Every year Le Femme takes in one intern, and every year that intern quits before it's over. Sottero usually scoops them up and it pisses Mr. Stevens off to no end. We've never seen him on speaking terms with someone interning after this long."

My mouth is hanging open, "It's only been a week."

Her eyebrows lift, "Yeah, like I said, a long time in internland." She hesitates and then asks shyly, "Is it true? Do you really get to run this if you finish the internship? I mean, it seems like a sweet deal, assuming you can tolerate Stevens..."

I nod slowly. "He chases off the other interns? How?"

Regina looks back toward the door like she shouldn't be talking, but she's the only person I've seen today that is within a few years of me. I know we'll be working together if I stay here and so does she. She grins, "He's just difficult to get along with. He's got his own ideas about things and if yours don't line up, well, there's no future for you here. But he offered you this, so he must respect you an awful lot."

I don't know what to say, so I nod. She says, "He's looking for you. He said something about some artwork to show you. I told him I'd check, that I thought you were sleeping. What would you like me to tell him?"

She's protecting me from him. I don't really understand why. I don't even know her. A thought occurs to me and I blurt out, "You're trying to make sure that I don't burn out?"

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