Secrets Vol. 5
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At first, I think I do. I mean, she deserves whatever bad things come her way. The woman is vile, but…
Em’s jaw drops, but she snaps it shut, “Oh my God. You’re too good. How could you not be happy that she got hers?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe my brain is broken, but I can’t take joy in someone else’s misery, even if it is Sottero’s.”
Cole’s voice cuts through the room, “And that’s why I love you.” He walks up behind me and kisses the top of my head.
“Yeah,” Emma protests, “but Sottero had it coming. You can’t be a heinous bitch for two decades and not have it come back to bite you on the ass. Besides, she dropped the lawsuit, right?”
Cole shakes his head, “No, she didn’t.”
Emma’s jaw drops as her eyes widen. “What? Is she insane?”
“She’s playing the victim, Em.” I say. “If she gets the press to portray her in that light, then it makes sense why she’s been so bitter and fucked-up over the years. All will be forgiven. Kiss, kiss and all that.”
“No,” Em replies, looking shocked. “You think that’s her goal?”
“I have no clue what her goal is,” Cole mutters. “She’s Sophia. This is typical Sophia.”
I shake my head, “It doesn’t seem like she wants money. She has plenty of that…”
Cole says, “Revenge. That’s what she wants. She wants to rip out my guts, the way I ripped out hers.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“She thought I was loaded. She felt duped, Anna. Sophia was slightly off-balance before, but now, with the papers running stories about her—she’s like a rabid dog jumping at my throat.”
“Sorry,” Em says and shrinks back into the couch next to me, obviously feeling somewhat responsible for the increase in Sophia’s crazy levels.
Cole says, “It’s not your fault. It’s your job. Besides, Sophia made her decisions and I made mine.” Cole shifts his weight. He looks at me for half a beat and then his eyes shift back to Em. “How would you like to run a story for me?”
Em’s dark eyebrow lifts. He’s caught her attention. “What’d you have in mind?”
My parents insist on checking in with me so frequently that my eye twitches. My cell rings and I pick it up. “I’m still fine, Ma. Cole’s taking good care of me.”
“Thank God!” She blares into the phone. I pull it back from ear a little, so I don’t go deaf. Ma is one of those people who talks louder on a cell phone. She acts like it’s a tin can on a string and practically screams into the thing. “I’m having palpitations out here worrying about you. I can’t stand you living so far away. Come home, Anna. Your old room is—”
I groan, “Ma, I’m fine. Really. And what happened could have happened anywhere. It’s not like the whole stalker thing was random. He went to your house for Chrissakes. He seemed sane to you, too.” I shouldn’t have said it. Reminding her of her conversation with Edward is like a kick to the gut. Apparently his obsession with me was worse than anyone thought. When the police starting questioning my family, my Ma recognized him.
Ma’s voice shrinks back to a muffle. “I didn’t know, honey. I swear to God, I had no idea that he—”
I cut her off, “That’s the point. Nobody knew and it could have happened anywhere. I’m safe here, Ma. I’ll be at Cole’s for a few more days and then I’ll move back in with Emma.”
I don’t pull the phone back in time for the wave of tyrannical threats that spew from the tiny speaker. I open my mouth to respond, but Cole snatches the phone from my hand.
He speaks over Ma, “Anna’s not going anywhere, Mrs. Lamore.” He says it so calmly, so certainly. I cock my head at him and feel extra stubborn. I don’t doubt for a second that he thinks I’m staying here indefinitely, but I feel like I need to get on with my life. It feels like I’m hiding here.
I can still hear Ma yelling back, “She better not!”
“I assure you, she is staying here with me, and if she insists on leaving, I will deposit her on your doorstep. She’s not going anywhere alone until Edward is behind bars. You have my word on that.” Edward’s out on bail, which is why things are kind of hard right now. No one wants to leave me alone so that he can take another go at me.
Ma’s voice lowers and I can’t make out what she’s saying. Cole avoids my angry gaze until he hangs up.
Cole sighs and hands me back my phone. “When were you going to tell me this marvelous plan?”
I squirm on the couch and pull my knees into my chest. “Never.” I knew he wouldn’t like it.
“I thought so.” He sits down next to me. “You can do anything you want, but it’s so far from smart that I can’t let you go back there. He’s out on bail. Edward could come after you again.”
“He won’t” I say, staring straight ahead.
“You don’t know that.”
“Cole,” I take a breath, and look at him. “I don’t want to hide for the rest of my life. I want to get on with things and that means going back to normal.”
“What if normal where here, with me?” His eyes are like twin gems, deep and clear. His voice is so sincere, so loving. Cole hasn’t mentioned the proposal since that night. Too many things happened.
My lips tug into a small smile. I lean my head against his shoulder. “Tell me what that would look like. Things are changing right now. I don’t even know what tomorrow will be like and neither do you. It makes it hard to dream right now.”
His arms wrap around me. “All I do is dream, right now. I dream about having you in my bed every night and seeing your beautiful face every morning. I dream about that lawsuit vanishing and having that part of my life over. I dream of being someone else’s son, with someone else’s name…” he strokes my hair as I listen to him. He breathes, “All I do is dream. I’m living in a fantasy world as long as you’re next to me. I can’t stand the thought of you leaving.”
Silence fills the room. It’s not the awkward kind, it’s the peaceful kind. Cole wraps his arms around me tighter and holds me like that for a second. When he moves to release me and get up, I stop him. My fingers brush his forearms and press him against me. “Hope is important, Cole. Don’t feel bad about that. As for your name, have you thought about what you want to change it to?”
He looks down at me and smiles. “Dude. You inspired me and I had to pick that one. People can call me Mr. Dude, the artist.”
I laugh way too loud and smack his arm. “You can’t change your last name to Dude! Besides, if I said yes, that’d make me Mrs. Dude and I am so not doing that.”
Cole grins. He sits and pulls me onto his lap. I turn to face him. His face is a breath from mine. “Oh? So you’ve thought about that a little bit, have you?”
I nod. “A little bit.” My heart is pounding.
“And that’s the only conclusion you’ve made?”
“It’s a pretty good conclusion, right? There’s no way in hell people are going to call me Anna Dude.” I laugh and he smiles. It makes the corners of his eyes crinkle the way I Iove.
“So, then what would you have me do?”
“Pick a name that suits you, one that makes sense, and that you’d be happy to have.”
“I’m not sure there is a name like that, Anna.”
I want to smile, but I try to hide it. Taking his face in my hands, I say, “Lamore.” I swallow hard, letting the idea sink in. I take a breath. The feeling that I’m falling won’t hush. My stomach is in my throat. “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know I want you in my life. I like my last name and what it stands for. Lamore’s think love is worth fighting for, that love is worth more than life, that—”
He cuts me off with a kiss. Cole’s lips press hard against mine and he pulls away grinning. “I would love to take your name. Wedding or not.” He’s not certain that I’ve accepted his proposal.
“Oh, there’ll be a wedding. I thought I had to know everything before I got married. I thought that my life was going to be laid out for me, that I’d go to college, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids—in that order—but it didn’t happen like that. I don’t have much, but what’s mine is yours…” he’s still quiet, watching me. I want to choke or run or jump out the window. I blabber on, adding, “If you still want me.”
Cole’s eyes remain locked on mine. Without a word he stands up, with me on his lap. I scream as he chucks me in the air and catches me. He makes a very loud, happy, sound that almost sounds like a whoop, and whirls around with me in his arms, spinning in circles. We both laugh and scream. I cling to his chest and close my eyes, but it doesn’t stop the joy from bursting like fireworks inside of me. By the time he falls onto the couch, my face hurts from smiling so hard.
I giggle, “Mr. Lamore, you’re going to be a handful.”
“Likewise, Mrs. Lamore.”
“Are you sure that you want me to run this, Cole? It kind of sets things in stone.”
He nods, his dark hair falling forward as he moves. “It’s a warning shot. She needs to see it coming.”
“Who?” I ask. “Sottero?”
He nods. “She thinks that I won’t fight back because I never have, because I’ll lose my name. She knows my past and what that fucking name cost me.” He glances up at Emma. “Sorry—”
“Don’t apologize to me. I swear like a sailor. Anna made me tone it down so I don’t offend her virgin ears.” Emma flips her dark curtain of silky hair over her shoulder. Somehow she always manages to have this sleek look that could make a Pantene model jealous.
My face flames red, “My ears are not virgins.” I hiss, and then realize it sounds weird and grin rather stupidly.
Cole’s eyebrow lifts, “We’ll need to discuss that later, Miss Lamore.” I smack his arm.
We’re sitting in Emma’s apartment. It’s the first time that I’ve been back home since the day Edward attacked me. Em cleaned the place up. There’s no blood, but the smells and the way the light cuts through the blinds is identical. I’m glad Cole didn’t want me to stay here. I think I wanted to do it to prove a point—that Edward didn’t break my brain, that I’m not afraid. The thing is, I am, but the fear has changed. I know who he is and what he was doing now. Instead of feeling the choking panic, I feel jittery and stressed. It’s like a nightmare that surfaces during daylight, even though it was scary when it happened, in the light of day the cold tentacles of fear are still laced around my throat. I shiver and Cole pulls me closer to him. We are sitting at the breakfast bar and Em is across from us on the couch.
Emma ignores our banter. “Well, if you’re sure. Once the article is submitted, I can’t take it back. That’s all I’m saying.” She waits, watching Cole.