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       Secrets & Lies 4: The Ferro Family, p.1

         Part #4 of Secrets and Lies series by H. M. Ward
 
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Secrets & Lies 4: The Ferro Family


  Secrets & Lies, Vol. 4

  The Ferro Family

  H. M. Ward

  Laree Bailey Press

  Contents

  Copyright

  Secrets & Lies

  1. CHAPTER 1

  2. CHAPTER 2

  3. CHAPTER 3

  4. CHAPTER 4

  5. CHAPTER 5

  6. CHAPTER 6

  7. CHAPTER 7

  8. CHAPTER 8

  9. CHAPTER 9

  10. CHAPTER 10

  EXCERPT: STRIPPED 2

  SEXY SCENTS

  MORE FERRO FAMILY BOOKS

  SUGGESTED FERRO SERIES READING ORDER

  MORE ROMANCE BY H.M. WARD

  CAN'T WAIT FOR H.M. WARD'S NEXT STEAMY BOOK?

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2016 by H.M. Ward

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form.

  LAREE BAILEY PRESS

  First Edition: MAY 2016

  ISBN: 978-1-63035-121-2

  Secrets & Lies

  Volume 4

  CHAPTER 1

  Carter stands there in faded black clothes, his pants two sizes too big. His dark hair is slicked away from his eyes, damp with sweat or rain. I can’t tell which. His cheeks are rosy as if he’s been running. My gaze drops to Carter’s feet as I pull away from Nate. I wish we were standing closer to the door. If Carter had smacked it into us, there would have been confusion and a way to cover up the kiss. But this? There’s no way it looks like anything else.

  Carter won’t fall for the ‘oops, I fell on his lips’ defense. He’s intelligent, and I respect him despite our argument, so I don’t make excuses. There are none. I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear and shift my weight to my other foot.

  Nate swallows hard, caught between breaths as Carter walked in. The two of them freeze, looking at one another in horror. It feels like the longest twenty minutes of my life, but it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds.

  Resisting the urge to hang my head in shame, I glance up at Carter, who’s sporting a sucker-punched expression. I manage to find my voice. Stepping toward him, I say casually, “Hey, Carter! I was just headed out. Come with me.” It isn't a question. It’s a demand—and based on the circumstances, it’s a little insane.

  When he stands there blinking, unable to close his gaping mouth or stop staring at Nate, I side step between them. He shakes his head and frowns, “Kerry, what the hell—”

  Carter doesn’t get a chance to finish. I sigh exasperated, as Nate remains paralyzed. This kiss will cost him his job. They’ll say he was sexually harassing me or worse. I’m not going to let that happen. Right now I need Carter’s feet moving down the hall.

  I’m going to have to make something up. Fast. So I wing it. Grinning, I go up on the balls of my feet and press my lips to his. Carter blinks, shocked, but he doesn’t pull away. A small spark shoots through me and flitters into my belly like a falling leaf.

  I feel Nate’s gaze on the side of my face and inwardly squirm. Maybe this was stupid. Okay, it was dumb. There’s no way Carter is going to think I’m loose, throwing myself at anyone with a dick. Although, I suppose that's exactly what I've been doing. Nate’s still glaring at us, not happy, but remaining mute.

  Carter kisses me, or stands there stunned—it depends on how you look at it—with his hands at his sides. Heat rushes to his face, flushing it with embarrassment and although I expected shock, I thought he’d kiss me back. When he doesn’t, I pull back.

  Beaming up at him, I grab his hand and pull. “Come on. I have to get ready, and you’re not dropping this class. I need you.” I don’t say anything else. I don’t elaborate.

  Nate is silent, rooted in place, with his brow furrowed and his hands at his sides. I get the distinct impression he has no one to talk to—at least, not about the crazy-ass bus girl that landed in his bed before he discovered she was his student. Nate seems isolated. That’s probably what drew me to him in the first place, more so than the sketchpad. I felt utterly alone that night, and he was giving off the same vibe. Like calls to like.

  I toss the thoughts to the back of my mind and tug Carter behind me while prattling about Jax being an ass. “This whole stupid thing is a mess, and I can’t back down. Actually,” I pull Carter into the empty classroom and step past him to shut the door before flicking the lights on. I can't force my eyes off the floor even as my eyebrows inch into my hairline. My lips are parted, stuck in an unending sigh because I don’t know what to say. I want things back the way they were.

  I miss him.

  Carter doesn’t blink. He’s still shocked, lost inside his mind. It’s probably a museum for paintings of memories and sculptures of dreams. Carter seems like the kind of guy that files things away to pull out later. My brain is a typhoon of emotion. My favorite memories eroded the day Matt dumped me for Mom. I still have to deal with them this weekend. Can life fuck me any harder? I shouldn’t ask that, but really? How can it get worse? The raccoon bites me, and I grow a third tit? That might be helpful. I make a mental note to hug the fuzzy bastard the next time I’m on the bus.

  I press my back to the door and glance up at him. I’m worried about this—about him—and Nate. “Listen, I’ve screwed up this whole rebound thing beyond belief.” I laugh nervously, lowering my head and letting my hair fall across my face. I tuck a long strand of bland brown hair behind my ear and talk to my sneakers. “Every guy I’ve thrown myself at has rejected me.”

  The best deceivers use the truth to twist a perfect lie. I’m not the most convincing liar, and I hate being dishonest, but it’s not my job on the line. It’s Nate's. And this wasn’t his fault—it was mine. I can’t let Carter tell the dean about it when I’m the one to blame, so that’s what I'll do. I'll shift all the blame to myself. Flicking my gaze up at him, I laugh nervously.

  He stands there in the open space, his hands shoved in his pockets and an indifferent expression on his face. Maybe I shouldn’t say it. Maybe it’s cruel. I don’t know, and that’s my biggest problem.

  I press my lips together and feel my heart crack inside my chest. Words begin to spill out of my mouth, and once I start, I can’t shut up. “Since I got here, my life has turned into a clusterfuck of epic proportions. I’ve made one wrong move after another, and it won’t stop. I can’t undo this. I wish I could.”

  Without looking at me, Carter finally says something. “What part would you erase? Losing your friends? Strutting around naked? Hooking up with the professor? Or kissing me?” His eyes are resentful and hot on the side of my face.

  Something inside me snaps. That’s it. He can’t treat me like a slut for modeling. He’s part of the same world, and there are rules. He knows that as damned well as I do. I step toward him, place both hands on his chest, and shove. “Hey! I don’t deserve your scorn or your anger. We’re artists, you and me. We were on the same page at one point. You know as well as I do that modeling isn’t the same as stripping or prostitution, so stop being such an asshole! As if things aren’t hard enough, I don’t need you dropping your conflicted morality crap on me right now. You think you're the only one who doesn't like Beth’s brother hanging around? Well, neither do I! I can’t get rid of him, believe me, I’ve tried.”

  Carter’s face crinkles and I know he’s getting mad. He snaps, “Yeah, well you didn’t try hard enough.”

  I make an aggravated so
und in the back of my throat that’s lost somewhere between a scream and a growl. My arms tense and my fingers splay at my sides. I start talking with my hands, extremely aware of how close I am to poking my eyes out waving my five digits around wildly. “You have no fucking clue how hard I’ve tried! Since day one, the first second, before I even got to class my life started falling apart. I’ve done everything I could do to pull myself back together again. I thought you were my friend.” My voice changes abruptly, and I can’t hide my disgust. “We aren’t supposed to look at a nude model and think sex. It’s shadow and light, curves and lines—it’s a moment to be captured and immortalized.”

  “I know that!” He’s angry now, stepping back as he tries to keep his temper in check.

  I get in his space and yell up into his face, “Then why are you giving me such a hard time? Why does it matter what I do? You’ve known me for five minutes. You have no idea what's going on in my life!”

  “Kerry—”

  “You have friends here. You know how everything works—from Jax’s tricks, to Beth’s idiotic brothers—and I don’t.”

  “Kerry, wait—”

  “I’m still figuring out where the cafeteria is and how the hell I’m supposed to deal with my mom fucking my boyfriend! Carter, I’m living in a shitstorm with no one to help me, and the one person I should be able to depend on for anything—well, it turns out she’s the reason my soul mate left me in the first place.” There are tears in my eyes. I wipe them away angrily, stomp across the room, and sit on a table.

  I’ve said everything I wanted to say. The storm raging inside of me is spent, and I feel tired and melancholy. Carter remains across the room, still poised by the door.

  When he finally starts to say something, I cut him off. I don’t want to have the rest of this conversation right now. “Don’t tell the dean. I can’t handle it right now, and it was my fault. I did it. There was nothing out of line from Professor Smith.” Lifting my gaze, I look to Carter hoping he’ll agree.

  When he doesn’t answer, anger seeps back into my veins. Fine, judge me. I shake my head in disgust. “Listen, class starts in five minutes. We don’t have time for this. I made a mistake. He just stood there shocked, same as you.”

  Carter remains where he is, across the room, a stone’s throw away. “I didn’t hear anything. I was there to drop this class. I can’t deal with you—”

  “Gee, thanks.”

  His voice softens. “That’s not what I meant. Let me finish. I can’t deal with seeing you naked up there. It’s my problem, not yours. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. It just threw me off.” He runs his hand over his head and down his neck, lets out a sigh, and stares at me. “It’s supposed to be what you said—there shouldn't be anything more—but I don’t feel like that around you.”

  “Could have fooled me," I say. "I kissed you. Remember? For all practical purposes, I could have been a softball, and you would have reacted the same way.”

  “You’re not a softball.” His voice is a whisper.

  “Right, I’m a nut ball who tried to start a three-way with my teacher and another student.”

  He chokes, covering his lips with his hand to hide a smile. “Kerry, it wasn’t that bad.”

  I’m sitting on the edge of the table, leaning forward with my hands at my hips, and my elbows locked. I’m swinging my feet and shaking my head, trying to avoid his gaze. “Yes, it was. I was there, remember? I might as well have written ménage à trois on his desk with an Expo marker.”

  As I say the last word, something happens and my center of gravity inadvertently moves forward. My big head is already leaning pretty far forward, and that tiny movement puts it past my knees. Next thing I know I’m face-planting on the linoleum.

  Carter rushes forward. “Are you all right? Damn, Kerry!” His hand is on my arm.

  I’m spread-eagle, with my face against the cold floor. I roll over slowly, too embarrassed to move any faster. I stare up at him and want to cry. “This summarizes my life. Threatening to topple at the least imbalance and any flashes of happiness are fleeting—I always end up flat on my face.”

  “I didn’t need a demonstration.” He grins and holds out his hand. “Use your words, Kerry.” He says it in the same voice a parent would use with a toddler.

  It makes me laugh a little. I put my hand in his palm. He pulls me up, and I’m standing in front of him, with his hand in mine. “Life sucks. I want a do-over.”

  “Yeah, I get that. Believe me. I understand the whole life blows thing, but there are no do-overs. You have to make the most of whatever hand you got dealt this round. Next time will be better.”

  “You haven’t known me long enough. Next round is going to catch on fire.” I jab my free thumb into my chest. “I’m THAT girl.”

  Carter’s expression is soft and kind. He watches me for a moment, his eyes moving along the curve of my cheek and then dropping to our hands. “I’m not okay sitting in this class and drawing you. I can’t be detached.”

  “So don’t be. Be attached. Be a fucking emotionally available hard-on American male. Carter, maybe it’ll take you in a direction as an artist that you haven't imagined.”

  “Yeah.” He swallows hard. “That’s why I’m worried. I don’t want to be a rebound, Kerry.” He lifts my hand to his lips and places a soft kiss on my skin.

  It’s so sweet I can’t help it—I smile. “I’m going to be emotionally unavailable for a while. That was the PC way of saying I’m going batshit crazy and plan to focus pretty fucking hard on the crazy for a while. I feel like I don’t know who I am.” My brows knit together and I find myself trying to catch his eye, wishing I had his approval.

  “So find out. When you do, I’ll still be here.” He offers a half smile and drops my hand. That surprises me. It seems as if his anger has faded and he’s ready to put everything behind us and move forward.

  “What about Professor Smith? And the class?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about with Smith. I wasn’t in his office tonight.” He winks at me, and a lazy smile spreads across his lips. “If you don’t mind me being here—”

  “I want you here.”

  “Then I’ll stay in the class.”

  CHAPTER 2

  Holy Hell, that was insane. Carter seems appeased for the moment, and what he wants is out there in the open. At one time, such an honest declaration of intentions would have made my panties drop to my ankles in a lead-like thump. But now? Not so much.

  I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Maybe I have supersized PMS, and I won’t feel better until I scream my head off and punch something. I kick off my sweats and get naked behind the makeshift screen (which is actually a hugeass supply cabinet) in the back of the classroom. Carter is waiting in his seat, and the door is open.

  I hear Nate pad into the room. He clears his throat and speaks softly. I peak around the corner of the cabinet and see Nate and Carter talking. I get the impression they know each other—like beyond the classroom. It’s just a sense, and there’s no evidence to support it. I pause, listening. Too bad I can’t hear anything.

  I call out, “I need the drape.”

  Nate turns, and, when his eyes sweep over my face, I know there are more words there—things unsaid, regret, and something more. He nods, no longer urging me to quit. Crossing the room, he opens one of the many cabinets lining the far wall and pulls out the same drape as last week. He carries it across the open space and hands it to me. “Here.”

  I take it with both hands and wrap the fabric over my shoulders, before stepping out into the room. I probably shouldn’t ask him for help, but it’s either taunt Carter with my nakedness or ask the man who’s already seen my ass to help me cover it.

  “You’re frowning. What’s wrong?” Nate asks softly. His hair falls over his forehead as his gaze sweeps the set he recreated from last time. He must have set it up before Carter and I arrived tonight. Nate steps forward, moves the chaise slightly, then steps back.
>
  “I need help with the drape.”

  He stops tipping his head at the little set and glances at me. “Right, of course. Please sit and I’ll move it into position.”

  This moment is the definition of awkward. Carter is watching us intently while Nate tries not to touch me at all. It’s like I’m carrying a pox, and he’s afraid he'll catch it. Stop thinking. This is shadows and light. He isn’t thinking about anything else—like parting my thighs and lying on top of me. The memory of Nate’s strong hands on my hips flashes through my mind and fades like a shooting star. Move on, Kerry. That part of your screwed up life is gone.

  At least I think it is, but the way Nate is looking at me right now, coupled with that kiss in his office has me wondering if he changed his mind. Maybe he wants a fuckbuddy after all? The thing about one-nighters and me—I kind of wish they lasted longer than one night.

  I carefully arrange myself on the chaise and adjust the drape so that it still covers me as I slide down sideways onto my hip. When I position my arms to their previous placement, the drape drops and pools at my hips. There’s a little side-boob showing, but nothing else.

  Nate grabs the edge and pulls. The fabric slips away, chilling me as it goes.

  “Kerry,” Carter calls out, “your legs are in the wrong position. Last time, the top one was extended.”

  “Right.” I feel the blush on my cheeks and am glad I’m facing in the other direction. I shift my legs and inadvertently pull the fabric as I move.

  Nate moves back to the foot of the chaise, and rearranges the material, pooling the fabric into a waterfall of folds.

  “Sorry.”

  Nate glances up at me, and I can tell he wants to say something, but he doesn’t. Instead, he tweaks the rest of the set and adjusts the lights.

  Students begin filing in and grabbing their sketches from last time. Emily walks by without a word. I think she’s still pissed at me. I consider jumping up and giving her a big bear hug, but I think that would make things worse.

 
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