Suddenly Sadie felt as though someone had dialed up the spotlight.
“I believe she is,” KC replied.
“How did you know?” Sadie asked.
“Honey, it’s a small town.” KC’s smile was friendly, not condescending as Sadie had expected. “Trust me, everybody knows.”
“I don’t know,” Aiden said with a frown.
Christina patted his chest. “I’ll fill you in later, dear.”
That didn’t stop him from studying Sadie in a way that made her more reluctant than ever to stay. But KC picked up her now watered-down drink from the counter and dumped it before starting a fresh one. “Come on over and tell us about yourself,” she invited.
Sadie hung on to that friendly smile, even though she knew more than anyone how deceiving it might be from a stranger. But she needed these people for her mission, so she forced her feet forward.
“What do you do, Sadie?” Christina asked.
“I’m a photographer.” It wasn’t the entire truth. She did take photographs. She just didn’t do it for a living, as she’d led them all to believe.
“Oh, where’s your camera?”
“Outside.” She’d been afraid Zach would make a scene if she brought it in.
Christina didn’t seem fazed. “Have you had anything published?”
“Yes, actually. A few pieces through Barnhill Press.” The art press wasn’t anything to sneeze at, so at least Sadie didn’t feel like such a fraud.
Until another voice chimed in. “So you no longer describe yourself as domestic help?”
The people around her froze, unsure how to take Zach’s comment. Sadie had no problem with being seen as domestic help. After all, she’d fallen into that category all of her life.
She’d tried to stick as close to the truth as possible. She’d only ever held two things back from Zach the first time around: her employer’s true identity and her sister’s situation.
Sadie raised her chin and spoke confidently. “Actually, my longtime employer recently passed away. I’m taking a bit of a break before looking for a new position.”
“Good luck,” Aiden said.
“Thank you.” She took a deep breath for courage. “I have an idea I think might interest you.”
Suddenly the trio on this side of the bar with her adopted that slightly uncomfortable look that rich people got when they know they were about to be asked for money. She’d seen it often enough back home. But that wasn’t what she wanted...
“I wondered if I could have your permission to shoot a series of photographs about the rebuilding of the mill? I visited the town several years ago and became quite attached to it.” If they only knew... “From what the people here have been telling me about your family and what you are doing to keep the town alive, well, it’s incredible.”
She smiled brightly at Christina, since the woman’s calm features were easier to focus on. “If nothing else, I think it would make a wonderful memento for the people of the town.”
Christina glanced back up at her husband. “Aiden, that sounds wonderful.”
“I could talk to the publisher at Barnhill. I’ve worked with him on several projects...though this would be my first solo proposal,” she added, feeling the need to be honest.
On the other side of the bar, she could feel a sense of frustrated resistance coming from Zach. He stared at her, though she refused to meet his gaze. Luckily, she’d already gotten a positive response or she had a feeling he would have blasted her before his employer, simply to keep her from getting close.
Though he still didn’t know how close she planned to be...
KC must have sensed it, too, because she kept glancing sideways at her brother. But she didn’t speak. Finally Aiden said, “That does sound good. I am a bit worried about safety issues—”
Before he or Zach could go further, she cut him off. “Not a problem. I’ve already seen the destruction at the mill, and I would definitely need someone to steer me in the safest direction. Someone local, with a lot of experience with the area who could introduce me to people who know the history, the ins and outs of the area. The people and places that make Black Hills so special...”