She snapped a few pictures of the group ahead of them, getting a long-range perspective, so the foreman wouldn’t feel as if she was too focused on him. “So you must have worked here a long time to reach that position,” she surmised.
“Since I was a young’un,” he said, and this time his smile was more genuine. She smiled back, her heart softening even more.
He went on. “I was hired by the old Mr. Blackstone himself. I tell you, I about wet my pants that day.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, moving forward once more. “He was a fierce one. I just happened to get lucky—or unlucky, as it were. The hiring manager was sick the day of my interview. But I must have passed muster, because he hired me on the spot. I was seventeen.”
They picked their way down halls, pausing beside rooms with water and smoke damage. Sadie managed some more artistic photos of the damage, along with pictures of Bateman while he surveyed the areas. The deeper they journeyed into the building, the harder it became for Sadie to breathe, though she tried not to let it show. Her body felt hot, as if it could still feel the flames, even though she knew that was impossible.
The effects of the explosion became more evident as they proceeded. Sadie could tell they were coming closer to the heart of the plant. Closer to the connection to the admin building where the bomb had been placed. Here pieces of the ceiling were missing; what parts of the walls were left were completely charred and the smoke lay like a blanket over them.
Bateman paused just inside the entrance to a long, cavernous room. As Sadie paused next to him, she noticed the remnants of two-by-fours that had once formed wall dividers, the twisted metal remnants of filing cabinets against the far walls. This room had once been either offices or cubicles. At the far end of the room, the group of men ahead of them also paused. Sadie tried not to watch but couldn’t miss Zach’s proud bearing and confident interactions with those around him.
Her heart ached, even if she didn’t want to acknowledge it. So she turned back to Bateman.
“Since seventeen? That is a long time.”
Bateman’s smile was tinged with something sad. “Yes, I’ve been here a long time. My sons work here. And last year my grandson came to work here, too.”
“Your family is very important to you.”
“Always.” Again she saw that sheen of tears, though he tried to hide it by turning his face in the other direction. “If this place closes, what will happen to us? We’ve always been close. But they’re already looking for jobs elsewhere.”
Sadie rarely found herself in this position in her day job, but she’d spent more than her fair share of time in hospitals. Her natural compassion asserted itself. She couldn’t help patting his arm, though she pretended not to see his tears. Grown men almost always preferred it that way.
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” she said, hoping her words would soothe him. “From the sounds of it, the Blackstones are gonna do everything they can to keep that from happening.”
In her peripheral vision, she saw Bateman blink several times and nod. To give him more privacy, she glanced back at the other men—and found Zach’s dark stare trained on her.
This time, she couldn’t look away. She felt almost paralyzed by the intensity, as if by sheer will he could see deep inside her.
And for once, she wished she could show him.
Suddenly the connection broke as Zach glanced up and his eyes widened. “Watch out,” he yelled.
Sadie quickly followed his example and looked at the ceiling. Her mind barely registered some kind of debris falling before she flung her hands out to push Bateman away.
It happened fast. She pushed. Bateman pulled. Pain slashed across her cheek. The camera shattered. They both went down, then Sadie saw stars across her field of vision before everything went blank.
* * *
“Really, I’m fine.”
Zach watched as Sadie went a few rounds with the nurse in the temporary first aid center they had set up.
“No, you’re not. That cut needs stitches,” the nurse, Marty, said.
If anything, Sadie paled even more. “Just butterfly it.”
“And mar that gorgeous face forever?” The young guy was aghast. And no, that slinky dark emotion wheedling into Zach was not jealousy—or any form of territorial assertion. “No, ma’am.”