Secrets

By: H.M. Ward

PROLOGUE

Everyone has a secret.

Some people will do anything to protect it.

I’m practically giddy with excitement as that dream is within grasp. I’m sitting across from Sophia Sottero. She’s an amazing wedding photographer for the affluent families of New York. In a nutshell, she is everything I want to be, and meeting her in the flesh is so overwhelming I can barely contain myself. I try not to squirm in my seat as her gaze slides over my resume.

Sophia is in her early forties with jet-black hair that is smoothed into a neat chignon at the base of her neck. A slender, black suit showcases her figure perfectly and makes her look regal at the same time. I hold my hands in my lap, trying hard not to fidget. The smile that lines my lips is making my face hurt, but I can’t stop. A tiny voice inside my mind squeals with excitement.

Sophia glances up at me, “Tell me, Miss Lamore, why do you want to work at Sottero?”

Beaming, I reply, “Sottero is the most prestigious photography studio in New York City. The style your shooters attain is breathtaking.” My hand clutches my racing heart. It’s true. And with every fiber of my being I want to learn what she knows. “Everything about your studio makes me want to be a part of it. It’s not only the soaring reputation, but also what you do for each and every bride who comes here.”

“And what is that?”

“You make them feel like the most beautiful woman alive. For that entire day, each bride knows she’s flawless. You don’t just give them photographs, Ms. Sottero, you capture their dreams and freeze them in time. It takes heart and skill to do something like that, which is why I would love to have my internship here.”

Sophia’s gaze lowers to my resume as I’m speaking. When I’m done talking, her dark eyes lift to meet mine, “May I ask where else you applied?”

Normally I would figure out a way to dodge that question, but I want this job so much. I smile calmly and tell the truth, “Couture and Le Femme.”

A dark brow lifts when I say Le Femme. She places my papers on her desk and leans forward, “Le Femme? Really? What on earth made you apply there?”

“The University requires a minimum of three interviews, and we are supposed to diversify the positions we are looking at. They think it gives us a better footing post-graduation.” I practiced this response before I came. Anyone who finds out that I have an interview at Le Femme won’t take me seriously. It’s a blight on a pristine resume and an excellent grade point average.

Sophia tilts her head, like that is the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard. She points a perfectly manicured nail on the shiny desktop. “Listen, Anna. Let me do you a favor. I realize the kind of hoops you have to jump through to get your diploma, and the interview at Le Femme is just a waste of time. Cole Stevens is blight on the industry. His work is trash, and any aspiring young photographer should steer clear of him. I know it’s a necessary evil, so I’ll tell you how to end the interview quick and easy. Go in there and act confident to the point of cocky. Wear something that you should never wear to an interview and they’ll show you the door before you even sit down… Unless?” She lets the question hang in the air.

“Unless what?”

“Unless you want to work for Cole Stevens,” Sophia says with distaste, as she leans back in her chair. Although she’s trying to hide it, Sophia’s become tense since we started talking about Le Femme. I can’t tell if she just hates what the studio does, or if it’s more personal than that. She watches me for a moment, taking in my reaction.

I visibly shudder when she suggests such a thing. “I have no intention of working for Cole Stevens, Ms. Sottero. That interview is a means to an end. I want the internship here with Sottero. I’ll be the best intern you’ve ever had because I want to be here.”

“It’s a dream?”

“It’s more than a dream,” I say leaning forward in my chair. “Sottero is the place where dreams and reality collide. And somehow you figured out how to capture those moments in photographs that are too stunning for words. Forgive me for being blunt, Ms. Sottero, but I admire your work, your studio, and everything you stand for. If I was given the opportunity to learn from you I know it would give me a secure footing in a difficult industry.”

We speak for a little longer. I don’t fumble anything. Sophia appears to genuinely like me. As she walks me out, the older woman shakes my hand and says, “I think you’ll do well here, Miss Lamore. Contact me after your interview with Le Femme and we’ll see what we can work out.”

A grin spreads across my face. I shake her hand too long and too hard, but I don’t care. My dream job is sitting in the palm of my hand. The only thing left to do is finish up with Le Femme to satisfy the University’s requirements and then I’ll have an internship at Sottero!

CHAPTER 1

Sunlight pours through the slats in the blinds, forming narrow bars of light. I blink once, clearing the sleep from my eyes. Nerves don’t slither through my body the way they had yesterday. Today is different. Butterflies don’t erupt in my stomach and threaten to fly out my nose. My tongue isn’t dry and tangled. There is no frantic pounding in my chest. Not today. A slow grin spreads across my face as I stretch. Today is a means to an end.

After showering quickly, I slap on the outfit I selected the night before. Without glancing in the mirror, I head into the kitchen. The apartment is quiet. It’s Saturday and Emma is still asleep. At least I thought she was.

“Anna, what the hell are you wearing?” she asks groggily. My roommate is in the hallway, halfway into the bathroom. She stops and stares at me. A tattered robe clings to her narrow figure. Black hair is frizzed around her face, completely flat on one side. In a few hours, she’ll look like a model. It’s been like that since we started college. Emma is the hot one, and I’m “the hot girl’s friend.” Emma blinks several times, like her big blue eyes are broken. “Don’t you have an interview?”

I nod, grabbing an apple from the kitchen counter. As I sling my bag over my shoulder, I grab my keys and head toward the door, “All part of the plan.”

She doesn’t have time to respond before I’m out the front door, which is good because I would have lost my nerve. The entire time I’ve known Emma she has never let me escape unquestioned. I know she’ll pelt me with questions as soon as I get home. It makes sense that she’s a mass communication major. When she gets a job as a reporter, I know she’ll be good at it. Questioning people is in her DNA, and my outfit was sure to raise questions.

Sophia mentioned that she worked with Cole Stevens at one point and divulged some pet-peeves of his that will promptly end my interview. After the third interview is complete, only then can I get hired. University requirements.

I run down the stairs toward the street. Our apartment is a fourth floor walk-up, standard shoe-box-sized so that no one in their right mind would want to stay any longer than necessary. Emma and I rented it two years ago when we started graduate school.

Breakfast on the go isn’t a part of my ideal morning. Actually, getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday isn’t even sane, but this is the time slot I needed, the one where the interviewer is so tired that she needs to prop her head up with coffee mugs. Besides, who puts business meetings on Saturday morning at 7:00am? That makes this the worst interview time possible.

It’s just a formality, Anna, I tell myself. The past week has made me a jittery mess. The internship matters. The placements can mean getting a good job after college, and I need to be the best in my field to get anywhere in this field. Choosing the arts was insane enough, but being a photographer was even crazier. Everyone and their dog own a camera and claim to be awesome. Botching the internships could mean I’ll have to be some schlep trying to find work on Craig’s List, and I have sworn that won’t be me. Photography is art and I’m an artist.

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