White Charms and Dark Secrets – Cece Rose

Hey, sexy! How about some service down here!” a voice calls from the far end of the bar. I roll my eyes and finish up with the lady I’m serving, before slowly forcing myself to walk down to the customer who’d yelled. I have no idea what his name is, but he comes in here most days. He stares at every woman in sight, most notably at their chests, and then proceeds to get so drunk, he’s practically carried out by his friends at the end of the night. After only two weeks working here, I’ve already become used to his irritating behaviour. “The usual?” I prod in a polite tone, trying not to scrunch up my nose as I breathe in his stench. Close proximity to this guy proved a bad idea, unless you enjoy the overwhelming scent of cheap lager, stale cigarettes, and desperation. “I’ll take that, unless you’ve got something else you want to offer me?” he suggests, as his lecherous eyes scan my body. I ignore his comment and instead opt to pull his pint in response. Apparently, it’s impossible to escape skeezball men in London. Go figure. Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck whatsoever finding a decent job since quitting my last. The only place that would hire me is this dive. Being cursed with bad luck is officially the worst thing ever. It takes everything I have to only slam the pint down on the bar and not this guy’s head.

“That’ll be four seventy-five,” I grind out through gritted teeth. “You know, you’d be prettier if you smiled more,” he replies, holding out a crumpled five-pound note. I wait for him to place it on the bar rather than take it directly from his hand. I really don’t want to touch him. I snag the note the second he’s laid it down, putting it into the till and grabbing his change. I set that onto the bar top too, deliberately ignoring his outstretched hand. He glares at me before snatching up the drink and his change, before turning to re-join his friends across the room. I breathe out a sigh of relief as he leaves. Fuck, I hate working here. But, I’d hate having no money to pay my electric bill even more.

“Are you okay?” a warm, familiar voice asks me. Instantly I feel better, and a smile crosses over my face as I look up at Darren. “What are you doing here?” I ask brightly, pleased to see him here. The rest of my shift would pass by quicker with him around. “I came in for a drink,” he lies, taking a seat at the bar. My pointed glance around the place conveys my scepticism. “Yeah, because this clearly looks like your scene,” I scoff, pretending to wipe down the side with a rag, just in case. If by some miracle the manager decides to venture out of the office, I don’t want to get caught talking. Well, in truth, that would just be my luck. “You working here makes it my scene,” he responds.

Again, making me smile. Since Lizzy left a month ago, Darren has been the only person around for me to talk to. Considering Rhydian’s convenient absence, he was missing someone from his life as well. When I attempted to press Darren for information about Rhydian’s whereabouts, he grew cagey. All he’d said was that Rhydian tended to come and go from his life, but that he always came back. I can’t figure out if his reticence stems from a desire to hide something or worry over something happening between me and Rhydian. Either way, when Rhydian does come back, I have a lot of questions for him. “Can I get you something to drink?” I ask. “You know what I like,” he answers. “But what strikes your fancy?” I gesture over my shoulder at the bottles of liquor that line the wall behind me.

“Well, it has been a long day…” he says, trailing off and leaving me to decide. “Whiskey for you, then.” I grab a bottle of the best stuff this shithole offers, pour a generous serving into a tumbler, and push it towards him. “How much do I owe you?” he asks, reaching for his wallet. “How about a ride home in about an hour? If you have your car?” I counter, letting hope tinge my voice. “I parked around the back of the bar,” he answers, grinning at me. “Sweet. Let’s hope I make it through the rest of this stupid shift in one piece.” I flash him another quick smile in return and saunter off, heading towards the other end of the bar to serve someone else. Despite all the tension between the two of us, since Lizzy left he’d stepped back a little.

I appreciated his willingness to just be my friend right now. I haven’t felt in a place for a relationship, but as I sneak glances back at him, I must admit that I remember all the reasons I fell for him the first time. His humour, the magnetic attraction he exudes, even just the fact he came by this dive to make my shift less terrible. “What can I get for you?” I ask the patient couple standing by the bar. “A pint for me and double vodka redbull for the missus,” the guy answers as he curves his arm around her waist. She leans into his touch, looking blissful, as if they were in some romantic, fancy restaurant, instead of this dive. Love is blind after all. And it also seems to lack a sense of smell. This place could use an air freshener, or twenty. “That comes to eight twenty-five,” I tell them, as I fix up their drinks.

I keep sneaking looks down at Darren, who sits engrossed by his phone and oblivious to me by all outward appearances. His glass is already empty. No surprises there. Biting my lip, I begin to once again worry what to do about my non-relationship with him. He wants to be with me, he’d made that clear even with him currently backing off to just be my friend right now. I want him too, but with the constant anxiety over what would happen to him if I change my mind crashing over me, I can’t allow myself happiness. Not if it meant he might be stuck alone for the rest of his life because I failed to commit or changed my mind. After setting their drinks down, I take the couple’s money. I can’t help my wide smile when the guy pops the change into the otherwise barren tip jar. Maybe my bad luck is finally over? The sound of something shattering fills the air, and I look across the bar towards the source of the noise.

I spot Darren’s glass, crushed into pieces and left in front of his now empty seat. But where the hell is Darren now? “Hey, what the fuck!” the slimy regular from before sputters. I whip around, my eyes all but bulging out at the sight of Darren leaning over their table. All the drinks lay knocked on their side, the liquid spilling over onto the table and their laps. Shit. I hop up, scrambling over the bar just as the idiot human stands and squares up to Darren. Darren laughs, his confidence is obvious as the human swings a fist at him. Darren catches it with ease and twists, pulling it behind the man’s back. The human cries out in pain. “Darren!” I yell.

What the hell is he thinking beating up the customers? Even if they are skeezballs. He turns to look at me, and I instantly grow cold. There’s a reflective look in his eyes that isn’t quite human. I need to get him out of here, now. He slams the human’s head down onto the table, and the other men sitting around it jump up. Shock and horror paint their faces as blood mixes with the booze spreading across the table’s surface. I place a cautious hand on Darren’s back, trying to get his attention back on me and away from the human. “Darren, you should leave now,” I assert as calmly as I can, not wanting to intensify this rage he is in. His only response is to grunt and slam the idiot human’s head down again. “Darren!” I screech this time.

Slapping my hand on his back repeatedly, I risk drawing his rage to me, but I need to get him to stop for a second. He freezes, and then drops his hold on the human, letting him slide to the floor. I try to skirt around Darren, so I can make sure the human is okay—well, alive anyway. However, Darren promptly yanks me back, away from the unconscious man with a possessive arm curved around my waist as he drags me. “What the hell are you doing?” I demand, trying to wriggle free. Once we stand on the far side of the room, he releases me. I attempt to step forward so I can head back over to check on the customer, but he grabs me once more, pushing me against the wall. He releases me again, but this time he plants his feet and crosses his arms, determined not to let me pass. He acts as if I’m the one who needs to be held back. He’s acting irrational and a little insane.

“Get out of the way,” I hiss, struggling to step past him. “You’re not going over there,” he declares through clenched teeth and with a decisive nod, continuing to prevent me from moving. “Why not? You can’t do this! Not where I work. Have you lost your mind?” I implore him to see reason, annoyance beginning to morph into concern. His eyes have returned to normal, but a slight tremor racks his body and a sheen of sweat covers his brow. I bite my lip and my heart pounds in an erratic tempo. What if he turns here? Over the past few weeks I’ve done some research to brush up on my shifter knowledge, and I remember reading that they can lose control and turn if pushed far enough. But what drove him to attack? “It’s not like you to act like this, so why did you do that?” I ask again, softer this time. He reaches out, brushing some hair from my face. “Kayla, I—” “What’s going on out here?” a voice booms from the staff only door, cutting off whatever Darren was about to say.

“You need to go, now,” I tell him with a light shove, my eyes darting around the bar. I try to move away from Darren, but he sticks close, as if worried I’ll walk back over there. The men across the room point over at Darren. I notice the one Darren punched has regained consciousness, and his friends have helped him lean up against a wall. With a nervous gulp, I watch as my manager’s eyes follow the direction of their gesture towards Darren and then find me standing next to him. Shit. I can see it written on his face. My time as an employee in this shithole has come to an end. Great. “Come on, it looks like we both need to go now,” I groan, grabbing Darren’s hand and practically dragging him out of the bar.

We trudge in silence to where is car is parked. I try to let go of his hand, but he keeps hold of me until we reach the vehicle. “Get in.” He holds the passenger door open for me. “Not until you tell me what the hell just happened there? I’m out of a job because of you!” I snap, crossing my arms. “Good. You shouldn’t be working there anyway,” he mutters. “You can get into the car of your own volition, or I can throw you in, Kayla. It’s your choice. What’s it going to be?” He looks me in the eyes, and I can see that he’s dead serious.

“Only if you promise to explain,” I grumble. “I’ll explain in the damn car. Now hurry up, I can hear them leaving out the front now. They’re looking for us,” he replies calmly. I glance around, not seeing anything, but I trust that Darren wouldn’t lie to me. I sigh and slump into the car, slamming my door after me. In mere seconds Darren slides into the driver’s side, starting the car and bringing it roaring to life. He drives a nice car, but not in your face nice. Smooth, heated leather seats and stylish interior, but nothing too flashy or eye catching on the outside. It blended in, something we all need to do around humans.

Something Darren clearly didn’t think of tonight. He drives as fast as he can get away with, and I’m thankful we’re in a less crowded burrow. I soon notice that instead of heading in the direction of my place, it seems we’re driving out of London. I can only assume our destination is Darren’s house. “I shouldn’t have done that, I’m sorry,” he says finally, breaking the tense silence. “Then why did you?” I pry, my inquisitiveness not allowing me to let this go. “He said things. Bad things,” he answers evasively. “What? He said something bad about me?” I ask, rolling my eyes. “You can’t beat the crap out of someone just for saying something bad about me.

” “He claimed he planned to follow you when you finished work,” Darren growls, slamming his hand against the steering wheel. I realise exactly what pushed him now, the ice-cold wave of reality crashing into me. “Well, it would have been fine,” I try to rationalise. “Because I planned to leave with you, remember? Instead of protecting me then, you decided to attack him in the bar and made me lose my damn job. Plus, I’m a witch, Darren. I can fight off a puny human,” I try to reassure him. “What about if he tried again one night when you left the bar by yourself?” he questions, his face serious. “I just told you, I’m a witch, and I can take care of myself.” He raises an eyebrow, his doubt evident. “Kayla, you know ‘haphazard’ best describes your powers, and you barely use your magic anyway.

” “I don’t need a shifter lecturing me on how bad a witch I am,” I mutter, huffing as I turn away and glower out the window. “You’re amazing at so many things, Kayla. Magic just doesn’t happen to be one of them, and that’s okay. He could have hurt you, though, and that’s not okay. You’re not going back there,” he declares. “Well, you haven’t exactly left me with any choice. I doubt even that dive would take me back after you beat the shit out of one of their best customers,” I groan, dropping my head into my hands. Maybe my bad luck was over? Right. How stupid could I be?

.

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