Edited by Rebecca Rue Proofread by Keera Lydon Cover illustration by Rebecca Fischer
shh... it's our secret
Copyright © 2021 Lizzie Chantree All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please write to the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2020937296 ISBN Numbers: Hardcover: 978-1-64397-201-5 Softcover: 978-1-64397-202-2 Ebook: 978-1-64397-203-9 also available in a large print edition
For information, write: BHC Press 885 Penniman #5505 Plymouth, MI 48170
Visit the publisher: www.bhcpress.com
shh... it's our secret
chapter 1 Present day
iolet had made a terrible mistake. Looking around the buzzing room from her hiding place by the kitchen door, she realised that she should never have shared her secret with the world. Yes, she loved the fact that this room, the place that had been her world for so long, had turned from a desperate mess into the successful creative hub it was today. And she couldn’t help but raise a smile when she saw Esme and Doris sitting at the bar with Hal, looking so happy and carefree. But resentment still burned in her chest. Why couldn’t she feel that joy herself? Her shoulders slumped. She was trapped. She couldn’t run away and let these people down. They all depended on her now. They’d relied on her when this place was just a rundown coffee shop and karaoke bar. Now it was a popular music venue, with original breakthrough artists, and she was a big part of its success. It had been her dream to turn the café bar around, but not like this…not at the expense of her own happiness. She tried to brush the selfish thoughts away, but she felt like she’d had a headache for days. She just wanted
to hide under the covers in bed and ignore the world outside, but it felt as though there was someone constantly banging on her door and demanding that she wake up. Esme was perched at the bar on a tall stool and snorted loudly at one of Hal’s jokes, whilst waving her new walking stick at him, almost whacking a woman passing by. She was dressed in a bright yellow top today, and her scarf was swirls of burnt orange. Unlike her old accessories, this was made of silk and draped beautifully across her ample chest. Hal beamed a wide smile at Esme, and Violet was almost knocked sideways by the glare from his new teeth. She grabbed onto the doorframe for support, hardly believing her eyes. She recalled him proudly telling her that he was getting his broken teeth capped and whitened. She should have called him to see how it had gone, but she hadn’t had a moment. Her phone had been ringing so much that she’d finally thrown it into the bin with such force that there had been a satisfying crack as the screen broke and died. Hal turned to Esme’s friend, Doris. She was still wearing her favourite stripy jumper, but she now had a beautifully crafted hat perched on her freshly tinted curls and her make-up made her look about ten years younger. Violet knew they were all enjoying the changes happening in their lives, and she felt a punch of guilt to her stomach that she might be the one to destroy it. The other people in the bar were a mix of ages and they were all chatting and enjoying the live music. The latest singer was really good, and she hoped that this exposure would help him find a new audience. She wished with all her heart that she could go into the main bar area and join the crowd. She used to enjoy interacting with customers. All she’d ever wanted was to support other singers and to run a place where locals could come together to chase away isolation—and feel like they belonged.
shh... it’s our secret
She glanced up and saw Kai standing by the stage. He looked as strong and handsome as ever, but her heart had a wall of ice around it. He spotted her at the same time and his eyes lit up with joy, then he noticed her body language and the fact that she was still hiding, and the smile slipped from his face. He bent and said something to a man standing at the side of the little stage and then headed toward her through the crowds. She knew they had to talk about what had happened, but she felt that her needs had been ignored and she was alone. With no parents to run to and her makeshift family all here in the bar, she wanted to slump on the floor and sleep for a week. A lone tear escaped from her eye and ran down her cheek, but she angrily brushed it away before Kai saw it, and she summoned up enough energy to turn and leave the bar before anyone else saw her and all hell broke loose. She thought back to the start of the year and how repetitive and simple her days had been then, even when she was exhausted. Then she remembered the moment Kai had walked into her life, and how everything had changed.
chapter 2 Ten months earlier
iolet held the glass up to the window by the open door and checked for imperfections. Liam would complain if she left so much as a tiny smear on the rim, even though he never bothered to do any of the work himself. The children were playing in the bright sunshine in the yard behind the coffee shop and she began to hum along to the radio she’d put on earlier. She glanced into the shop to make sure no one had wandered in at such an early hour, and then she felt her throat vibrate as she began to sing along quietly. The sound filled the room, her soft tone enveloping her in a warm feeling, and for the first time in a while she felt carefree and happy. She would never dream of singing in front of anyone other than her sister Mollie’s children, Fliss and Bobby. She collected them every day before her shift in the café and gave them breakfast so Mollie could go off to work. It did mean Violet, who lived in the flat above the café, had to fetch the children before she started her own day. But with this help, her sister was able to hold down a full-time job. And Mollie had to pay the mortgage on her little house after her husband
shh... it’s our secret
had walked out and left her for a woman who was ten years older and looked like a horse. Violet loved having the children around. Collecting them meant she got out of the coffee shop for a while, and her sister could stop fretting about them having time for a hearty breakfast. They ate at the shop and, as they were old enough now, they then walked to their school, which was just down the road in the small town she was based in. Liam was never up early enough to open the shop and said that’s what he employed her for, but she actually loved the early mornings when it was peaceful and still. Thinking about her boyfriend Liam made her bones ache, and she also remembered that he’d forgotten to pay her again this month. The place she worked in was more of a bar than a coffee shop now, although it hadn’t started that way. Liam owned it and he’d added a stage and opened it up every Friday night to karaoke and some live acts. It wasn’t very popular, but his rowdy friends managed to fill it each week, barely paying for drinks, while Liam lapped up the attention and laughed in Violet’s face when women draped themselves all over him to get free alcohol. He expected her to work there after a long day in the coffee bar, watching as he stroked other girls’ hair while he stared into her eyes and enjoyed her pain. He would then try and cuddle her later and wonder why she turned away. This made him angry, and he often said she didn’t appreciate all he did for her— and he was right. She only had her job and home because of him. When they’d met, his parents had just asked him to take the place over due to his dad’s ill health and, as he’d been let go from the sales job he’d had for two years, he’d jumped at the chance. He’d been looking for new employment, but it was harder than he’d thought, as his old bosses were less than complimentary about his work ethic in his references. Violet had been a regular at his parents’ coffee shop and knew lots of the people there. She had worked next door with her best friend who
had a craft shop. It wasn’t doing so well, and Annalise had reluctantly told Violet that she couldn’t afford her anymore. Violet would have loved to have stayed working there for free, but she had to pay rent on the tiny, little one-bedroom flat she lived in down a side street in the town, and it was almost Christmas, so she had really needed some work. She had been staring into space and despondently stirring a sachet of sugar into her coffee when Liam, who had been watching her from the counter, sat down and asked her why she looked so glum before winking at her. She’d gone bright red because he was good looking, in a city boy sort of way, with slicked back blond hair and designer stubble. After he’d asked her again, she’d shyly told him that she’d just lost her job. He had lifted her chin and made her meet his eyes, and then said a few staff had left when he’d taken over and he was just about to place an advert in the window for a new team. She could see why everyone had left now, as he was a slave driver. He enjoyed bossing everyone around and strutted like a peacock, but didn’t lift a finger to help. He happily took any money the shop made, but didn’t reinvest it when things got worn out and stopped working. He just expected her or the other staff members to pick up the slack and work harder. It was probably her own fault for letting him get away with it, but he could be so sweet sometimes, and when he was in a good mood, all was right in her world. It was just the other times… Smiling at Fliss and Bobby, who were playing with a ball outside, she sang along to the music on the radio and then turned the sound down and began to sing one of her own songs. The raw emotion of the words made her draw a deep breath, as the feelings they evoked were personal and heartbreaking. She sang about her life and the loss her parents, of finding love only to discover it was as painful as it was joyous, and of the way she wished she could reach out of her life and break free but still carry parts of it with her. She always felt conflicted when she sang, but she also felt liberated. She would never
shh... it’s our secret
sing in front of anyone else and embarrass herself, but it was a compulsion that she couldn’t shake. Singing was the one thing in her life that filled her soul with happiness, as much as it terrified her. Her sister asked her time and again to sing to her but she always said no, she couldn’t. It was something that she’d shared with her parents, and without them it felt wrong. Her sister would be devastated to find out Violet sang to her children, but they were so innocent that they didn’t hear the sadness behind the words, only the melody and the sound they loved to hear, and they always begged her to begin again. She hadn’t asked them to not tell their mum, but Mollie eventually tired of asking and the kids hadn’t brought it up. It was something that they enjoyed doing together, and Fliss and Bobby were a rapt audience. Violet sometimes wondered if she should move on and out of the flat she now shared with Liam, but as he rarely paid her, she didn’t have any money to leave. She occasionally asked herself if he didn’t give her money for that reason, then she felt ungrateful and told herself he would never treat her that way.
t had been a long week. Violet brushed her hair out of her eyes and secured the slick ponytail she always wore, as it kept her appearance neat and meant she didn’t have to bother fussing with her raven locks every day before work. By the end of the day, she had probably brushed her hand through her hair so many times in exhaustion that tendrils poked out in all directions, and she imagined that she looked like a scarecrow. She was too tired to care, and now it was Friday night. Although she’d been there since six, she had two hours to tidy up with the help of Hal, who had arthritis and could only bend at the waist, and she ended up running around after him and worrying about his hip joints flaring up, too. He was such a sweetheart and only stayed out of loyalty to Liam’s parents—and because he thought she needed someone in her corner, thanks to the way her boyfriend behaved. He reasoned with her that she could make better choices, but he didn’t see the kinder side of Liam, just the boss who was plain bossy. Violet used to love this job, but lately it was becoming a chore. Hal began to pick up the plates and cutlery left around, and she gave him a quick hug to let him know how much he was appreciated. He grinned a toothy smile back at her, which reminded her she needed to book him into the dentist. He lived alone and often forgot to look
shh... it’s our secret
after himself, so Violet chided him and made sure he was ok. He spent all day looking after others, as did she, but she was determined that he would know how much she appreciated him, too. He was one of the people who kept her sane. She didn’t have any family other than her sister and her children, so the regulars and staff at the coffee shop had become her family over the years. Not the Friday night crew, just the ones who visited during the day. They only had about twenty regulars, but they were an oddball community of loners who came together as a homemade family. They didn’t spend much, as most of them were on the breadline, but what they did have they spent at the café. They often told Violet that she brightened their day with her caring manner, and they thought she was born for this job. Violet wasn’t so sure. She loved helping people, but the coffee shop wasn’t her vocation. She could never share with them what it really was, as they would probably laugh. At least she had been able to persuade Liam to let a few proper singers try out their music on a Friday night. Unfortunately, he and his cronies often got drunk and heckled them, so not many returned for a second show. Violet could see that Liam was gradually destroying the business and it was really only her keeping it alive, but when she tentatively broached the subject, he screamed at her that it was his place and she could go and live and work somewhere else if she didn’t like it. She had cowered away and learnt not to bring it up again. Lately, Liam spent days recovering from big nights out and sometimes stayed away with friends, so he was in the bar less and less. It was hard to make it look presentable with the tools at hand, but she was determined to keep it running for as long as she could. Where would her regulars go without the bar? Most of them used it as a home away from home and they would be distraught if it shut down, as would she. She viewed herself as one of them; a loner with not much going on. But she didn’t cling to them just because she
was lonely. She clung to them because she loved each and every one of them. Her favourites, beside Hal, were two old ladies who lived in flats on a nearby housing estate. Violet worried about them constantly. She knew they didn’t have enough money to heat their homes, but they still came in and managed to share a piece of cake. She didn’t tell Liam, but she always cut an extra-thick slice and saved it for them, presenting it with two spoons, and she gave them free refills of their pot of tea for two. It was only a tea bag and water, for goodness sake, and as Liam didn’t pay her anymore, she saw it as in lieu of her wages. Esme and Doris were such colourful characters. Esme had warm brown skin and sparkling eyes. She always wore a bright scarf whatever the weather, and her laugh was loud enough to crack glass. Doris was just as bad with her stripy jumpers and blue leggings. Her skin was pale and mottled and her hair was grey, and mostly stood out at funny angles as though she’d just stuck her finger in an electrical socket, and she often squashed on a jaunty hat. Violet shook off the memory with a smile and wiped down the coffee bar counter. She looked around the shop to see if anything else needed doing. As you entered the shop, there were several square wooden tables with colourful plastic chairs. Toward the back righthand corner was the bar and the entrance to the small patio garden outside that customers could use to sit in the sun. Most of the Friday night regulars stood and smoked out there, which meant Violet spent her Saturday mornings sweeping up the detritus, as Liam was too mean to buy more than a couple of ashtrays. Opposite the bar was a small, square stage area. There was just enough space for four or five people, but as it tended to be solo singers or a few people singing karaoke out of tune, it didn’t need to be any bigger. There was room for a couple of amps to plug guitars into and a huge speaker at each side of the stage. Liam had even fitted up strobe lighting, but as it usually hit people in the eyes and made them fall over, he’d had to
shh... it’s our secret
unplug that effect. She’d tried to advise him to place it a little lower, but he hadn’t listened. She was glad it didn’t work anyway as it made the place feel more like a teenage disco than a serious music venue. She’d also tried to talk to Liam about the way his ‘friends’ used this place as a free bar and pick-up joint, but he’d just roared with laughter and swatted her on the backside, which made her skin sting and her face flush. She hated his friends, but she had to plaster on a smile and put up with them leering all over her and demanding not to pay for their drinks. Sighing, she rinsed out the glass she’d just picked up and called out to Hal that she would rustle up a quick dinner for him, then he must go home and rest before their busiest day of the week, Saturday. Liam always slept through Saturdays, so at least she was able to chat to customers without him making snide remarks about slacking, and she could hum along to the music she chose on the radio without him shushing her and turning it over to punk rock. He also couldn’t moan at her when she bumped into things and knocked them over. She was sure it was his presence that made her so jittery, but she had always been a bit of a klutz.
about the author International bestselling author Lizzie Chantree enjoys writing books full of friendship and laughter featuring women with unusual, adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realize. In addition to writing, she is also an award-winning inventor. She started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. Lizzie’s work has been featured in Writing Magazine, Writers’ Forum Magazine, Essex Life Magazine as well as BBC Essex, Essex Radio, and many more. A believer in kindness, Lizzie also works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support each other. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex, UK.