Violet has a secret that could change the lives of everyone she knows and loves, especially the regulars at the run-down café bar where she works. After losing her parents at a young age, they are the closest thing she has to a family and she feels responsible for them.
Kai is a jaded music producer who has just moved outside of town. Seeking solitude from the stress of his job, he’s looking for seclusion. The only problem is he can’t seem to escape the band members and songwriters who keep showing up at his house.
When Kai wanders into the bar and Violet’s life, he accidentally discovers her closely guarded secret. Can Kai help her rediscover her self-confidence or should some secrets remain undiscovered?
“There’s a reason Lizzie Chantree is one of my favourite romance authors: her writing is so quirky, distinctive and unique and you so want her female characters to be your real-life friends. A highly recommended read…”— Isabella May, Author of Oh! What a Pavlova
Excerpt of SHH… IT’S OUR SECRET by Lizzie Chantree
Violet had made a terrible mistake. Looking around the buzzing room from her hiding place by the kitchen door, she realized 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.
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.
Ten months earlier
Violet 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 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 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.
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