“Will that be it for you today?” Mia asked politely as she scanned the book in her hand and set it down on the pile she had already rung up. She looked at the young man in front of her who barely spared her a glance. Instead his eyes were glued to his cellphone, his fingers firing off a text message to someone or another.
“Yeah, sure,” he replied absently as he slid his phone into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet.
Mia pushed a button on the register and totaled up the transaction, “Your total will be $54.76.”
He pulled some bills out of his wallet and laid it on the counter. Mia counted the bills and hit a few keys on the register. The machine dinged and the cash drawer popped open. Putting the bills in the drawer, she counted out the man’s change. Handing the bills and coins over to the man, she picked up his books and slid them in to a purple cloth bag with the store’s logo on it.
“Thanks for shopping at Beans and Books. Have a good day,” Mia said automatically as she handed the customer his shopping bag. He grunted a reply and grabbed his books. Without a second glance, he turned towards the exit and head out in to the dark night.
Mia glanced at the clock on the register. There were ten more minutes till closing. She glanced around the store. Thursday nights were usually dead and tonight was no different. She recognized a couple of college girls from the nearby university browsing the fashion magazines while a middle aged business man in a wrinkled suit was looking through the children’s books. Besides the three, the front of the store was empty.
Glancing towards the café, Mia saw Rachel wiping down the tables. The café side of Beans and Books usually closed fifteen minutes before closing. All the pastries that hadn’t been sold for the day would be waiting in the back for employees to take home with them. Mia wasn’t a huge fan of sweets, but it did help with her grocery bill so she would take her share of whatever was left. If there was any coffee left, she could definitely use a cup.
Glancing at the clock once more, she began to straighten up the counter. She placed the returned books and items on the cart next to the register. Whoever was working the morning shift would take care of it. She gathered the gift card sales receipts and left them in a pile for Liz, the owner, Mr. Rosen’s daughter to go over them tomorrow morning when she balanced the cash drawer before opening the store. Mia was just dusting down the counter when Mr. Rosen walked up, a stack of books in his hand.
“Oh Mia, could you do me a favor? I was just cleaning up the back room when I found all these old special orders. They haven’t been picked up in months. I figured we might as well put them on the shelves and see if someone else is interested in buying them. Do you think you can shelf them for me?”
Mr. Rosen was an older man, if Mia had to say how old he was, she would have to guess he was in his sixties, but the way moved he had the energy of a man half his age. Although his hair had gone gray at his temples and he had wrinkles around his eyes and mouth, when he smiled, Mia could see how Liz’s actress mother had fallen for him.
“Sure,” Mia said as she grabbed the stack from Mr. Rosen. She looked down at the first title and headed towards the romance section.
Mr. Rosen was a really nice man and a great boss. He had hired Mia when no one else would. She had never worked in a store before and he had been willing to take a chance on her. He even let her rent a small apartment above the store when he found out she had no place to stay. He also offered her a free meal at the café during her work shift. She owed him a lot so she made sure she worked her hardest to repay him.
“Five minutes till closing,” Mr. Rosen voice came over the PA system. Mia glanced down at her watch and to see it was indeed 8:55. Mr. Rosen never required the girls to work later then closing time because he wanted to make sure they got home safely. So they always headed out the same time the customers did. Looking at the remaining books in her stack, Mia headed towards the back of store. If she started from the back of the store, she should be back up front in time for closing.
Mia could hear Mr. Rosen ringing up the last customers. As they left, the bell above the front door chimed. Mia heard the door open and close two times. She figured all the customers were gone. She was just shelving the last book when she heard the door open once more. She glanced down at her watch, one minute to closing.
She frowned, she really hated last minute customers. Mr. Rosen was too nice and he would never kick out a customer. He always let the girls leave on time but Mia hated to leave Mr. Rosen on his own. It wasn’t safe.
Although Beans and Books was located in the University District of town and the restaurants and shops nearby stayed open till midnight, on most week nights, the streets were empty after nine-thirty. Mia had tried to suggest that she hang around and help out till he left, but he just laughed off her suggestion. Telling her she probably had better things to do with her time then worry over an old man. Even though he said that, she always made sure to watch for his car to leave every night. Her living room window looked out at the back of the store where he parked his car. She would stand there and wait for him to leave every night.
Robbers wouldn’t know that Liz did the balancing and banking in the morning and that Mr. Rosen left with nothing more than the cash in his wallet. Some desperate souls might try to rob him thinking he had money. Mia had tried to bring it up to Mr. Rosen once but he just started laughing. He patted her on the shoulder and told her she was a good girl for worrying about an old man, but as old as he looked, he was still able to take care of himself.
Mia had wanted to argue but said nothing. It wasn’t her place to argue. She just made sure she watched every night to make sure he got out okay. It was the least she could do after everything he had done for her.
Hurrying to the front of the store to see how Mr. Rosen was doing she stopped in her tracks when she saw the men in the black suits. There were two of them. Both were large men and both sizzling with power. Two pairs of eyes were suddenly on her, one bright green and the other dark gold.
All of Mia’s defenses went on high alert. She had to stop herself from reaching in to the sleeve of her gray hoodie to grab the slim blade she kept sheathed there. She wasn’t fast enough though, as the golden eyed man stared hard at her. Instead she tried to make it look like she was just scratching her arm, but she was sure he wasn’t fooled.
“There you are Mia, I was just about to come and look for you. I already sent Rachel on home, why don’t you head on out as well,” Mr. Rosen said as he came around the counter, placing himself between the two men and Mia. He patted her gently on the shoulder as pushed her in the direction of the front door.
“Who is she?” The golden eyed man demanded to know.
“This is Mia,” Mr. Rosen said with a smile for her as he walked with her to the front door, “She one of my workers. She’s a good girl who worries about an old man being alone late at night.”
One of the men snorted, Mia wasn’t sure which one since she had been looking at Mr. Rosen and not the men. He smiled reassuringly at her as he nodded towards the door. They were just passing the two men, when one man reached out, grabbing Mia but the arm.
She stiffened, every bone in her body wanted to react but she already made one mistake. She couldn’t afford to make another. She looked up in to a pair of dark gold eyes. She barely noticed the coldly handsome face that stared down at her, she was so lost in his eyes. She had seen eyes like this once. At a quick glance, you could easily mistake the man’s eyes as being just gold, but, if you stopped, if you dared to look deeply in to them, you could see the tiny black flecks within them. Once, long ago another pair of eyes just like these had looked up at her.
“What are you?” The man demanded to know.
“Nikolas,” Mr. Rosen’s voice was hard and cold, he spoke in a tone she had never heard before, one that demanded obedience, “Let Mia go. She is one of my employees and therefore under my protection.”
The man held Mia’s gaze for a long moment before his fingers loosened. Although he did as he was told, he did not do so willingly. From the look in his eyes, Mia knew he would have demanded a lot more from her if he had been given the chance.
“Mia, go on home now, I’ll be safe,” Mr. Rosen told her, his tone now back to that of a kind grandfather as he smiled encouragingly at her. “These men mean me no harm.”
Mia nodded. Part of her felt like she should remain, just in case these men weren’t safe. But another part of her was yelling at her to get out of there. The man already suspected enough and remaining wouldn’t just put her life in danger, but the lives of everyone around her. If they found her, they would kill anyone and everyone who knew about her. They couldn’t take another chance that she might get away.
So bowing her head, she headed out the door, her hands clenched at her side. As dangerous as these men might be, they had nothing on the people who were after her. Mr. Rosen definitely stood a better chance with them.
“Mia?” Mr. Rosen called after her just as she reached the front door.
“Yes?” She replied politely as she turned around to look at older man. He stood next to the two men in the black suits and smiled at her, his blue eyes twinkling.
“There’s no need to wait up for me tonight. I’ll be leaving shortly with these gentlemen. They’ll have someone pick up my car for me.”
“Yes, Sir,” Mia replied, too surprised to say anything else.
“Good, then have a good night. Get some rest and I’ll see you tomorrow,” Mr. Rosen said kindly. Mia just nodded before turning around and pushing the door open. The bell above the door rung as she walked out into the night. Having nowhere else to go, she headed up to her apartment. Although Mr. Rosen said there was no need, she would still be watching out her bedroom window to make sure he left safely with the men. It was the only thing she could do.
* * *
Nick waited for the door to close and the girl to leave before he turned to his old mentor and ex-father-in-law. “That girl is dangerous. You need to get rid of her.”
“Mia is fine,” Alistair Rosen said as she brushed of Nick’s worries, “She’s a good girl. She worries so about an old man like me.”
“There is nothing good about that girl. You can’t tell me you didn’t sense the taint on her. She’s using at least five different spells to mask her presence not to mention she walks around armed. She is dangerous,” Nick argued.
“Eight spells actually. The last three are quite old and very powerful. Unless you knew to look for them you wouldn’t sense them at all,” Alistair corrected him as he walked back to the register and began to lock up for the night.
“And you aren’t the least bit worried about that?” Nick asked in disbelief.
“She’s a good worker. She comes to work on time. She works hard and she cares enough about an old man like me to watch every night to make sure I make it to my car safely. Whatever she has done in her past, I sense her regret and her deep desire to right the wrongs she has committed. She has a good heart.”
“What exactly is she?” Ronan asked.
“I haven’t been able to pin it down yet, but I do know that she is quite powerful and very afraid,” Alistair said as locked the register, “Those last three spells you couldn’t sense are very old magic. She either paid a great deal to have someone put them on her or she’s well-versed enough to place them on herself. They are very powerful magic and require a great sacrifice.”
“Blood magic,” Nick spat out. Rage filled him as memories he had tried to bury long ago began to surface. For ten days he had been beaten and bled. For ten days he had been physically tortured and his mind ripped apart. For ten days every waking moment had been a living nightmare. As hard as he tried, he would never forgot those ten days and each time he remembered he vowed once again he would find those witches and sent them to hell himself.
Alistair had been one of the men to rescue him from the hell pit. He and his men had pulled him from that nightmare and set him free. He had been safely returned to his family but he had never been the same. His family had been unable to understand that but Alistair had. Alistair had been there for him when no one else was. He had welcomed Nick into his house and into his family. Anytime Nick needed someone to talk to, Alistair would be there.
Sometimes he saw Alistair more than he saw his own family. It was how he fell in love with Elizabeth, Alistair’s daughter. He and Liz were the same age and she was a kind, generous person. She was just like her father. It had been all too easy to fall in love with her. It had been harder for her to stay in love with him.
He knew he had issues, a lot of them. But Liz was okay with most of them, the one she couldn’t deal with why how he kept things to himself. How he never talked to her but tried to handle everything on his own. He still suffered from nightmares that would leave him shaky and ill-tempered for days. Liz had wanted him to talk to her about them. She had thought it might help. But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t talk about the time he spent in that place. Alistair understood, but then again Alistair didn’t have to share a bed with him.
Sometimes he would wake up still lost in the dreams and nearly blow Liz’s head off with a ball of lightning. Liz was powerful enough that she was in real danger. But eventually it had gotten to be too much for her. She wanted a real life with children in her future. Nick couldn’t promise her that.
It wasn’t long before they decided that getting a divorce was the best for both of them. They still kept in contact and they still cared for each other deeply but both of them realized there was no future for them together, and there had never had been one.
“What makes you so sure this girl isn’t dangerous?” Ronan asked, breaking Nick from his dark thoughts.
“I never said she wasn’t dangerous,” Alistair corrected Ronan with a sly grin as he locked up the cash register, leaving it for Liz to handle in the morning. “I just said she’s a good girl.”
Ronan snorted. Nick shook his head in disbelief, “You need to get rid of her.”
“Sarah likes her,” Alistair said simply as he looked at the two men. Ronan’s brows rose while Nick’s mouth dropped opened. Sarah was Liz’s blind twenty-year old sister. Sarah had been an unexpected birth. Alistair and Danielle had a hard time having children. Liz had been after many long years of trying for a child. She had been their miracle baby. They hadn’t expected another. But then fifteen years later Danielle had gotten pregnant again. It was totally unexpected. Danielle was already forty years old and Liz was fifteen. But Danielle was too happy about having a chance for another child that she didn’t care. She was so grateful to be given another child that she didn’t even care that her child was blind at birth.
It had taken until Sarah was five to realize there was something different about her. Some of the things she used to say when she was a child was just unbelievable. At first they thought it was just her imagination. Then they began to realize that she was seeing things they were not. Although Sarah couldn’t see physically she somehow saw things in her mind. She could read a person better with one glance then Alistair, who had been trained his how life, could do in an hour. Sarah knew in that one moment when she met a person whether they were a good person or not. If you had Sarah’s endorsement you could do no wrong. But Sarah didn’t approve of just anyone. The number of people she approved of could be counted on two hands. The people she really liked fell down to the numbers that could be counted on one hand. Nick couldn’t even say that Sarah liked him. She approved of him, but she didn’t like him and he had been her brother-in-law.
For Sarah to like this girl, it meant something big, but what?
“How did Sarah meet her?” Ronan asked. Ronan was Alistair’s nephew, so he knew all about Sarah.
“She came to the store one day with Liz. Mia had come in to acquire about the job posting in the window. Sarah had taken one look at her and she told me to hire her. That was all I needed. And it should be all you need too,” Alistair told them firmly.
Nick looked at Ronan in disbelief. His friend just shrugged his shoulders. If Sarah approved, how could you argue. Sure Sarah liking someone was rare and she did have a perfect track record on reading people, but still, that wasn’t enough for Nick. It would never be enough as long as that woman was near anyone he considered family. She was a blood witch, she was evil, and there was nothing else to it. One way or another, he would make sure this woman left their lives for good.
Next: Chapter Two