I worried about Dulcie. She was surrounded by bears and she had no idea. They were over by the pool table growling at each other, they were clustered around her end of the bar glaring at each other, and they were sitting at the tables watching her. She smiled and laughed and flirted and at the end of the night the bears all went home alone and Dulcie raked in the tips.
Occasionally one wandered my way, drawn by the golden tresses of my Poppy-guise, but they never stayed long. My end of the bar was quite diverse. Witches, Huntsmen, the occasional Bear, a Wolf or two, and The Wolf. I served a drink then wiped down the bar as my gaze strayed to the door.
“Looking for someone gorgeous?”
I smiled politely at the Hunstman and shook my head as his hand snaked out and grabbed my wrist.
“You keep looking at the door though? I think you need to pay more attention to your paying customers.”
I kept my smile in place and did a quick survey. “All of my customers seem pretty happy.” I shrugged and twisted my wrist from his grip, managing not to gasp at the slight wrench of pain.
“Maybe.” He picked up his glass and drained it then thumped it down on the bar. “But maybe we’d be happier if you were more like Dulcie.”
I looked over to see her gazing at one of the Bears who was preening for her, his chest puffed out. Then she reached up and ruffled his hair and a tinkle of laughter travelled to us. The Bear ducked his head, his cheeks going red but his grin was huge, his teeth all but dripping.
Be like Dulcie and pet the animals? Did I look crazy. I shuddered and said, “You’re welcome to go sit in Dulcie’s section.”
As if they heard me the closest Bear turned towards the Huntsman and gave a soft growl of warning. The Huntsman held his gaze long enough that the Bear turned away, Huntsmen didn’t just hunt for girls after all, then he turned back to me with a lazy smile.
“Maybe I like the view from here just fine.”
His eyes dropped down my body and I crossed my arms over my chest as I waited for him to look back into my eyes. His smirk faded under my cool regard and he cleared his throat nervously.
“Maybe you should be looking elsewhere,” a deep voice advised.
The Huntsman’s eyes went wide and I actually saw him swallow.
“I ah, I’ll just…” he threw down some money on the bar and slid off the stool in a hurry. He nodded in my direction and I followed his quick trip to the door to avoid looking at his replacement as he slid onto the vacant stool.
Then he said, “What’s a man have to do to get a drink in here darlin’?” and I couldn’t avoid looking at him any longer. I gasped and reached towards him instinctively and he jerked his head away from my touch.
“Woah!” He held up a hand between us as I stared at him in shock. I had only seen him the night before and he had been fine, looked completely normal. Now his veins were bulging, in his forearms as revealed by the rolled up sleeves of his shirt, and running up his throat and creeping into his face. They were dark too, looked almost black and his skin was red and rough looking.
I reached a shaking hand for the whiskey he preferred and poured him a double. “Are you okay?” I asked as I slid the drink in front of him.
“This?” He lifted his hand and turned it, showing the skin was rougher, the veins darker. “Nothin’ I can’t handle. Just a little allergic reaction.”
“Are you sure?” I was sceptical. It looked like he’d been poisoned.
“Careful there Poppy. I’ll start thinking you care about me,” he said with a smirk as he lifted his drink and sipped.
I couldn’t take my eyes off his hand, the veins were black there. He must have one hell of an allergy.
“Well of course I care,” I said absently. “You’re a great tipper and handy for scaring away the Hunters.”
Tension snapped around me as I followed the path of those veins until they disappeared under his shirt. That little voice was whispering run again but I wasn’t sure why.
“Hmm?” I looked up into glowing golden eyes and froze.
“You said I scare the hunters away.”
I was shaking my head even as he spoke the words I had said. Deny it all, bluff, lie, run! “No.” I managed a laugh. “I said you scare away the horrors. As in he was being horrible.” It was a weak cover up but I smiled and sold it.
The Wolf regarded me for a long minute before he nodded. “Right.” He twisted his head from one side to the other, something in his neck making a cracking sound, then he rolled his massive shoulders. “I’ll scare away anything you need me to Poppy darlin’, you can trust me.”
I blinked and saw dripping teeth, eyes so big I could drown in them and I started to nod.
“Okay,” I said softly and moved closer to him.
“In return, there’s something you could do for me.” The low growl of his voice skated up my spine and I was nodding again. “The thing is, this is your fault.” He tapped the dark vein on the back of his hand and I looked down.
“My fault?” I repeated, my mind clearing now I wasn’t caught by his gaze. I arched a brow at him. “How so?”
“Well darlin’ this happened when we danced. I’m allergic to silver.”
I tried not to let my shock show but my mouth dropped open and I closed it with a audible snap. My eyes raced over him and I saw he was right. the reaction was worse where I had touched his shoulder and neck, held his hand. And I was right too. He was so allergic to silver I might as well have poisoned him.
“What do you say Poppy? Will you take off that ring for me?”