Whirl: Chapter One
The June day was warm and sunny, and Adara hummed while she hung the laundry. She had two pins crammed in her mouth, making her tune tipsy, and she swayed to the music that only she could hear. Her mother would have one of her fits if she knew Adara was doing the laundry; that’s what they had the help for, after all. But it was too nice to be inside, and there was only so much socialite prattle she could stand.
Hanging up the last thing on the line, Adara heard someone clear their throat and jumped. Spinning around, one hand on her hip, she saw a tall man with thick black hair watching her. He smiled, and the warmth of it spread into his deep blue eyes, and she lost her train of thought.
“Hello,” he said. His voice was a smooth baritone, and she shivered. “I’m Oliver Flynn.”
Her brain fumbled for a moment, and then she said, “Adara Rose.”
“Lovely.” He turned his attention back to the street.
“What are you doing?” She walked toward him, forgetting that she didn’t know this man.
“Waiting for my enemy to walk by.”
“Waiting for what?” Adara stopped and stared at him, but he’d already lost interest in her and was studying the street. His dark brown fedora sat back on his head at a rakish angle, and he leaned against the wall of the building, one leg cocked up.
She moved closer until she could almost touch him, and the thrill of knowing her mother would disapprove of this made her heart race. This was something dangerous. But just a little bit, she reminded herself. He turned his head and smiled at her again, and her breath swirled in her lungs.
“You have an enemy?”
“None of your business.”
She narrowed her eyes and put a hand on her hip. “Then why bother telling me?”
“As I recall – you asked.”
Her eyes became green slits. How dare he stand here and talk this way to her? This was her alley, thank you very much! After all, it was right next to her house. He didn’t belong here. And so she told him that.
He glanced at her, and the mirth shining in his eyes just riled her more. “You’re pretty when you’re upset.”
“Shut up.” And then she covered her mouth. Her eyes went wide. He turned from the street to face her, and as she opened her mouth to apologize, he laughed. And he laughed loud and hard.
“Why Miss Rose, I’m not sure it’s okay for you to tell me to ‘shut up,’” he said. Humor danced across his face. “I do admire your spirit, though.” He once again faced the alley.
She was blushing bright red, and even more irritated with him. Walking up next to him, she leaned out to peer down the street in both directions. “So what does an enemy look like? A mobster?”
He snorted. “Isn’t that a bit on the nose? You think all bad guys look like Lucky Luciano?”
“You would know.”
He was silent, and when she chanced a glance at him, he was staring at her, his mouth open. She stared back. He’d started this whole absurd conversation, but now she was determined to finish it. A Model T tottered past, drawing his attention for a moment, but then he resumed looking at her, and she tried not to fall under his spell.
“You think I’m a bad guy.”
She shrugged. “You’re in an alley, waiting for your enemy to walk by.”
He frowned, the motion not making him any less handsome. “And just what are you doing out here?”
“Hanging out the laundry.”
“Isn’t that something your maid should do?”
“How do you know I have a maid?”
His left hand snaked out and caught her right wrist, and he pulled her closer to him. “Look.” He took her hand in both of his. She tried to ignore the electric shock that seemed to jump from him to her. “Soft, pale hands. Where are the lines? Where are the callouses? You’re not a working girl.” He dropped her hand and turned to face the street. “You should run on home.”
Blood rushed through her body and filled her ears. “You listen here, mister. I might not exactly be a ‘working girl,’ but I know how to do a job.”
He stayed silent, and she fumed. How dare he insinuate that she couldn’t handle a job? She was every bit as capable of doing the stupid laundry as the maids in her mother’s employ. She huffed out a breath and folded her arms over her chest.
The day was wandering into late afternoon, the shadows falling further across the buildings on the other side of the street. Another T rolled by, the driver hanging out the driver side window and gesturing at the two old women crossing the street in front of him. Oliver pulled a pocket watch out his trouser pocket and looked at it. A scowl touched his mouth.
“You just expect your enemy to be on time or something?”
He stuffed the watch into his pocket. “I expect you to run on home.”
She lifted her chin. “This is my alley.”
“Is it now.” He shook his head. “Too shabby of a place for someone like you.”
“Did you just compliment me?”
“Maybe.” A grin had wound its way across his face. “Maybe I think you’re kind of cute.”
“You said I was pretty.”
“When you’re upset.”
She harrumphed. He laughed. “You’re funny,” he said.
“Maybe a little?” He flashed a grin at her. Her cheeks got hot. “Ah, see, you like me too,” he said.
“You didn’t say you liked me.”
“I’d be crazy not to.”
She bit her lip. Her heart was pounding. What was she doing, standing in the alley, flirting with a man she had never met before? Someone she didn’t even know? Her mother would be all kinds of horrified.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fluster you.”
“Yes you did.”
He grinned, and her heart fell in her chest. “Perhaps I did, at that,” he agreed.
She tried to steady herself. It wasn’t easy, not with him standing so close now. She noticed the way his shoulders tugged at the corners of the suit coat he wore, how the sun glinted blue in his thick hair. The noise of the busy street faded as she lost herself to studying him.
“If you want to say something, say it.”
His words shook her out of her daydream. She looked up at him. “I’m just thinking.”
“About me.” Another fantastic grin.
She wished she could refute that, but she couldn’t. And he knew it, because he laughed.
“You’re an interesting girl, Miss Rose,” he said, his laughter dying into chuckles. “I’m glad I picked your alley.”
She was too, but she wasn’t sure she should be so forward to admit it. She figured she’d been quite forward already with him, and her mother definitely wouldn’t approve.
“You don’t have to be shy around me, you know.” He reached out and touched her arm. “I’m harmless – when I want to be.”
Her eyes widened and she shivered. He dropped his hand and faced the street. “I’m not afraid of you,” she said.
“Good.” He pulled his pocket watch out again and checked the time. “But perhaps you should be.”
“I consort with bad people sometimes.”
“Mobsters? Do you run with Luciano’s men?”
He snorted. “No.”
She pulled back, embarrassed at his short tone. He wasn’t looking at her now; his attention was fully on the street. A quiet breeze had kicked up in the last few minutes; it wended its way down the street, pilfering through the trash that sometimes got kicked to the curb. She took a step away from him, needing even that small amount of distance.
Oliver took a step toward the street. He glanced to the left; she saw the taut frown on his face, the way it stretched up into his eyes and made them sharp. She gulped down a little breath. He didn’t look at her – she no longer existed. The breeze picked up, rifling through her dark hair, and she pushed a hand through it, trying to capture the tangled ends before they grew into a mess.
Overhead a cloud skittered over the sun, casting deep shadows down around them. Across the street a small dog barked. Oliver edged out more onto the sidewalk, and just as quick ducked back into the alley. She looked at him, saw him breathing hard.
“Your enemy?” she whispered.
“Yes.” He looked at her, and the fierce edge in his eyes and voice set her heart to pounding.
“Why is he your enemy?”
“Why do you assume it’s a man?”
He had her there. And he knew it. “I don’t know.”
He managed a smirk. “There are plenty of bad women out there, Miss Rose.”
“You know from experience?”
“Yes.” He took a step out again and ducked back in. “He’s close. You should move back. I don’t want him to see you.”
“Is he looking for you?”
“No. But if he’s glancing around, he might make you and I don’t want that.” He moved over so he blocked her from view of the street. “Please, Adara. Just move to the back.”
She bit her lip. She knew he was trying to protect her, but she wanted to see this enemy of his. Who could he possibly be an enemy of, if it wasn’t the mob? Oliver didn’t strike her as belonging to anyone. But before she could say anything, the shadow of someone passed them by, Oliver turned his head, tipped his fedora to her, and strode out of the alley.
Rushing forward, she glimpsed him as he disappeared into a crowd, and was lost to her. A few words that her mother would not approve of slipped beneath her breath, and with a resigned sigh, she returned to the laundry line to grab her basket. The clothes dipped and waved in the cooling breeze, and she decided to return to the house to wait.
As she left the alley and went to the front door, she glanced back once. Her heart fluttered in her chest at the thought that he might’ve come back.
But the street and sidewalk had cleared, leaving her alone with a few stray pigeons poking around for scraps, and with another low mutter, she went into the house.