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WWI is over and light is starting to shine at the end of the depression when newly graduated aeronautic engineer John Staples stops in New York for a quick visit with his ex-stepfather who generously paid for his university education. Unfortunately, the mafia don has a small favor to ask of John in return—keep an eye on his daughter and report back if she’s ever in need of anything.
Hannah Montgomery works at Paramount Studios doing hair and make-up for movie extras and nights managing the boarding house after her mother is killed by a taxi. Having never known the father her mother claimed died in the line of duty as a police officer, she is now truly alone.
What starts out as a room for rent in the boarding house, and an innocent arrangement for cooked meals, soon turns into something John never expects—love. But the web of lies and withheld truth to maintain the don's secrecy has him caught in the middle, and he fears their budding relationship might not survive the truth.
Page Count: 246
Word Count: 63435
His teeth clenched as he shook his head. More lies.
He squared his shoulders, finished accepting things from Vince. The round-trip airplane ticket to New York had been a graduation gift, but thankfully, he’d sold enough text books to underclassmen to afford the ticket to California, with some money left over for a rainy day.
Vince and mother would never do anything to intentionally hurt me, but they’re a couple thousand miles away. From now on, I’ll make my own decisions and pay my own way.
Still, thoughts of Vince brought Hannah Giovanni—or rather, Montgomery—to mind. What would she be like?
“Here we are, sir.”
The taxi driver pulled to the curb and hopped out, heading to the trunk to unload the two cases while John stepped out onto the sidewalk and stared up at the row of buildings lining the street.
The Hannigan Boardinghouse, no doubt a formerly handsome building, now carried the gray hair and wrinkles of an aged classic. Crammed between two identical buildings, a wooden sign, faded from years of intense Southern California sun, hung over the door to distinguish it from its neighbors.
Down the street, a corner market boasted its presence with a small neon sign that some might think gaudy, while others would think progressive. Functional. That’s how he saw it.
“I think you’ll like living here,” the driver continued as if no time had passed since his last comment. “Lots of famous Hollywood stars lived at Hannigan’s in their beginning years—you know, before they made it big.” He set the mismatched cardboard cases on the sidewalk and then turned his full attention on him, lifting his lips into a wide smile as he pocketed the fare and generous tip. “Thank you, sir, and good luck.”
John nodded and turned away. After the long flight from Alabama, the relative silence surrounding him now was a welcome reprieve from the driver’s endless chatter. With a leather satchel over his shoulder and a suitcase in each hand, he hesitated for another glance at the boardinghouse, wondering what tales the two-story building would tell if it could speak.
Maybe some things are better left untold.
“Oh my goodness.”
The words, simple and not spoken with much volume, held a degree of exasperation.
He slid his gaze toward a young woman standing a short distance away, her eyes closed, chest heaving, and her feet apparently rooted to the spot. While he watched, a deep sigh slipped out as she opened her eyes then stooped to grab at the food scattered at her feet.
An orange scooted along the sidewalk, bouncing slightly as it tripped over a crack to roll to a stop against his shoe. He glanced down, then refocused on the slender girl wearing a flowered dress and low-heeled shoes as she slowly straightened, a tomato in each hand. Dry spaghetti noodles still lay scattered on the sidewalk. Furrowed brows scrunched over stormy eyes told how she felt about the ripped bag and her food landing on the cement.
Aching muscles from cramped airplane seating were forgotten as he watched dark hair swing forward to shield her face when she squatted again to corral more vegetables. Without taking time to analyze the increased thumping inside his chest, he set down his luggage and reached for the orange before closing the distance between them. Not waiting for permission to help, he knelt on one knee and began to gather the sticks of dried pasta. She rose and took a step back, drawing his gaze up to meet hers.
Un colpo di Fulmine.
As the thought struck, actual words stuck in a suddenly-dry throat. He swallowed once, then again. Without breaking eye contact, he slowly rose, holding the spaghetti in one hand like a bunch of flowers. Now what?
Something about the whole scene drew out a soft chuckle. “Um, sorry.” He leaned to pick up the ripped bag and wrapped it around the noodles then glanced toward the boardinghouse before reconnecting with her gaze. “I’m here to see Hannah Montgomery.”
Her smile gradually appeared and eventually reached her eyes. “I’m Hannah.”
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