Two years ago
THE OLD-FASHIONED RED, white and blue barber pole lazily spun inside a glass case just outside the front door to Whiskey Sharp. Jaunty, she thought. A good sign. Classic and simple.
The bell over the door jingled as she opened it and stepped inside, greeted by the scent of sandalwood and mint. Scissors snipped and clippers hummed and it felt very much like a place she’d like to stop and stay awhile.
A broad-shouldered gent with a vest and a crisp white button-down shirt came over. “Welcome to Whiskey Sharp. You in for a cut?”
“I’m actually looking for Alexsei Petrov.”
Broad Shoulders gave her a slow head-to-toe look. “He’s just finishing up. He’s booked today, so if you want him to do your cut, we can get you in tomorrow.”
“I don’t need a cut, thanks. I just need a few minutes of his time. Irena Orlova sent me.”
Broad Shoulders relaxed at the mention of Mrs. Orlova’s name. “Okay. Just hang out here for a bit. I’ll let him know you’re here.”
Maybe thanked him and moved to the small waiting area near the windows, taking in the space as she tried not to be nervous.
Whiskey Sharp was all wood and brass. An old-school barbershop area was off to the right with individual chairs and stations. Guys with tattoos and suspenders worked on men from their early twenties into their fifties.
The floor was hardwood. Oak, by the looks of it, well-worn to a shine near the doorways and points that got a lot of traffic.
And in the back, opposite the barbershop space, there was a long bar with stools fronting it. She’d heard the place had just started serving alcohol in the evenings for several hours. Small tables and a few group seating areas dotted the space in deep forest green velvet and cognac tanned leather.
Old-school. And yet very clean and elegant. The kind of place you could hang out in and relax a little.
Somehow, seeing it like that, with all the beauty in the deliberate choices made in decorating and the feel of the workers in the place, her nervousness seemed to ebb.
She could do this. She knew her way around a haircut and shave. She just had to convince Mrs. Orlova’s nephew of the same.
* * *
ALEXSEI TOOK HER IN, silhouetted by the pale afternoon light shafting across the generous lines of her face. A silver hoop rode against the juicy curve of her bottom lip.
Red lipstick, short blond hair and green eyes behind a pair of dark-rimmed glasses. Black trousers with a white button-down shirt, a lot like what he wore most days. But she smelled better, he’d wager. The piercing provided an edge, but at the same time it softened her, emphasized the shape of her mouth.
Brought his breath a little short as he watched her, noting the strength in her presence, a confidence that seemed to shine from her.
He paused, continuing to look. It wasn’t that she was beautiful—though she was certainly arresting in her own way. Alexsei couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he was absolutely sure he’d never seen anything quite like her before. This creature who’d come to him using his aunt’s name.
He had no idea what she wanted, but he had no problem spending the time with her to investigate.
“I’m Alexsei. You wanted to see me?” He attempted to keep a cool distance, but something about her pulled him closer.
She held a hand out. “I’m Maybe Dolan. I hear you’re looking for a barber and I’d like to solve your problem.”
He started to reply but she just kept talking.
“See, I know you’re probably thinking, hey, who is this woman? I haven’t even advertised for that opening. And you’d be right because you don’t know me. But I know Mrs. Orlova and while she was busily shoving extra loaves of bread into my order, she told me to present myself to you and for you to hire me. You’ve met her, so you know how she is. Frankly, I’m really afraid of her but she’s the main supplier of my carbs so I tend to just follow her orders.”
Alexsei was fairly certain she said all that without taking a breath.
“Right?” she asked, as if he’d exclaimed it aloud instead of in his head. “I do talk a lot. But I’m good with hair. And beards. And I need a job.”
“Which one are you asking about?” She cocked her head, nearly eye to eye with him. Tall. Close-up, that energy she seemed to radiate from her enveloped him too.
True, she did seem the type to develop a good clientele if she had the talent for it. Some people liked that sort of personality when they came in.
She pushed at the hoop in her lip with the tip of her tongue—an unconscious nervous movement—and he realized he liked it way more than he should have. Especially if he was going to give her a job.
“All of them. While you’re at it, what kind of name is Maybe?”
She laughed. “Maybe is a nickname but one I’ve used instead of my given name since I was four.”
There had to be a story for that.
“As for why I talk so much. Well, I’m sorry to tell you it’s not a nervous habit or anything like that so it won’t go away once I get used to you. This is pretty much how I roll all the time. My sister likes to tell people I talk a lot because I have a lot to say. I think that’s the same as when a teacher tells you your kid is spirited instead of wild. I was a spirited kid, as you probably have a really hard time believing.”
Alexsei realized she was teasing him and he began to like her, despite his general inclination to find most people annoying.
But this...Maybe, well she held him, fascinated at whatever she might do or say next.
She grinned at him. “What else did I need to answer? Uh? Oh yeah, I’m good with hair and beards because that’s what I’ve been trained in and because I’m awesome, but you can keep that under your hat. I’m also good at punk rock. But I don’t think the latter is necessary for the former. Except in attitude. In attitude, punk rock is always necessary, don’t you agree?”
This was, again, one of her rhetorical questions. She didn’t even pause for two breaths before she continued, “I’m licensed in the state and I have references and all that. And I need a job because that’s how people pay their bills usually.”
His place tended to be mellow. This creature was not mellow. What would bringing her in do to the overall feel of the place? Sure, some clients would like that, but would some dislike it?
“What happened to your last job?” He assumed she talked them to death.
She took a deep breath and he saw a flash of vulnerability in her gaze before she straightened her shoulders. “I moved here. From another place, Spokane, I mean.”