tagRomanceDawn over Sun Valley Ch. 01

Dawn over Sun Valley Ch. 01

bysmall_town_girl©

Author's note:

Hello y'all, and welcome to my new story!

I am writing this one for the #NaNoWriMo Challenge -- the National Novel Writing Month, where the challenge is to write a full-length novel (50K+ words) within 30 days. I've never done this before, but I do believe I can make it! :)

I'll be posting chapters as I write them; so expect a new one every day or two. This story is the first under this category for me, and I hope to strike the right tone for it -- will you please tell me if I did or didn't, as well as any thoughts and feedback, down in the comment section?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! I hope you enjoy :)

*****

They say, "today is the first day of the rest of your life'. Leanne had heard it before, but for the first time in her young life, the idea resonated. Today was the first day of the rest of her life, and she was celebrating!

Well, sort of.

She was sitting by herself at the far end of the bar, a bit off and to the side from other patrons. The semi-secluded spot allowed her to people-watch to her heart's content without calling undue attention to herself. Nursing her Coke and swaying to the upbeat music spilling from loudspeakers hanging over the packed dance floor, she felt way more comfortable than she'd expected when she first stepped through the door a half-hour earlier.

'The lounge' at the unassuming Santa Rosa Inn had turned out to be an obvious pick-up bar, and she was a single, unaccompanied young woman who did not want to be picked-up. She almost turned and ran back out, before giving herself a stern talking-to, and marching in with her head held high. She couldn't start her new life by backing down from a little challenge, now, could she?

So she braved it. But she didn't expect to enjoy herself as much as she did.

She liked the buzzing, expectant vibe in the air; the promise of fun and passion. She enjoyed hearing the good-natured conversation and easy laughter around her. She was mesmerised by the flirting and the dancing, and watched it with wide-eyed interest.

She wasn't a part of it, of course. She never had been. But the invisible bubble that had always kept her detached from everyone seemed flimsier tonight; the barrier thinner, almost transparent. She could feel more. She could imagine herself as one of those pretty women, outgoing and self-assured, celebrating their youth and soaking up enthusiastic male attention without a care in the world.

It was strange, not having a care in the world. No bleak concerns, no devastating struggles, no overwhelming responsibilities, no one else's needs to consider but her own.

It was a transient feeling, she knew. Tomorrow she'd start her new job, which she had chosen as much out of familial obligations, misplaced as they were, as for her own personal goals. But tonight she refused to think of it. Tonight she was just a young woman, out in the world, stretching her wings for the very first time, completely on her own.

She felt empty and elated, all at once.

*

Joe noticed her as soon as he entered.

Maybe it was her cute white top, with its narrow satin ribbon holding the scooped neck together in a tiny bow-tie, innocently begging to be tugged open. Or maybe it was that peaches- and-cream complexion, which made her seem to glow with an angelic inner light from across the dim, packed space.

Or maybe he was just horny, and she was pretty and clearly alone in the town's notorious - and only - singles' bar.

Either way, he was drawn to her. Which was more than enough reason to make a move. After all, this was what he was here for - finding a woman to spend an enjoyable evening with, hopefully followed by a mutually pleasurable night.

He didn't consider himself a playboy. Not at all, in fact. But living on a farm in rural Northern California wasn't conducive to an active social life, and even less so to finding long-term relationships. At thirty, he was certainly open to the possibility of meeting the woman of his dreams and settling down; however he was a practical man, and he had more basic needs to meet. Those needs dictated his weekly forays into The Lounge at the Santa Rosa Inn.

The patrons were mostly regulars, which made things easier and harder at the same time. Having his 'regular' fuck-buddies there was reassuring, but it kind of took the fun out of the hunt. Plus, if more than one of them were there, it sometime got a bit awkward.

It also made any newcomers stick out like a sore thumb, and the tempting blonde sitting at the bar was as fresh as they came.

He had to get to her before someone else beat him to it. Looking around to scope the competition he was relieved to see no immediate challengers. Good thing I came in early, he thought, and with that set out to introduce himself.

*

Leanne watched him stride towards her with a strange mix of trepidation and excitement. His intent was clear; his eyes had found and held hers as he took the most direct route across the room to her. When he reached her side he stopped, one hand on the back of the empty chair next to her, the other gesturing casually towards it.

"Hi. Mind if I take this seat?"

She was more than a little flustered. If he looked good from twenty yards away, up close he was even better: thick, wavy dark-blond hair, quite late for a cut; a mischievous glint in his eyes over his inviting smile, and a lean, athletic body that made his simple blue jeans and dark grey button-down shirt look downright sinful. Oh yes. Way better up close, she thought.

Belatedly, she realized she was staring. "Um, yeah, sure, go ahead. It's just -"

The man was about to sit down but stopped mid-movement at the uncertainty in her voice, and gave her a questioning look. "It's just -?" he repeated after her, straightening, waiting for her to complete the thought.

She felt her cheeks pinken and hoped the dim lighting wouldn't let him notice. "Em, well, it's just that - I'm not looking to... to hook up, you know? And I thought I'd tell you that up front, just in case... in case you'd like to invest your time in... a more promising prospect."

Her blush deepened. He had to have seen it by now. She used to hate being so transparent, but had eventually come to terms with her inability to hide her emotions. She figured, as long as she just owned up to them, it didn't matter anyways.

Easier said than done, though. It was still very much a work in progress.

Bravely, she met his eyes, and then gasped at their impact. She couldn't make out their color, but could feel their heat caress over her flushed face, her lips - now clamped together in mortification - down her throat to where she tried hard to swallow - and then back up to meet her gaze.

She watched, surprised and fascinated, as he weighed her declaration in his mind. His head was tilted to one side as he stared at her, uncomfortably perceptive, studying her thoughtfully. Finally he reached his decision, and purposefully took his seat.

"Well, thank you for being honest and upfront, ma'am. Duly noted. No hookup. Now, is it alright if we just hung out together? Have a drink, dance a little, enjoy each other's company?"

Leanne finally managed to swallow past her dry throat. "Why?"

His eyebrows shot up. "Excuse me?"

"Why would you like to hang out with me, when there's no chance of hookup at the other end of the evening?"

The man looked at her in surprise, and something like appreciation. "Wow. You are as blunt as they come, aren't you?" Leanne just shrugged, and he smiled, looking pleased. "Because you intrigue me, that's why. And because you're a pleasure to look at. I am very much looking forward to just hangin' out with a beautiful stranger tonight."

Leanne breathed a silent sigh of relief. She realized that didn't want him to leave, but she also needed to know he respected her ground rules. Smiling tentatively back at him, she extended her hand.

"Leanne, please. 'Ma'am' makes me feel about ninety. And yes, hanging out together sounds fun! I'd love that."

The man's large, calloused hand engulfed her palm, and she had to fight a momentary weak-in-the-knees reaction to return his handshake firmly. Whoa. Who knew a handshake could make her go all mushy inside?!

"I'm Joe. And it is very nice to meet you, Leanne."

He was still holding her hand, and she was in no hurry to take it back, either. So this is what 'chemistry' felt like, she thought. Incredible. It was another moment before they both drew apart, and Leanne wrapped her now-tingling fingers around her cool glass of soda, sliding them over the wet condensation that gathered there.

His eyes narrowed in on the slight movement before jerking up to her face, where they stayed furrowed for another moment, until he noticed her uneasiness, and his easy smile returned.

"It's a beautiful name, Leanne. A lovely name for a lovely woman. I'd love to hear more about you, but before that, what can I get you to drink?"

Leanne was thrown by the compliment, unsure how she should respond - but Joe was already motioning for the bartender and she realized he wasn't expecting a reply, at least not for that comment. He did look at her questioningly as the tall, lanky server approached them, and she realized she was supposed to speak up.

"Em, I don't really drink much... thought I'd pace myself with this soda." She gestured at the half-empty Coke bottle, and then cringed at the look that crossed Joe's features when he focused on her again.

"Are you underage?" He asked bluntly, and Leanne blinked her surprise, then burst out in nervous laughter.

"What? No! No. I am 23, almost 24 actually. Gosh! Do I look like a teenager?"

Joe huffed out his breath, clearly relieved. "Well, you do look young - maybe not that young, but together with the 'no hookup, no drinking' thing... I guess I jumped to conclusions. Sorry." He shrugged his apology, and Leanne smiled and shook her head.

"No worries. I can see how that would make you feel uncomfortable."

Joe returned her smile ruefully. "Yeah. I mean, I'd still hang around, mind you. Not everyone here is a gentleman, and I'd feel obligated to keep an eye on you, at least until the social workers arrived." His eyes now crinkled in their corners. "But I'd still feel like an old goat."

She gave him a bold up-and-down look. "You don't look that old to me."

Joe half-turned towards her in his seat, meeting her challenge, and then deliberately raised it. "Oh? And how old exactly do I look to you, Leanne?" He asked softly, as he let one long, well-muscled leg stretch out to the floor, and leaned one hand on his hip, while his other elbow rested casually against the bar, opening himself up to her scrutiny.

Cocky, much? Leanne thought, but then couldn't refuse his invitation to look her fill. She let her gaze slide down the strong column of his neck, pause at the small open vee at the base of his throat, where a hint of body hair tantalized her imagination, then continue down along the lean, hard torso that filled his dark shirt oh-so-well. The shirt wasn't tucked in, and its tails parted enticingly over his crotch.

There was most definitely a bulge there. His jeans were midnight-blue, and there wasn't very good lighting, but she thought she could make out that contour quite clearly. Or maybe that was just the way the fabric bunched up?

A choked chuckle made her look back up, and then it was she who was choking back her mortification. "Oh gosh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to stare, I just -"

"Hey, hey... don't worry about it. I will most definitely take that look as a compliment." He reached out to touch her arm lightly, reassuringly, and the brief touch seemed to crackle along her bare skin.

Leanne sucked in a breath. Was it always like that? She wandered. Her experience with the opposite sex had been pretty much non-existent, but feeling her nerves buzz with awareness at the light caress kind of made sense. People thought physical intimacy was a big deal. If this was anything to go by, they were onto something.

Joe was looking closely at her again. "So, what would you like to drink?" he asked again, jerking his head towards the bartender who was hovering impatiently nearby.

"Um, I'd like a draft beer - a light one?"

Joe nodded, and turned to the bartender. "We'll have two of the house draft, please."

The man moved to get their order and soon he was back, placing their drinks on small coasters while Leanne reached into her pocket to dig for some cash. Her fingers just closed around the wrinkled twenty when Joe's incredulous voice stopped her.

"What are you doing?"

"Er - paying for my beer?"

Joe stared at her as if trying to figure out if she was making fun of him or not. Leanne rushed to explain. "I mean - it's not like we're on a date or anything. We're just hanging out together. And besides, I like paying my way. I don't like being indebted."

Joe was staring and shaking his head as if finding her behavior hard to comprehend, but eventually conceded. "All right, tell you what. I'll pay for this round, and you can pay for the next one. Deal?"

Leanne nodded. "Deal." she answered seriously, though inside she was giddy with how good he'd just made her feel. That she was able to speak her mind, and that this man would respect her stance, even when it was clear he didn't share it - that was no small victory for a young woman on her first day on her own in the world.

Oh yes. She liked it here, a lot.

*

Joe was enjoying himself. Really enjoying himself.

When she'd told him she wasn't looking to hook up he was going to walk away; after all, that's all he'd been looking for. But something about her made him stay, and now he was glad that he did. He liked her. He liked watching her sip tentatively at her beer; liked the way her face animated when they chatted.

She'd told him she'd just graduated college the day before and was starting her first 'real' job tomorrow, and was feeling truly grown up for the first time. When he'd asked how come she was just now finished with school she shrugged and mumbled something about being a 'late bloomer'. Sensing her reluctance to elaborate, he didn't prod further.

When she asked about him, he told her he'd grown up in the area and had moved all the way to Texas for college, but was tremendously happy to be back where he belonged. She smiled at that, and said it sounded real nice to have a place to belong to. He was going to ask her what she meant by that but she switched the subject, and again he could tell she didn't want to go there, so he backed off. Keep it light.

Instead, he joined her running commentary on the unfolding scenes all around them. She told him people-watching was a favorite pastime for her, and he soon found himself joining in the fun. He had an edge since he knew pretty much everyone in presence, so it turned out to be a guessing game, where Leanne would come up with people's stories, and he'd tell her how close she'd been.

Her quirky imagination made him laugh, but what struck him the most was the absence of malice in her made-up tales. She wasn't mean, or condescending, or judgemental. Rather she was curious, and empathetic, and acutely observant.

Watching her, he thought she was much like a day-old, purebred filly, brimming with skittish energy that couldn't obscure her inherent grace, even as she was taking her first wobbly steps. Whoa. Easy there, cowboy. Getting fanciful, aren't you? Joe bowed his head, impatient with his own thoughts, and then noticed her foot tapping to the beat of the music. Trailing his gaze back up, her shoulders were swinging gently, too, even as she was sipping away at her beer.

Now, there was a better idea.

"So, how about a dance?"

"What? - Oh, yes, sure - I'd love to!"

If his offer surprised her, she recovered quickly - and was off to her feet in a flash, smiling expectantly. Joe grinned at her unabashed enthusiasm and offered his hand, excitement simmering in his own gut, flaring into a boil when she placed her soft hand in his. He felt alive; more so than he had in a long time. He squeezed her hand lightly and felt her return the gesture, and suddenly it was all he could do not to break into a jog towards the dance floor. He needed to hold her in his arms.

Instead, he tugged her forward so that she could step ahead of him, and then freed her hand, placing his fingers lightly at her back as they walked. He was struck by how small she was next to him. The top of her head didn't even reach his chin. Well that wouldn't matter if you're both horizontal, you know. The errant thought triggered an explosion of explicit images in his mind, all featuring this very lovely girl sprawled across his bed, open and waiting for him. He felt his dick stiffen painfully inside his jeans.

Cool it, cowboy. She said 'no hookup'. And you don't want to scare her away.

They reached the floor just as the music changed into a slower beat. Leanne threw Joe a shy smile over her shoulder and offered him her hand as she led them both through the maze of swaying bodies until she found a clearing for them, and turned around to face him. They stood there looking at each other, Leanne expectantly, Joe feeling strangely hesitant.

"What?" She asked in a nervous laugh when their odd standoff stretched a few seconds longer.

Joe shook his head and admitted - "it's just - you're not here to hook up. And I respect that. I was just bracing myself because - well, you got me all worked up just by smiling at me..." he exhaled heavily, and then squared his shoulders, and stepped forward to fit one hand to the small of her back, while raising their already-connected palms higher so that they stood with their bodies close, but not quite touching, in a proper waltz hold.

"There, is that better?"

She giggled and nodded. "Mmm, much!" and then squealed in delight when he broke into a series of quick spinning steps, making the club and everyone in it blur around them. Surprised as she was by his sudden move, Leanne followed his lead easily, and Joe smiled his appreciation.

She laughed and then met his gaze in challenge. "Bring it on, cowboy. I can dance with the best of them."

"Oh, yeah? Let's see what you've got, princess."

Her breathless giggle trailed down Joe's spine all the way to his balls, making them tingle. Damn. He couldn't remember the last time a woman made him so hard with nothing more than her laugh. He had to make conscious effort not to tighten his fingers around hers, not to drop his other hand lower to the sweet swell of her ass, not to press their bodies flush against each other.

Instead, he set out to wow her with his dancing.

Joe was a good dancer. A very good dancer, in fact, and he knew women liked that, a lot. But it quickly became apparent that Leanne could dance just as well as he did. Very possibly better. He'd be resentful, except she took to his lead as if they were made for each other, and Joe found himself relaxing, and yielding to the pleasure of dance.

*

It was a while later when they finally drew apart, breathing hard and smiling like a couple of fools. The music had gone from that cheesy waltz to rumba to salsa, and they had both thrown themselves into it. At some point a circle of spectators had formed around them, cheering them on as they each performed their best moves, trying to impress one another. Now the DJ had decided to switch it up with more current dance music, and Joe leaned in to speak into Leanne's ear over the loud beat.

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