tagRomanceDawn over Sun Valley Ch. 06

Dawn over Sun Valley Ch. 06


Author's note:

So, I've pissed off quite a few of you with that last chapter, didn't I?

TBH, while I knew writing an 'angry sex' scene was risky, I had hoped to do a better job making it clear it fell solidly within the 'jerk, but NOT a rapist' category. Reading some of your comments, it seems I didn't quite succeed.

I hope this chapter helps put some better context around that scene, and starts redeeming Joe in your eyes. We'll see how goes...

Please note that there's no sex in this chapter, so if that's what you're in the mood for, please move on to the next story :)

For those of you counting with me, this chapter adds ~9.5K words to the story, so my total is now ~53K!! which means I have 'won' the #NaNo challenge - woo-hoo! BUT am not going to celebrate yet, because my goal is to reach THE END by end of November; about 20K more words or so...

Thank you again, everyone who had voted, favorite, PMed and commented, even those of you who are ready to beat the crap out of Joe and/or crucify me just about now. As long as you're engaged with the story and give me your honest reaction and/or opinion, I wholly appreciate your feedback.




She felt like death warmed over.

Her head was pounding, the taste in her mouth was foul, and her throat was scratchy and dry as a desert.

It was all made worse by an obnoxious shrill coming from somewhere to her right. Leanne fumbled blindly until her hand landed on the vibrating source of that noise, and brought it close to her crunched-up face.

It was a phone, but it wasn't her phone. Hoping the red X meant 'turn off', Leanne tapped it, and blessed silence ensued. She heaved her relief, reached over to plop it back on the small table, and then groaned when nausea followed her movement.

God, she felt like crap.

When her head stopped spinning, Leanne made herself open her eyes and look around. The room was eerily familiar: the exact same layout and furniture as her own, but the curtains were grey rather than cream, and there were different items on the table next to the bed. The pillow smelled funny. Like an unfamiliar man.

Todd's room.

Humiliation hit her like a sledgehammer, followed closely by despair.

It really was all over. She wanted to put the covers over her head and pretend last night never happened. She wanted her beautiful, made-up princess story to go on, just for a little while longer.

But then, life didn't work out that way, she knew. In real life shit happened that tore you to pieces, and then, somehow, you survived, even when it didn't feel like you ever could. You just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I've done it before. I can do it now.

She pushed herself to sit at the edge of the single bed, and looked down at herself. She was drowning inside a man's clothes - T-shirt and boxers - which she vaguely remembered putting on after her endless shower the night before.

Bless Todd and Tammy's hearts, she thought miserably. And after I'd puked all over their shoes, too. God! She shuddered. They'll all hate her soon enough, too. As soon as Joe told them how she'd lied to them all.

Stop it, she snapped at herself. You took the gamble, now you pay up. Stop whining.

Gingerly she stood up, and padded over to the bathroom. A few minutes later, after finger-brushing her hair and her teeth, and splashing her face with cool water, she re-emerged, and looked around.

Her flats were by the wall, and she slipped them on. Her blue dress and her bra lay in a pile, and she picked them up, her eyes fixed on the tiny tears on the back, tinged with reddish-brown. Last night in the shower, the hot water cascade sent prickles of pain every time it hit one of those scratches, but this morning she couldn't feel them anymore, although she reckoned they would still be visible. She didn't dare try to look.

Why did Joe fuck her last night? Was that what they called 'hate sex'? 'Revenge sex'?

She sat heavily on the bed, and forced herself to remember.

As he took her hand and told her to come 'somewhere private' with him, she assumed sex was what he wanted. It certainly was what she wanted, she bluntly pointed out to herself. She wanted to make love one last time before she told him the truth. Leanne snorted. Joe beat her to it, in more ways than one.

She remembered him stopping next to those sheds, unease and tension radiating in waves around him. She remembered asking him what was wrong, and that he didn't answer. And she remembered stepping close and wrapping her arms around his neck, and telling him how she wanted to 'make it all better for you, cowboy'.

And then there were his words when he'd stroked her clit and made her come. 'At least this was real,' he had said, as if nothing else was. Leanne choked a sudden sob.

He thought she was a liar.

She was a liar.

Her fists clenched the rumbled blanket under her. Enough. What's done is done. Now you do what you need to do: Pack up and leave. Stay at Elaine's for a few nights, until you find another job. Give Melissa your envelope with your un-cashed paychecks, and a note asking to use any outstanding payments to cover Bill's debt. Have them mail it to Michael McConnel.

Call Joe to say you're sorry that you lied, and that you never meant to hurt him. He'll probably hang up on you, but at least you'll have tried.

Leanne took a deep breath and stood, picked up her ruined clothes, and walked to the door with her head held high.


Joe was going to break into his jog when he heard one of the doors in the men's dorms open. He turned around, half-hidden behind a large, flowering bush, and saw Leanne leaving Todd's room and then shuffling towards the women building.

She'd spent the night at Todds?!

He couldn't breathe, his chest felt utterly constricted.

He thought he couldn't feel worse than he did last night. He'd never been betrayed by someone he loved before; had never expected the depth of pain and rage that consumed him. And then, when it was over and he left her there, crying, regret and shame followed.

Not enough to forgive her - nothing could. But enough to make him feel like a lowlife.

And then she went and spent the night at Todds?! The lying bitch was even wearing the guy's fucking underwear.

Joe fumed. He took a step forward before he stopped himself short. What are you going to do, cowboy? Wasn't last night bad enough, you want to hate-fuck her again?

His body answered with a 'hell, yeah!' to his mind's rhetorical question, but his head was firmly in the driver's seat this morning, thankfully. Gritting his teeth until his jaw hurt, he watched Leanne's retreating form, huddled over herself as she hugged her clothes from the night before to her middle and hurried to her own room.

She must be freezing, he thought, and then almost punched himself. How could she still evoke that knee-jerk protectiveness in him, even when he knew the fucking truth?

Releasing a slew of curses under his breath, Joe broke into his run. This morning called for ten miles, at least. Maybe fifteen.


"I want her out of here, Tammy. I can't do it, I can't even look at her face. I need you to fire her, get her off our land. Today."

Tammy's eyes had grown as wide as he'd ever seen then as she gaped at him in disbelief.

"What - what the hell happened, Joe? You two were all over each other, like yesterday."

Joe pursed his lips. He was afraid she'd ask. The truth tore his insides, and he knew it would do the same to Tammy. She and Leanne have become so close over the summer; his sister would be devastated to learn her 'friend' was a liar, that it was all just a charade.

He hated to see his sister hurt.

"That's between Leanne and me. Point is, it's over. I don't want to set eyes on her ever again."

Tammy was quiet for too long. Way too long. And something in her pale, somber expression was making him feel uneasy. Finally she spoke quietly.

"Joe, I need to ask this. Did you - did you beat Leanne up last night?"

"What?!" he hissed, so fucking angry he was shaking. Was she kidding him?! Did the little bitch go and tell his sister lies about him, on top of everything?!

"I'm asking because, well, something happened. I don't know what, exactly, but Leanne -" Tammy shook her head. "We were together. She was waiting for you. And then she disappeared - I don't know how long, maybe a half hour or so - and when she returned she looked like - like she'd struggled with someone, or something."

Joe's head swung back as if his sister slapped him. What?! He may have been a little rough with her - okay, he was rough with her, but he never beat her! Right?

No, he didn't. He told himself resolutely. This is just another manipulation. God, the girl could pull those!

Through clenched teeth, he answered. "I broke up with her, but I did not beat her up. Of course I didn't! Is that what you think of me, Tammy?"

His sister dropped her gaze, and shook her head. "No. No, I know you wouldn't. It's just - well, maybe she really did stumble and fall like she told me... she was piss drunk, you know."

"She got drunk?" He couldn't imagine it. It made his belly churn. Was that why she slept with Todd later? Did the man take advantage of her?

It's none of your business, cowboy. Whatever games she was playing, you are no longer a participant. And the whole damsel in distress act was just a way to get you wrapped around her little finger. When will you take that into your thick skull?!

Tammy shrugged. "Yeah. It wasn't pretty." Then she sighed deep, and met his gaze. "I'm sorry, Joe. Breaking up sucks."

"I'll live. And I'm better off without her, that's for sure."

Tammy pursed her lips as if to stop herself from arguing, and then gave him a pointed look. "I get that you want her out of your face, but we can't fire her over your breakup, you know."

"What? Why the hell not? This is a private operation. I can fire whoever the hell I want."

Tammy sighed. "It's a risk, Joe. A huge one."

He was silent as her unsaid words sunk in. "You mean she could sue. Sexual harassment. Discrimination. Unjust termination."

"All of the above." Tammy agreed uneasily. "Listen, Joe, I'm not saying she would, or even if she did, that she'd win. But this situation has FUBAR written in capital letters all over it."

Fuck. Fuck her. Fuck this. Fuck, fuck, FUCK!

"I see." he grumbled. "So you're saying we need to keep her on board."

Tammy nodded. "It's only a couple of months, Joe. You're a grown man, I'm sure you can handle it."

Joe grimaced. "Maybe she'll leave on her own."

"Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. Honestly, I think she just really needs the money."

"Is that what she told you? I no longer believe a word she says." Joe spat vehemently, but the, reluctantly, he backed off. "Sorry sis. You're not the one I'm angry with." He breathed deep, and then added - "I'll keep my distance, I promise. But if she fucks up at work - if she gives us any plausible excuse to fire her - I want her ass kicked off the premise, right then and there."

Tammy shook her head. "Wow. I've never seen this side of you, you know. Remind me never to cross you."

Joe stood. "You have no idea, Tammy. Let's just keep it at that."


Leanne froze when Tammy's door opened and Joe burst out. His step faltered when he saw her, but then he simply stomped past her without acknowledging her with even a nod.

She looked back to see him half-run up the stairs into the main house and disappear inside, and then returned to see Tammy staring at her grimly through her open office door. So, he told her. She thought, and forced her spine straight as she entered the office and closed the door behind her.

"Have a seat."

Leanne did, although she fidgeted with nerves as she worked up her courage to say what needed to be said. To apologize for her deceit, although she knew there was little hope for forgiveness.

"I -"

"Listen to me, Leanne. I don't know what happened between Joe and you, and quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to. He just told me you two broke up. He wants to fire you."

He didn't tell his sister who she was?

Leanne blinked in confusion, and then forced herself to refocus on Tammy, who was still speaking to her in a low, half-apologetic tone.

"I told him as long as you continued to do your job right, I didn't see a reason to let you go. You weren't hired here on the basis of your relationship; you won't be fired over it, either."

Leanne looked up in confusion. "I - I can stay?"

Tammy's face was taut, but Leanne could see the compassion in her eyes. "You can stay." She said quietly, and the added - "Look, Leanne, I know about your situation. I understand you'll need some time to get another room-and-board-included job lined up, that's why I wouldn't let Joe kick you out today. But you need to know you've just been put on zero-tolerance notice. You make any mistake, and I won't be able to keep you on board. I'm sorry. Maybe - maybe it would be a good idea to start making some other plans, just in case."

"I - I understand. Thank you." Leanne bit her lips. "Will - will that be all?"

After a pregnant pause, Tammy nodded jerkily. "Yeah. That's all. You may leave the door open on your way out."

Stiffly, Leanne stood, and walked away.


Back in her room, she called Elaine, who answered before the second ring, given the text message she'd received earlier that morning from her.

"Are you on the bus yet, sweetie? What time should I pick you up from the station?"

"I - not yet. I think I may stay for a while longer."

"What?!" her friend shrieked into her ear. "You can't be serious, Leanne. I told you from the start this was a bad idea, and now -" She huffed in her ear. "You cannot stay there, sweetie. Please. Take your things and leave. This was never your mess to fix, and now it's just got exponentially worse. You'll only get yourself hurt even more if you stayed."

Leanne swallowed past her achy throat. "I - I feel if i stayed, maybe, maybe I'd be able to explain, you know? Maybe once he'd cooled off -."

She swore she could hear Elaine shaking her head through the phone. "Sweetie, have you forgiven Bill after all this time?"

"N-no." She sobbed.

"Neither will Joe, I'm afraid." Elaine sighed heavily. "Sometimes forgiveness isn't an option, honey. Some wounds are too deep. And you staying there and seeing Joe every day would be like picking at them. It would only serve to hurt the two of you over and over again. Please, just come home." She pleaded. "You know I can't afford giving you your job back now that the kids are older, but you're always welcome here if you need a place to crash. The kids and I miss you very much."

Leanne wiped at her tears absently, and tried to get her thoughts in order. Elaine fell quiet for a while, but then spoke up again.

"Look, I think I've got an idea for you, another live-in care job. It's not going to help with veterinary experience and it's not immediate, but it's on the horizon. Jim's aunt, Sara - remember her? She's set to have an operation - knee replacement - sometime in November. They were talking about getting her some help around the house; someone who would be her companion, even before that, but definitely for the time after the operation when she'd be quite disabled. Want me to ask for you?"

Leanne whimpered through her tears. "Yes, please. Please do."

"Okay then. I will. Now, are you getting on the next bus?"

Leanne blew her nose with the crumpled tissue in her hand. "No, not yet. I know this is probably a mistake, but honestly, what do I have to lose at this point? He hates me already. He dumped me already. What worse could happen? I know I said I'll leave - I didn't think they would keep me! - but now I feel like maybe there's a way to make this right somehow." She choked. "Besides, you know I can't afford being out of a job for weeks on end!"

"Of course you can, sweetie. You'll be here. You won't be out on the streets."

Leanne chuckled miserably. "It's a couple more grand that I can save up. I'm in no position to say no to that."

"It's just money, Leanne."

Said no poor person ever, she thought, but managed to keep it to herself. Elaine didn't deserve her snark.

"Ask aunt Sara about the job for me, will you?" she said instead, and her friend sighed. "Sure. Will do. I'll let you know as soon as I have more details, okay?"

"Thank you, Elaine. For everything. Give my love to the kiddies, tell them I miss them. I'll send them more animal pictures soon."

"They miss you too, Leanne. I hope you change your mind about this. Remember our home is always open for you."

"I know. B-bye." she managed before her tears choked her completely.


September dragged by. Feeling lonely sucked in a familiar, comfortable way.

Leanne functioned as if on autopilot. Work was a blessing; as long as she had stuff to do she could focus on that, and not on how miserable she was. She threw herself into it with abandon, intent on making the kiddie farm the best darn petting zoo in Northern California.

Joe had gone stone-cold on her. He never spoke to her, never looked at her direction - in fact, whenever she happened in his vicinity he would literally turn his back on her, and then find the first excuse to leave the place.

It was getting ridiculous.

She tried approaching him in his office once, but that was a disaster.

"Go away." He said when he saw her at the door, and returned his eyes to his computer screen.

Boldly, Leanne had walked in and sat down across his desk. He looked her in the eyes then, and the hurt and the anger she saw in his took her breath away.

"I said, go." He hissed.

"I'm sorry, Joe." She whispered. "I should have told you the truth, but -"

"But being who you are, you couldn't help yourself, could you?" His voice rose and his hand fisted on the table before he heaved a breath and, with concentration, relaxed it. "You are bad seed, Leanne." He managed through gritted teeth. "And one thing being a farmer teaches you is that you can't grow anything good from bad seed. Better cut your losses and move on."

His words sliced her gut. How many times did she hear them, or a variation of them, growing up? She'd lost count.

He held her gaze, his face closed and his eyes shuttered. "I stay out of your way, you stay out of mine. Five more weeks. That's all."

He was counting the days until she was gone.

"Right." Leanne fled his office, and vowed to keep her distance.

She called Elaine that night to ask about Sara and the job offering. Elaine said Sara was open to the idea, but didn't want to start before her operation. "She said she'd feel like an old person, having someone to care for her at home. She wants to feel young and independent for as long as she can."

Swallowing her disappointment, Leanne thanked her and promised she was doing perfectly fine and was just asking for after Halloween. Elaine didn't sound convinced, but, having had the same argument before without success, didn't push.


That evening when suppertime came, Leanne couldn't bring herself to go to the dining hall and suffer through yet another awkward encounter. Besides, she had very little appetite. Stress and unease accompanied her like an underlying sense of nausea everywhere she went these days. Instead, she waited until she saw the others leave, and then jumped in and arranged for a plate to take back to her room.

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