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Dane

By:Leddy Harper

1


Someone bumped into my shoulder, causing my nearly full beer to tip and  douse the table in front of me. The crowd gathering around the bar grew  brassier and more obnoxious by the minute. I didn't usually mind it … if  they kept to themselves.

"Hey, man," I warned as I moved to get off my stool. I immediately  recognized he wasn't a threat, just heavily intoxicated and unable to  keep his balance.

"Sorry, dude." He swayed side to side as he spoke in slurred words.

I wasn't here to converse or get to know anyone. I didn't care about the  numerous sports teams vying for a win on the TVs. The scores didn't  influence me in the slightest. I'd only come to have a few beers and  pass some time before heading home.

My eyes followed the man as he made his way toward the bar, and that's  when I saw her. My gaze met hers and I found myself unable to turn away.  I offered her a lazy smile before glancing away, only to find myself  staring into my half-filled glass of beer. I tipped it back to take a  swig, and again, my line of sight went straight to her.

Like me, she sat alone, although she didn't appear to be bored out of  her mind. Her hair was dark red at the roots and faded into a brighter  shade of the same color about halfway down to the ends. I'd seen that  type of style on women before, but I assumed they'd missed a few  appointments at the salon or were trying too hard to be cool. For some  reason, it looked different on her. It seemed to fit her.

Taking her in further, I noticed brightly colored ink on her left arm.  I'd always found tattoos on women sexy as hell. Admiring hers, I found  myself entranced by the swirls of color, neat lines, and intricate  detail. For reasons unknown, I longed to study it closer.

Just before I turned away, realizing I'd begun to gawk, a guy sat down  at her table. He wasn't what caught my attention; it was her reaction  that kept me from turning away. Irritation marred her beautiful face.  Her red-painted lips curled up in disgust-a good sign she wasn't  interested in him being there.

I was never one to involve myself in other people's business-unless they  were on the verge of hurting themselves or others. I had enough  problems of my own. But the way she recoiled as he talked to her made me  keep a close eye on them. Then he touched her hand, and she flinched.  Instantly, I was out of my seat, my patience gone. In a few strides, I  stood next to him, although I didn't glance his way. I kept my eyes on  hers as she gaped at me in surprise.

"Can I help you, bro?" he asked, irritation evident in his gruff tone.

Finally, I turned to him and stared into his beady eyes. He had to have  been twice her age and half my size. "Actually, bro, you can help me by  leaving my girl alone." I winced inwardly. Here I was, inserting myself  into another situation, when all I came here to do was sit by myself  with a cold beer.

He turned away from me to face the woman across the table, but I didn't  stop glaring at him. I wanted him to feel the burning holes in the side  of his face from the intensity of my stare. I wasn't able to see her  reaction, but after a moment, he turned back to me. This time, he seemed  extremely apologetic, though he didn't say anything. He simply put both  hands up in front of him as he slid off the stool and walked away. He  didn't even offer a glimpse over his shoulder.

I didn't wait until he was two feet from the table before I sat down on  the stool he'd vacated. With my elbows on the wooden table top, I leaned  in slightly and smiled at her. "I'm sorry if I've offended you, but it  didn't appear as if you cared for his company," I said with my lips  still turned up into a grin. It was unexplainable, but smiling at her  came naturally. Moreover, I yearned to see her beam one at me in return.

"No. You're fine. I thought he might've been my date and it grossed me  out. Thank you." Her voice was soft and smooth like satin sheets on bare  skin.

My grin faltered as I tilted my head. "You don't know what your date looks like?"

Her gaze danced around the room, focusing on anything but me, and her  cheeks darkened slightly. However, the corners of her mouth lifted  somewhat, expressing what I took to be bashfulness. "Not really. I mean,  there are profile pictures, but you never really know if they are who  they say they are."

"Online dating?" My question came out in a higher pitch than my usual  deep tone. I was in shock. She must've been certifiable to have to  pursue online dating. This woman was downright gorgeous and probably  could've had her pick of any guy in the place. I'd noticed many men  shooting envious expressions my way as soon as I'd taken this seat.         

     



 

The blush remained, but her eyes moved to mine while she lifted one  shoulder in a half shrug. "I'm new to town, so it's pretty much the only  way to meet people."

I nodded, understanding the need to fill in the loneliness. "You don't know anyone here?"

She shook her head, answering me silently.

I extended my arm across the table. "My name's Dane. Now you know at least one person."

When she put her palm in mine, the caress of her smooth skin caused heat  to cover me from head to toe. It wasn't much of a shake, more like  simply holding hands, and that alone made my blood pressure spike. It'd  been too long since I'd felt such intimacy … even if it was nothing more  than a cordial greeting.

"Hi, Dane. I'm Eden."

I couldn't stop it even if I wanted to. My grin widened, sending an ache  through my jaw, a burning tightness in my cheeks. Not only was she  beautiful, but she had a name to match. The Garden of Eden-the first  symbol of all that was pure, and the birthplace of temptation.

Snapping back to reality, I removed my hand from hers and glanced around  the bar. "Well, I'm sure your real date will be here soon. I'd hate for  him to misinterpret this and leave."

"You can stay. I'm pretty sure he's not coming."

"Then he's an idiot." The sentiment was true, although I didn't mean to  voice the actual words. I had no right to say such things. And I  certainly didn't have the right to stay-although it didn't stop the  desire.

She lowered her chin, hiding herself from me. I didn't know what it  meant at first, but then she glanced up again, and I noticed the blush  in her cheeks deepening. Her dark eyes met mine, and I couldn't look  away. I couldn't tell what color they were in the dim lighting, but I  knew they weren't brown. Some other shade of dark. They captured me,  detaining me from the life around us.

"Are you here by yourself?" Her voice softened, almost sounding timid, in complete contrast to her bold tattoo and bright hair.

"Yeah." I nodded and then tugged on the collar of my white button-down. "Stopped here on my way home from work."

"Bad day at the office?" Her words were laced with intimacy, as if I'd  come home and found her in the kitchen making dinner. "Bad day at the  office, dear?" And it sent a pang of guilt-ridden desire through my  chest.

"I guess you could say that." But I didn't care to talk about me. I  didn't want to offer her any room to ask questions I couldn't answer, so  I cleared my throat and changed the subject. "So, tell me, Eden … where  are you from?"

"Originally from California, but I came here from New York."

My eyes widened, my tongue heavy with intrigue. "Why the drastic moves?"

"Well, I left home to go to school, and now I'm here for a job."

"Where did you go to school?" I itched for the beer I'd left behind when  I came to her defense. But I had no desire to get up and fetch it. That  would mean I'd leave Eden, and that thought didn't sit well with me.  It'd been a long time since I found myself in easy company, and I wasn't  ready to give it up quite yet.

"NYU. I studied accounting and finance."

My eyebrows raised, my interest surely showing on my expression. "Wow.  That's impressive. NYU is a really good school. I went there."

"You did?" Her excitement punctuated her question with a lilt.

A small rumble, but a rumble nonetheless, started in the base of my  sternum and rolled its way up until the whispers of a laugh filtered  past my lips. "No. I didn't. But it sounded good, right?"

What she did next stole the breath from my lungs. She parted her lips,  tilted her head back, and the most contagious giggle I'd ever heard  erupted from her. It wasn't contagious in the sense it made me join her.  No. It made me want to do everything in my power to encourage her to  keep laughing so I could sit and listen to the melody of her happiness  all night. It was deep and throaty, almost raspy. It ran over me,  scoring my skin as it settled.

"So where did you go?" she asked after catching her breath.

I didn't care to talk about me. I didn't want her humor to die. I wanted  to listen to her talk and hear her laugh. To watch her pouty, red lips  turn up at the corners and see her dark eyes sparkle with mirth. But I  couldn't be selfish-I wouldn't even know how to be. So I answered her  question, hoping I could turn it around on her. "I studied business at  Florida State. Clearly not as interesting as you. I mean, you're the one  who got a job all the way here from New York. Someone must really want  you."         

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