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Under African Skies

by Eliza Morgan 

Posted: 26 October 2005
Word Count: 3834
Summary: Holly Draper is an English woman fulfilling her father's dream of running a game lodge in South Africa - facing tough often violent and threatening opposition. She befriends a local garage owner's daughter, leading to a rollercoaster romance.

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“Evening Joanne, I didn’t realise you were on front of house duty tonight. I believe there’s a reservation for four tonight in my name, a table in the restaurant and two rooms.” Sue felt an arm snake around her waist, just lightly caressing her buttocks as it passed. She hugged in closer to her fiancé, hoping all would go to plan that night so she could have him to herself. With him working out of town, she saw very little of him during the week so at weekends they made up for lost time. Tonight though, Sue was also trying to play Cupid between her best friend, Emily, and a friend of Andrew’s, Anton.
“Hi Sue, I’m just here filling in, Holly had to deal with some difficult customers. Here are your room keys, the bungalows are next to each other. Turn right out of reception and follow the path, you can’t miss them. Your table will be ready in 20 minutes so feel free to go to your rooms or sit in the bar area to wait. Do you need a hand with your bags?” Jo asked as she scooted out from behind the low desk which served as the check-in desk for the lodge. She did not mind the front of house work, although she had to admit she always kept a close ear on the kitchen when she was away.
“No, I think we’ll be fine thanks, it’s only overnight bags, backpacks mainly.” Sue spoke for them all.
“OK, well, enjoy your evening if I don’t get a chance to come by your table later. I hope you enjoy the meal, please let me know if anything isn’t up to your satisfaction.” With that, Jo scuttled off back into the kitchen. Sue turned away from the desk and handed a room key to Anton, keeping the other for herself.
“Shall we throw the bags in the rooms now and then come and get a drink before the meal?” It was a rhetorical question, like Sue’s so often were. Emily trundled along with the rest of the party, knowing it was pointless making any other suggestion. It had already been made clear that whatever happened, Sue was sharing with Andrew unless Anton turned out to be an axe-murderer. She had to concede, he did not seem such a bad bloke, he was clean shaven, quietly spoken and did not look like he had been hit by the back of a bus. For Sue’s sake, Emily had agreed to come on the blind date. Sue seemed to have made it her mission to see Emily in a relationship before she turned 30. She herself did not see why it was so important to get tied down to one guy. She was not in a hurry to have children, she was too busy running the finances of the family business to consider starting her own family. And she had so many friends around her that she did not have chance to feel lonely. But she had agreed to the date to keep Sue happy and to stop her harping on about never making time to meet new people.
They grabbed their bags out of the car and walked the short distance down the path Jo had mentioned until they found the two bungalows, far enough apart to ensure privacy but close enough to be comfortable.
“We’ll meet you in the bar in ten or fifteen minutes then.” Sue said as she and Andrew disappeared into their bungalow and closed the door behind them.
“I’d be willing to bet we won’t see them for at least 20 minutes, probably closer to half an hour.” Anton grinned as he placed his bag on the floor just inside the door. “So this whole evening isn’t awkward and tense, I’ll just say from my side that I think you’re stunningly attractive but I don’t expect anything from you. At the end of the night if we’ve had a good time and want things to go further, great. If not, it won’t mortally wound any sense of macho pride or anything. I’m just looking for a good night out with nice food and hopefully decent company. So what do you say we try and aim for being friends by the end of the night? No more pressure than that, just friends.” Emily did not very often feel nervous but tonight her stomach was performing Olympic-style gymnastics.
“Friends sounds good to me.” She replied croakily, her mouth dry and sticky. She was not about to rule anything out, Anton was good looking, rugged and sporty in appearance but with a gentle manner.
Their room consisted of two single beds, pushed together but made up separately, two large wardrobes with slatted wooden doors, a love seat sofa at the end of the bed and a vanity unit with a large mirror. A doorway to the left of the bed led through to a spacious bathroom where one could enjoy a bath or shower since both were provided.
“Mind if I take this one?” Running a hand through unruly dark hair, Emily gestured to the bed nearest the bathroom door, it was the side of the bed she generally started out on at home and usually made her way back to but many nights she woke up lying diagonally across the double bed.
“Nah go for it. I’m not fussy about where I sleep. Hell I could even sleep on the sofa if it would make you feel more comfortable?” Anton was a betting man and he was willing to bet this young woman’s conscience wouldn’t allow her to relegate him to the sofa.
“That won’t be necessary I don’t think, although I should warn you I tend to drift about the bed in my sleep – I’m not really that used to sharing with someone else – but we’re both adults. I think we can both trust each other enough to sleep next to one another.” He hid his grin from her and chalked up another score for him on his mental chart. Anton opened his bag and took out his wash bag, placing it gently onto his own bed. The rest he zipped back into the overnight holdall and stowed it on the floor beside the bedside cabinet. He strolled into the bathroom with his toiletries and shut the door. Emily followed his cue and opened her own holdall. She took out her make-up bag and set it on the vanity unit, glancing in the mirror as she did so. Satisfied her carefully applied make-up was still impeccable, she turned back to retrieve her wash bag. Clothing and nightwear she chose to keep neatly folded away until she needed them. As Anton left the bathroom, she entered it, dropped her bag on the counter and left. “Ready to hit the bar?” She asked her companion for the night.
“You bet, I’d love an ice cold beer right now. And then we can see how long it is before the lovebirds can separate themselves long enough to join us.” Anton held the door open for Emily to go out first, impressing her with his chivalry.
“Hmm, why do I get the impression it will be an early night for those two?”
“Well, I hope you’ve got your drinking shoes on, I’m in the mood for a party tonight.” Anton flashed his most dazzling smile.
“Boy, my drinking shoes are never off!” Emily giggled, relaxing more and more as she found it easy to talk to her date.
They walked into the bar area laughing together. They took two seats at the end of the bar so they could keep an eye out for Sue and Andrew, while they got started on some drinking. Both were well onto their second beers by the time they were joined by the rest of their party. Emily surprised Anton by gulping back the remainder of her beer before rising from her bar stool. Following her lead, he did the same and the four headed into the dining area. A candle-lit table had been laid for them outside under the stars, away from the main part of the restaurant. The setting proved to be a good topic of conversation, which kept them busy until the starter arrived. There was a bit of a lull in conversation while they all tucked into their exquisite food. The meal was going well, everyone enjoying what had been placed in front of them and the wine flowing freely. Emily and Anton seemed to have found common ground in sarcasm and were putting it to good use teasing each other, as well as Sue and Andrew. Laughter was definitely not in short supply at their table, a fact that drew the attention of Holly as she made her way round the tables in the restaurant. She always thought it added to the ambience of a place if people could be heard to be having a good time. Shortly before dessert was served, she made it as far as the raucous table, casting a long shadow in the light of the scattered oil burners. All the occupants looked up expectantly, assuming it would be a member of the waiting staff. Instead Emily found herself staring into two of the deepest brown eyes she thought she had ever seen. As she gazed up into those eyes, her breath was stolen from her lungs.
“Sue, it’s so good to see you out here again. And bringing me more business as well, I’ll have to start paying you commission at this rate!” Holly laughed huskily as she leant over to kiss Sue on the cheek. Emily noticed the English accent straight away, guessing the new arrival had not long since moved to the country given the lack of local twang. She was intrigued but managed to drag her eyes away long enough to notice the stranger had not had the same effect on Anton. He was busy refilling everyone’s glass and fidgeting with his cutlery.
“Hiya Holly, Jo said you’d had to step out for a while but I was hoping to catch you at some point this evening. You know Andrew of course.” Holly nodded a greeting as Sue’s fiancé shook the proffered hand. Moving round the table, Sue introduced the rest of her companions, “this is Emily Steinberg, she works in town at the garage. And this is Anton Brück, a friend of Andrew’s.” Holly greeted them both warmly, holding onto Emily’s for a split second longer than was necessary.
“Steinberg? As in Steinberg’s Garage, the big Toyota dealership in town that I got my car from a few months back? You can’t tell me that name is just a mere coincidence.” Holly cocked her head to one side as she asked the attractive auburn-haired beauty about her place of work.
“That’s us yeah, but if you have a problem with your car, please take it up with the guys at the garage, I’m here for a fun night out and close to being a little bit drunk. Probably not the best circumstances for me to try and do PR work.” Emily grinned impishly, warming immediately to the owner of their incredible accommodation.
“No, nothing like that, my car’s great, you guys gave me a great deal. So do you own the place then?” Holly felt part of her wishing she could stay at this table all evening but she knew she had to see to the rest of her guests as well.
“It’s my Dad’s firm, he built it up. I’m in the finance department over there. If anyone ever tells you working for a family business is easy, they either haven’t done it or are liars!” Emily replied, transfixed by the woman’s accent as well as her eyes.
Anton piped up, “so when your Dad retires will that make you the big chief then? Do you take over the whole works?”
“No, my brother will take on Dad’s role, I’ll probably just get more paperwork to bury myself under.” Emily answered whilst still looking in Holly’s direction. Something about the svelte Englishwoman had her mesmerised, she could not explain what it was or describe it to anyone else but she could feel it within herself.
“Will you join us for a drink, we’re almost through with our food here? It’s been so long since we had a chance to talk and you’ve done such an impressive job with this place. Business must be booming now.” Sue extended the invitation to her friend, even though she was keen to be alone with her fiancé.
“I’d love to, maybe a little later on. I have to mingle and then go and check all my cogs are grinding in the right direction. We’re not doing badly here now, word took a while to get around but now it seems we are quite well known. Reputations are not easy slates to wipe clean, it all takes time. No doubt I will bump into you all again in the bar later on.” Holly said her goodbyes and made her way across to another table. Emily was left with an insane sense of longing as she watched the woman fall easily into conversation with the couple at the next table. She turned her attention back, with some effort, back to her three companions at her own table. The rest of the meal passed without further incident, although it was noticed by all that Emily was more subdued and lost in thought than prior to Holly’s visitation. After dessert, they moved back into the bar. Sue chose them a table which afforded a good view of the whole room. Emily took a seat facing into the room, preferring to be able to observe her surroundings without gaining a crick in her neck. Anton sat to one side of her, Sue to the other and Andrew took his cue to fetch a round of drinks from the bar. Sue slipped out to help him, even though it was not necessary, leaving Anton alone with Emily once again.
“Was it something I said? You’ve been really quiet since about halfway through the meal. What gives?” Anton seemed genuinely concerned that he had upset his date in some way and whilst she was rattled, it was nothing that could be laid at his door.
“Oh sorry, I guess I must just be tired. My head was back in town filled with thoughts of work. I’m shutting that box again though now so we can pick up where we left off hey? No worries, I’ll soon get my second wind and then you’ll be begging for mercy!” Anton nodded and grinned, seemingly satisfied with her explanation and it did seem plausible since they had talked quite a bit about her work. Emily plastered on a smile and concentrated hard on keeping up with the conversation around her, finding herself relaxing the more she participated.
It was still early when Sue and Andrew headed back to their room, as Emily and Anton had guessed it would be. Emily had almost forgotten that Holly had mentioned she would try and join them for a drink and was soaking up Anton’s attention when she appeared.
“Sorry to interrupt, did I miss Sue?” A low, gravely voice asked.
“Just. She dragged lover-boy off kicking and screaming for the night about ten minutes ago.” Anton shifted in his seat so that he was angled towards Emily, staking a claim on her but feeling somewhat foolish for perceiving there to be a threat.
“You’re more than welcome to join us for a drink if you would like to?” Emily offered, feeling the same magnetism surrounding this woman she had felt a few hours earlier.
“I don’t want to intrude…” Holly began, backing away slightly.
“Please, you wouldn’t be intruding. It would be our pleasure, wouldn’t it Anton?” The tousled blonde head snapped up at the mention of his name, clearly not so enamoured with the idea.
“Yes of course it would, what can I get you to drink?” The words tumbled out of his mouth with only the vaguest hint that they were not his true feelings. He did not know what else he could say if he wanted to retain a chance of winning Emily’s affections and despite her slight dip in mood during the evening, he decided he certainly did want to see more of her. He stood up and headed for the bar to get another round in. By the time he returned, the two women were deep in conversation about the game reserve and Holly’s work there. They both broke off to thank him before resuming, Emily kept filling him in on details he had missed whilst on bar duty.
After a short while, the air around them began to cool off as the evening breeze picked up. Goosebumps stood out on Emily’s naked arms.
“Why don’t we sit around the fire with these? This is the only problem with the bar having an open front.” Holly suggested the move, noticing how the other woman was beginning to shiver slightly. Emily was beginning to wonder if her off-the-shoulder, clingy burgundy dress had been such a good idea, feeling the breeze whistling straight through the flimsy material. Anton let Emily seat herself first on a wooden bench close to the site of the fire, seeing her relish in its heat. He then positioned himself on the same bench seat, perching as close to her as he felt able to get away with. Holly pulled up a canvas chair, placing it at the end of the bench on the other side of Emily. To the attractive woman now in the centre, it felt strangely as though her affections were being silently fought over, not a feeling she was accustomed to, but then a lot of the feelings she was experiencing that evening were somewhat alien to her. The conversation continued to flow easily for another hour, Anton finding his use in stoking the fire, and managing to initiate a significant amount of body contact between himself and Emily. His attitude towards their host began to thaw a little as the conversation turned to topics he was interested in and more familiar with. To his surprise, he found he had a fair amount in common with the English woman.
At just after midnight, the fire could no longer be revived causing Anton to decide to retire to the shelter of the room.
“I’m going to head to bed. Are you joining me now or shall I leave the door unlocked so you can get in later?” He stretched as he stood up, reaching his arms behind his head and enjoying the feel of muscles flexing as he straightened. Holly took the hint and made a move to leave as well.
“I actually ought to get to bed as well, I have an early start in the morning. Thank you both for a lovely end to the evening, it was very interesting talking to you. I hope you sleep well and enjoy your stay with us here. Come back soon if you like it and please tell your friends about us as well.” Holly stood and shook hands with both guests, the only two remaining out of their bungalows so late.

Once back in the room, Anton peeled off his deep purple short sleeved shirt, not shy about exposing his toned, tanned body to his blind date. Emily was a little more reserved about undressing in front of a man who, up until tonight, she had not met. She slid into the bathroom, clutching her pyjamas to her chest as she went. She suddenly felt self-conscious even though she visited the gym every night on her way home from work. By the time she had showered and changed, she guessed that Anton would be ready for her exit. She walked out of the bathroom and placed her clothing on the large trunk that stood beneath the window, just inside the door, on her side of the bed. Anton slipped passed her, on his way to the bathroom, and deliberately brushed against her, running a hand across the top of her buttocks. She was a little surprised both at the boldness of his actions and at the reaction it generated within her body. She decided the safest thing to do was to crawl beneath the covers, which since the two beds were made up separately, would put a physical barrier between herself and her would-be lover. She did not want to put him off completely, she certainly would not mind seeing him again and spending more time with him, she just wanted to make it clear that it was not her nature to jump in to bed with men on first dates. At the same time, she did not want to run the risk of offending him so she clambered beneath the covers, yanking them up around her chin relishing the warmth that spread across her body. She heard water gurgling down the drain in the bathroom and felt herself relax into the pillows as she thought back to the evening’s events. The appearance of Holly stuck in her mind as the main highlight, playing and replaying like a record that had got stuck. Emily enjoyed mentally re-living the sight of Holly’s lithe figure, clad in a cream-coloured trouser-suit with a silky black top underneath, sitting so close to her that she could feel the warmth emanating from her body. No matter how many times she re-lived it in her head, she could not pin-point exactly what it was about her that drew Emily to her so strongly.
Emily was raised from her reverie by the bathroom door opening and a freshly showered Anton stepping through the opening. He wore only a pair of chequered cotton boxer shorts, the hairs on his muscular arms standing to attention as goose bumps rose in the cool night air. He hit the light switches for the wall-mounted sconces, leaving only the dim light from the small lamp on Anton’s bedside cabinet. Out of the corner of her eye, Emily watched him move about the room, wondering what it would be like to feel his hands caressing her body. She would have been lying to herself if she did not admit that the sight of his body, barely contained by the flimsy material of his shorts, had stirred some reaction within her. A sudden heat flooded through her as she thought of sharing a bed with him on more intimate terms. As she settled back further into the plump pillows, imagining his hands roaming freely over her skin, the shape and tone of the hands changed and she was shocked to find herself fantasising about Holly showering her with caresses. The thought left her mind as fleetingly as it had entered leaving her questioning where it had come from in the first place.

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Comments by other Members

old friend at 21:27 on 31 October 2005  Report this post
I guess this is Chick-Lit which is not really my field. However I thought the writing was of a very high standard and worth full marks.

I would suggest that you look at the spacing of the first paragraphs for they do tend to run into one another.

Remember the reader has to be caught by your first sentence and then lead into the story.

I thought the lesbian feelings of Sue were extremely well handled and you demonstrate a sensitive touch with the emotional reactions of your characters.

I didn't quite understand Sue's relationship with her fiance and Anton sleeping in the same room. However quality writing, well done.


Jumbo at 14:15 on 01 November 2005  Report this post

This is a good read - with bags of potential for development.

I did feel it could be tightened up in places ( for example, 'impressing her with his chivalry' may be better shown rather than just told) and there are a number of repeated typos (such as the punctuation at the end of pieces of dialogue.)

I also had a problem with the scenario of Emily and Anton sharing a room on their first date. Perhaps I'm of the wrong generation to judge this, but it seems so unlikely - unless of course, it was almost certain that they would end up sharing a bed (which, of course, they do) and having sex (which, by the end of the chapter, they don't appear to have done).

As Len has said, Emily's feelings on meeting Holly are deftly handled.

All the best


Eliza Morgan at 13:26 on 13 November 2005  Report this post

Thanks for your comments, I too am having second thoughts about the scenario of Emily and Anton sharing a room when they've only just met - thought it might work better if they were in a casual relationship of sorts.
As I said before, all feedback is greatly appreciated and taken onboard.

Thanks again.


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