Welcome back to Austen Promises!
I’ve begun working on this book full-time. I told my newsletter peeps that I only wrote 5,000 words on it, but when I did the math, it came up to over 8,300, so … go, me! LOL
I did a little rearranging and adding, so there might be stuff in here you’ve read before. What you’re getting is the rest of Chapter 3 and all of Chapter 4.
Here is the master list of posts. I’ve updated it this week.
Did you know that for a monthly pledge of as little as $1 at Patreon, you can have early access to all my blog posts, including my Thursday ones? Patrons also get a free copy of each of my books once it is complete.
Mary settled herself, plate in hand, on the couch opposite the one Liz and Will occupied. She tucked her feet under her and rested the plate on the arm of the sofa.
“Mind if I sit here?” Declan stood before Mary, can of Pepsi in one hand and plate in the other. He used the can to gesture to the empty space beside her.
Attention drawn away from her food by Declan’s deep voice, Mary swallowed her mouthful of rice and nodded. “Sure.” She shifted, putting her feet back down on the floor. Not wanting to sit with her back to him, she twisted in the seat, bending her knee to set it on the couch for her plate to rest on.
Declan lowered his large frame to the couch, tucking the Pepsi between his booted foot and the frame of the sofa, on the floor. Then, he leaned back, sending surreptitious glances at the girl sitting beside him.
The pair ate in silence for a few minutes. Finally, their initial hunger sated, they began to speak, both at the same time.
“So you’re Liz’s sister?”
“Thank you for saving Liz.”
Declan and Mary both blushed and grinned.
“I’m sorry. You first.” Declan shifted his body so he could more easily see Mary as she spoke.
“I just wanted to thank you for saving my sister. I know Jane did earlier, and I’m sure Will and Liz both did, but I thought you should know we all appreciate what you did.” Mary held Declan’s gaze for a few seconds but was unable to maintain it. Her eyes dropped to her plate as her blush deepened.
“It was nothing, like I said earlier, but you’re welcome. It’s easy to see how much she means to you all.” Declan tilted his head to try to see Mary’s face.
Mary looked up before she spoke again. “She’s the best sister in the world.” She sighed. “I’ve come to realize how special she is in the last few months.”
“She is special.” Declan looked across the way at Liz and Will. “Never met a spunkier gal, that’s for sure. And a lady, too.”
Mary followed her companion’s gaze. “Yes, she is. I’d have been devastated if something bad had happened.” She looked at Declan, tilting her head and pushing her glasses up. “You like her.”
Declan’s head snapped toward Mary. “I do, very much. If she were not already taken and obviously happy, I’d be the first one to call her Baby.”
A slow smile spread over Mary’s face. “That’s a line in a song. Do you like country music?”
Declan shrugged, a sheepish smile lifting one corner of his lips. “Some of it.”
“You strike me as more a Metallica kind of guy.”
“I am.” Declan looked down and nodded. “Mostly.” He looked at Mary out of the corner of his eye and grinned.
Mary giggled, then rolled her lips into her mouth in an attempt to quiet herself. Her twinkling eyes gave away her mirth, though, and when Declan’s reverberating laugh washed over her, she couldn’t help but join in.
The pair spent the next half-hour talking, mostly about their current lives. Mary learned that Declan was a combination of mechanic, fabricator, and builder of custom motorcycles. Declan learned that Mary was a math major with a perfect GPA.
“Would you be interested in going out? On a date?” Declan chewed his lip.
Mary looked down for a second. When she looked up, she lifted her chin and sat very still. “I would love to, but …,” She swallowed, “I have rules for dating, and to go out with me, you have to agree to them.” She reached for her backpack, on the floor near her feet, and pulled out a notebook and pen as she began to speak rapidly, listing off her rules. “I don’t drink or do drugs, I don’t watch R-rated movies, and I won’t have sex with anyone I’m not married to.” She wrote her number on a piece of paper and ripped the page out of her notebook. “Here’s my number. Think about it, and if you can live with those rules, give me a call.” She shoved the paper at him and stood, dropping her notebook and pen on the couch and hurrying off.
Declan watched her rush to the bathroom. He looked at her number, biting his lip again as he thought about her rules. Then, he folded up the paper and stood, shoving it into his pocket. He stepped to the other side of the motorhome, to say his goodbyes to Liz and Will.
Will rose, extending his hand. “Leaving already?”
“Yeah, I have an early day tomorrow. I want to try to get some sleep.” Declan shook Will’s hand then looked at Liz. “You take care, you hear?”
“Help me up, Will.” Liz struggled to stand, and once her husband had gotten her to her feet, she threw her arms around Declan, giving him a tight hug. “Thanks for coming to the track and for staying for supper. I’d love for you to come to the house for a visit sometime. I’m going to be laid up for a few weeks, and restricted to the house for a few additional weeks. I could use some company.”
Declan blushed and glanced at Will. “I’d love to. Y’all just call me up and tell me when. Will has my number.”
With a kiss to Declan’s cheek, Liz let him go, watching as he farewelled the Fitzwilliams and Bingleys.
Declan’s departure seemed to trigger the rest of the group to start going, as well. Georgie and Coach got up from their folding chairs, which had been tucked up at the end of the dinette booth and put their dishes in the sink before saying goodbye and heading for home. Jane and Audra cleaned up under Liz’s supervision while Charles and Henry Fitzwilliam discussed the race. Soon, though, everyone was gone and Will put Liz to bed. The next day, they would drive back to the house, but for tonight, they were staying at the track.
Declan strode away from the motorhome, hands in his pockets, one fingering his bike key and the other, the folded up piece of paper containing Mary’s phone number. His eyes scanned the area around him, always alert for danger from other motorcycle clubs, and for cops who might take one look at him with his beard, tattoos, and motorcycle cut and cause trouble. Fifteen minutes later, he arrived at his bike. With the horde of race fans gone, it was an easy walk and left him a lot of time to think.
Throwing his leg over the big Harley, Declan pulled the key out of the front pocket of his jeans, then patted the other side to make sure the note was still there. He took a deep breath, inserted the key, and turned it over. Then, leaning the bike to the right, he kicked the stand up and sat, both feet on the ground and the bike centered beneath him. He twisted the throttle and grinned at the familiar feel of the roaring motor beneath him. The sensation never got old.
Backing the bike away from the fence, Declan turned the handlebars to aim it toward the driveway, then twisted the throttle once more and bounced over the grass and up onto the pavement. There, he accelerated and soon was around the outside of the track and onto the highway.
Declan kept his attention on the road and off Mary Bennet while he rode. He made good time and was pulling into his driveway twenty minutes later. After parking the bike in the garage, he locked the building, then headed into the house through the back door. Only then, as he pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge and went out on the front porch to sit and relax, did he allow Mary into his mind.
Glancing at the privacy fence that separated his property from the abandoned place next door, Declan settled into a chair and leaned back, placing the bottle on the table. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the folded piece of paper that contained Mary’s name and number. Opening it up, he smoothed it out over the table top.
Declan had never been attracted to a woman the way he had Mary Bennet. Everything inside him screamed to throw her over his shoulder, carry her away, and make her his. It wasn’t just her beauty and shape that drew him, either, as he had discovered as they sat on that couch and chatted. She was smart and serious, with a dry sense of humor. She made him smile and laugh, which wasn’t easy to do. Mary was also shy and quiet. It was that, he decided, that threw his protective side into overdrive.
Mary was also from a completely different world. Declan had been orphaned at the age of ten. He had bounced from foster home to foster home for the next eight years, until he was old enough to legally be on his own. He’d gone wild in his teen years, once or twice spending time in the juvenile equivalent of jail. He doubted Mary Bennet had ever even gotten a speeding ticket.
“Would she even want me for more than a date?” Declan murmured the question to himself. He looked up from the creased piece of paper to examine the houses of his neighbors. Declan had never allowed himself to become too deeply involved with any of the women he’d dated. In his experience, the people you allowed closest to you were the first ones to leave you hanging, and he did not intend for that to happen again.
Then, too, Mary had given him a list of rules he was expected to follow in order to date her. “Do I really want to follow a bunch of rules? What happened to spontaneity? Is she serious?” The devil on Declan’s left shoulder tried to get him to say ‘no way’, but the angel on his right pushed him to go with it. “Is she worth not drinking and getting sex?”
Declan knew from his chat with Mary that she was a churchgoer, and her rules for dating let him know she was serious about her faith. Declan’s mother had been the same. He remembered nightly prayers and church every Wednesday night and twice on Sunday. He could recall most of the stories, too. But, he had not been in church since she had passed away. None of his foster families had taken him, and certainly, none of the other motorcycle club members went that he knew of. She’s totally opposite me. Is a relationship even possible?
Declan chewed his lip as he thought some more. Didn’t someone once say that if you never tried, you’d never win? She gave you her number. That must mean something. These thoughts and more whirled through his mind.
In the end, Declan decided to sleep on it, and if Mary still consumed his thoughts in the morning, he’d text or call.
The next morning, Will, Liz, and Mary climbed up into Will’s pickup for the short drive back to the house. They stopped at a fast-food restaurant for breakfast, opting to use the drive-through instead of going inside.
Mary looked out the back window as they pulled in. “Who’s that following us?”
Will glanced in the rearview mirror. “That’s Rhett. He goes wherever Liz goes.”
“Has he been doing this long?” Mary watched out the side window as Rhett’s car backed into a parking spot off to the side of the line of cars waiting to place their orders.
“I don’t know how long he’s been a bodyguard.” Liz waved at Rhett. “He’s only been with me a few days.”
“Oh.” Mary’s brows rose. “I thought you had a body guard for weeks.”
“She did.” Will’s voice was curt. “He let her get kidnapped.”
“Will.” Liz reached for her husband’s hand then addressed her sister. “I had a bodyguard named Ben. It wasn’t his fault I got kidnapped, at least not entirely. I’m as much to blame as anyone.”
“What happened to him? Did you fire him?”
Liz shook her head. “No. He came to us while I was still in the hospital and said he had a family situation he had to take care of. I know he feels guilty for what happened to me, and honestly, I suspect he left us more because of that than because of his family.”
Mary was silent for a while. “Part of me feels like he should feel guilty and should have been fired on the spot, but another part feels sympathy for him. I’m angry at whatever part he played. Still, you say it wasn’t all on him. Have you forgiven him?”
“Of course I have.” Liz sounded surprised. “When have I ever held a grudge?”
“I didn’t say you had.” Mary sounded defensive for a moment but then got quiet. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. You’re right; you have always been forgiving when the situation called for it.”
“It’s okay. I will admit it’s been harder for me to forgive some people than others, and sometimes I get sarcastic about those I’m struggling with, but Ben and I share the blame for what happened to me. I hated to see him go. I had just gotten used to him.” Liz shrugged. “Rhett’s nice, though, and clearly takes his job seriously.” She paused. “Of course, I’ve not been out of the hospital for more than, what, three days? And I’ve been largely immobile since. It’s not been hard to keep me corralled.”
Mary and Will chuckled.
“Thank you for getting someone to drive my car to your place. I totally forgot about it.” Mary spoke to the back of Will’s head.
“You’re welcome. I didn’t want to leave it in the lot all night and find it towed. The crew carpooled to the track, so it was easy enough to find someone willing to drive it.” Will looked in the mirror again, this time at his sister-in-law. “What was going on with Declan last night?” He grinned to see Mary flush a deep red.
“Nothing. He was very nice.” Mary looked at her hands, lying in her lap, holding her phone.
“Didn’t look like nothing to me. What do you think, Babe?” Will squeezed Liz’s hand.
“I didn’t notice.” Liz tried to turn around to look at Mary but her bruises and sore muscles wouldn’t allow her.
Will pulled up to the speaker and ordered breakfast for four, and Liz waited until they had moved past that spot to speak again.
“Did something happen between you and Declan? You just met him!”
“I thought he was very nice.” Mary repeated herself, fidgeting with her phone. “He’s good looking, too.”
“Ahhh, I see.” Liz lifted her chin and her eyebrows at the same time, sneaking a glance at Will out of the corner of her eye. “He’s not your type, though. Not that I really know what your type is, but he’s completely opposite of anyone I would expect you to be attracted to.”
“We’re not supposed to judge people by their looks, Lizzy. You know that.” Mary huffed.
Liz chuckled and looked at her lap. “I know. I’m sorry. I like him a lot, really I do. He’s a wonderful person.” She paused. “I’m not going to try to run your life, Mary. If you want to pursue him, feel free.”
“I’m not chasing anyone.” Mary crossed her arms over her chest and clenched her jaw. “I’m not that kind of girl. If he calls me, that’s one thing. I’ll be happy to talk to him.”
“What if he asks you out?” Liz tilted her head and listened to Mary’s response.
“Then I’ll go out with him, if he agrees to follow my rules.”
Will grinned. “That sounds familiar.”
Liz laughed. “It does!” She addressed Mary. “It seems like you know what you’re doing. I’ll try not to tease you.” She smiled. “’Try’ being the key word.”
Mary rolled her eyes. “You’d not be Lizzy if you didn’t tease.” She leaned forward and touched her sister’s shoulder. “I’m so glad you’re okay. I love you.”
Liz let go of Will’s hand to reach up and grasp Mary’s. “I love you, too, Sis.”
For Mary, giving Declan Paisley her phone number had been a very brave thing. No guy had ever asked for it before. She’d had a date to the Homecoming dance her junior year of high school and again for her senior prom, but those had been neighbor boys who didn’t have a date and were desperate to attend. None of them had been as well-built and good-looking as Declan, either. Nor had any of them made her heart pound so loudly she was certain he’d hear.
They had enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion as they sat in Will and Liz’s bus. Though normally shy and reticent, Mary had found Declan easy to talk to. He didn’t seem to mind that she sometimes said the wrong thing or said the right thing badly. She had been so happy – and nervous – when he asked for her number that she feared she’d say something stupid and drive him away.
Mary had never had to give the “I have rules for dating” speech before, either, and that added to her anxiety. She’d practiced it plenty, in preparation for the time she’d need it, but had begun to think she never would. So, she’d blurted it out as she scribbled her number, then thrust the page at him and ran like her bum was fire. “Pretty sure he thinks you’re a twit now,” she said as she walked on the treadmill later that day at her sister’s house. “Oh, well. He’ll either get a hold of me or he won’t, and it’s his loss if he doesn’t.”
An hour later, Mary was sitting at the desk in her room, looking up jobs online, when her phone vibrated.
Hi Mary, it’s Declan. How are you this morning?
Mary’s heart skipped a beat before beginning to rapidly pound. She grinned from ear to ear as she typed a reply.
I’m good. Job hunting. How are you?
I’m good. I’m at work, fabricating an exhaust pipe for a bike.
Are you allowed to text at work?
Sure am. I’m the only one here, and I’m the boss, anyway. 😉
Whew! Didn’t want you getting in trouble for texting at work.
Nah, it’s all good. Any good job leads?
Some fast food places, but I’d rather not do those if I didn’t have to. Will said his dad was looking for help at the race shop, so I might look into that.
Good idea. Being family, he might be more inclined to hire you.
The pair texted back and forth for nearly an hour, until Declan’s break was over. He promised to either call or text the next day, to Mary’s delight.
Unable to concentrate after the long conversation with Declan, Mary decided to see if her sister needed some company. She wandered down the stairs, peeking first into Liz’s office. Finding it empty, she headed for the living room. She stopped at the doorway, spotting her sister lying on the couch. She couldn’t tell if Liz was asleep or not and didn’t want to disturb her if she was. Mary chewed her bottom lip for a few seconds before deciding to find something to eat. Noises coming from the kitchen informed her that Will was likely home, so she made her way that direction.
“Hi, Mary.” Will used a pair of tongs to fill bowls with salad. “Get all settled in?”
“I did. Thanks for having me. The room is gorgeous.” Mary looked around at the kitchen in the Victorian farmhouse. “The entire house is beautiful.”
“Thanks.” Will tossed the empty plastic bowl in the sink and opened the oven. “We were overjoyed to find everything we wanted here – a large Victorian house and a hundred acres of farmland all in one place.”
“Lizzy always said she wanted to live in a Victorian.” Mary smiled. “I saw her in the living room, but I couldn’t tell if she was awake.”
Will glanced at the other side of the kitchen, toward the door leading to the room where his wife rested. “She’s been sleeping a lot. She may have drifted off waiting for me to get supper together.”
Mary pushed her glasses up and tilted her head as she watched Will cutting the pan of lasagna. “Did you make that?”
Will laughed. “Nope. My father’s housekeeper made it. Mrs. Reynolds brought it over yesterday and put it in the fridge for us. She’d like to be here, playing nursemaid to Liz, but Coach and Georgie need her, too.”
Mary smiled. “That’s really nice of her.”
“She’s been with the family since I was small. She sees us as her own.” Will shook his head. “I suspect she and Dad are in love. They’ve never taken steps toward a different relationship, though.”
Just then, Liz called Will’s name. He picked up the tray he had placed the drinks and salad on. “Can you carry the other tray? I thought we’d eat in the living room so Liz doesn’t have to sit up any more than necessary.”
“Sure.” Mary carefully lifted the tray containing three plates of food and followed her brother-in-law.
What do you think? Feel free to leave me a comment below. <3