Welcome back to Austen Promises!
I didn’t get as much written this week last week as I’d like, because I discovered that I cannot edit and write both in one day. Both require a lot of mental fortitude and stamina, and when I get home from a writing session at the bakery, I’m too tired to edit. I had to put this story on the back burner for a few days.
The good news is that I have this chapter and at least part of another, so while I can’t give you a great big long post like I did last week, you still get a whole chapter.
Oh, I made a mistake in the bowling scene. Leenie pointed it out to me but I haven’t had time to fix it. I promise I will, though. 🙂
Once I get Darcy’s Predicament edited, I can pick this story back up. I hope to be back at it this coming Monday. I may need to take a day to format, but other than that, I’ll be back to writing.
I’m giving you chapter 7 today. Some of this may change in the future, though I’m pretty sure it’s set.
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Will and Liz’s house, Four days later
Mary came running down the stairs and into the kitchen, startling her sister into dropping the hard-boiled egg she was peeling. “Should you be up?” She eyed Liz suspiciously. “Does Will know you’re standing in the kitchen instead of resting?” Her hands landed on her hips.
Liz rolled her eyes. “No, he does not and yes, it’s fine for me to be up. I’m feeling better and it’s time I stopped playing the invalid.”
Mary said nothing, instead drilling her sister with her gaze.
“I promise to rest when I get tired!” Liz turned to the sink to wash her hands. “Geez, Louise, Mary!”
Mary smiled briefly at the well-remembered former-favorite substitute cussword Liz had always used when they were children. She quickly masked her amusement, however, and reminded her elder sister to take care of herself and the baby. “Make sure that you do.” With a decisive nod, Mary helped herself to a cookie out of the jar on the counter and sat on a tall barstool near Liz’s position.
“Where are you off to tonight?” Liz glanced out the corner of her eye at her sister’s clothes. They were dressy but casual.
“Ah, that explains the tennis shoes.” Liz used a potato masher to smash the eggs in the bowl on the counter in front of her. “Going by yourself?”
“No, with Declan.” Mary took another bite of cookie. “He should be here momentarily. Do you mind if I take some of these cookies with us?”
“Not at all; take as many as you like.” Liz added mustard and mayonnaise to the bowl of eggs and stirred. “I have a hard time picturing that big, burly biker in bowling shoes.” She giggled.
Mary chuckled at the mental image her sister’s words conjured. “Me too, to be honest, but it was his idea.” She shrugged. “I don’t like wearing someone else’s shoes, but Declan’s a lot of fun, so I’m willing.”
Liz’s brows drew together. “Are you letting him pick everything you do for your dates?”
“Oh, no.” Mary took another cookie out of the tin and dropped it in a small zippered sandwich bag. “No, we came up with a couple ideas each and chose from there.”
“Ok, good. I didn’t think that sounded like you, but I needed to be sure.” Liz put a lid on the bowl of egg salad and put the bowl in the fridge. “So, it’s going well, then?”
Mary nodded. “It is going well.” A sound from outside made her look through the window. “He’s here. Not sure what time I’ll be back, so don’t wait up for me.” She kissed Liz’s cheek and was out the door. She met Declan as he was coming up the steps with another bouquet of flowers. They exchanged flowers and cookies and headed into the house.
“More flowers! How beautiful!” Liz greeted her sister and Declan as they entered the kitchen. “Hi, Declan, how are things?”
“Hi, Liz. Things are going good for me. What about you? Should you be up?”
Mary laughed and Liz giggled at Declan’s words.
“I already asked her that.” Mary called over her shoulder as she moved toward the door to the dining room.
“She did.” Liz’s voice held a note of annoyance. “I’m fine and I promised to rest. I’ll lay on the couch as soon as you two are gone.”
Declan looked Liz up and down, noting her defensive posture. He shrugged. “Okay. You know yourself best.” He held his hand out to Mary as she breezed back into the kitchen. “You ready?
Mary took Declan’s hand. “Whenever you are.” She turned to Liz, giving her sister a kiss on the cheek. “Love you, Sis.”
“Love you, too.” The door closed on Liz’s words.
Declan helped Mary climb up in his truck and shut the door behind her. He trotted around the front of the vehicle and climbed behind the wheel, glancing over at Mary as he did. “Seat belt?”
“Got it.” Mary plucked at the wide black belt that crossed her chest.
A few minutes later, Declan was pulling the truck out onto the road, heading toward the nearest town that had a bowling alley. “How was work?” He glanced at Mary but quickly turned his attention back to the road.
“It was good. They sent me on a bunch of errands today. I was all over the building – in the race shops, the cafeteria, Coach’s office, everywhere.”
“No stuffing bags today?” Declan grinned as he flipped the turn signal at a stop sign.
“Not today.” Mary laughed. “However, the next race on the schedule is in California, so we started those yesterday. They have to go out on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.”
“So Monday will be busy for you.”
“It will. I’m so glad I have the weekend to relax.”
Declan and Mary spent the next several minutes in intermittent conversation. The traffic had gotten much heavier the closer to town they came, and Mary wanted Declan to be able to pay attention to the road. Finally, they pulled into the bowling alley.
Mary laughed. “We’re early again. I like this.”
Declan grinned. “Me, too.” He parked truck and hopped out, clomping around to the passenger side in his heavy biker boots. He opened Mary’s door and held out his hand for her to take.
Mary was becoming used to Declan’s old-fashioned Southern manners. While she still found them unusual, given his membership in a motorcycle club noted for its criminal behavior, she appreciated that he was still a gentleman down deep. She placed her hand in his and allowed him to help her out of the truck. She felt again the zing up her arm that she always felt when they touched. Her eyes flew up to his as she stepped off the running board, and she found she could not look away. She held her breath, half hoping he would kiss her. She was disappointed when he drew back, but knew it was for the best. If I kiss him, I might be done for, and I still don’t know that we can be together. Her brain reminded her of their totally different backgrounds and she sighed to herself.
Declan did not release Mary’s hand once she was standing beside him. She loved the feeling of their palms nestled together, and so, dangerous as it might be, she allowed him to keep it.
The couple entered the bowling alley, happy to see that all the alleys but two were open. Declan paid the fee, requesting the lane at the far end. Then, they rented shoes and walked to the far end of the building. They grabbed pizza and drinks from the café near their lane to take with them. Declan juggled the food while Mary carried the shoes, and they stepped down to the lane.
Mary set up the electronic scoreboard, while Declan set up the food on the bench. Then, Mary joined him and they quickly ate the pizza. After clearing up the pizza box and empty Coke cans, they changed their shoes and began the game.
As they played, Mary and Declan talked.
“Did you grow up around here?” Mary watched as Declan chose a ball from the ones sitting in the rack.
“I did.” Declan looked up briefly to find Mary’s gaze riveted upon him. The corner of his mouth quirked up briefly as he looked back down and tried another ball. “I was born and raised here. Graduated from Garinger High.”
Mary’s brows rose for a moment before a pleased expression spread over her face. “Great! Did you like school?” Declan laughed as he picked up a ball.
“Not a minute of it. I was a foster kid; life sucked at home, and school was no better. I hated being told what to do.” He shrugged. “Looking back now, I can see where I made things harder than they had to be. I did well enough in school to graduate.”
Mary tilted her head as she watched Declan walk out and lift the bowling ball to his chin. He brought it down, and paced to the point of no return before rolling the ball down the lane. Then, he stood watching as it veered to the left and knocked down two pins on the side of the arrangement. She stood as he came towards her and chose a ball. She picked up their conversation where it had left off. “School isn’t for everyone. You’re doing well now, it seems.”
Declan nodded as he took the seat Mary had vacated. “I am. I owe much of that success to the club. They took me in when I had nowhere else to go. They can be a rough bunch, but they have hearts of gold. None of my foster families treated me with as much respect as my fellow bikers.”
Mary nodded. “It’s hard to live with a family that doesn’t respect you.” She turned and mimicked her date’s motions with the ball. She watched it roll and hit the pin in front dead on, knocking the rest over, as well. She grinned and pumped her fist. “Yes!” Spinning around, she danced back to Declan.
“I can’t believe you did that!” Declan had stood when he saw Mary’s strike. “You’ve been holding out on me, haven’t you, Gorgeous?”
Mary giggled. “Honestly, I haven’t been bowling in a couple years. My sisters refuse to go with me and my friends and I have just been too busy since we started college.”
“Why would your sisters refuse to bowl with you?” Declan grabbed his ball. Mary blushed. “I get a little competitive when I play.”
“I see. I’ll have to watch for that then, huh?” Declan winked at Mary and took his turn. This time, his ball went to the right, but took out more pins. He shook his head as he walked back.
Mary did her best to hide her glee at Declan’s poor score. She tried to distract him with more talk. “You were in foster care?”
Declan’s lips twisted into a smirk. He winked at her but answered her question. “Yup. My parents died when I was little. I was two when my dad died, and ten when Mom passed.”
“I’m sorry!” Mary’s heart clenched. She touched his arm, ignoring the frisson that zapped her. “Were you an only child? Didn’t you have family to take you in?”
Declan shook his head. “I had a brother and sister that were older. We got separated and I don’t know what happened to them.” He shrugged. “My parents were both only children, as far as I know. I don’t remember them ever talking about grandparents or aunts and uncles.”
Mary rubbed her date’s arm. “That’s awful. You must have been incredibly lonely.”
Declan shrugged again. “Yeah, I was a lot. I got into a lot of trouble, too. I was angry more than anything.” He covered Mary’s hand with his own, rubbing his thumb over the back of her fingers. “I have good people in my life now, though. The past is the past. I’d rather look forward.”
Mary shivered at the feeling of Declan’s caress, but her eyes were glued to his. “That’s a good attitude to have.” Her smile briefly appeared, then went away again. “I’m trying to be the same.” She tore her gaze away and turned to grab her ball. This time, her ball went wide, and glanced off one of the side pins. She breathed in deep and reminded herself to focus more on the game and less on the enticing man playing against her. Then, she turned and made her way back to the seats.
“What did you mean about trying to be the same?” Declan had been contemplating her words, as well as her clear reactions to his touch, for the last several minutes.
Mary sighed as she plopped down beside him. “It’s … complicated.” She glanced at Declan and, seeing encouragement in his expression, looked down. “I told you I’m the middle child. Lizzy was Daddy’s favorite, and Jane and Lydia were Mama’s favorites. You’ve met Jane.” She glanced up at her date to see him nod. “Lydia is our youngest sister. Jane is the most beautiful of the five of us and Lydia is our mother’s twin, or could be. Lydia’s also wild.” Mary shook her head. “If she was on a date, it would not end with just bowling, if you know what I mean.”
Declan watched as Mary spoke. “She doesn’t have rules for dating?”
Mary rolled her eyes. “If she does, they’re more along the lines of, ‘your place or mine’ than what she will or won’t do.”
Declan’s brows rose. “I see. Knowing you and Liz, and Jane for that matter, I can’t imagine how she got that way. You’re definitely not and Liz and Jane seem too classy for that.”
“They are. Trust me when I say, Lydia is a law unto herself.” Mary’s lips twisted into a grimace. “Anyway, everyone was someone’s favorite except me and Kitty, who’s between me and Lydia. Kitty and Lydia are close, though. They always have been. Kitty follows Lydia like a puppy, doing whatever Lydia tells her to. I never have. I wasn’t close with any of my sisters growing up. Jane and Liz were active in clubs and stuff in school and were never home. Kitty and Lydia shunned the things I liked. They never went to church and made fun of me for my faith.” She shrugged, not looking up. “I felt very alone and I was resentful. I threw myself into church and Bible studies and was not shy about expressing my opinion to everyone else about their activities. I learned last semester that it’s unattractive and unbiblical, so I’m trying to change.” Mary looked up, flushed from the embarrassment of admitting her biggest fault.
Declan laid his hand on Mary’s where it rested on the bench seat between them. He curled his fingers around hers and squeezed. “You’re doing very well. I’ve not heard a single sermon yet.”
Mary chuckled. “Well, we’ve only been in company three times. I’m sure something will escape sooner or later.”
Declan grinned. “I haven’t heard a sermon since I was a kid. I’m sure if you’re reading me one, I need it.” He winked. “It’s my turn, I think.” Squeezing Mary’s hand, he grinned and stood.
By the end of the night, Mary’s score was highest, but not by much. Declan discovered early on that if he said the right thing, she’d end up distracted and her swing would be off, keeping her score lower. He enjoyed watching her competitive side expose itself with smack talk and muttered invectives, but he always responded in a way that would keep her in a better mood instead of becoming angry. When they turned in their shoes and walked to the door, he threw his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “Good game, Gorgeous.” He pushed the door open and let her walk through first.
“Thanks.” Mary smiled shyly. “You did well, too, even if you did keep me distracted.”
Declan laughed, retuning his arm to its previous position and steering Mary toward his truck. “It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.”
Mary giggled and waited for Declan to unlock the truck and hand her up in. She latched her seatbelt while he shut her door and walked around to the driver’s side.
What do you think? Feel free to leave me a comment below. <3