The walk through the suburban streets of Nashville gave my mind the opportunity to sober up. That and the fact that after three and a half blocks, Declan still had a firm grasp on my hand. I tried prying my hand from his hold several times, but it was to no avail. Based on the growing smirk on his face, I would say he was doing this to purely torture me. I’d be lying though if I said there was not a small part of it that was comforting. The constant pressure of the blade of his hand as it pressed into my palm managed to calm the anxiety that brewed in my stomach.
Declan and I eventually made it to the outskirts of downtown Nashville. I was pulled down a side street before I could admire the overgrown dogwoods trees that lined the cobble street roads.
“Who is this friend of yours we’re meeting again?” I asked, my eyes darting between everything as I tried to take everything in.
“His name is Jackson. We were neighbors growing up and went to school together. He and I kept in touch over the years.” Declan gently nudged his shoulder into mine as we continued walking down the sidewalk. “I have a feeling the two of you will get along just fine.”
There was something in Declan’s tone that caused me to raise an eyebrow. I wasn’t able to question it because Declan lightly yanked on my arm, pulling me to a stop. Looking up, I saw that we were stopped outside a quaint, yet modern looking bakery.
“Ok why are we at a baker- “I drifted off as my eyes scanned over the window front. Amidst the special boards and small window displays was a large rectangle chalkboard sign, dangling from the ceiling with two wires. In elegant white cursive was ‘Jackson Gaines Baking’.
I snapped towards Declan with wide eyes as I ripped my hand from his. “You didn’t tell me your friend Jackson is Jackson fucking Gaines! What the hell man?!” He laughed when I reached over to smack his upper arm.
“So, I neglected to mention one tiny detail.”
“One tiny detail?! Jackson Gaines is one of the best bakers in the northern hemisphere. The only reason I became a baker was because of him!” I glanced down at what I was wearing before frantically looking back up at the window. “I’m half drunk and I look like I just came from the most casual funeral. I can’t meet him looking like this.”
“Maggie relax- “Declan placed his hands on my shoulders and turned me around to face him. His blue eyes lightened as he stared directly into my face, a smile beginning to grace his lips. “You are going to be absolutely fine. You look amazing and you are a kickass baker.” Removing his hands from my shoulders, Declan grasped my wrist and began dragging me towards the entrance.
The smell of cinnamon and chocolate was formidable as we entered the store. A tiny bell jingled as the door shut behind us.
“Jackson, it’s Declan. We’re here!” His loud voice bellowed through the shop, vibrating as it bounced off the wood-paneled walls.
“Hold your horses, would you? I’m in the middle of something.” After the brief sounds of shuffling, a man appeared from the back. He was of average height, with a green t-shirt and old Levi’s. Jackson looked as though he just walked off the street one day and decided to become a baker.
“Ah, you must be the famous Maggie he wouldn’t stop going on about.” Jackson’s eyes glimmered when Declan shot a glare at him.
“It’s Margaret but yes, that would be me.” I stuck my hand out for Jackson to shake. “Sorry if I’m not- here 100%. If I would have known I was coming here, I wouldn’t have had several glasses of wine.”
Jackson shook my hand, chuckling as he withdrew. “Good, now I’m not alone. Besides, bakers are at their best when their drunk. Their creativity is uninhabited. That’s how I came up with my famous Mud Balls.”
“Well then, I’ll let you two have fun. I will come back in a few hours for you. There’s something Thomas needs me to take care of for him.”
“You guys were just camping. Why didn’t he take care of it before?” Jackson jumped in before Declan could respond.
“Camping? Declan hates- “Declan loudly cleared his throat as he pressed his hand into my lower back.
“She doesn’t need to hear about that. I will let you know when I am on my way. There’s somewhere else I want to take you tonight.” He nodded his head, removing his hand before exiting the bakery.
The minute Declan left I felt all the confidence leave my body. He left me alone in a room with my idol. This was an incredibly sweet for him to do but how dare he! Declan knows of my past social encounters. By doing this he is practically begging for a disaster to happen!
As the panic set in my eyes, Jackson looked over and did his best to give me a reassuring smile. “I’m sorry he brought you here without your knowledge. Declan can be a little- “
“Demanding, stubborn, pain in the fucking ass?”
“Wow, for someone that hasn’t known him long you did an excellent job at summarizing this man into three words.”
I gestured my hands to the side as I shrugged my shoulders. “What can I say? It’s a gift.”
“Sweetheart you and I will get along just fine.”
Several hours later and I had never been more relaxed. Jackson and I ended up taking turns, baking each other some of our favorite things. Jackson made me a batch of his mud balls to take back which were HEAVEN. A ‘Mud Ball’ is essentially cake dough rolled into a ball, covered in chocolate frosting, and then sprinkled with chocolate sprinkles and crushed Oreo. I made him my mother's peanut butter cupcakes which he fell in love with. That sent shivers up my spine. Jackson Gaines LOVED my baking but not just any old recipe, a family recipe. I cried multiple tears of joy when I heard that.
Declan kept his promise and picked me up before whisking me off to another secret location. Every time I would ask him where he was taking me, he would just shake his head and smile, so I gave up. I was still on a high from my experience with Jackson Gaines. I wasn’t going to let bantering with Declan ruin that.
After what seemed like forever, the car pulled to a slow stop. I hadn’t realized until now that we were in some sort of park and had pulled into a gravel parking spot.
“Finally, had enough of my bullshit and decided to off me in the middle of the woods?”
“Unfortunately, no. I wanted to show you- this.” Declan gestured to the area in front of the car before hopping up to sit on the hood.
It wasn’t until I was seated and situated on the hood and I looked at the space. With where the car was parked, we perfectly overlooked a beautiful pond nestled in the middle of an otherwise empty field. The sun shone down on the pond below, reflecting off the water at the perfect angle. All the grass around the pond remained perfect and untouched. The scene in front of me reminded me of a window desktop background. It was absolutely stunning, so much so that any words I use to describe it would not be able to do it justice.
“I used to come here before my family relocated when I needed to clear my head. I started coming back when I moved back to Nashville.” Declan paused for a moment as he took a breath. “I consider it my own slice of paradise and I wanted to share that with you Mags.”
Something settled in the pit of my stomach that turned my insides into a hurricane of emotions as I forced myself to keep my eyes ahead of me. One comment like that from Declan and you are practically mush. I would have thought you had more resolve than that Margaret.
“What happened with you and Kate?” I blurted out, wincing the second the words fell from my lips. Way to sound like a total psychopath!
Declan stayed silent causing my cheeks to turn red with embarrassment. After a few seconds, he turned his head right to look at me. “Kate? As in Thomas’ sister Kate?”
“She said something to me this morning at the restaurant. Kate didn’t elaborate much but mentioned it was just a fling of sorts. It’s just- “
“Is someone jealous?” Declan teased as he playfully jabbed his elbow into my side.
“No, but she seemed- cagey about it if it makes sense? Told me that there were things you were keeping from me. She actually said that I wouldn’t be happy when I found out which is crazy.” I let out a laugh in an attempt to push through the awkwardness.
Declan drew out a sigh, turning his body 90 degrees so he was now facing me. “First off, what happened between Kate and I was just a fling. I had just relocated back to Nashville and my girlfriend in DC broke up with me. I needed someone to get over her and Kate just happened to be here. It wasn’t right by any means but it’s what I needed to get over her.”
“Second, Kate’s right.” His hand came to rest on my knee. “There are things I’m keeping from you.” And just like that, my stomach dropped to the ground. Part of me always knew that there was something Declan was hiding from me but hearing him confirm it? I never would have thought I would actually feel worse.
“Mags, before you overthink things listen. It is nothing major. It’s nothing I’m intentionally keeping from you to hurt you.” The hand resting on my knee slid up my leg to rest on my thigh. “There are just some things- I’d rather keep to myself.”
“Why though?” I asked, my voice miffed. “There’s a lot I’ve told you about myself. You know about my dead mother’s cupcake recipe that very few people know about. Hell Declan- you introduced me to my idol and all I really know about you is that you’re not an only child!”
“I’m not the type to share things Maggie, what do you expect?”
“I’m not asking you to bare your fucking soul to me! Something as simple as your favorite color or favorite season would suffice!” I abruptly slid off the hood of the car, Declan’s hand slapping against the hood as it fell. “I’m beating a dead horse here, there’s no use. Could you take me back to the house, please? It’s been a long day.” I didn’t wait to hear a response from him as I got into the car, slamming the door shut behind me.
I watched as Declan bent his head down, muttering something under his breath as he ran a hand through his hair. In one fluid motion, Declan slid off the hood and climbed into the car.
He glanced at me from the corner of his eye as he started the car. “Margaret- “
“Don’t.” I raised a hand to stop him. “Just- take me back alright?”
Declan sighed before pulling the car out of the parking spot and driving off down the road.
When we arrived back at the house a short time later, I exited the car and made my way to the front door before Declan had shut the car off. My patience for people, particularly Declan, had run out and I just wanted to be left alone. I had to start making the wedding cake, so it was the perfect distraction.
I had already gotten all the materials I needed by the time Declan walked in, shutting the door behind him.
“Can we talk about this Mags?” He asked me as he slowly made his way towards the kitchen. I ignored his request as I began measuring out the ingredients for the cake batter.
“The silent treatment, seriously? You know it’s worse than fighting because at least when you’re yelling at me, I can know what you’re thinking.”
“What else is there to say? I have stated my point of view, you’ve stated yours. Unless there’s new, pertinent information that needs to be revealed I don’t see the point in rehashing it.” I turned my back on him to grab the milk from the fridge.
When I turned back around, I nearly crashed in Declan. Without me hearing him he had moved to stand directly behind me. A mere couple of inches separated us now as Declan stared down at me.
“My favorite season is spring because that’s when my father would take me and my brothers on our annual fishing trip.”
“What the hell are you- “
“And my favorite color is orange.”
“Ok, that’s bullshit. No one’s favorite color is orange.” Declan’s breath heated my face as he exhaled. He raised his hand up, resting it against where my jaw met my neck.
“I appreciate the honesty, but it’s not needed. You don’t have to tell me something because I asked you to.” The milk carton acted as an anchor, dragging me back down to reality as I stood there.
“There’s something else. Something else- no one knows.” His voice came out as a whisper as his thumb began softly brushing against the side of my neck.
“Oh really? What might that be?” Sarcasm laced my voice as my eyes met his.
“I like you, Margaret Olsen. You’re the annoying, sarcastic, social anxiety-ridden- mess that I didn’t know I needed in my life until I met you.” The smallest of smiles began to light up his face as he began leaning down. His thumb now pressed gently into my pulse. My heart sped up in my chest as he leaned closer and closer.
Oh my god. This was happening. Declan was going to kiss me.