What began as a one-shot has now morphed into a trilogy, this drabble being part 2. If you have not yet read "Cornered", this piece will make little sense, so I encourage you to take in part 1 prior to reading this installment. Of course, I own none of these remarkable characters, but I do so enjoy playing around with their lives.
Many thanks for the overwhelming support I received from "Cornered", and special thanks to patsan for her original prompt and continued support in this endeavor.
And now, let the games begin!
It had been nothing short of a miracle that no one had come in search of them.
Mary pondered this fact gratefully as she and Matthew made their way slowly back from the library to join the rest of the dinner party. She touched the back of her neck self-consciously, looking to him again for assurance.
"Your hair looks perfect, believe me," he whispered back with a lop-sided grin. God, he felt as if he were walking upon a carpet of clouds after their activities in the corner. Matthew was having a most difficult time not ogling her like a love-struck school-boy, clasping his hands behind his back determinedly to fight their instinctive need to reach out for her hand. He had just kissed Mary—Mary, for God's sake—and the reality of what that had been like still made him feel a bit drunk.
"No thanks to you," she hummed in return, unable to contain the half-smile that made its way to her eyes as she allowed herself to look at him once more.
His ears reddened again, forcing her to squelch the urge to drag him back into their corner and resume their private discourse. She felt light on her feet—nearly giddy, even—sensations that were terribly new and a bit unsettling to her as her feet nearly skipped of their own accord.
She had to compose herself immediately. Appearing in such a state in front of Edith would never do.
"Mary, I—" he began, gently touching her arm to halt their progression as he turned to face her. Frustration suddenly overtook him, uncertainty at just how to wipe the fog from his mental facilities making him stammer at a moment when he would so love to appear eloquent.
"About what happened in there," Matthew continued, searching desperately for words that remained stubbornly out of his grasp. "It was…I mean, I would—"
"So you have returned," Edith cut in, breaking a spell completely unnoticed by her as she moved steadily into their private territory. "That book must have been quite difficult to locate, after all."
Mary's eyes rounded, her insides running cold as she and Matthew realized their staggering oversight simultaneously.
They had failed to bring a book with them.
"Where is it, then?" Edith plowed ahead, watching her sister steadily as she reveled in Mary's obvious discomfort.
"I—I believe I set it down, actually," Matthew answered, "When we had to return the other book to the shelf."
"Yes," Mary jumped in, forcing a smile she did not feel. "The one that toppled over."
"It's rather odd that you would just leave it there," Edith crooned, a ridiculous smile making her lips quiver slightly. "After all of that time and effort spent in locating it."
Mary's throat was too dry to form an intelligent response, and she silently pleaded with Matthew to do something.
"I should go and fetch it," he returned with a smile, noting the small exhale of relief from Mary at his solution. "If you'll excuse me."
She tossed him a genuine smile of thanks that lit him up internally. The fact that he could take care of her in some small fashion bolstered him instantly, giving him a slight spring in his step as he turned and made his way back to the library. She watched him walk away, suddenly bereft in the absence of his company.
And a bit uncomfortable with the manner in which his presence caused her heart to flutter.
"You're really something, aren't you?" Edith pounced the moment her cousin was out of earshot.
Mary's attention was instantly drawn back to her sister, her mouth actually hanging open a bit as she attempted to wrap her mind around the accusation just launched in her direction.
"You did something to him, that much is certain," Edith spat, both angry at the obvious infatuation that had sparkled in Matthew's eyes and envious of her sister's ability to inspire such devotion so quickly.
Mary rolled her eyes in irritation, attempting to move past her sister unsuccessfully as Edith grabbed her arm.
"Well—did you get him to kiss you?" she pressed, raising Mary's ire as she suddenly had no desire to discuss just what had happened between her and Matthew with her sister.
"Not here," Mary hissed back, certain the only manner in which she would get Edith off of her back was to deal with her directly. She drug her sibling purposefully into a remote corner out of earshot, rounding on her before Edith could draw her breath.
"Leave it alone, Edith," Mary warned, narrowing her eyes decidedly as she attempted to intimidate her sister.
"You must be joking," Edith retorted with a laugh, gaping at her sister as if she had grown another head. "You took me up on a bet, and I want to know just how it turned out."
"How it turned out is none of your business anymore," Mary returned, shooting glances of fire across the minimal distance between them.
"So you failed," Edith gloated, her face erupting in delight as she drew herself up taller.
"I never said that," Mary corrected swiftly. "I just have no desire to discuss this with you any further."
"Why can't you just admit it?" Edith questioned smarmily. "Even you can't take every prize."
That did it.
"I'll have you know that I can claim any prize I dare choose," Mary insisted, the flow of righteous anger through her veins overtaking her sense of privacy. "You bet that I could not get Matthew to kiss me, but let me assure you that I did. In fact, we kissed more than once."
Her heart was pounding in the aftermath of such a passionate rebuttal, her nostrils flaring in anger at the sister she had so quickly belittled.
Edith glowered at Mary, wanting to strike her repeatedly until she was reduced to nothing before her very eyes.
"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," she voiced venomously. "You're quite good at stringing men along, aren't you? Perhaps you did more than kiss him in the library. It wouldn't be the first time, would it?"
Edith denied her sister the opportunity to retaliate, sauntering away in triumph as her final sentence rang mercilessly in Mary's ears. She stared at her sister's back in horror, pondering the meaning of the blatant innuendo. Did Edith know of Pamuk? She couldn't, could she? Mama and Anna would never give her away in such a manner to her sister, Mary was certain of it.
But what else could her sister's words have meant?
Mary took a moment to compose herself, taking in deep, centering breaths and straightening her skirt self-consciously. Such distracting thoughts had to be put away for the moment, for if she did not return to the drawing room immediately, suspicions would indeed be raised. She turned and followed Edith's path back into the main hallway, keeping her gaze and mind squarely upon getting through the remainder of the evening.
But her focus betrayed her, causing her to miss the silhouette of a figure who had come to seek her out in eagerness with a book in his hand, one who had been lingering in the shadows a bit longer than he should have.
And one who had heard vastly more than for which he had ever bargained.
Matthew was unsure of just how he managed through the rest of the night at Downton. He purposefully kept his distance from both Mary and Edith, seeking out Lord Grantham's company in a purposeful manner. Mary had become quite sullen, he noted, and he could not help but wonder why she was not basking in the triumph of winning her blasted bet.
He felt a bit nauseous over the matter. As he had returned to the library, his mind had been full of romantic notions, planning picnics and private walks with this woman who had turned his reason on its ear. But their kiss had meant nothing to her, it would seem, other than to prove her superior skills with the opposite sex to her younger sister. The very idea of being used in such a fashion sickened him, and he flashed a look of anger in her direction.
To think just how close he had come to asking if he could call upon her tomorrow.
But rather than bolstering his outrage, her appearance raised unwitting concerns as Matthew observed her rubbing her temples and noted the increased paleness of her complexion. When she abruptly stood, he nearly rushed to her out of concern that she would faint on the spot. Mary instead made her apologies, claiming the sudden onset of a headache as she left the room in a hurry.
Suddenly, none of the evening made any sense to him whatsoever.
Matthew could have sworn that their kiss had affected her just as much as it did him, replaying the event in his mind repeatedly as he and his mother returned to Crawley House in relative silence. He had felt her tremble in his arms, had touched her flushed skin and sensed a mutual hunger in her that responded to his own with alacrity. Surely all of that had not been an act, a mere performance to prove a point.
But there was that blasted conversation with Edith, Mary's own words condemning her motives as he had heard her confession spill from treacherous lips.
You bet that I could not get Matthew to kiss me, but let me assure you that I did.
Her statement had punched him in the gut, forcing him to hide in a corner and eavesdrop in a manner he knew was beneath him. Dear lord, he had come close to declaring his love for her, the realization of such feelings dawning upon him rather markedly when he had revisited the scene of their kiss. But he had been nothing more than a pawn to her, a trinket to be picked up and put down at her leisure.
But that didn't fit, either. Her kisses betrayed her own confession in such a manner that left him decidedly confused.
Sleep would not come that night as he continually reviewed the facts before him as any attorney worth his salt was trained to do. Something had decidedly disturbed Mary, something related to her conversation with Edith. And then words he had never been meant to overhear played back in his memory, words he had no real desire to examine closely.
It wouldn't be the first time, would it?
Was he not the first gentleman to fall prey to such a wager between the Crawley sisters? Had such a travesty occurred before, another hapless suitor tossed out the window once he had overstayed his usefulness?
But why would such an event shake Mary so decidedly? Would that not merely raise her estimation of herself, put another proverbial feather in her cap, so to speak?
Then it hit him—the element that continued to gnaw at his insides, forcing him from his bed as he paced the floor. Mary—Mary—had been shaken, truly shaken, an emotion he would never associate with this woman who was a master at keeping her composure. She had been shaken when he had questioned her motives in the library, and she had been acutely uncomfortable after speaking with Edith in the hallway. The night had not been all fun and games to her, he realized, but exactly where did the frivolity end and the seriousness begin?
Matthew knew with certainty that he had to find out.
He would pay a call upon his cousin tomorrow—it was the only way that he could know exactly what she had been thinking…
And dare he hope, feeling?
He laughed audibly to himself, shaking his head at his own pathetic situation as he plotted just how to ascertain her motives, hoping to turn the tables on her so quickly that she would have no recourse but to betray herself. Yes—two could play at this game—and if she really thought him to be such a dull boy, then she had a thing or two to learn about Matthew Crawley.
"Let the games begin," he muttered to himself, rubbing his hands together in anticipation before finally returning to bed.
As always, I would dearly love to hear your thoughts! And look for Part 3 next week-Snagged! :)