Chapter 3: Recruited
I had gone out to the store to get stuff to make dinner for Joan and me. I had been wrestling my inner turmoil all day, and it was making me feel sick to my stomach. I was about to tear open the darkest parts of myself, and I had no idea what to expect from Joan, nor any idea of what it would do to me.
I parked my car in the parking lot and started to walk to my apartment when I felt the same feeling I felt earlier in the day: someone was watching me. I picked up my pace and quickly analyzed my surroundings, but didn’t see anyone. I hugged my groceries tight to my chest and —
Someone jumped me from behind, causing me to yelp and drop my grocery bag. They slapped a hand over my mouth, the other arm curling around my midsection, keeping me partially immobilized. I attempted to kick out with my legs, but I didn’t come in contact with anything. I opened my eyes wider, trying to get a glimpse of anything that could help me identify my attacker, but I found nothing.
I felt panic rising inside me. I couldn’t escape. Oh no, not again.
Suddenly, there were other figures surrounding me; their bodies were silhouettes against the dark backdrop of my neighborhood. I slowly stilled, squinting my eyes to see if any of them looked familiar, but it was too dark to tell. I could tell, though, that there were four other people - men, by the looks of it.
“You can let her go now, David. If she agrees to not run or fight us,” one of the men in the middle said. The voice was familiar, but between hearing my heartbeat pound in my head and feeling terrified out of my mind, I couldn’t place it. I was more focused on routing my escape plan.
“What do you say, Miss Carver? Do you agree?” He said, almost in a mocking tone.
Trying to meet the man’s gaze in the dark, I nodded. My chest was tightening more and more by the second as my feeling of hopelessness rose. How could I have been so caught off guard? How could I let this man hold me like this? It reminded me of how he used to handle me. I fought off those memories as hard as I could.
I was really learning a lot about myself and what I thought I could do compared to what I was actually capable of, and that scared the shit out of me.
“Let her go, David.”
The man holding me, David, cautiously removed his hand and his hold on me, backing away. I shivered in the sudden cold when the warmth of him dissipated. I stood still for a moment, watching each of the men carefully.
“Who are you? And what do you want from me?” I demanded.
The one who spoke before raised his hands defensively, his face still shadowed by his hood. The gesture rang a distant bell. “We don’t want to hurt you, Miss Carver, but we will if you don’t wish to cooperate.”
I narrowed my eyes, considering my options. All these men were taller and bulkier than I was, meaning that chances were I could outrun them. I was in fantastic shape, and with a head start, I could throw them off…
I huffed, then turned and darted to my right, stepping over my spilled groceries. I took off as if my life depended on it, because for all I knew it did.
“Fuck,” the man swore, accompanied by other groans of frustration. Light footsteps were following me, but only one set, and they were quickly gaining on me.
Before I had time to react, a pair of strong hands caught hold of one of my wrists, bringing me to an ungraceful halt. Hard callouses rubbed against my skin. As I was about to turn and face him, he grabbed my other hand, twisting both my arms behind my back painfully. I tossed my head back and yelled out.
“I gave you a chance, Miss Carver. You’re very stubborn,” he whispered in my ear before bringing something hard and heavy down on my temple. My world was black in a heartbeat.
I awoke with a throbbing in my head. Painful, distracting.
I was sitting in a chair, a single lightbulb above creating a dim circle of light around me. I tried to get up before realizing I was restrained to the chair and that the chair was nailed to the floor. I grunted in frustration, and the exertion pulsed in my head.
“Struggling is pointless, Miss Carver,” the man from earlier said.
I hung my head, closing my eyes to block out the light. “What do you want from me?” I mumbled.
“You mean you don’t recognize me?” The voice asked, amused.
Slowly, I raised my head - and jolted back in shock at who stood at the edge of the circle.
“Drew!” I cried, confused and horrified.
He grinned, those damn dimples shadowing under the dim light, though now he had a five o-clock shadow that seemed to accentuate his strong jawline more than normal. “Ah, I see you’ve finally figured it out.”
I scrutinized him with pure rage, then winced in pain. This did not go unnoticed by him. His gaze flickered in concern. He stepped toward me.
“Are you alright?” He wondered, reaching his fingers out to brush my temple. I noticed callouses on his hands as he did so, the same ones I felt on my wrist earlier.
I jerked away from him; his gentle touch both disturbing me and causing more pain. “No, it hurts. Was that you who hit me?”
Drew nodded. “You weren’t cooperating. I was told to.”
I rolled my eyes. “Are you crazy? You could’ve killed me!”
He shook his head, his curls bouncing slightly. “I’m fully trained. I know what I’m doing.”
I snorted. “You make it sound like you’re a dog.”
Drew grinned. “I take it you’re not mad at me?”
I turned my head away. “Of course I’m mad at you. Whatever this is… major beach of trust.”
He exhaled sharply. “I hit you with my phone. It was in my hand, I had to improvise, so I took advantage of the opportunity to use it.”
I ignored his worthless explanation. “How do you know my name? I don’t recall telling you. In fact, I specifically said I wouldn’t,” I snapped.
“That’s because you didn’t tell me.”
I glanced up at him through my eyelashes and tugged at my restraints. “Then how do you know it?” I demanded through gritted teeth.
“I was assigned to you,” he admitted, watching me closely. “I work for the FBI. We need to recruit new members for our team, and you were near the top of our list.”
I tilted my head to the side. “How? I’ve managed to remain on the down-low a majority of my life.”
Drew squatted down in front of me, requiring him to look up at me with impossibly blue-grey eyes. The combination was striking and my breath involuntarily hitched. “We don’t know much about you; just what we could pull from miscellaneous files here and there. You were in the foster system as a kid, adopted by a very kind and gentle woman, graduated at seventeen, and that you just graduated college with your Master’s, in a whopping five years, from George Washington. You’re very smart, Miss Carver. Brilliant, actually. Oh, and let’s not forget about your spitfire side,” he explained, his face amused, yet fascinated. “Self-defense classes, rigorous exercises every day, your temper.”
I jutted my chin out. “You got all that from a few files here and there?”
His lips tipped up. “Not exactly. We had to do a lot of researching to find out about you, but what mainly stuck out were the rumors that went around about you here in D.C.”
I frowned. “Rumors? What are you talking about?”
Drew pursed his lips. “When we are in desperate need of new recruits, we generally look for people with certain skill sets. You know, maybe computer skills, marksmanship, even fighting. So, we’ll go to different locations where these types of people are known to go. If you do a little bit of asking around, a few tips or favors here and there, then you’ve got yourself someone to look into,” he elaborated, running his thumb across his lower lip. I hated that it momentarily distracted me. “In this case, that someone is you. You’ve made yourself quite well-known.”
Well, I thought, that’s actually the exact opposite of what I was going for.
I shook my head in denial. “You’ve got the wrong girl, Drew. I’m not someone you’d want to recruit, trust me.”
He cocked his head to the side. “You’re an extraordinary fighter - I mean that,” he stated when I started to protest. “Look, I’ve been trained by the FBI, you’ve been trained by a self-defense coach and a gym coach. I know you’d be an invaluable asset to the FBI. You’re brilliant, beautiful. You’re a triple threat, and exactly someone this team would need. Plus, it’s under my understanding that you’re still looking for a job, yes?”
I scrunched my nose. “How would you know that?”
Drew shrugged uneasily. “Let’s just say my boss made sure the jobs you interviewed for didn’t exactly work out. I’m sorry.”
I made a noise that sounded oddly like a kicked puppy. “What! I worked my ass off to get those interviews! Do you know how much of a failure I felt like after all of those?”
He lowered his gaze, making his long lashes brush the tops of his cheekbones. “I’m sorry. I just follow orders. I felt awful when I saw how angry you were that day I met you. Plus, if it’s any reconciliation, all the interviewers said they were highly considering you for their jobs. Oh, and your ass is still very much there, in case you were wondering if you worked it all off,” he added, winking. Clearly his mood had brightened.
For a moment I just stared at him in disbelief. I felt like my stomach was doing flips. My whole world just got turned upside down and he was making a joke about my ass. I blew air out of my mouth, causing stray hairs around my face to fly haphazardly. I sat back in the chair in defeat. “It seems you’ve left me with no option.”
“You always have options, Miss Carver. It’s just that the one I’m offering you is the most logical one,” he said.
I examined him before me once again. It would make sense that he was part of the FBI. He mentioned he worked for the government, his book choice, his fighting skills, his physique…
O-okay, that’s enough of that, I told myself, forcing my thoughts to come to a grinding halt.
“How can I trust you? You lied to me, and then physically attacked me. That doesn’t sound like something an FBI agent with do,” I wondered, half-heartedly pulling at my restraints again, but it just caused them to rub uncomfortably against my skin.
Drew shrugged, obviously growing bored with the conversation as he rose to his full height. From where I was sitting, he looked massive. I hadn’t noticed before. My small, five-foot-three frame was probably a solid foot shorter than him. “You clearly have trust issues. That’s up to you to get over and choose. Took you long enough to get through to.”
“Can you blame me?” I scoffed.
Drew squatted in front of me again. “I thought most girls liked attention from hot guys.”
“Well, I’m certainly not most girls. You’ll see,” I retorted, choosing to not respond to his comment about hot guys. I wasn’t about to let that get to his head.
He exhaled loudly. “Okay, Princess, enough chit-chat. Are you in or not?”
I dropped my shoulders. “Count me in, I guess.”
“Great, we’ll start your training first thing tomorrow,” he said smugly, reaching down to unlock my restraints. I did my best to glare a hole through him as he did so.
I rubbed my sore wrists. “I’m still pissed about how many times you took me down in the gym. And for hitting me in the temples.”
“You’ve got a temper, too. We’ll also have to work on controlling that,” he murmured as we both stood up, skin barely brushing from our proximity to one another. He turned and strolled toward a door out of the spotlight; I reluctantly followed.
“I really don’t like you, you know that?” I said, half-serious. The reality was I liked his company more than I cared to let on.
He smirked over his shoulder. “I sensed that. However, you’re going to have to learn to like me. We’ll be working quite a bit together.” He opened the door, motioning me through, and into an office space. It was dark and dead silent, the only light coming from a single desk lamp across the office. Deciding not to question Drew any more, due in large part to how exhausted I was, I just followed him down the aisles between the cubicles, through another door, down three flights of stairs, and out into the cold night air.
I shivered, wrapping my arms around myself. Drew went to drape his arm around my shoulders, but I stiffened and pulled away. Seeing his questioning look, I said, “I don’t like being touched. I told you already I had a rough upbringing.”
“But in the gym—”
“Was an exception,” I snapped.
“Understood,” he said, then went quiet. His eyes flashed with remorse, but he didn’t say anything else on the topic, for which I was grateful. “You know, some of the pictures we have on file for you were from your childhood. Back then, your hair was curly, and a much darker blonde,” he stated, clearly probing but not asking.
“I needed a change, I guess,” I responded distantly. It was partially true, but what I omitted is the part that I changed my hair after he found me. I started off with bleaching my hair from its natural dishwater blonde, as suggested by Kathleen. After a few years of doing that I began doing straight perms, all so I couldn’t be easily recognized.
I walked with Drew toward the only vehicle in the parking lot of the building we had just vacated: a shiny black SUV. Ever the gentleman, he reached for the door handle and opened the door, stepping aside to let me in the car. I gave him the smallest and briefest smile to show my gratitude at his small, chivalrous gesture before he closed the door and walked to his side.
“Are you taking me home now?” I wondered as he started the car. I leaned my forehead into the cool glass of the window, a welcome feeling against my throbbing head.
“Yes. You need to rest for what you’ll be doing tomorrow,” he replied.
I looked at him, watching as shadows crossed his face from the passing street lights. “You’re the one who hit me.”
“That’s because you ran when you said you wouldn’t.”
I huffed. “Whatever. I just want some sleep.” I glanced down at the digital click on the dash in his car. “It’s one in the morning? Are you kidding me? How long was I out for?”
“About an hour. You woke up just after I got you tied down.”
I bit my lip, fighting the urge to laugh. “Does that turn you on? Tying women down?”
He barked out a laugh. “Oh, you’re making jokes now? You must be tired.”
I leaned back into the seat and gasped. “Shit! What about Joan? I was supposed to have dinner with her.”
Drew let go of the steering wheel with one hand, reached into his pocket, and handed me my phone. “I texted her using Siri saying you’ll raincheck for tomorrow evening.”
“You really thought of everything. You’d make a good serial killer,” I teased. I closed my eyes, sleep instantly pulling at me. “I’m so tired,” I managed before sleep overtook me.
I was back in that house. I was in my twin size bed, with the same yellow sheets and patchwork quilt. Except I wasn’t a little girl anymore; I was a teenager. I was sixteen; the age I was the last time I saw him. My door opened, and I huddled under the blanket, hoping it would protect me. The predator stalked toward me, dark eyes gleaming in the moonlight shining through my window.
“Tell me, Madelyn, how does it feel knowing you walked away from your mother before she could take her last breath? How does it feel knowing you turned your back on her in her time of need?” He wondered, his voice low, raspy.
“No,” I croaked, pulling the quilt down just enough to tuck my chin over it. “I didn’t know she was going to die! I told her to get better. I was seven years old,” I cried, my voice timid and higher-pitched than I remembered it being at that point in time.
“You may not have known she was going to die, but it doesn’t change the fact that you left her. You left her, and came back here to be with me.”
I shook my head. “No,” I said again. “No, I would never do that. I hate you. I hate you!” I snarled, sitting up in my bed.
“No you don’t. You just can’t resist me. Admit it, Madelyn, admit it!” He shouted, lunging at me and pinning me down.
I thrashed my head side-to-side, trying to avoid his prying lips. I was pinned down in every way. Helpless, not in control…
I gasped, my eyes shooting open as the nightmare faded from my vision. Drew stood over me, and I was back in my bed. My real bed. My queen size bed, with ivory sheets and pale yellow comforter. I was under the blankets; I pulled them tight around me, suddenly feeling exposed.
“Are you alright?” He wondered, sitting on the edge of my bed.
I cringed away from him, my nightmare putting me on edge. “I’m fine,” I rasped.
I nodded, avoiding his gaze. “It’s been a while since I’ve had one. Don’t worry about it. I’ve been dealing with them my whole life,” I said, hoping it would get him off my back about it.
“I get it. You don’t want to talk about it. You’ve spent your whole life being reserved and closed off from everyone and everything, and probably for good reason. That much is obvious. But if it makes you feel better, I get them too. Mine stem from memories of the past,” he said quietly, his voice growing soft and morose. “Now get some rest. I’ll be here to pick you up at seven. Dress professionally but bring gym clothes.” He stood up and flicked off my lamp, then turned and left.
Damn it. Drew had such a way of making me feel guilty, making me think about the consequences my actions and words had on others around me. He made me realize what a shitty person I had been.
I had never felt so alone and selfish.
He was right. My whole life I spent avoiding people at every opportunity because of my own past, my own issues, my own fears. But I never stopped to think that maybe people who have problems, like me, could use support from everyone possible. That included Joan, and I had been sorely neglecting her.