The Fighter

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Chapter 7: I've Got A Secret

I took a grateful sip of water after practicing with Josh for nearly half an hour. I’d finally beat him both times. In other words, a complete anomaly.

We still had seen no sign of Drew, and I hated that I so desperately wanted him around. It was so unlike me in every way.

Had accepting my past really changed me so quickly?

No. It’s not possible.

I pushed those thoughts aside as Josh approached me, his head down as he stared at his phone. I continued to drink my water to soothe my dry mouth, enjoying the silence that enveloped me.

“You’re getting better, you know,” Josh said, not looking up from his phone.

I looked at him coolly. In the last several days, he and I had grown closer. I was able to comfortably joke around with him and accept criticism from him in a way that didn’t offend me.

“I’m still getting my ass kicked by you ninety-percent of the time,” I responded without emotion.

“True,” he agreed, sliding his phone into his shorts pocket. “But that ten-percent of the time is a huge difference from when you started.”

I shrugged, then scrutinized him. “Are you sure you’ve never been trained before? It’s just astonishing to me that you and Carson are so good at this.”

Josh’s eyes flashed with concern so briefly I thought I imagined it. He broke out in a grin suddenly. “So are we going to talk about your little crush on Matthews?”

I flushed and held my hands up defensively. “Whoa, I do not have a crush on Drew,” I snapped. The mention of his name had my body temperature rising dangerously fast. What the hell was going on with me?

“Tsk, tsk,” Josh clucked, then sat down next to me. His glacier blue gaze met mine. “Come on, Carver, it’s so obvious.”

I punched his shoulder, not attempting to be playful in any way, shape, or form. “Shut the hell up,” I hissed, then tuck my wayward baby hairs behind my ears. “Besides, it’s not a crush. It’s more like…” I paused, trying to think of the word. “Curiosity, if you will.”

Josh cocked an eyebrow at me. “Curiosity?”

I raised a shoulder and smiled coyly. “You know what I mean.”

He chuckled. “Ah, so it’s like that.”

There was a moment of silence. I couldn’t help but think of how my life had changed in just a few weeks. I finally felt like I had purpose, and my determination to succeed was more evident than ever. I felt less angry toward the world, but my temper was still volatile. Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t help my body’s reaction to my trainer.

The door to the training room swung open and Drew strolled in casually. His once-neat curls were now disheveled, and were pushed out of his face. His steely gaze met mine instantly. My breath caught.

“Drew!” I cried, leaping to my feet, then immediately regretting it. Was I being too obvious that I wanted him?

Come on, Carver, it’s so obvious.

Josh’s words rang through my head loud and clear.

I looked down at Josh, who was still seated. He winked at me, obviously seeing where my thoughts were at. I slowly sat back down next to him in an attempt to play off my excitement.

You have to remember that being attracted to someone was new to me. I hadn’t dated or been with anyone. Not since him. The hormones and emotions were completely out of the ballpark of my comfort zone.

“Someone’s excited to train,” Drew teased, stopping a few feet from us. He had changed into a pair of track pants and a t-shirt.

Blood creeped up my neck into my cheeks and ears.

“She beat me both times so far,” Josh praised, beaming at me. His eyes glinted mischievously, as if we shared a secret.

Oh wait. We did.

I averted my gaze from the both of them and stood, brusquely pushing past Drew. My shoulder grazed his arm. I heard him suck in a quiet breath as I positioned myself on the thick mat we used to practice. I smirked, trying to conceal my pleasure at his reaction.

I mean, after our moment during marksmanship training, it was clear that he felt something. But, sadly, he was with another woman, and it wasn’t my place to overstep there. So, I was going to show him what he was missing, without poaching him.

God, what had gotten into me?

Remember what a man did to you. Remember what it did to you. Remember what men are capable of.

The thoughts were sobering. I instantly felt like a bucket of ice had been poured over me and I had woken from my dream. I watched as Josh and Drew finished their secretive conversation when they realized I was looking at them.

What the hell?

Something was going on. I was sure of it. It was awfully suspicious that Carson “happened” to be computer-savvy, so his training was altered because some guy quit. Also, Drew let them go shoot guns by themselves, but not me… why? And why did the guys get the hang of physical training so much quicker than I did?

Before I could think about this any longer, Drew snapped me out of my reverie when he called my name.

“Madelyn, Richard wants to see you,” he told me.

I frowned but gestured to have him lead the way. I shot Josh a dirty look before following Drew. As we stepped into the elevator to go upstairs, chemistry seemed to spark between us. My mind was still in a weird place after my harsh realization that maybe I wasn’t ready for something with a man. A man ruined my life. Was I ready to do that again?

Drew cleared his throat. “I lied. Richard doesn’t want to see you,” he admitted, turning to me.

I bit my lip, and his eyes zeroed in on it. “Why?”

“I wanted to talk to you,” he said.

My heart soared, the apex of my thighs throbbed, and my chest tightened.

Drew stepped toward me, backing me toward the wall. Once I bumped into the wall behind me, he stopped inches from me. He was so close I could smell the cinnamon gum in this mouth, feel the heat radiating from his body.

I gulped. “About what?”

Suddenly, without any warning, Drew grasped my face gently and pressed his lips to mine. His hips flexed into mine. I could feel the cool metal of the elevator wall behind me, and the warmth from his boxy. The contrast was exhilarating, surprising, and overwhelming.

“Maddie,” he whispered against my lips.

And with that, the fantasy dissipated. Drew waved a hand in front of my face, stirring me from my brief daydream. A daydream. That felt astonishingly real, so real it felt like I could reach out and grasp it.

I looked at him, disoriented.

“Maddie, are you okay?” He wondered, his eyes searching mine.

Maddie.

No one had called me that before.

I fought the urge to squirm under his gaze, but refused to break eye contact. He was keeping me grounded.

“I’m great. Why do you ask?” I replied, attempting to be nonchalant.

“You just…” he scrutinized me as his voice trailed off. “Well, for starters, your face is really red. But also you just look so distant. I always wonder where your mind goes when that happens.”

I scoffed but felt my heart melt. He notices when my mind isn’t present.

I frowned internally as I realized what that would mean. Trust me, baby, you don’t want to know where my mind goes.

The elevator dinged as the doors slid open. I stepped out first and waited for Drew to fall in line with me.

“Well, we can save that for another time,” I said sweetly.

Drew shrugged beside me. “Great, maybe on your birthday then?”

I stopped dead in my tracks and gaped at him.

How did he know?

He answered my unspoken question. “You told me your birthday is this month when we first met. Then I asked Richard to check your file for it and he told me.”

I looked around us tentatively, making sure no one could hear us, and then stepped closer to speak to him quietly.

“Drew, whatever you do, do not tell anyone my birthday is next week,” I warned, my voice barely above a whisper.

Drew grimaced, his deep grey eyes filling with confusion. “Why not? Doesn’t everyone love their birthday?”

Shh,” I hissed, glanced around us once more, and then grabbed his arm to drag him out of the cubicle space and into the stairway. “Not me. I’ve always hated my birthday.”

He narrowed his eyes at me. “Why?” He questioned skeptically.

I huffed. “I just do. Please don’t tell anyone,” I pleaded.

Drew rolled his eyes at me. “Fine. But at least go out for drinks.”

I tugged my hands through my hair, frustrated. “Drew, you know I don’t drink. If you don’t recall, I also shared that tidbit of information the first time we met,” I snapped.

He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Not even to socialize?”

I groaned and threw my hands up in defeat. “I don’t really like people, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Drew set both of his hands on my shoulders, his gaze searing into me. “Maddie, it’s okay. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable with this. I just wanted you to get to know your team a little better.”

Maddie. There it was again. My ears were craving to hear it more.

How could I not give in when he looked at me like that?

No, Carver, I thought. Pull it together.

I rolled my eyes. “Fine, whatever. I’ll think about going out with you guys. But no one is singing ‘Happy Birthday’ or I’ll skin everyone’s faces,” I threatened.

Drew’s face lit up with a grin that flashed both dimples. “Under your conditions. I like a woman who can take charge,” he said and winked, straightening up and letting go of me.

My inner hormone goddess was pulling her hair out. How could someone be so damn sexy? Also, he totally overlooked my psychotic comment about skinning everyone’s faces. He shared my twisted sense of humor.

I sucked on my lower lip, relishing when his eyes flickered to it. This was definitely not helping my little “crush” on him.

What? Josh’s words, not mine.

Let me remind you that he was seeing someone.

I wondered if she took charge like he liked. Fuck. Did he actually like that in bed? Maybe that’s why he enjoyed kicking my ass at the gym? Maybe it was some sort of power trip.

Get your mind out of the gutter, I reminded myself, and forced myself to face him like the strong woman I was.

“Speaking of a woman who can take charge, how’s your girlfriend?” I segued, smirking at him.

Drew rubbed the back of his neck nervously and chortled. “She’s alright. Like I said, we’re going on a date tonight.”

Yikes. My inner hormone goddess whimpered and scuttled into a corner to live in darkness. “Nice,” I said, my lack of interest oozing from my tone. “Anyway, what did you want to talk to me about?”

“Well, it was about your birthday, but that discussion is over now, so—,” he started before I interrupted.

“Great, so can we get back to training, please?”

“I mean, yeah, but are you alright?” He asked, grasping my elbow as I turned to head back into the office.

I yanked my arm out of his grip and glared at him. “Like I said, I’m great,” I sneered and stormed through the doors.

Damn, my moods were mercurial today.

I needed to learn how to channel my anger properly.

As I stepped on the elevator to head back down to training, I smiled to myself.

Finally.


Drew tapped his hand on the ground, indicating his surrender. I victoriously released him and bounded to my feet. Josh stood above us laughing and clapping.

He looked borderline like an idiot.

“That’s four times in a row, boss,” Josh said to Drew.

I raised an eyebrow at the both of them. “You wanna take me on, Parker?”

Josh met my eyes. “You already beat me twice. Shouldn’t we leave it at that?”

“Why? You don’t want to get pinned again?” I responded, approaching him all tough-like.

He laughed. “No, not at all. I think you’ve finally figured out what works for you.”

“He’s right,” Drew agreed as he stretched his legs. “Whatever it is you’ve discovered has miraculously changed how you fight.”

“‘Miraculously’?” I asked in disbelief. “I’ll have you know I was a damn good fighter before you came along.”

Truth was, Drew was right.

“I know. I’m agreeing with you. You’ve just improved yourself, and that’s half the battle,” he defended, switching to stretching his arms. “So, what changed?”

I tipped my water bottle to my mouth and took a healthy swig. “You happened,” I admitted, for once not blushing. “You told me I let things get too personal and therefore let my anger distract me. So I took out the personal part,” I chided coolly, challenging him with my eyes.

I was no damn charity case and I wouldn’t be treated like it either.

He already backed me into a corner with the birthday thing. Unfortunately it wasn’t the elevator, and it was nowhere near as fun as the elevator would have been. Besides, he had a girlfriend, so anything even mildly elevator-related was off limits.

Drew smiled at me. “I’m proud of you for listening. Look where it’s gotten you.”

I cast my eyes skyward and brushed past him and Josh to gather my things. “Shouldn’t we be going through the case on this end of things?”

Drew nodded. “Yes, let’s head upstairs. They should have brought the files into the conference room for us to review.”


At the end of the day, I was utterly exhausted. We had been able to track down the killer due to a shopping spree she went on using all the victims’s credit cards. From there, we were able to surprise and stop her.

Well, not really we. The team on the ground did. We simply assisted in getting a warrant signed and pulling credit card information from the victims.

Either way, it was awesome.

I mean, I was the one who discovered it was a woman, which immediately eliminated a large pool of suspects.

As I was strolling out to my car, Drew caught up to me and jumped in front of me. It nearly scared the living shit out of me.

“Drew, what do you want?” I demanded.

The rest of the day I had used my anger to fuel my attitude toward him. Not because I was mad at him, but because I was jealous of his girlfriend and couldn’t control the hormones inside me. If I distracted myself with false emotions, I was pretty sure I could get away with it.

“I was just checking in to see if you’d decided about your birthday,” he said, smiling boyishly at me with those damn dimples.

I shrugged. “Whatever. Go ahead and do it,” I said reluctantly. At least it would give me an opportunity to hang out with Drew.

That is, if I was past my anger with him. Who knew with me at this point?

He started walking beside me as I continued my journey to my car. “Awesome. It’ll be great. And no, no one will be singing that awful song to you.”

The corners of my lips tipped up involuntarily. “Good. I hate that stupid fucking song.”

“Me too,” he agreed. “I have bad experiences with birthdays too.”

I glanced at him in surprise. “How so?”

Drew came to stop as we arrived at my car. “A conversation for another day, I suppose,” he said, his eyes glinting wickedly as he pulled open the driver’s side door. “See you tomorrow, Maddie.”

I got into the car in a daze. How did everything he said sound like the word version of dessert? God, it always left me wanting more.

Well, I guess the anger bout is over, I thought to myself as I watched his cute behind walk away.

God, I had it bad.

I took a deep breath and leaned my head back into my seat, fanning myself as I turned the car on. My inner hormone goddess poked her head out of the dark corner, creeping back into the spotlight. She grinned triumphantly.

Piss off, hormones.

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