The Fighter

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Chapter 8: Drunk Words, Sober Actions

I stared at myself in the mirror, feeling borderline perturbed at the woman looking back at me. My straight perm was fading more and more every day, so my hair hung around me in larger waves than even just a few days ago. It almost looked styled, except for the frizziness, but I knew that was far from the truth.

I grimaced as those waves reminded me of a much darker time in my life. I was proud of the woman I was becoming, at how far I’d come in just a matter of weeks. The thought made me stand a little taller, with my head a little higher. I knew I was worth more than what my adolescence convinced me I was worth.

I puffed out my cheeks and straightened my black satin top. I caught sight of a couple bruises on my hips as I did so, then noticed the different shape of my toned arm muscles. The last few weeks had really forced my body to change, and it showed.

There was a light rapping on my front door, and I swallowed thickly at what was coming. I tentatively answered the door, and I felt any snarky remark that was about to come out get caught in my throat. Drew stood before me, looking more handsome than he ever had, dressed in a charcoal button-down and black jeans, fitted just right… and holding a bouquet of sunflowers.

He held the flowers out to me, tipping his head as he did so. “I believe these are for you, m’lady,” he said jokingly.

I gasped softly as I gently took them from him. “Drew, they’re beautiful.” I stared at them for a moment, realizing just how different my life was from a few weeks ago. I probably would’ve punched someone if they tried to give me flowers, but now… now I felt I was fighting tears. “I’ve never gotten flowers before,” I murmured.

Drew’s eyes widened. “Never?”

I shook my head and gave him a sad smile. “No,” I responded, turning to go to the kitchen. I heard him shut the door and follow me in, and I wanted nothing more than to beg him to stay here with me rather than to go out, but I held my tongue. I opened the cabinet under my kitchen sink and pulled out the one vase I owned from the flowers I bought myself for my college graduation, and began filling it with water.

“Did you know I liked sunflowers, or was it a lucky guess?” I questioned, cocking an eyebrow at him.

He grinned, revealing his dimples. Those damn dimples. The apex of my thighs throbbed, so I squeezed my legs together as inconspicuously as I could. “Well, I picked up on you liking the color yellow given all your yellow belongings, plus you’re a summer baby, so I put the two together and settled on those,” he admitted.

My heart melted into a pile of goo. Madelyn a month and a half ago probably would’ve vomited, but that girl was nowhere to be found. Instead, my inner hormone goddess was gushing, yellow hearts swirling around her head.

I placed the flowers in the vase and then smiled at Drew. “Well, you did a good job. Thank you,” I said sincerely, meeting his gaze. I didn’t want to tear my eyes away, and I definitely didn’t want to lose this moment.

God, when did I become such a damn sap?

“You’re welcome, birthday girl,” he retorted, winking at me as he spun around to head out.

I frowned. “You know, you’ve been calling me that all day. I don’t really think it’s necessary at this point.” I followed him out of my apartment, locking up behind me.

Drew shrugged. “This is a big week for you. Birthday drinks with the team, finishing up your training, potentially getting officially recruited into the FBI.”

Shit. I was trying to not think about all of that. It felt like a lot for me to process. Not to mention my constant attraction to Drew despite my frequent attempts to quash those feelings.

“I know. I’m hoping everything will go smoothly,” I said, following him to his car.

“Uh-uh, Blondie, we’re walking,” he said, gently grasping my elbow to direct me toward the sidewalk.

I shot him a dirty look. “Walking? Why?”

He smirked. “That way nobody has to drink and drive,” he chided. “Not like any of us would given we’re all in law enforcement.”

I rolled my eyes as I kept in stride, though I struggled some in my heels. “I’m sure you wouldn’t be the first FBI agent to have a drink and drive.”

Drew threw his head back and laughed heartily. “A drink? Oh, Maddie, I’m pretty sure everyone’s going to drink a little more than that.”

Maddie.

He called me that at least once a day nowadays, and every time he did, I felt like blood rushed to every surface of my skin. This time was no exception.

“You act like nobody ever drinks,” I scoffed.

“Watch out!” Drew exclaimed before I felt his arms wrap around me and pull me back. I had stepped onto the crosswalk as the light had turned from the red hand to the green walking man, but seconds later, a car whizzed past us, completely running the red light. I gaped at the driver as they passed. They didn’t give me the time of day, not even caring about how they almost hit me.

Drew had his arms around my waist, and I had fallen back into his chest. He was squeezing me so tightly, I barely had any wiggle room. All I wanted was to stay right here, and for him to never let me go. It felt like the first marksmanship training all over again, fear included, but lacking of an early childhood flashback. And that made it so much better.

I glanced up at him, and caught him looking at me with trepidation written in his eyes. He cleared his throat and slowly released me. I didn’t break eye contact with him, and my inner hormone goddess blinked lustfully, wide-eyed.

“Thanks,” I whispered hoarsely. “For saving my life.”

He nodded. “Anytime,” he responded. His voice sounded confused, but his expression didn’t match it.

I turned awkwardly to continue walking, and saw the red hand blinking with a fifteen second countdown.

What the fuck just happened?

Who knew all that could happen in twenty seconds?

We walked the rest of the way in silence, both lost in our own thoughts. I desperately wondered what was on his mind, but knew if I asked him, he’d give me a roundabout answer and then ask how I was doing.

After walking for several blocks, he finally stopped at a bar and opened the door for me. Within moments, I heard cheering to my left. In a corner was the whole squad in a large booth, raising their drinks to me. I flushed and headed their direction.

“You made it!” Heather cried. I blinked at her in surprise as I realized that was the loudest I’d ever heard her speak. She jumped up and snaked her arm around my shoulders in a half-hug. I fought the urge to recoil like a snake.

“Barely. Blondie here almost got hit by a car,” Drew teased, but was very careful to not stand too close to me.

The brothers - who I now knew were Matthew and Marcus - held up their beers. “To not dying today,” Matthew said, dark eyes gleaming wickedly.

“Here, take this,” Emma deadpanned, handing me a cool glass of… something clear. She showed no emotion on her face, and was dressed in leather pants and a white tank top.

I took the drink, the condensation coating my hand as I stared at it. “What… is it?” I questioned.

Carson cackled. “She’s like a martian sometimes,” he teased.

Josh snickered, and Heather shot them a dirty look. “Be nice. Honey, that’s a gin and tonic. We were pretty confident you’d like it. It’s a no-nonsense, zero bullshit drink,” she said proudly.

I involuntarily looked up at Drew, who was looking at me expectantly. In other words, definitely not how he was looking at me earlier. My eyes flickered back over to the group, and I slowly raised the glass to my lips and took a sip.

Hmmm. Crisp, cool, refreshing…

“It’s good,” I announced, surprised at myself. “This has alcohol in it?”

Carson laughed again. “So you’ve really only drank one time?”

I threw Drew a foul look as I finally took a seat next to Emma. “I can’t believe you told them that.”

Drew shrugged, averting his steely gaze. “I just told them you hadn’t really developed your drinking tastebuds yet,” he defended, sitting across from me.

Josh leaned across Emma to talk to me, and Emma glared at him. “I think you should try bourbon next. You’re a spitfire and straight to the point. I think you’ll like it.”

“And have her mixing her liquors?” Marcus replied, raising his eyebrows. “Probably not the best idea.”

I ducked my head, hating all the attention they were giving me. “Alright, that’s enough about me,” I declared, taking another sip of my drink.

Everyone laughed and began talking to one another about anything and everything that came to mind. I felt much more comfortable with the attention off me, and I slinked back against the booth to sip on my drink in silence.


“To be honest, I didn’t like you at first,” Emma stated, her dark eyes wide. “But as soon as you peeped up about that one perp, I knew we’d made a good decision with you.”

I giggled. I was beginning to feel a little fuzzy, and it was already completely different from when I was nineteen years old in college. “I knew we’d be friends eventually,” I admitted. “You seem to be cynical towards the world like I am.”

She gave me a small smile. “To say the least. From one cynic to another,” she responded, raising her glass in a cheers. I raised mine and clinked my glass against hers, finishing my second gin and tonic. I had told everyone I was not mixing my liquors and would stick to this one drink for the night.

I stood and headed to the bar to get a glass of water. I’d taken care of enough inebriated individuals over the years to know that water was a necessity when drinking in large quantities. Or when you have zero alcohol tolerance like myself.

As I waited for my water, Drew came to stand beside me. “You seem to be rather enjoying yourself,” he stated.

I shrugged. “It’s not as bad as I was expecting, I will admit that.”

He took a sip of his whiskey. I could tell that was his favorite drink. Nothing mixed in, just plain whiskey on the rocks. I watched how his lips formed around the glass, how his head tipped back to finish his drink, how his neck elongated, revealing his stubble. I could just lean in…

“What are you looking at, blondie?” He wondered as he set his glass down, sliding his gaze over to me with a small smirk.

I turned my attention to the bartender as he handed me my water, and I took a grateful sip to buy myself some time. Drew ordered another whiskey and then shifted his whole body toward me.

“Well?” He wondered expectantly, raising his eyebrows as he looked at me.

“Why are you so keen on knowing?” I challenged.

He smiled impishly, and lo and behold his dimples made their inevitable appearance. “Because you evaded the question, and now I’m curious.”

I took another sip of my water, suddenly feeling my second drink hit me. My head was feeling very light, and I felt almost euphoric. “Maybe I like to keep some veil of mystery to who I am,” I quipped, winking at him.

He chuckled, and gratefully took his drink from the bartender. “Trust me, Maddie, you have every ounce of mystery to your personality and backstory as you did the day I met you,” he said, burying his smile behind his glass as he took a sip.

“Good,” I said, and before I could stop myself, blurted, “I like when you call me that.”

Drew looked at me quizzically, but with amusement. “When I call you what?”

“Maddie,” I answered. “You do every so often, and I like it.”

He frowned. “I didn’t even realize it. If I overstep—”

I rested my hand on his forearm, taking us both by surprise. My inner hormone goddess’s jaw dropped, putting her hands on her cheeks. She looked like the cover of Home Alone.

“You didn’t. Like I said, I like it. It’s nice that someone feels comfortable enough around me to give me a nickname,” I admitted sheepishly, not moving my hand away, given I was leaning my arm on the bar and it felt natural to have my hand there.

His gaze moved away from me as he thought for a moment. “So, no one has ever gotten you flowers, and you only have one other nickname that I can think of. You really don’t let people in,” he muttered.

I gave him a puzzled look. “This isn’t news, Drew,” I sneered.

“I’m just saying, for someone as beautiful as you, it’s amazing to me that no one has treated you the way you deserve to be.”

Beautiful?

My heart leaped. Did he really mean these things?

I reminded myself that he had had several drinks and probably didn’t mean it. But then again… aren’t drunk words considered sober thoughts?

I tried to meet his gaze but he was staring down at his drink, the corners of his lips pulled down slightly. “You can’t possibly mean that,” I said quietly, leaning in a little closer to him.

Drew turned his face toward me finally, our faces now inches from each other. “I meant every word.” His steely-blue eyes seared into mine, for once firm and definite.

“No one has said something that nice to me before,” I whispered. I suddenly felt a wave of sadness wash over me. I had been depriving myself of potential happiness and relationships for far too long. While I thought I had been protecting myself from him, I was also letting him win because I wasn’t giving myself to anyone else. I wasn’t giving myself a fair chance at happiness or forgiveness.

He shook his head, a few curls tumbling down over his forehead. I reached up and brushed them away before I could stop myself, and relished the soft tresses that ran through my fingers. “All I want is to show you everything you’ve been missing,” he said, almost inaudibly. With the loud music and the chattering happening around us, it was a miracle I heard him at all. Then again, I had never been so intent on a conversation before.

“Nobody’s ever wanted to. Something about me being ‘too scary’?” I half-teased, not wanting to ruin our sentimental moment, but also feeling the need to once again self-sabotage. My inner hormone goddess was sitting at the edge of her seat, wondering what would happen next. How would he respond to this?

Drew pressed his forehead against mine. I immediately blushed, and my eyes fluttered closed, suddenly nervous of what was to come. My stomach was doing flips, my heart was pounding, and my hand on his arm was growing clammier by the second.

“It’s nothing I can’t handle,” he responded.

That was the right answer.

It was the answer I didn’t know I needed to hear. It was the answer that made me want to try with him, the answer that made me realize I was worth giving myself a chance at a relationship.

He reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind my ear, gently caressing my cheek as he did so. My breath hitched, and before I knew it, his lips were on mine, gently, softly moving against mine.

My stomach released a whole load of butterflies as overwhelming sensations unfurled deep inside me; sensations I’d never felt before. They spread down my thighs, to my breasts, all the way up to his fingers twisting in my hair. My whole body felt like a hot zone, ready to combust at any moment. My inner hormone goddess was sunbathing, soaking up the heat gleefully.

“Oh, Maddie,” he breathed. “I’ve waited so long—”

“Shh,” I interrupted. “Stop talking. Just kiss me,” I pleaded, craving the feeling of his pouty lips on mine once more.

He groaned and pressed his lips to mine once more, this time more urgently, before pulling away and looking at me with a darkened, lustful gaze. I nearly cried out in disappointment.

“Everyone is staring at us,” he murmured with a small smile tugging up the corner of his lips.

I flushed, having momentarily forgotten we were at a bar with our entire team. I tried to nonchalantly glance over at the booth we had vacated not ten minutes ago, just to see Drew was right. They were all giggling and looking at us, whispering amongst themselves. They made me feel self-conscious all of a sudden. After all, this was technically my first kiss, and now dozens of people were witnesses to it.

Oh, God. It was my first kiss. I hadn’t allowed another man into my life, and now that there was one… well, suddenly my nerves felt like nervous electricity shooting through me.

“Ummm…” I paused, turning away from them to face the bar and drink some water. I was warm, everywhere, and the room felt stuffy. My body felt light, and every movement effortless, but the alcohol coursing through my veins felt like liquid fire. “I need some air,” I murmured to Drew before jumping up and rushing outside. While the air was warm, there was a breeze that helped cool me down within seconds of being outside.

“Maddie, are you okay?” Drew asked a moment later, the sound of the bar pouring out onto the otherwise quiet street until the door swung shut behind him.

I looked over at him and smiled. “I feel great. I was just warm and felt uncomfortable from the scrutiny of the squad,” I admitted.

Drew shrugged slightly, smiling at me just enough for his damn dimples to show. “Given the privacy you’ve fought to maintain in your life, I understand.”

I scowled. “I mean, isn’t that why you pulled away to begin with?”

He hesitated, and even in the dim light, I could see his cheeks redden. “Uh, not necessarily.” He paused, opening his mouth and closing it a few times before continuing. “If you’re ready, I can walk you home.”

Hearing those words fall so effortlessly from Drew’s lips made my breath catch. My body yearned for him, and now that it was just me and him, I couldn’t help my body’s elicit reaction to him. I swept him up and down with my eyes, biting on my lip nervously.

“Be my guest,” I purred, brushing past him and leading with my breasts. Inner hormone goddess strutted in a pair of stilettos, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she made a come-hither gesture with her finger.

He sucked in a breath but followed behind me without question.

I’m ready, I told myself confidently.

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