Today, for the letter O I have the first half of chapter one from All It Takes.
It's a long one, but I hope you all enjoy it ...
“Come on, Meg. We’ve just taken our final exams. If that isn’t cause for celebration I don’t know what is.” My best friend Stacey looked up at me from behind long lashes, her baby blues pleading with me. The puppy dog eyes worked on men without fail, but I’d known her for eleven years. Her charms had no power over me.
Still, the lure of a night drinking and dancing couldn’t be ignored. And Stacey was right. We’d been slaving away on our degrees for months. We deserved a night out.
“All right, but let’s not make it a late one, okay? I’ve got work in the morning.”
“We’ll go to O’Neil’s. There’s a band playing; it’ll be fun.”
“Oh no, not O’Neil’s. That place is a dive.”
“I like it.” Stacey pouted. Another trick she used to get her own way. I could see why men found it adorable, and I knew men was exactly what she had in mind.
“You only want to go there because it’s where all the gym junkies hang out, and you’re hoping to snare one.”
“Have you seen some of the guys that go there? There’s this one, Josh Browne, he’s an MMA fighter and OH.MY.GOD. You should see his body.”
I laughed and shook my head. I could appreciate a hot body as much as the next girl. Hell, I’d been charmed by a pair of biceps and a few well-placed tattoos in the past.
“Okay, we’ll go to O’Neil’s. You can pull an MMA fighter, and everyone will be happy.”
Stacey grinned. “You know I love ya?”
“Love you too.”
Stacey swung her shopping bags over her shoulder. “Okay, be at mine for about nine.”
“Will do.” I gave her a little wave as she left the coffee shop, and went back to making sandwiches.
Working in a coffee shop wasn’t how I envisioned my life when I moved out of my parents’ and to the city, but it paid the bills. Besides, it was only for a few more months. When I completed my graphic design degree, I could move onto bigger and better things. I’d saved enough money to take an extended break backpacking across Europe. Then I’d polish my portfolio and start looking for work. I had it all planned out, and hoped to have a steady income, and buy my first place by the time I was thirty. Seven years, four months, and sixteen days to go!
When I arrived at Stacey’s the thrum of bass coming from her flat told me our night out wasn’t going to be just a few drinks in O’Neil’s and an early night. Girl was about to get her party on. When Stacey answered the door, her outfit confirmed my suspicions; she was wearing silver plunge-neck playsuit that left very little to the imagination. It certainly made me feel less apprehensive about my burgundy cowl-neck halter-top, leather look trousers and wine-coloured
“Come get a drink,” she said, pulling me into the living room, where she had numerous alcopops and shots ready on the table.
A bottle of WKD and accompanying shots later, we were climbing into a taxi and heading to O’Neil’s. We arrived just as a dark Mercedes with tinted windows pulled up. The small gaggle of people outside the club having a cigarette before entering whipped around to see who the new arrival was, and beside me Stacey stood on her tip-toes to see above the crowd.
When the door opened, and a blond guy in a leather jacket climbed out, Stacey grabbed my wrist.
“Oh my god, it’s him,” she hissed. “Josh Browne.”
I looked over at Josh, who was entering O’Neil’s with an older guy in his mid-forties. Both of them were wearing designer labels, and looked pretty ripped under their outfits. Josh’s blond hair was spiked, and a hint of stubble covered his chin. I had to give it to Stacey, he was cute.
When the commotion of two local celebrities arriving died down, the O’Neil’s doorman continued to admit regular patrons, and Stacey and I filed in.
The normally lively club was positively heaving with activity as a band set up on the main stage, and customers milled around.
Grabbing Stacey’s arm so that she’d follow me instead of staring at Josh, I dragged her to the bar, and bought the first round. Then, drinks in hand, I found a table close enough to see the band. Knowing she’d kill me otherwise, I took the chair that meant I had my back to Josh’s table, leaving her the one facing in his direction. She grinned, straightened her outfit to make sure an ample amount of cleavage was showing, and sat down.
When the band started playing, I got swept up in the music, not noticing if Stacey was watching too, or if she was still staring at Josh. Instead, I allowed all the stresses of the week to fade away in a haze of alcohol and guitar riffs.
Uni and work were a distant memory, I was glad Stacey convinced me to come out. She was right, it was just what I needed. As I got to the bottom of my alcopop, my body relaxed and a sense of well-being wash over me.
Stacey went to buy another round, and on her way there, conveniently passed Josh’s table. As she walked beside where he was sitting, she wiggled her hips and winked at him. I had to give her credit, she sure didn’t play around when she wanted something. She returned a few minutes later with two drinks; grinning from ear to ear.
“Was he looking?” she asked, sliding a bottle over to me.
“Couldn’t take his eyes off you, Stace.”
Stacey giggled and sipped her drink.
The band continued, and the club filled up, until the small dance floor in front of the stage was cram-packed. I was glad I’d found us a decent table. In fact, Stacey and I took turns visiting the loo or bar, so that the table was never left unattended. It was a system we’d long ago perfected to ensure no-one nicked our seats.
I’d just finished my drink, and was about to ask Stacey if she wanted another, when her gaze snapped up to a place behind me, and her cheeks flushed. I turned to see Josh walking towards us.
“Can I get you a drink?” he said to Stacey, virtually ignoring me.
Not that I minded. I knew this was the moment she’d been waiting for, and turned away as Josh whispered something in her ear.
That's when I first spotted him.
He was sat at the table Josh had come from, chatting to the older man Josh had arrived with. His short dark hair was shaved at the sides, and styled into a faux hawk at the front. But it was his piecing blue eyes that held me transfixed.
I found myself unable to stop staring at him. I watched as he chatted to his friends, then went to the bar for more drinks.
He was wearing casual black trousers, with polished loafers and a white t-shirt, which made the sleeve of tattoos on both his arms stand out in contrast. He seemed keenly aware of his appearance and took pride in looking good.
He had a confident air about him in whatever he was doing. The simple tilt of his head as he spoke, or the way he raised his glass to his lips whenever he took a sip of his drink oozed self-assurance. It was almost as if he knew he belonged where he was and was challenging those around him to say otherwise.
Not that I could blame him for his self-confidence. The little I did know about MMA fighters told me that to be the best, you had to be in prime physical condition and at the top of your game. With a chiselled jawline, muscular frame and cocky smile, he certainly was that.
During a more steamy song, I found myself imagining what it would feel like to run my fingers over that seemingly perfect body. What would it be like to feel the taught muscles of his toned chest under my fingertips? What might it be like for him to sweep me off my feet in those strong arms?
I shook the fantasy from my head, and took a swig of my drink like I hadn’t just been mentally undressing the guy. But not before I'd caught him looking at me from the corner of my eye, a devilish smirk on his face.
A distraction from my fantasies arrived in the form of Stacey, who had a 'cat that's got the cream' look on her face.
“You'll never guess what's just happened?”
“Go on, tell me,” I said, playing along. I just knew she had something she wanted to share.
“Josh just gave me his hotel room number, and told me to come over when the club closes.”
“No way! That was quick,” I replied, knowing how much she liked him. “You can give me all the details tomorrow.”
Stacey grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “Oh, I will.”
Despite being one of the kindest people I knew, Stacey had terrible taste in men, and her last boyfriend has been a real loser. I wasn't surprised when he broke her heart, but it had still caused me pain to see her slumped on the sofa, crying her eyes out. I just hoped this one turned out differently for her, even if it was just a one night thing.
With the distraction from my thoughts that Stacey had offered, I was able to tear my eyes away from him.
Pull yourself together, Megan.
Trying to take my own advice, I grabbed Stacey’s hand and pulled her onto the dancefloor.
“But our table?” she said, before gulping down the rest of her drink.
“Sod it. We came out to have fun, right? What fun is sitting at a table all night? Let’s dance.”
Stacey didn’t need asking twice, and when the band started playing a cover of a song she loved, it was like a sign from the universe. Never letting go of her hand, I twirled Stacey around like a ballet dancer, before pulling her to me, where she collapsed against me and we both startled giggling. Ignoring the fact we were completely out of sync to the music, Stacey and I continued our bizarre dance of twirling each other around, and shimmying under the other’s extended arm. When the song changed, we started doing the funky chicken-wing dance instead; our left hands on the back of our heads with our arms bent and our right hands holding our right ankles with the legs bent. We looked like complete idiots, but we didn’t care.
We stayed on the dance floor for the rest of the night, only leaving to visit the bar or loo. All thoughts of the guy I’d seen at Josh Browne’s table forgotten. As the bar called last orders, and the band finished their set, I didn’t even notice the guys from the gym leave. All I could think about was getting home, and climbing into my warm bed.
With that thought firmly implanted in my mind, I yawned and headed to the loo. I found Stacey outside the toilets, sitting on a battered leather couch, applying a fresh coat of lip gloss.
“So, you still meeting up with Josh, huh?”
She beamed at me in reply. “Of course. He's hot, and I'm not turning down an opportunity like this. You know, Meg, he has some friends. Maybe you should walk with me to the hotel and see what happens?”
“Oh, come off it, Stace. No one is going to pay me any attention with you around.” I dismissed her suggestion with a wave at her outfit.
“Yeah right. Guys were checking you out all night,” she insisted, before asking,
“Will you walk with me anyway? I know it's only a few streets away, but I don't really fancy going alone at this time of night. You can call a taxi from the hotel.”
“Sure,” I replied, with a lazy sigh, as I pulled on my coat. Maybe the fresh night air would help me clear my head.
“Bloody hell, it’s colder than Mr Freeze’s balls out here,” Stacey said as we stepped out of the club, and headed in the direction of the hotel Josh was staying at.
“Serves you right for not bringing a proper coat.” The flimsy piece of material Stacey called a jacket barely came to her waist, and I was glad I’d thought to bring something more sensible. Fastening the buttons right up to my neck, I popped the collar to give me some added warmth.
“Well, don’t be a coat hog. Share with me.” Forcing me to unfasten the buttons
I’d just done up, I opened the coat and Stacey huggled up to me, so we were wearing one arm each, and staggering down the road like we were in some bizarre sack race.
“I love you, you know that right?”
I laughed. “You always love me when you want something or you’re drunk. Or both!”
“No, I’m serious. You came out tonight, even though you were unsure-”
“Oh yeah, a night of drinking and dancing. Such a sacrifice. You really needed to twist my arm.”
“Yeah, but we came to O’Neil’s because I wanted to, and you haven’t minded me talking about Josh all night.”
“I know you’d do the same if the roles were reversed.”
“Totally. The roles should be reversed. Why weren’t you out there, getting invited back to guy’s hotels?”
“And take the spotlight away from you? You’d never forgive me,” I teased.
We arrived at the hotel to find it pretty much deserted. The only people there were the night staff. Assuming Josh was already in his room, I wished Stacey good luck, and then watched in amusement as she bounded over to the lift on her way to meet ‘her guy.’
With nothing else to do – the hotel bar being closed, so I couldn't even stop in for a night cap – I decided to make my way outside and find a taxi to take me home.
I hoped, as I was stood outside a hotel, one would show up fairly soon. I was wrong. After waiting fifteen minutes, there was still no signs of any vehicles on the road, let alone a taxi. The night air now was now even colder than when Stacey and I had left the club, and I thanked God I'd worn a decent coat.
After another five minutes of waiting, I decided to call the local taxi company.
As I pulled my phone from my handbag, I found the battery was completely flat.
“God damn it.”
Then, to make matters worse, it began to rain.
“You’ve gotta be shitting me?”
With a sigh, I pulled my coat tighter around my body, and resigned myself to the hour's walk that now faced me. I briefly considered heading back to the club, but knew it’d be all closed up by now.
With my feet aching from wearing heels all night, I began walking away from the hotel. With the rain falling more heavily by the second, when I got to the end of the street I was soaked to the bone. Frustrated, I looked over at the club, and as I passed the entrance, I was in no doubt everyone had gone home
I was shivering with cold and my feet were beginning to blister. I knew by the time I finally reached home, I’d be sick come morning.
I checked my phone again, and it blinked into life for an instant, before going dead. Shoving it back in my bag, I dug out my purse to see how much money I had in there. All I had left was the crumpled tenner I’d been planning to pay for a taxi with. Doubting I’d get one now, and wanting somewhere to wait out the rain, I headed for the chip-shop around the corner from O’Neil’s. Maybe kebab meat and chips would warm me up.
Apparently, everyone else who’d been in O’Neil’s had the same idea, and when I entered Tasty Plaice, the queue almost reached the door. I joined the back of the line, glad to be out of the cold and rain.
I’d almost reached the front of the queue, when raucous laughter drew everyone’s attention to the main door, where the guys who’d been with Josh Browne entered – including the one I’d been checking out earlier.
Just my luck. I cursed inwardly. I run into one on the most attractive guy I've seen in a long time, and I look like a drowned rat.
Trying to blend into the background, I turned back to the counter and hoped he wouldn’t notice me. A few seconds later, I was startled when someone flung their arms around my shoulders.
“Alright darlin’.” His Irish brogue caused goosebumps to form on the back of my neck, and when I turned to see who it was, I almost chocked.
“Erm Hi. Do I know you?” Of course I knew him, I’d briefly imagined being this close to him. The reality was far better than my earlier fantasy. Up close, his muscles looked huge, and the tattoos were like a work of art laid out on the bare flesh. Still, it didn’t explain why he seemed to know me.
“Sure. You’re the chick from O’Neil’s. Your friend hooked up with Brownie.”
“Josh Browne?” My reply came out as a squeak, and I stared at my shoes to keep from making eye-contact with him.
“Yeah, Josh is my training buddy.”
“So you’re an MMA fighter too?” I asked, pretending like I hadn’t already figured that out earlier when I’d been daydreaming about him.
“Kian Murphy, Welterweight Champion at your service.”
It was good to finally put a name to the face, and I offered him a shy smile.
“Nice to meet you, Kian. I’m Megan.”
“Believe me, the pleasure is all mine,” Kian said with a wink, as we reached the counter. Then he turned to the server. “Can I get a doner meat and chips with chilli sauce, and whatever the lady’s having?”
“I’ll just get a bag of chips, thanks,” I said, pulling the money from my pocket.
Before I even had the chance to hand it to the server, Kian’s hand covered mine.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Thanks.” I sheepishly took my chips, and headed to the only available seat in the room, which was right by the door that didn’t close properly. No wonder no one wanted it.
Surprising me, Kian followed. “Scooch over then,” he said.
The chair was barely big enough for me, let alone two people, but I couldn’t refuse those pleading blue eyes, so I perched on the edge and Kian sat next to me, our arms brushing. As I began eating, I noticed the guys Kian had arrived with were still near the back of the queue, and it suddenly dawned on me why he’d been so nice.
“Oh my god. You used me to line hop,” I blurted out,
Kian burst out laughing and took a swig from his can of Coke. “I wondered if anyone would notice.”
“And all that, about being Josh Browne’s training buddy was to lure me into a false sense of security so I wouldn’t figure out what you were doing?”
“Yeah, but I was telling the truth, too. He really is my training buddy.”
“Hey, I paid for you chips, didn’t I?”
“You used me to cut the queue. I’d hardly call paying for a measly bag of chips even. Which, by the way, I only asked for so I wouldn’t seem rude ordering everything on the menu.”
Kian laughed. “All right, how ‘bout I make it up to ya? I’ll give ya a ride home. I called a taxi before coming in, it’ll be here soon. We can swing by yours first.”
“You don’t even know where I live. It could be miles away.”
“It makes no difference to me,” he said with a cocked eyebrow. “So do ya wanna get out of the rain or not?”
I hesitated for a second, thinking what a bad idea this probably was, and was about to decline when a drop of water cascaded down my back, causing me to shiver.
“Okay. Thanks. I'd really appreciate it.”
Kian said nothing more, but simply nodded his head and carried on eating. When our polystyrene containers were empty, I went and chucked them in the bin, then awkwardly stood back as Kian spoke to his mates. I couldn’t hear what they were saying above the noise of chatter and the radio playing, but one of the guys looked over at me and grinned. My cheeks burned. I felt like a rare animal on show.
What must they be thinking? I wondered. Do they think we’re going home together?
I was about to tell Kian I’d changed my mind, when I looked outside, and saw how heavy the rain was.
Sod it. Let them talk. I wanna be warm and dry!
Kian and I stepped outside just as the taxi pulled up.
“Where we headed?” he asked, as we climbed inside.
I told Kian my address, and he turned to the driver, “Alright Baz? Can we make a detour to Aldridge Avenue?”
“Sure mate, no problem.”
“Do you know everyone?” I asked with a laugh.
“Nah, it just seems like it. Baz is a regular at fights, and he got me my leather jacket back after an all-nighter. After that, he’s my go-to taxi guy.”
We'd been driving for about ten minutes when Kian said, “So, can I ask you a question?”
“I don’t know. Depends what the question is.”
Kian laughed. “Do you make a habit of getting into cars with strangers?”
I turned to face him, and couldn't suppress the giggle that passed my lips at his cocky expression. “Actually I do, is that a problem for you?”
He shook his head in amusement, and laughed deeply. The sound made me laugh too, it seemed so carefree.
“Seriously, though, I don't do this all the time. It was either get a ride with a stranger or risk pneumonia.”
He chuckled again, causing the butterflies in my stomach to lay eggs, and more butterflies hatched, until it felt like I was housing an insectarium or something.
“Next question,” he said after a few moments. “What do you do? I mean, besides getting into cars with strangers?”
“I’m sure you don’t want to know about my monotonous life of studying at uni and waiting tables.”
I loved what I did, but I’m sure compared to cage fighting, graphic design seemed boring.
“I meant when you’re not working?”
“Oh, you know, the usual,” I replied with a shrug. Kian’s eyes focused on me made me squirm in my seat. “Going out for dinner, seeing movies, catching up with friends, and erm; what else have I memorized from my CV for awkward situations like this? Oh yeah, I work well as part of a team. What about you?”
“With my schedule? I’d be lucky to get a day off every month. I’m training most days, either that or my sponsor’s on my case about media appearances. If it was up to me, I’d be at home on the sofa, watching TV all day getting fat.”
“It’s gotta be great though, getting paid to travel? I bet you get to go abroad a fair bit, too, when there's international fights?”
“It depends where you’re going.”
“The last time I went to Japan I got my ass kicked.”
“I thought you guys were meant to be tough?”
“I am fucking tough, but those guys are insane. And they use steroids. Right vicious bastards, they are. One almost bit my ear off. And I swear their legs are made of lead.”
I’d imagined MMA fighters were these macho ‘I’m so hard’ types, but Kian wasn’t. In the short span of time we'd been in the taxi together, I was liking him more and more. The confidence and self-assurance was still there, but now I was beginning to see it was coupled with an ability to laugh at himself and not take life too seriously.
“So, Aldridge, eh? You renting with mates or you got your own place?”
“No, just me. I moved out of my parents’ house a few years ago, and didn't really want to share with anyone else, so I rented a place on my own.”
He nodded, and looked thoughtful for a moment, before asking, “Don’t ya get lonely? I know I really notice the difference when I'm not working.”
“Actually, I quite like it,” I replied. “I still see my parents about once a week, and I have my friends over just as much. But this way, I'm free to do my own thing without worrying about anyone else.”
“That's certainly something I could get used to. It's hard sometimes, working so much, and having everyone else tell you what to do – what time to be at the gym, when you need to travel somewhere.”
“Yeah, but you're doing something you love, right?” I knew how tough it was working a job just to pay the bills
“Oh, of course, I wouldn't give up MMA for the world. There's never been anything else I've wanted to do.”
“You're lucky, not a lot of people find that in life.”
“Yeah, I count my blessing every day.”
Again, we both fell silent, and I began thinking what a well-grounded guy he seemed. He couldn't have been that much older than me – mid-twenties at the most – and yet, he seemed to have his feet firmly on the ground.
The downside to all of that was that every second I spoke to him, I found myself more attracted to him.
As if reading my thoughts, Kian suddenly turned to me. “Okay, last question, if I were to ask you out to dinner the next time I'm free, what would your answer be?”
The look of complete certainty on his face made it hard for me to believe he actually thought I'd turn him down.
“I'd say I'd like that very much.”
The grin that passed his lips was unmistakeable. I had to avert my eyes from his, and I willed my heart to stop racing. I had no idea what had come over me, but being in his presence was making me feel extremely giddy.
We continued to make small talk – chatting about what movies we'd seen recently, and the type of music we liked. I was delighted to learn he enjoyed cooking, and had a secret passion for creating his own unique dishes.
As we pulled onto my street, Kian turned to me with a cocky grin and said, “So, are you going to invite me in for coffee, then?”
I laughed out-right at his blatant presumptuousness.
“Sure, but I’ve only got instant.”
Thanks for reading. If you're interested in reading All It Takes, it can be found at claredugmore.com
And for anyone interested in an A-Z Challenge based on the literary world, with writing, marketing and publishing tips etc. head on over to Curiosity Quills Press. Today I'm blogging about the Oxford Comma!