Something That Really Matters

by sandra70

Like so many times before, things had gotten a little out of control. Maddie's rant had turned into a vivid discussion about office decorum, working morale and maturity; in her opinion, David wasn't blessed with any of these admirable qualities, and in her despair to get him to change his annoying ways, she had challenged him into a bet. Maybe this was the best way: as usually, he would try his best to prove her wrong, even if it meant that he had to behave at least like the ghost of a mature adult for a week. He seemed pretty determined, and Maddie thought already this bet had been a good idea, when all of a sudden, the conversation was taking a turn.

Maybe she had really gone too far in her enthusiasm when she had claimed he should also stop singing: one doo-wop and you'll lose! After protesting a bit at first, he had accepted, but then immediately demanded that in this case they raise the stakes.

"More money?" she asked.

Maddie was standing with her back at the door of David's office, and within the blink of an eye he was right before her, leaning in pretty closely, nonchalantly resting his left elbow and forearm against the door, right beside her head. He smirked in a – it couldn't be expressed differently – very suggestive way. Can you say lewd?

"...no, not money." He paused for effect and pierced her with his stare. "Something that really matters."

She leaned comfortably onto the door, her head slightly tilted back, an almost smug smile on her face, in spite of his lewdness. Maddie knew he had been lusting after her since day one, and she had to admit that the thought alone flattered, thrilled, and elated her. The mere knowledge that she could have him any time she wanted, that she just had to snap her fingers or wink an eye, gave her a very pleasant feeling of power, of control. She was familiar with that feeling when it came to men. Control over David Addison? That surely had a dangerous ring to it... Yes, she had him eating out of her hands. Suggesting a bet about sex? He had to be really desperate. For a thrilling moment, she toyed with the idea of accepting – first, she knew that David Addison wasn't even capable of behaving as a mature adult for seven minutes, let alone seven days. So, no risk there. And second – even in the outside chance that he could pull it off, she knew that he never would insist on collecting on such a bet. She suspected he had some decent bone somewhere in his body. It would give her the opportunity to show her bold side when really it was completely safe.

In the end, she decided to turn him down, though; it added to her feeling of control.

"Keep dreaming, Addison," she replied nonchalantly, not without stealing a quick glance at his mouth, but his following reaction was nothing like she had expected.

His smirk – which was, she had to admit that reluctantly, somehow attractive, although in a very weird way – was replaced by an unreadable expression when he mocked her in an ironic voice: "Ooh, how childish and immature, Miss Hayes! Everything to you is sex, sex, sex!" His full lips curved into a dangerous smile. "I'm after something that really matters."

Maddie had lost track for a moment, as this conversation had taken a turn she hadn't expected at all. That he was acting like suggesting sex as a stake had never crossed his mind whereas it was obvious that she had thought about it, made her feel silly. Absurdly enough, she was indeed a little disappointed that he had not meant sex when he had claimed something that really matters. She was annoyed with herself that, obviously, now she was in the position to defend herself against the accusation of having a naughty mind. Which was completely ridiculous – as if she ever had really contemplated...! She felt her temper rise, and on top of that all, she felt a weird fluttering in her stomach at the tone of his voice when he had said sex, sex, sex; suddenly, she wasn't so sure at all about his decent bone, and for a crazy moment she pictured what could happen if they really bet about sex and she lost and he indeed insisted on getting his reward – and why on earth did that thought cause her to break out in goosebumps?! Must be the disgust! she quickly assured herself.

Her head was spinning all of a sudden, and she surely wasn't in control of the situation anymore, and she definitely wasn't in control of David Addison at all. Maybe he had not been the obsessed one since day one, and she couldn't understand why that thought made her feel a sharp sting of disappointment.

"Believe me," he went on, "when we'll be dancing the bedroom boogie, it will not be because of a bet." His green eyes pierced her like those of the cat that had just eaten the canary.

When? Not even if?! Maddie couldn't believe her ears. What a smug, arrogant bastard! It was very disturbing that the goosebumps she had felt earlier were still spreading, quietly, steadily, imperturbably all over her body. Quickly, she darted away from his nearness and took a few steps into the relative safety of the middle of the room.

She let out a disgusted snort – disgusted at him and at herself. "Keep dreaming!" she snapped again, and this time there was no flintiness in her voice.

David smirked. "I'm not the one fantasizing about sex here," he replied smoothly, and it was obvious that he was enjoying himself immensely.

Maddie blushed and hated it. She hated him! "Never mind," she hissed, for lack of a better response. It was far too dangerous to discuss this with him now. "So, what stake do you suggest then?"

He folded his arms. "Well, unlike what you were insinuating with your naughty mind..." he paused, and she shot him a fiery glance. He went on: "I was just talking about a plain, good, old-fashioned..." – for the last word, he dropped his voice for almost an octave – "...kiss."

Her eyes popped open. "A what?"

"A kiss," he repeated and winked at her. "You might have heard of it – two people, two mouths, excessive exchange of..."

"I know what a kiss is," Maddie interrupted in an unnerved tone.

He raised his hands, as in defense. "Just making sure."

She rolled her eyes. "So – do I get this right, if you win the bet, you want a kiss?"

His lips curved into his half-smile. "You bet I do."

A kiss? She had no idea where this was leading, and she felt as if she was skating on very thin ice. Betting about sex had a certain surreal touch because it wasn't likely to ever become true; but betting about a kiss was a dangerously real thing. Suddenly, Maddie felt the urgent need to end this, to get out of here, away from him, into the safety of her own office. "Alright, alright," she agreed hastily. "There's no chance in hell, but okay – if I lose, I will kiss you."

"No, no, no, no," he contradicted, waving his hands in an exaggerated manner. "That's not the way the cookie crumbles." he pierced her with his intense gaze, and she felt it shooting through her entire body. "If I win, will kiss you."

Maddie raised a sarcastic eyebrow and tried – unsuccessfully – to suppress the unwelcome fluttering in her stomach. "And is that supposed to make any difference?" she asked with venom in her voice.

He didn't even bother to nod, but just tilted his head in an annoyingly smug way. "You bet it is, baby," he replied smoothly. David knew he was a good kisser. It would be fun to see this cookie crumble.

Maddie snorted again and tried to sound pointedly bored. "Then so be it. You don't have a chance, anyway." She turned around and headed for the door again.

"I might remind you of that some time," he remarked nonchalantly. "Oh, and Miss Hayes?"

She whirled around. "What?"

He shoved both his hands in his pockets. "Just to make that clear: kiss does not mean a chaste peck or a quick smooch," he pointed out. "It means the real deal. A proper kiss." Maddie raised a questioning eyebrow, and David elaborated, with obvious delight: "Slow. Lingering. Luscious." He had been lowering his voice with every word and paused for effect, and to purse his lips for a moment. "And wet."

Maddie blushed involuntarily and tried a little too hard to look disgusted. "Fine, whatever," she pressed through gritted teeth. "You don't stand a chance anyway."

He smirked again. "Yeah, you keep telling yourself that."

Without another word, she stormed out of his office and slammed the door for good behind her. David chuckled to himself and silently counted to three; this wasn't over yet. When he had arrived at three in his mind, the door was violently thrown open again, and Maddie stomped in. The door hit the wall, swung back, and fell shut behind her.

He just looked at her with obvious amusement and delighted in the steam that seemed to rise from her ears. "What do I get if I win?" she snapped.

"Oh my," he chuckled, "I was just thinking – haven't we forgotten something?" Maddie clenched her fists. "Were you maybe a tad distracted by the prospect of... losing?" he asked in feigned innocence. "Or shall I say..." – he paused and licked his lips – "...thrilled?"

Maddie was way too furious to answer that; her right index finger shot at him like a bullet. "If you lose... when you lose, you will have to lay off every unnecessary employee!" she almost yelled, knowing what would bother him the most. Not being the beloved buddy of the staff anymore. "We'll give them severance pay and good recommendations, but you'll have to tell them – you have to fire them!" she clarified.

But he still was smug. "Ain't gonna happen," he commented nonchalantly, "and believe me – you are going to be very happy about it!"

She ignored the provocation. "So, do we have a deal or not, Addison?"

He slightly inclined his head, all mockery. "You bet we do."

Maddie knew that normally a handshake would be the thing to seal the bet, but right now she really didn't want to be touched by him anywhere. Before she could pursue that thought further, after a short knock the door was opened, and Agnes popped her curly head in.

"Miss Hayes, Mr. Addison – there's a woman here to see you, a client!" she seemed a little breathless with excitement.

Maddie wasn't absolutely in the mood to see a client now. She growled in an almost menacing voice: "Tell her, we – "

David stepped forward and interrupted in an overly serious, weirdly distinguished voice: "Tell her we will most certainly be with her in a minute, Miss DiPesto, and would you please be so kind as to show the lady into Miss Hayes's office, where Miss Hayes and myself will meet her as soon as possible?"

Agnes was clearly confused and looked from one to the other with her mouth slightly hanging open. "Ah... yes, Mr. Addison."

When the receptionist had left the office again, David turned to a totally flabbergasted and steaming Maddie with the meanest, wickedest smirk. "You might want to take your time to re-compose yourself, my dear, and as soon as you're ready, shall we meet the client?"

She clenched her fists in helpless fury. If looks could have killed, David would have been dead meat. "I'm fine!" she hissed.

He fluttered his eyelashes in an overly innocent way and smiled his sweetest smile. "Are you sure?"

She drew a deep breath and almost choked on it. "Ready when you are!" she pressed through clenched teeth with an almost superhuman effort.

His eyes twinkled like stars. "Very well."

Maddie snorted and turned to the door, but David held her back.

"Wait!" he exclaimed and darted past her, making a big ceremony of opening the door for her, including an ironic little bow. Maddie just glared at him and stomped out without a word; David followed her and chuckled happily to himself.

This was gonna be a real fun week, and he was gonna enjoy every minute of it!

Although the talk with the client, Mrs. Greydon, had taken Maddie's mind off the bet and David's provocations for a while, the car drive to the supposed place of action was spent in silence – very unusual for them. The place of action was where they were to talk to the kidnappers of their client's son to bargain for his life. Somehow, Mrs. Greydon's request had been pretty creepy in Maddie's eyes, but also legitimate on the other hand, and so she had decided to take the case; Blue Moon could use the money anyway. The situation wasn't as desperate as it had been maybe four months ago, but still the agency wasn't bedded on roses financially.

Maddie tried to brood over all that, so she didn't have to think about the damn bet; she regretted already that she had agreed to those stupid terms David had suggested. She was getting angry at herself. I mean, a kiss?! I must have been out of my mind! Of course, she could have backpedaled, could have told him that she wouldn't insist on the doo-wop-ban, but he immediately would have accused her of chickening out because she was afraid of that kiss. Which, of course, she wasn't, was she? The thought of it made her insides cringe, though. Maddie hated the fact that she had to deal with any of this at all.

She pulled over to the curb and stopped the car when they had reached the address Mrs. Greydon had given them.

"Well..." she turned off the ignition and avoided looking at David.

He turned to her. "Listen... I'd like to make a suggestion here." His voice sounded suspiciously serious.

"Yes?"

"I don't think it's a good idea for both of us to go in there," he said, and she frowned.

"What are you saying?" she demanded and narrowed her eyes a little. What was he up to?

"I think the sensible thing..." he paused to lick his lips, "the mature thing to do is for you to wait out here in the car."

Already, she felt the steam rise inside her. She tried to keep the growl out of her voice, but a little menace sneaked in. "David...?!"

"Maddie, I know," he interrupted in the sweetest voice. "It smells like sexism to you. Well, it smells like sexism to me too, but dammit – if it means blowing our bet to protect my partner, well that's what I'm gonna do because..." he paused again to lick his lips, and Maddie wanted to strangle him for it, "...it just doesn't make sense for both of us to risk our necks." Damn, she knew he was trying to pull something, she just knew it! She watched him talking with narrowing eyes. But he still looked absolutely serious and sincere when he went on: "And if we're choosing which neck to risk it seems to me that my thick one is much more expendable than your..." he gave her a look that somehow seemed to go right through her clothes and left a burning mark on her skin, then pursed his lips in his annoying, unique way before he finished: "...pretty long one." She could have sworn there was a twinkle in his eyes.

"Save some of this!" she snapped because she still couldn't figure out if he was serious or not, and that made her feel very insecure and surely not in control of the situation. In other words, it drove her crazy and alerted all her defenses. "I'll use it to fertilize my lawn!"

"Maddie, I mean it!" he affirmed and seemed genuinely upset. "If anything ever happened to you, honey..."

That caught her a little off guard for a moment. Oh, she knew that it was just his usual, meaningless sweet talk, and it was simply his way of treating women – a honey here, a babe there, but still...

Two minutes later, her gaze followed him when he sauntered to the entrance of the building, putting his sunglasses on, and she sighed and thought that dismissing him as an annoying idiot would have been much easier if he didn't have that... that something about him. That something she couldn't even define, but it was there, lurking in the depths of his twinkling green eyes and the corners of his half-smiling mouth, ready to strike at any time. An alarming thought.

Two hours and a few revelations later, they were walking along the corridor leading to the entrance of Blue Moon's office, talking at the same time but, like so often, not listening to each other; David was pretty much enthusiastic about the unexpected closure of their case whereas Maddie was more shocked about it. This had been really quick, simple and had brought them a lot of money. In her modeling days, Maddie had topped that day fee, but still that amount of money for two hours of work was almost indecent.

"Fifty thousand dollars!" Maddie repeated in an incredulous, breathless voice. "I can't believe we did that. David!" She stopped dead in her tracks, whirled around towards him and grabbed him fiercely by the lapels. "I've never done that before!"

He took his time to stare at her in disbelief for a moment and then he looked down at her hands on him with a definitely pleased expression. "What, grabbed a man by the lapels?" he asked in an amused tone. "It's okay, I enjoy it."

"No!" Maddie contradicted in an unnerved voice and let go of him like she had touched something too hot to handle. "No, lie! We looked that woman in the face and lied!"

But she should have known that David Addison, of course, did not have such qualms. A little lie here and there didn't bother him as long as nobody got hurt. Usually, she wasn't the one for dishonesty. But on the other hand, he was right: technically, they had indeed fulfilled their deed; they had saved Mrs. Greydon a load of money and had been rewarded as promised. And the agency really could use the money. She was still trying to convince herself, when David was already speeding inside to give the employees the good news.

Then, only seconds later, she heard the cheering of the staff and the limbo music again. She couldn't believe it. David had lost the bet – already? She should have been really relieved. Really. Then why the hell wasn't she?

"So, what does that mean – the bet's off?" David asked in an unnerved tone after Maddie had told him that the revival of the limbo party was exactly the kind of pattern she had ranted about earlier in the morning – whereas he had claimed this time it had been only an exception to celebrate their windfall.

Maddie's mind was racing for a moment. She had already regretted her boldness, stupidity, or whatever it had been that had made her agree to his terms of the bet, and here he was, presenting her with the perfect occasion for an easy way out. She wouldn't have to deal with his weird wannabe mature behavior that made it so hard for her to figure out if he was serious or not; she would get the upper hand back again and resume life as they knew it: he would leer after her, she would turn him down; he would come up with some stupid stuff every other day, and she would be mad at that display of immaturity; he would stay in his office, she would stay in hers, and thank God she would never have to kiss him. All she had to do was say yes, the bet's off, and you lost.

The words were out before she could stop them. "No, not necessarily," she answered. "Not if you go out there and do what you agreed to do."

"What did I agree to do?" David looked really exasperated now, which spurred her on. He, angry? Seriously?

"Be a boss, not a buddy," she firmly demanded and motioned to the party noises that were trickling in from the outer office.

He took a deep breath, clearly not amused, turned away from her and thrust his hands deep in his pockets. Then he slumped down on the armrest of the mauve couch, looking at her in an almost accusing manner. "Boy, are you one tough customer!" he remarked.

"This is important for you!" Maddie claimed, full of conviction and missionary zeal. "For us, for this place!"

He looked away again, clearly not pleased with what was going on here. Clearly torn between what he thought wasn't such a biggie to do and the wish to prove her wrong, to show her that he wasn't the childish idiot she obviously thought he was. "Okay," he said after a few moments and got up. "All right, I'll take care of it," he announced curtly and headed for the door.

Maddie felt elated and very pleased with herself. Oh yes, she was in control of the situation again. She had him exactly where she wanted him. She was at his heels within the blink of an eye. "Mind if I watch?" she asked almost casually but couldn't quite keep the eagerness and smugness out of her voice and the beaming smile from her face.

David stopped dead in his tracks and whirled around to throw her a furious, disgusted look, and for a split second the word bitch! crossed his mind. But then he left her office without another word. She followed him on the heels but stopped under her open office door.

David started his punitive action by turning off the music and a barked "Enough!" which frightened not only Agnes but also the rest of the staff. He then made his journey through the main office, stopping at every single desk where unprofessional behavior was displayed, pushing feet from desks, closing newspapers, and stopping nails from being filed with only so much as a threatening green laser beam. With every minute he felt worse, and this feeling was palpable in the air.

Maddie was watching all this very closely and with a more than pleased expression on her face, leaning against the door frame of her office door, her arms folded nonchalantly, her lips curved into a triumphant, not very pretty little smile. She was really enjoying herself; what a big event that was, having the possibility to watch David discipline the employees one by one. Mostly, he didn't even have to talk. He shot them all down with his stare and icy expression of quiet fury none of the staff had ever seen on him. She was impressed. Yes, he was definitely being a boss and not a buddy.

Finally, after the shrill of the telephone and one of the twisted rhymes DiPesto-style, David took the receiver out of a totally clueless Agnes' hand and looked down at her with a stony expression on his face. "Blue Moon Detective Agency, how may I help you?" he said slowly, quietly, in a low voice, "that is how we answer the phone."

The frightened look from her big brown eyes Agnes gave her beloved, idolized Mr. Addison and the almost quivering voice in which she repeated his words to the unknown caller suddenly made Maddie cringe inside, involuntarily and unexpectedly. When David had left Agnes at her desk without another word, his office door fell shut behind him with a final click; all employees' eyes turned to her, and suddenly the triumph tasted bitter.

When Maddie walked into the office the next morning, she was greeted by deadly silence. The moment she entered the main office, everybody seemed to bury their noses in some dubious work on their desks, and nobody, not even Agnes, deigned to look at her, let alone say a word to her. She hurried through the room to her own office, not even taking the time to ask, as usually, if Mr. Addison was already in. She couldn't close her office door fast enough behind her. She threw her briefcase and purse on the mauve couch and slumped onto the chair behind her desk.

For the next ten minutes, she was just sitting there in a bad mood; mad at David for having forced her to raise the devil with him like this; mad at the staff for obviously taking his side and making her the bad guy again; and mad at herself, although she couldn't quite put her finger on the reason for that – after all, she was right, right?

Suddenly, after a brief knock at the door, Agnes came in carrying Maddie's mail in her hands like every day, but she still didn't smile nor speak to her. She just put the mail on her desk and turned around without another word.

"Agnes," Maddie called her.

Agnes slowly turned around. "Yes, Miss Hayes?" she asked, her usually warm brown eyes expressionless.

"I always thought you out of all the others were the voice of reason in this office." Agnes just waited without changing her expression. "Would you please enlighten me and tell me what I have done to deserve this extraordinary display of affection from everybody here, including you?" Maddie asked with forced control in her voice.

Agnes' expression still didn't change. "You are the voice of reason in this office, Miss Hayes," she replied coolly.

"Fine," Maddie pressed through clenched teeth and drew a deep breath. "If this is about Mr. Addison..."

"You de-Daved him," Agnes interrupted, and Maddie could clearly detect a very rare, very un-DiPesto-ish hint of anger in her secretary's voice.

"I what?!"

"You de-Daved him," Agnes repeated firmly and glared at her, again in a very unusual way, when she explained: "There's no Dave left. You took it all away."

Maddie sighed. "Agnes," she tried to soothe, "I don't think you understand how important this is both for this business and for him. It's for his own good! Adulthood is great!"

"But Miss Hayes," Agnes protested, "how can it be for his own good if he's not himself anymore?"

"Oh, Agnes, that's not true!" Maddie said impatiently. "I mean, can you imagine how ridiculous he would look in twenty years, his gut hanging over his belt, going do bears bear? Do bees be? Can you see that?"

Agnes' eyes narrowed, and she raised a defiant chin. "No, I can't," she objected, "and I'm sure Mr. Addison's gut won't be..."

Maddie felt she was starting to lose her nerve. "That is not the point!" she underlined in an almost menacing tone.

Agnes' voice was stubborn. "Then what?"

"This is about maturity!" Maddie's voice had a touch of shrillness in it.

"No, it's not!" Agnes contradicted firmly. "It's about control! You always want to control everything. You want to control him. But you can't control everything, Miss Hayes!"

Maddie was really taken aback now by the vehemence in Agnes' usually gentle voice. "I don't..."

But Agnes was on a roll now. "You think you can control Mr. Addison if you make him stop being and doing everything that he is, but you can't control who somebody is, that's not right!"

Maddie realized that Agnes obviously was really upset and tried to calm her: "Agnes..."

"This is not our Mr. Addison anymore," Agnes went on, "the one who keeps it all together! The one who keeps us wanting to come to work every day, the one who keeps us wanting Blue Moon to be a success!" she shook her head, causing her earrings to fly from side to side. "If he stays like that, Blue Moon won't ever be the same. The employees won't be the same!" She drew a deep breath and shot her final bullet: "Without Mr. Addison, there would be no Blue Moon!"

Now Maddie had had enough. She slowly rose from her chair like a demon from hellfire and put both her fists on her desk, bending forward to shoot a deathly stare in Agnes' direction. She wasn't yelling but she spoke in a dangerously low, rather icy voice. "Now you listen to me, Miss DiPesto. For your information: it's not Mr. Addison who pays the bills every month, it's not Mr. Addison who signs the paychecks every month – including yours – and it's not your precious Mr. Addison who kept this place open. That's me."

Agnes didn't reply, but she didn't seem to be intimidated either which confused Maddie a bit. She hadn't yet experienced an Agnes who was able to put her foot down. Agnes stared at her for a few moments in silence, her brown eyes expressionless again. The lack of warmth made Maddie feel very uncomfortable, almost miserable.

"Is there anything else, Miss Hayes?" Agnes asked calmly.

Maddie straightened her back again and threw her a haughty look. "No," she replied curtly. "You may go and resume your work now."

Agnes just nodded and turned around, walking towards the door and leaving Maddie behind unsatisfied, because she felt she had lost this debate somehow. With a snort, Maddie sat down again and started to furiously rip open the envelopes of her mail. When she had reached the door, though, Agnes stopped and turned around to face her employer again.

"Miss Hayes?"

Maddie rolled her eyes. "What is it now?"

"I think I know what you mean," Agnes said.

Maddie raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You do?"

Agnes nodded slowly. "I do. Mr. Addison talks a lot, right? All the time."

Maddie was taken aback. "Well... yes."

"And not everything he says makes sense," Agnes added.

Maddie hesitated a bit. "True..." What was she aiming at?

"He never minds his own business."

"Indeed," Maddie confirmed.

"Can talk you into things you normally wouldn't do."

And don't I know that! "Definitely."

"And pretty presumptuously too."

Maddie threw her hands in the air in emphasis. "Exactly!"

Agnes nodded thoughtfully again. "Funny, isn't it," she slowly went on after a little pause, "I always thought that was exactly how he convinced you to keep Blue Moon open." Maddie's jaw literally dropped, and she was blankly staring at Agnes with her mouth hanging open.

Before she had a chance to answer, Agnes took a deep breath and opened the door. "Well, I guess I better resume my work now." She left the office, closed the door quietly behind her and left Maddie staring at the closed door.

Why did she feel stupid, and how on earth could it have happened that sweet, sometimes naïve Agnes had outsmarted her like that? Now she was forced to think about her words. Of course, Agnes had been right with what she had said, even if Maddie didn't like to admit that to herself. Had David behaved in the very beginning like she was forcing him to do now, like a mature adult, would she have kept the agency open? Of course, she told herself angrily, that had been a pure business decision!

Out of the blue, David's smirking face appeared before her inner eye, and she heard his mocking, velvety voice: yeah, you keep telling yourself that. Maddie blew her cheeks in frustration. Whom was she kidding? David Addison with his lopsided grin, his sparkling green eyes and his sly ways had cheated, tricked, and conned her into keeping the agency open. And Maddie realized with uncomfortable clarity, had he been the average, dull, white collar model employee, she would never had wasted a second thought on him or on going on with an ailing business she had no experience with. Great. Without him, there would indeed be no Blue Moon.

The ring of the phone woke her from her thoughts. "Yes?" she answered.

"There's Mrs. Greydon here to see you," Agnes announced.

Maddie frowned. Mrs. Greydon? The case was closed, solved, wasn't it? Even if – thanks to David – in a very unorthodox, though successful way.

"Send her in," she said, with a feeling of impending trouble in her guts.

Five minutes later, she knew she had been right.

David was in a good mood again when the elevator brought him up to the 20th floor the next day. The week of the bet would be over in a jiffy, and he would be his normal self again. Well, maybe he would make some modifications here and there... thinking about the haughty Mrs. Greydon who had paid them fifty thousand bucks – he had to admit she definitely wouldn't have hired them if she had walked in fifteen minutes earlier and witnessed him standing on a desk and singing into a toilet paper roll while the employees were limboing under a floor lamp. Deep deep down, he knew that Maddie hadn't been completely wrong there. But what had bothered him was that she had claimed he should completely change his entire personality: his singing, his way of talking, walking, his moving – like he wasn't any good at all, like there was nothing right about him; like so often, she had clearly gone over the line. He hadn't shown it – of course not – but her often pretty uppity attitude towards him was constantly chipping away at his self-esteem, and the thought that Maddie didn't consider him good enough – for whatever – did sort of hurt a little sometimes. But David Addison was of course a master at covering this up.

And he was determined to manage the impossible – prove to Maddie that he could indeed be mature in her way, that he could be anything she wanted him to be and at the same time make her regret that she ever had tried to change him. And he was going to show her that all her upper-class homecoming queen model glamour and attitude would crumble to nothing but little bits as soon as she would be in his arms – dumb little David from Philly would show the ice queen how to melt, and he would enjoy it!

He knew the three-piece suit looked good on him, very distinguished. Maddie would like the sight of him, and she would hate to like the sight of him. That thought made his lips curve into an amused half-smile.

When the elevator stopped at its destination and the doors opened with a little ping! to his surprise, he found himself face to face with Maddie.

Before he could deliver his inflated speech, Maddie had told him a little breathlessly about the newest development in the Greydon case, and that it had to be reopened. Furthermore, they had to deal with real kidnappers now. They went right back down into the parking garage and climbed into the Beemer to head off for the first station of their paper chase.

The car ride was very silent again; David was, of course, going to avoid any banter whatsoever light and hoped the silence would fall heavily on Maddie and annoy her. It seemed to work, because she didn't seem to enjoy herself like the day before so much anymore and instead seemed to be brooding over something. He was steadily looking at the street before them, ignoring her.

Finally, Maddie sighed. "David, I've been thinking," she began and then paused as if she was waiting for something. David let her wait. "Aren't you gonna say anything?" she asked, her voice a little irritated.

"Like what?" he asked neutrally, not taking his eyes off of the street, like a good and practical driver would.

"Like I know that, I could see the smoke rising from your brain," she offered, imitating him. David had to tilt his head a little away from her to hide his pleased smile, and she went on slightly sourly: "No, of course not. That wouldn't be mature." she seemed to spit out the word she had cherished so much only the day before. "That wouldn't be adult."

Her obvious annoyance satisfied him deeply. Indeed, Miss Hayes, it surely wouldn't, he thought, and it wouldn't either sound as if at the end of the fourth grade we've been promoted and not left back.

He waited, patiently, and Maddie started to tell him a weird story about a dog she had had as a child; how the dog always had jumped on her bed and how her father had taken him to obedience training which had led to him always sitting on the porch and finally getting run over by her father's own car. At first, David wasn't to 100% sure what she was aiming at, but it dawned on him when she said: "Sometimes, you have to accept the dog's limitations."

When the penny dropped, he threw her a smirking sideways glance, but she didn't notice it; she was too busy talking, and it almost looked as if she was directing her speech more at herself than at him: "Sometimes, I have to learn to accept. I mean, maybe I have to learn to accept." Her voice sounded almost sad when she added: "Never mind."

So, she had practically told him – in many words and pretty encoded, but still – that she was thinking she maybe should start to accept him the way he was. He savored that triumph a little but soon found that it also touched him; he knew that it must have cost her a few wrecked brain cells to come to that conclusion, and it surely hadn't been so easy for her to admit it. He wasn't sure what that meant, though.

"Here we are." He pulled the car to the right as they had reached their destination, jumped out of the car, and hurried to open the passenger's door for her.

He offered her his hand in a grand gesture. "Miss Hayes."

She threw him an icy stare. "No, thank you." Then she got out of the car all by herself and left it up to him to close the door. She started to walk away with David following a few steps behind, then suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. "I miss the old David," she blurted out, and he thought his ears were ringing.

"Excuse me?" he asked, all prim.

"I miss the old David, all right?" she snapped. "There, I've said it. I miss him." David couldn't believe it, but she added in an almost pleading voice: "I want him back."

He almost chuckled. Oh, so you think it's that easy, Missy, don't you? You think you just have to pout a little and bat your pretty long eyelashes and dumb David from Philly caves in? He smirked. "It's yours for 3,000 dollars and a smooch."

Her eager expression froze, and there was the lethal Hayes stare again. "Fine!" she hissed.

"Fine?" he echoed in disbelief. "You're fine with that?"

She blushed a little, which upset her even more, of course. "No," she objected, "I meant – fine, go on behaving like the protozoan that you are!" She put both hands to her hips in an aggressive pose. It made him want to grab her and kiss the hell out of her right there and then. "You know what?" she snarled. "If you had been that dog, I would have run you over myself!" She wasn't even aware of how much she was giving away with that remark, and he was almost tempted to give in, but in the end, this was too much fun.

"Well, to express it in the words of Sam Cooke," he said with an amused smile, "Don't know much biology – but I have to say, that's not a very mature attitude, Maddie." He smirked again. "Although I do understand that you might be a trifle upset about our bet because it seems the odds are a little against you."

With her fists clenched to tightly that it hurt, she turned around and stomped away.

Only a few hours later, office hours were already over, they were driving back to the office from the police station; slightly disheveled, pretty tired, and still smelling awfully of gasoline. Plus, Maddie was rather shaken because of how the case had turned out. The day had been an emotional rollercoaster: at first, they had thought that they had witnessed the client's stepson blown to bits in an exploding van – which was where the nauseating smell came from – and had to tell this to their client; then, they had discovered that this hadn't been a very likely scenario, and the heavy weight of guilt had been lifted from Maddie's shoulders. When they ran to Mrs. Greydon's for the second time that day, they were confronted with a gun pointed at their faces and the revelation that their client herself had wanted to get rid of her stepson and set this all up. In the following confusion, a shot was fired, and David, grasping his belly, had fallen to the floor, much to Maddie's horror. After a few seconds, of course, it had been clear that he hadn't been shot and that it had only been a trick of his to grab hold of the gun, but the shock was still sitting deep in Maddie's bones. Those few seconds when she had thought, really thought that David had been lethally wounded, had been the worst moments of her life, she realized with disturbing clarity. David, however, seemed to be unaffected of all this and was his usual annoying self – all business-like, though.

"C'mon Maddie," he was saying, "why so glum? Don't tell me you're still having qualms about the fifty Gr... about the fifty thousand dollars, I meant."

She pressed her lips together and said nothing.

"We earned them," he went on. "And it was not the easiest fee we ever made, I might add!"

"I wish we had never heard about that case," Maddie blurted out.

"That, Madame Hayes, is not a very business-like attitude!" he criticized. "It brought us a nice amount of money, helped me discover my mature personality, and let's not forget the things we learned about each other."

She frowned. "Which things?"

He smiled innocently. "About your childhood memories."

"Oh, damn you, Addison!" she exploded. "Can't you ever be serious, I mean – really serious?!" by the last words, the anger in her voice was mixed with a not negligible amount of shakiness.

"Of course, I can, but usually that doesn't end well," he replied smoothly, but then, after giving her a quick sideways glance, he saw that she seemed to be really upset. He changed his tone immediately and inquired in a slightly worried voice: "Okay, what's wrong now? Tell me what's bothering you," he added softly and seriously.

"What is bothering me?" she snapped and just couldn't keep the sarcasm out of her voice. "I don't know, what could possibly be bothering me?" Her voice got louder with each word, and David asked himself what he had done this time to make her mad. "I mean, not even two hours ago I saw you being shot right in front of me, and I..." she paused and swallowed on the lump in her throat. Then she blurted out: "I thought I had lost you! I thought I would never..." she stumbled over her own words and fell silent, not really knowing how to continue, and also a little embarrassed because she felt she had given away a little too much.

David realized what this was all about, and it gave him a warm and fuzzy feeling inside and really touched him – she was all shaken to the core because of him, because she had thought she had lost him, which meant that she really cared about him. He was a little surprised that this affected him so much. "Hey," he soothed, "I'm really sorry, Maddie, but I couldn't warn you before... it was the only way to..."

"I know," she interrupted him, her voice already a little less shaky. "It's okay. I'm just a little... I'm fine, really."

He reached out for her, took her hand, and squeezed it lightly, reassuringly. In his softest voice he purred: "Hey, you didn't think I'd let you off the hook that easily, Blondie? I have a bet to win."

Maddie didn't reply, she just squeezed his fingers back silently, already a little calmer and with a little smile on her lips. "Besides," he went on in a business-like voice again, "I'm planning to be around to drive you crazy for a really looooong time."

He let go of her hand, and she slapped him on the arm, but he could still see her smile from the corners of his eyes. Yes, she seemed to approve of his last remark.

The next days went by in a monotonous, endless-seeming rhythm of boring repeat of the same stuff, over and over again. Each day, when Maddie came into the office, Agnes informed her – casually, but still a bit tight-lipped, that Mr. Addison was already in, and each day, that unnerved Maddie more and more. David was the first to come in and the last to leave, the last to go to lunch and the first to come back to resume work. He wore his three-piece suit every day and hardly ever took off his jacket. His shirt was always flawless white and buttoned up to the last button, his sleeves were never rolled up and his tie was always neatly tied. Somehow, he even managed to keep his hair tidy. He kept carrying a briefcase with him – Maddie had no idea what he kept in it, but anyway, it looked ridiculous on him. He looked like the perfect role model of a businessman, and Maddie hated it.

This was a stranger. This was not the man she knew and... well, had grown fond of. Somehow. Sort of. She missed the old David, she missed him badly.

She missed to see him flopped on his chair, his feet nonchalantly propped up on his desk, his jacket carelessly flung over the back of his seat.

She missed how his sleeves were rolled up a little, because so she could secretly watch his hands and well-toned forearms gesturing vividly when he was talking.

She missed hearing him come in late almost every morning when she was already sitting behind her desk, always a whistle or a soulful Motown tune on his lips, cheerfully and usually loudly greeting his "cats 'n' kittens" in the office, and she missed how that, absurdly enough, made her feel at home.

She missed how he strutted into her office without even bothering to knock or to wait for her "come in", perching himself on the corner of her desk, like he belonged there.

Yes, she even missed his stupid jokes and the wicked glint in the corner of his eyes when he was just about to tease her, the way his eyes crinkled, and his voice dropped a nuance when he called her Blondie and that wonderful carefree laugh that came up from deep within.

When she talked to him these days, it felt like if she was talking to her business accountant – there was no joking, no bantering, no flirting – not the tiniest twinkle in his eyes; she surely couldn't complain about any inappropriate acting or talking from his side. Maddie caught herself a few times watching his mouth in desperation when he talked, trying to will him into licking his lips like he used to do so often, or smile his crooked grin. And his voice wasn't like liquid, sticky honey anymore or irresistible, smooth caramel that caressed the tongue; it was just like good old plain, boring cocoa milk – the kind of tepid, reassuring drink one gulps down to have a good night's sleep.

The usual buzzing in the main office was gone, everybody's head was buried in their paperwork, nobody talked, and nobody laughed – at least not until they left the office. Agnes kept answering the phone in prose, stoically, soberly. Maddie missed the beam on her face. Each day, she felt the desire to kick and scream grow stronger.

She knew she had made a mistake, had gone over the line. The past few days had shown her clearly that this was not what she wanted – not from the employees, and surely not from David. Yes, surely a bit more professionalism and office decorum had been needed, but with the office and staff being as they were now, she felt like buried alive. After all, Blue Moon Investigations was not a lawyers' office, they were a detective agency, run by an ex-model with no experience in detective work at all and a daredevil who didn't mind wearing a dress and a veil to solve a case – they were not an ordinary office after all, and it was okay for things to run a bit differently. And surely, she had no right to try and change a man's personality inside out – of course, he was immature and crazy, lewd, and unnerving, a big kid and apparently a bad boy – but he was also the kind of man who would swallow his pride and humiliate himself in front of his even more unnerving brother to help her through a financial dry spell without even taking the credit for it. She knew that, deep down and beyond all that bigmouthedness, David was alright. Not perfect and sure as hell not flawless, but pretty decent when it came to things that really mattered.

Maddie knew that she didn't want him to change really essentially, and she had even brought herself to tell him so – which hadn't exactly been easy for her. Of course, he had reacted like a jerk – speaking of not being flawless! – and insisted on that stupid bet. Of course, she would never kiss him – not unless she had to.

Each time she thought of the impending end of their bet, though, Maddie felt ambivalent about it – no, more than that, she felt torn. Of course, she would hate to give David the satisfaction of winning the bet. She wanted to win, she wanted to crush him, she wanted him to fail – although it didn't look like he would – but then, that would mean... and each time her thoughts reached that point, she tried to stop herself from thinking and blushed crimson red. If he failed, that would mean she wouldn't have to kiss him; to let him kiss her. That would be a good thing, of course, wouldn't it? Needless to say. But then – where on earth did that nagging disappointment come from? Not disappointment, she kept repeating to herself, pure, human curiosity. Which was stupid and totally misplaced; why would it be of any interest to her how it would be to be kissed by David?

But she could think as hard as she wanted, she never found a plausible answer for that question.

On day 8, Maddie woke up before her alarm clock even rang. The bet is over! was her first thought; just coincidence, she quickly told herself. After a particularly hurried morning routine and a very quick and superficial breakfast, she was in the office half an hour earlier than usual; Agnes had just got in, and David was not yet there. Agnes put up a clueless face when she saw that her employer was obviously in high spirits today, and Maddie sighed a sigh of relief. Chances were that, after all, things would go normal again soon. She went into her office, sat down at her desk, and started to busy herself with some paperwork, but – unusually for her – she hardly even looked at it. Her ears were all pricked up; she was too distracted listening to any sound from the outer office.

At about 10 pm, the rest of the staff was already there, she heard the unmistakable sound of somebody whistling a melody, and before she could even try to figure out which song it was, David's voice blasted through the outer office:

"Weeeee are the champions my frie-hend,

and we'll keep on fighting till the end..."

Maddie put her hand over her mouth and giggled.

Not long after David's arrival, Agnes entered Maddie's office with the mail, like every morning. But this time, it was different from the last few days; Agnes' cheeks were rosy, and her brown eyes were full of sparks. She wasn't showing off her tight-lipped disapproval anymore, but she seemed to be her sweet, bubbly, old self again. When she put the mail on Maddie's desk, she even smiled.

"Agnes," Maddie said quickly, "I just wanted you to know that I've been thinking about what you said the other day... and I think you were right with what you said about Mr. Addison."

Obviously, Agnes was stunned. "I was?"

Maddie nodded. "You were." She raised her hands. "Although I still think I am right too if I demand a little more professionalism in the office from him."

Agnes smiled. "Guess you are, Miss Hayes."

"And I have to admit," Maddie added, "he does indeed hold it all together here – although in a very weird way." she shrugged. "Anyway, I was wrong trying to change him completely." Encouraged by the happy expression on Agnes' face, she tried a conspiratorial smile. "I'm glad things are going back to normal now. And I missed him too."

"Did you tell him that?" Agnes asked shyly.

Maddie shrugged. "I'm sure he knows it already, Agnes... but yes, I told him."

Agnes beamed. "Oh, that's great." Maddie was happy to see the same relief on Agnes' face that she herself felt; surprisingly enough, it had affected her a lot that her secretary had punished her with the withdrawal of her affection. Totally out of the blue, Agnes blurted out: "And I'm sure that the poker tournament will not include any strip poker."

For a moment, Maddie thought she had heard wrong. She frowned. "The poker what?"

Agnes' eyes popped open when she realized what she just had said. "Ah... uhm... did I say poker?" she stuttered and stumbled over her own words. "I meant..." But Agnes had never been good at improvising under pressure. Her shoulders slumped in despair. "It had been set up like two weeks ago," she explained lamely, "did I get him in trouble now, Miss Hayes?"

The worry on her face touched Maddie's heart; she had to admit, David had a really great talent to make people care for him, and she knew that Agnes did not just like him because he was something like Blue Moon's social director. Obviously, Agnes saw there was more about him. Maybe even to her own surprise, Maddie felt her lips curve into an indulgent smile. "No, you didn't get him in trouble, Agnes. It's okay," she soothed and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I tell you what, I never heard anything about a card game whatsoever."

Agnes blinked, an unbelieving expression on her face. "You didn't?"

Maddie shrugged benevolently. "Well, let's pretend I didn't."

Agnes beamed. "Oh... I see. Well, then..." she lowered her voice too and whispered back: "I didn't say anything."

Maddie nodded and motioned to the door. "He's in already?"

"Oh yes, Miss Hayes," Agnes answered eagerly, "he was just coming in in when I came here."

Maddie's smile got a slightly ironic touch. "A true-blue model employee."

When she saw Agnes blink nervously, Maddie soothed: "Don't worry, Agnes, it's okay. Really."

And it was.

Not even an hour later, Maddie was nervously drumming her fingers on the brown envelope that was lying before her on her desk. It contained the 3,000 dollars she had promised David for the outside chance he got lucky and won the bet.

She had contemplated for a moment to jump on the occasion and declare the bet lost for David because of the poker game that was obviously scheduled a few days ahead; but then, Agnes had said it had been set up already two weeks ago which meant it had been set up before their bet. So, it really shouldn't be of any consequence. Maddie had dismissed the thought soon – he had done what she had demanded, and thus he was the winner of the bet, period.

What bothered and made her wonder was that it was almost lunchtime already, and David hadn't shown up yet in her office, he hadn't even so much as popped his head in to say good morning, and for the life of her, Maddie couldn't figure out why. She had expected him, of course, to waltz into her office to show off, deeply satisfied that he had proven her wrong, and, of course, keen as hell on claiming his prize. She blushed a little when she thought back to the day they had set up the bet – how at first, she had thought he was suggesting sex as a stake, and how badly he had teased her about that misunderstanding. I'm not the one fantasizing about sex here. And when he had challenged her to bet about a kiss, he had made it sound like something pretty dirty. Slow. Lingering. Luscious. And wet. The memory alone of how his voice had sounded when he had said that, made her cringe inside – for what reason, however, she could not define, and that made her nervous. Really nervous.

Maddie shook her head to clear it and looked at her watch again. It was noon. Time for lunch anyway; during the last months, they had often gone to lunch together, so it wouldn't look suspicious if she went over to his office. She grabbed the envelope and almost ran to her office door.

When she left her office, the staff were just leaving for their lunch break, and she noticed they were chatting and laughing; the atmosphere seemed to be lighter than during the past week, and when she noticed that she smiled to herself. She headed for David's office, and Agnes, who was just about to leave, called to her back:

"He isn't in, Miss Hayes." when Maddie whirled around to face Agnes, too surprised to speak, she added: "He left for lunch about two minutes ago."

"Uhm... that's okay, Agnes," Maddie quickly said, trying to sound nonchalant, "I was just going to ..." She didn't know how to continue and vaguely waved with the envelope she had been clutching in her hand. "I wasn't going out, anyway," she added hastily, and Agnes just nodded.

Maddie stormed into David's office, careful not to show Agnes how upset she was. She didn't understand anything at all. Instead of coming to her to bug her, David seemed to avoid her completely. What on earth was wrong with him? And how dare he to go out for lunch without even bothering to ask her if she wanted to come, and especially today? And why hadn't he been howling at her door like a hungry wolf for all morning? Instantly, Maddie was fuming. When she had closed the door behind her, she stood in the middle of the room to look around, trying to find an answer for his behavior. Of course, there was none. His office looked like always, but she noticed that the briefcase he had been carrying around with him for the last week was missing.

She went over to his desk and placed the envelope in the middle of it, where he had to notice it immediately as soon as he returned from his lunch break. She hesitated for a moment, then she took a pen and wrote "Your prize" on the envelope, nothing more.

When she left his office, she slammed the door behind her.

When David came back from his lunch break, he was feeling like he had a stone in his stomach although he had hardly touched his sandwich. He just seemed to have lost his appetite, and this irritated him big time.

So, the week was over, the bet with Maddie was over, and he had won. He had achieved everything he had wanted to – he had proven her wrong; hell, double wrong. He had shown her that he was able to behave like what she called a mature adult, that he could be anything she wanted him to – and that, in spite of it all, she wouldn't want him any other way than his usual, wisecracking, irresistible self. He had known it from the beginning, and now she had had to admit it, too – she had admitted to herself, and she had even admitted it to him. So, why wasn't he in the mood for celebrating? Why wasn't he feeling elated, thrilled – delighted?

To be honest, he was all that; but he wasn't feeling as much triumphant as he should... he was feeling nervous, and that he didn't get at all. Why would he be nervous? She was the one who should be nervous! She was the one who would be blown off of her feet, the ice queen who was going to be melted, the control freak whom he was going to make lose control. Then why didn't he feel like he was in control of the situation? Why hadn't he blasted into her office first thing after coming in and confronted her? Why hadn't he insisted on his prize? Enjoyed how she would try to find a way to wriggle out of this because she knew she would be lost as soon as he would have her in his arms?

David ruffled his hair and blew his cheeks in a clueless way. He had no idea why he, David love-'em-and-leave-'em Addison, was so nervous about a simple kiss; too nervous to claim this prize from the bet. Oh, yes, and there was the three grand, too, of course. For some stupid, inexplicable reason he had totally forgotten about that.

David had the impression that not more than maybe half an hour had passed since he had come back from lunch and finally found the brown envelope on his desk, containing the three thousand dollars; Maddie must have snuck into his office during his absence, and the thought made him feel elated but also nervous at the same time. So, she had got in here, and in her elegant, curved handwriting she had only written two words on the envelope: "your prize". It was almost as if she was mocking him: come on, if you want the rest come and get it if you dare...

She was daring him? Wasn't she supposed to be nervous? He knew that he had that effect on women, and as hard as Maddie might always have tried to deny it, and even though she never showed it, he knew that he had that effect on her, too. Or had he been mistaken all the time and her aloofness hadn't been just a mask, but she really was that cool? Had he been the hooked one all the time? Surely not! But why was she challenging him? What could, would actually happen if he went over to her and claimed his prize, the other one. The one that really mattered. Did it really matter? Did it matter to her? Suddenly, David wasn't so sure anymore. He liked to think that he could read Maddie like an open book, and he was pretty sure he could – most of the time. But sometimes, she managed to entirely confuse him. What if he lost control and she remained cool? Could he risk her getting the upper hand? And what the hell are you worrying about, it's not that a kiss would be anything more than fun, would it?

A discreet knock at the door woke him from his thoughts, and Agnes popped her curly head in, obviously dressed to leave. David frowned and threw a glance at his watch. Almost four hours had gone by since he had gotten back from lunch!

"I'm leaving for today, Mr. Addison," Agnes said.

His mind was already sneaking back to Maddie again. He just waved his hand absentmindedly in Agnes' direction. "Yeah... you go and have a nice evening, curlyhead."

"Mr. Addison?"

David slightly shook his head and lifted his gaze to face Agnes again. "Yes?"

She beamed. "I'm glad to have you back," she blurted out in her usual, mostly adorable Agnes-like bluntness. "I mean, it's not that you were gone, but somehow you were... gone."

David gave her a sincere smile that would have made any other woman's knees weak and their stomach flip, but to her it was just a sign of innocent affection of a friend. Unlike the other female employees, Agnes had never fancied David, but only seen him as a friend, maybe like an older brother. Sometimes like a younger one. However, she had always looked beyond his fun-loving, wisecracking facade and known that there was more to him.

"Thanks, Agnes," he said, "You've always been one of my biggest supporters, and I'm afraid I never give you enough credit for that."

She shrugged. "It's okay, Mr. Addison. I'm glad everything is back to normal again. Miss Hayes is, too," she added.

David frowned. "Did she say that?"

Agnes nodded eagerly, her brown curls bouncing. "Oh yes, she did," she assured. "She's so happy, she didn't even get mad because of the poker game."

David's jaw nearly dropped, and he fixed Agnes with an unbelieving stare. Oh, damn it! The poker game! How could I forget about that? I'm screwed! "You told her about the poker game?"

She cringed unhappily. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Addison, I really didn't mean to, I just..."

But he just waved her off. "It's okay." His thoughts were racing. "You said she did not get mad?"

Agnes shook her head. "No, she told me to pretend she never heard about it."

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "She did, huh?"

Agnes nodded exuberantly. "I was surprised about that!"

"And when exactly did that wonder happen?" David inquired.

"It was today in the morning, when I brought her the mail, Mr. Addison." Agnes was relieved David didn't get mad at her – but then, he never got mad at her, at least not for things she did or said.

"In the morning, you say?" he repeated.

"Oh yes, right after she got in."

After a few seconds, his trademark lopsided grin spread on his face and lit it up. "Well, then let's do as Miss Hayes said," he suggested in an almost conspiratorial manner and winked. "Let's forget about it."

Agnes was happy with that. She beamed again and gave a small wave. "Good night, Mr. Addison." And with that, she left.

"See you tomorrow," David murmured, already lost in thoughts again.

He still was trying to piece together what Agnes just had told him, double-checking its meaning. So, obviously, Agnes had let slip in front of Maddie that about two weeks ago he had set up an office poker tournament for the guys for the following week; it was no biggie, but surely Maddie wouldn't have liked him buddying up like that with the employees again. It was the perfect reason for her to declare he lost the bet, the ultimate deal breaker. Instead, she had snuck into his office and placed the money on his desk which declared him the winner – perfectly knowing that she clearly had the upper hand. What did that tell him? He almost jumped out of his seat when it dawned on him. She had lost on purpose! And what did that tell him?

His smile widened. He had always been good at putting two and two together. He didn't know what exactly was going on, but he knew one thing: Maddie was sitting in her office right now, most probably nervous like him, and waiting for him to go over to her; waiting to be kissed. She wasn't planning to make fun of him or pull her ice queen crap – she wanted him to kiss her, and she didn't want him to change. She missed him. Now add another two on top, mastermind!

Now he did jump out of his seat.

Everybody had left the office; Agnes had even come in for a short good night and told her that, as usual, she was the last one of the staff to leave. Maddie hadn't dared to ask if Mr. Addison had already left, but somehow, she had the feeling that he was still in; she didn't know for sure, though. Now she was sitting behind her desk, her fingers restlessly playing with a pen, drumming an irritating rhythm on a notepad, while her nervousness increased with every single minute that passed by.

Maddie was at odds with her decision not to declare the bet lost for David because of the poker game poor innocent Agnes had accidentally revealed. She had battled with herself and come to the conclusion that it wouldn't have been fair to take something into consideration that had been set up already two weeks ago, long before their bet had even started. Looking at it in an unprejudiced way, during the last seven days David had indeed proven that he was able to behave exactly like she had demanded of him – even if that meant that he wasn't anything like his true self anymore. So, technically, it was only fair to declare him the winner of their bet.

And you know perfectly well that this is all a bunch of crap, and you don't give a damn about fair or not fair, whispered an unpleasant little voice in the back of her head. You wanted to lose this bet because you wanted to kiss him. Because you're dying to find out how it feels to be kissed by that infuriating handsome green-eyed devil. Maddie blew her cheeks in a helpless way. That she had admitted the truth to herself so bluntly for the first time, didn't make her feel exactly better; on the contrary, it added even more to the tension she felt, the tension that had been building up constantly during those past days. And she still didn't know what on earth it was that seemed to attract her so much to him. She only knew that it embarrassed her big time, because it was totally inappropriate and because it would lead nowhere but to complications and more embarrassment, she simply knew it. And yet, she couldn't help it, it was stronger than her. And that both scared her and made her mad – mad at herself, because she felt weak and stupid; and, of course, mad at David, because it was all his fault in the first place, because he evoked those weird feelings in her and because only he was able to talk her into something so incredibly stupid like betting about a kiss. And he had made it perfectly clear what his idea of a kiss was.

And the worst thing was – in spite of all of this, she still wanted to find out, and it irritated her big time that he, on the other hand, didn't seem so keen on it at all. So, where on earth was he, and why had he never shown up today? She had expected him to be at her doorstep first thing in the morning to enjoy his triumph and her defeat and claim his prize, and she would have had no other choice than to stick by her word and surrender and let him kiss her. And then he just went underground, as if nothing was at stake here? And even when she had left the envelope with the money like a flashing red neon sign, hell, an invitation to come for the rest, he hadn't taken it as a signal, had chosen to ignore it.

So, bottom line was that she was here, sitting nervously and waiting – stupidly hoping – for him to claim a winning that he should be eager to collect, obsessing over something she should never have taken into consideration. She felt even more stupid – and angrier; and her anger increased with every minute. Should she still wait, or should she gather herself together and leave? And what if she did, and then never found out?

Maybe this had all been a big prank he had been playing on her from the beginning, just to tease her, and he had never intended to kiss her. Maybe he was laughing at her right at that moment, and here she was, still hoping he would come through that door. A hot pang of disappointment, fury and shame at the same time shot through her. Who the hell did he think he was that he could treat her, ignore her like that?

Maddie made a decision. This whole thing had been stupid from the beginning, and whatever it had been that had driven her to accept this bet and more, hoping to lose it, she would get the better of it. She was a woman, and he was a man, they were working together very closely, and probably it was normal to wonder about these things at a certain point, but that didn't mean anything, and it surely didn't mean she had to make a fool of herself. She felt more like her old self again and could even laugh at herself now. How does David Addison kiss? Seriously? Now that's something I really don't need to know.

Suddenly, as soon as she had talked herself into being fine with him obviously ignoring the terms of the bet, she couldn't get ready fast enough to leave the office, to flee. She had just rounded her desk and was rummaging in her purse for the car keys when her office door was opened without being preceded by a knock. Inexplicably, Maddie's heart leapt and sank at the same time when she saw David standing in the doorway, wearing his trademark heart-stopping half-smile. The main office behind him was already dark.

She almost gasped. "David!"

He entered her office, closed the door behind him and produced an ironic little bow. "Maddie."

She braced herself mentally, raised her chin and took her purse and her briefcase firmly in her hands, directing her steps to the door. "Excuse me," she said clearly when she found him standing in her way and quickly walked past him.

When she had almost reached the door, her hand already on the doorknob, he called: "Whoa!"

Maddie stopped dead in her tracks and closed her eyes for a moment. Best play it innocent, she thought and turned around with both eyebrows raised in question, to find that he was standing almost directly before her, only a few feet away. Far too close.

She put up an annoyed face. "What?"

"Where do you think you're going?" he challenged her almost casually, his hands thrusted in his pockets in a provoking posture. She noticed that the overly correct suit outfit was gone; his tie was loosened, and his sleeves were rolled up, drop-dead sexy nonchalance personified. That infuriated her.

"Well, home." she even managed to make her voice sound bored.

He raised an ironic eyebrow. "Home?" he echoed in an amused voice, dripping with honey. How could she ever have been so stupid and miss that voice, when it only threw her off balance?

"Home," she repeated in a defiant tone. "You might have heard of it. Four walls, a bed, a dishwasher..."

"Funny," he replied, and she noticed the dangerous glint in his eyes. "But you ain't going anywhere before you've paid your debts, Miss Hayes."

"Debts?" she echoed. "What are you talking about?"

"You know what I'm talking about. You owe me, Blondie." He strode nearer and was suddenly standing within striking distance. "I'm here to collect on the bet."

She let out a nervous laugh. "Oh, come on, Addison, seriously? That was just a joke..."

"A joke? Oh really?" He put both his hands on the door, one at each side of her shoulders, and leaned forward. She was trapped between his arms and the door and swallowed nervously, suddenly not knowing where to look. She averted her eyes to the side and caught a glimpse of his well-toned forearms that were caging her. She noticed the little hairs on them, and in her head, she heard his voice: That's body hair, baby... I got lots of it, all over! This conjured forbidden pictures in her head that made her feel a hot blush creep over her neck and face. She could smell him, a warm, familiar, intoxicating scent, and along with the other sensations his nearness evoked, it made her dizzy. Her insides were melting as if hot lead was shooting right through them. His face was maybe only two inches away from hers. She desperately wished she could run away.

"Wasn't this whole thing all about me being more serious?" he asked in a low, velvety voice, and she could feel his breath on her face.

Maddie felt the wood of the door pressing into her back and the little hairs on the back of her neck bristled. Hell, the little hairs everywhere on her body bristled. She desperately wanted to reply, to say something, anything to keep the conversation going, but in her head was a big hollow space where usually her wits sat. Her eyes were fixed on his full lips like a rabbit would stare at a snake, ready to strike.

David continued, in a voice so low she could barely hear it: "I don't joke about things that..." he paused and licked his lips, "... that really matter."

It was like he willed her with his voice to look at him, to look into his eyes, and she did. To her surprise, she couldn't detect any teasing or lewdness there. She saw only honest admiration, deep fondness, and longing. And a lot of green. She had the feeling that she had caught a glimpse right into his soul, beyond the wise-cracking exterior, and suddenly she felt a little less embarrassed. In a toneless, breathless voice she managed, without thinking: "And this... does really matter?"

He raised his left hand and ran it through her hair, stopping at the side of her neck. She stopped breathing, and for a moment time stood still. While her pulse ran madly against his warm palm resting at the right side of her throat, his thumb traced her jawline. "Of course, it does," he said in a rough yet tender voice and brought his face closer still, very close to hers, their noses were almost touching. She felt his breath caress her lips.

She dropped her purse and briefcase to the floor and made a helpless, involuntary noise in her throat and almost automatically, her lips slightly parted. Every fiber in her body was rigid with tension, and he could feel it.

"Relax, babe," he purred, "I'm not gonna bite."

Then he inclined his head, and Maddie closed her eyes. She braced herself, but for what, she didn't know. She had half expected some kind of rough assault and wasn't sure if she would find that more exciting or more frightening, or both. But David's approach wasn't rough at all.

She felt his lips very softly and barely perceptible on the right corner of her mouth, and he nibbled and caressed his way along her lips, teasing and tempting and smooth, not leaving one single spot untouched. Although Maddie didn't even know what exactly she had expected, this was nothing like it; one moment she could feel the touch, the next moment she couldn't, and the next moment she could feel the tip of his tongue brushing over her lower lip, making every single nerve ending of her body tingle in a very pleasurable yet deliciously painful way. That confused her deeply because even if he wasn't really kissing her, yet it felt like he was making love to her mouth. What is happening here? From the confusion all blood seemed to have been sucked out of her brain, and she was unable to form any clear thought. She was feeling a dizziness that made her grab his shoulders and hold onto him to steady herself, not trusting her knees any longer. She wished he would hold her closer somehow and was shocked about that wish at the same time.

David wasn't sure to 100% what her move meant, but he was thrilled that she was grasping his shoulders, that she didn't just stand there and let it happen. Her perfect mouth felt unspeakably soft and sweet under his touch, and he thoroughly enjoyed the path his lips were trailing almost lazily along hers. He noticed that her breathing grew a little faster, and she let out a little, barely audible sigh that electrified his whole body until he almost couldn't stand the tension any longer and had to capture her completely.

His right arm that had been steadying him against the door snuck around her waist, and with a little thrust of his hips he pulled her in really close. He saw her eyes widen for a split second before he finally lowered his mouth fully onto hers. Maddie held back only for a moment, and then, without further hesitation, she went with the flow and opened up for him completely, welcoming his possessive lips and embracing his searching tongue with hers. Never for one moment did she ask herself what she was doing here – she just felt the urging need not only to surrender but to respond to this absolutely sensual and overwhelming assault, and so she did. David couldn't believe that she was actually kissing him back, and more – her arms slid around his neck and pulled him closer still, clinging to him, hanging on his lips as if she was holding on to dear life.

And then something happened that he had never thought possible. David had never cared so much about extending kissing for its own sake; to him, kisses had always been a part of the foreplay at a very early stage, leading to the really good stuff – of course, this had never prevented him from being a master at the art of kissing. But this time, with this woman, it was different. Kissing her was an utterly sensual experience, and even though it evoked a strong physical desire for more in him, he would have been perfectly happy to just stand here and continue this for hours, even if it didn't lead any further, and that was something he never had felt. Since the day that he had been old enough to practice, David Addison had seen many women get lost in his kisses, but hardly had he himself ever get lost in theirs, and surely not like this. He felt like his feet were losing touch with the ground; damn, he even felt a certain, delicious weakness in his knees, and his knees were never weak. Which cookie is crumbling now?

Maddie had felt like lightning had struck her the moment David had pulled her body close into his with that little bump, and she felt a wave of heat spread from her stomach all over her entire body making her every nerve end tingle. Heat that came from a mixture of fear, embarrassment – and something else. Was that... eager anticipation? Excitement? Was she really enjoying this? When that realization hit her, her eyes widened in shock, and she fixed them on David's. The moment she did that though, she was lost for good. The intense look from his intoxicating green eyes seemed to shoot directly into the center of her being, and when he inclined his head again and lowered his mouth onto hers, really possessively now, she froze for a split second, and then her last qualms flew out of the window, along with the last remnants of her self-control.

David's kiss was demanding now, and she had no choice but to respond, and she responded unconditionally, without hesitation, with all her barriers down. She didn't understand herself, but then this was not the moment for understanding anyway – that could be analyzed later. This was the moment to go with the flow; be it in her character or not, she just couldn't help it, and she didn't want to. Without thinking, she slid her arms around his neck and pressed herself even closer into him, as if she never wanted to let him go. His lips and tongue invaded hers, and she let him in more than eagerly; in fact, she didn't just let him in, let him do it to her – she kissed him back like she was drowning and starving at the same time, and he was all the shelter and food she would ever need.

Of course, Maddie had kissed and had been kissed before, even if she wasn't a very experienced woman; but even if those kisses hadn't been exactly chaste, they had been somehow more... calm, more civilized, more controlled, and she had liked it like that. That had been, of course, because she had never felt anything like this; a foreplay to a kiss that almost felt like the act of making love itself; the impression of totally melding with the other person; the inferno of fire raging through her body and burning it up, making it ache in places it shouldn't ache; and finally, completely losing control over herself – and loving every minute of it, and to hell with the consequences. Those feelings were new and overwhelming, frightening, and wonderful.

They swayed for a moment, and Maddie found herself tightly and securely wrapped in David's arms, his left hand still in her hair at the back of her head and pressed between the wood of the door and his body. This added to her feeling that she was running out of air, but she wasn't ready to let go yet; too amazing were the sensations she was just experiencing. It felt sweet and hot and deliciously dangerous at the same time, irresistible and magical. Just another moment, she thought when she felt that he was loosening his grip a little bit, ready to release her mouth, and held on for a second longer. She pushed herself away from the door and into him in one last effort, her body searching his, and although she was pretty sure that the rigid thing she felt pressing against her stomach was only his belt buckle, already the sheer possibility that it could easily have been something else, made her nearly faint.

And then, from one moment to the other, it was over. Their lips parted, although Maddie had the impression that he released her mouth very reluctantly. Before he pulled away completely, David brushed one last, very soft kiss on her lips, a very intimate gesture, and absurdly enough, she felt a big hole in her stomach, like she was experiencing a painful loss.

Their embrace was loosened, but she was still in his arms, her hands resting on his chest now, and he didn't seem to be in a hurry to let go of her. Her breathing was deep and heavy, and suddenly, she felt very self-conscious. Oh God, what did just happen? You have made a complete fool of yourself, that happened! She didn't dare to look at him, bleakly expecting the lewd joke he surely was about to make, smugly teasing and embarrassing her, because, of course, he knew the effect this had had on her.

Instead, David's voice sounded surprisingly soft and slightly hoarse when he spoke. "There..." he murmured and in a tender gesture smoothed out her hair, "did that hurt?"

Finally, Maddie looked at him – and she still saw deep admiration, fondness, and longing in his adorable eyes. Far more than she had expected, hoped for. It was good he was still holding her, because she knew she would have stumbled otherwise, blankly betraying herself. As an answer to his question, she could only shake her head in a robot-like move, unable to form any clear thought, let alone speak.

He smiled and finally released her slowly, carefully from his embrace, taking a step back. "Well..."

She blushed slightly but didn't care. Very slowly, she started to get back to reality. "Well..." she echoed feebly.

David cleared his throat as if he was also trying to pull himself together and smiled his half-smile, but there was no unpleasant smugness in it. "I guess you've paid your debt..."

Absurdly, she was so disappointed that it almost hurt, which was of course completely ridiculous. But Maddie knew that a part of her had secretly been hoping he would continue to kiss her; for what it was worth, she could have stood like that and kiss him forever – she had lost track of time anyway. In reality, hardly five minutes had gone by since David had entered her office.

"Guess I have..." she murmured tonelessly and tried to keep the sadness out of her voice. This would take a lot of thinking and analyzing – later, when she was be home alone.

David was still trying to figure out what had just happened. Surprises over surprises – first, Maddie holding on to his shoulders, then her perfect reaction to his kiss, her hugging him even closer, the effect their kiss had had on himself, the weakness of his own knees, and then, when they both were running out of air and he prepared himself to let go of her... he could have sworn that she was clinging to him as if she was refusing to let him go, as if she was wishing this kiss to continue. Maddie Hayes, queen of all ice queens, getting lost in a kiss so badly that she refused to let it end? This had to mean something. He knew that something had irrevocably changed between them. Something that really mattered. He wasn't quite sure what exactly it was, or if he really was ready for it, but he knew one thing: he was determined to find out both. And he really hoped it would lead him to feel her in his arms again, mouth to mouth, body to body.

When they had left Maddie's office and were walking side by side towards the main office door in silence, a quick sideways glance at Maddie told him that she was either lost in thoughts or lost in some parallel universe light years away. Maybe replaying the kiss in her thoughts? Trying to recall the taste of his mouth on hers?

Without noticing, David licked his lips and cleared his throat. "Oh, one more thing..."

Maddie stopped her somehow robot-like walk and slowly turned around to look at him, standing in the doorway of the glass entrance door she had just opened.

"How did you find out?" he asked out of the blue.

She frowned, all clueless and confused, her head still dizzy. "Find out what?"

David pursed his lips into his half-smile. "About the poker game."

"Oh, that." She shrugged. "Agnes let it slip..." her voice trailed off, and David couldn't believe his ears.

It took her a few seconds before she realized what she had just said – that she had admitted having lost the bet deliberately. And there was only one possible reason for this, and David knew it now, she had given it away too easily. She had badly wanted to experience the kiss. "Ah... I mean... I..." she started to stutter and desperately tried to find the right words, to find any words. "Well, ah... technically it had been set up before our bet, so..."

Damn, there were no words for those unspeakable things. Maddie fell completely silent, mortified, and ashamed, blushing crimson red, and this time she did care. She closed her eyes and wished she was in another universe. She wished she could turn back time and make the last week unhappen. She wished David would just laugh, pull her in his arms and kiss her again until she would forget all about the bet. What's wrong with me?

"You are very generous," David interrupted her brain's frantic rollercoaster ride, and then he did something totally unexpected and pulled the envelope with the money she had left on his desk during his lunch break out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Take the money back, please," he said. "It wouldn't be fair to keep it."

Maddie had expected him to delight in her embarrassment, to savor it – after the annoying way he had emphasized how much she would enjoy losing the bet. And now she had not only lost the bet and enjoyed it but practically cheated to lose. Why wasn't he being smug? It couldn't be possible he'd let a chance like that go by; it made her almost nervous. She waved him off.

"No, it's... well..." She fell silent again, still not knowing what to say, still not being able to look him in the eyes, afraid of what she might see there, afraid of what she might not see there. She couldn't bear his lewd teasing, not now.

"Please," he repeated and pushed the envelope into her hand, then he added softly: "I guess we're even."

Okay, so he was not going to tease her, although she had no clue why. But now she hadn't the energy to analyze it. The leaden disappointment from earlier overtook her again, and she looked down at the envelope in her hand. "Guess we are..."

David cleared his throat again. "About the kiss..." She cringed, and he went on: "I feel really bad."

Maddie's eyes popped open, in shock. "Bad?" she echoed in a feeble voice and went on before she could stop herself: "You think it was bad?"

David couldn't help but smile at her reaction; she was so disappointed thinking that he was considering their kiss anything else than the thrilling, promising event it had been, that his heart leapt with joy. "Oh no," he objected in an amused voice, "I don't think it was bad at all. In fact, I think it was pretty awesome."

Her expression softened, relaxed at those words, and he was tempted to pull her right into his arms again and kiss her senseless against that door frame. But probably it wasn't a good idea to push his luck that far. "What I meant was – I feel guilty about it. Like I tricked you into something."

"Oh." She was still avoiding his gaze, still disappointed; even if he had called their kiss pretty awesome – which, in fact, it had been – the bottom line was: he felt bad about it. "No, no, it's okay, really..."

"No, I feel like..." he paused and then unexpectedly lowered his voice to a sultry purr, "...like now I owe you." Maddie looked up in surprise when she heard those words, spoken in that voice; what was he up to now? Unasked, her stomach started to flutter once more as she realized that he was standing very closely to her again. David went on: "Maybe you want me to..." he paused and pursed his lips into his half-smile, "...give it back?"

She couldn't believe her ears and frowned. What was he talking about? How could he possibly... then she got it, and her face lit up in an adorable way when she understood what he was insinuating. Her heart started to limbo, and the butterflies in her stomach multiplied. He wanted to kiss her again. Maddie wasn't sure what that meant – but it surely thrilled and elated her. And she had a feeling that he wasn't talking only about one more kiss. There was much, so much more behind his words, things she didn't even dare to think, but oh so thrilling and tempting. She tried to imagine the feelings she had experienced earlier, during their kiss, the passion and the heat that had been ravaging her body when she had been pinned between David's body and the door of her office, only tenfold, a hundredfold. She felt a little embarrassed, but she knew she wanted to find out for real how it would feel.

"Yeah, maybe..." she murmured and smiled a secret, thoughtful smile that David was happy to see. When she slowly turned around to exit, he put his hand on her arm, holding her back. She rooted to the spot immediately and looked at him again with a question in her eyes.

"Maybe we could talk about it, let's say... over dinner?" he suggested, and his eyes twinkled in response.

"Dinner?" she echoed in surprise.

"Dinner," he confirmed and pursed his lips into his half-smile, raising a mocking eyebrow. "You might have heard of it – nice restaurant, nice food, nice wine..." He paused shortly and winked, lowering his voice to a soft purr, before he finished: "...candles."

Maddie smiled shyly. "Nice company?"

He was thrilled she was jumping on this wagon. He nodded, beaming. "Yeah..."

Her smile turned from shy to happy. "That sounds very... nice."

"Then what are we waiting for?" unceremoniously, he took her hand in his and closed the door behind them, locking it.

They started to walk down the corridor towards the elevator, both wearing a not-so-secret smile, both secretly feeling hot knots tie in their stomachs. When they were standing in front of the elevator, they were still holding hands. After a while of considerate silence, he said: "Maddie..."

She turned to him. "David?"

He looked at her seriously, but she noticed that gleam in his eyes. "You know," he finally said, "you really didn't have to cheat." Her jaw nearly dropped, and he shrugged before adding generously: "You just could have asked for a kiss."

Her eyes were firing deathly arrows at him, but he disarmed her by bringing her hand to his lips and kissing the inside of her wrist which made her insides tingle. He smirked in an almost apologizing way. "C'mon, you didn't think I'd let you get away that easily?"

She didn't answer and tried really hard to look furious at him, but the sparkle in her amazing blue eyes betrayed her. "How could I ever?" she growled, and he laughed.

With a ping! the elevator doors opened. "C'mon, let's negotiate the terms of the payback." He winked at her, and her knees almost buckled. "I have a feeling you're gonna make it really expensive." David pulled her with him, and without further ado, she followed. To be exact, she wasn't even sure where she was following him to or if she was really ready for it. But Maddie knew one thing: she was determined to find out.


THE END


"What a Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke

"We Are the Champions" by Queen




 

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