2 - Ryder Jackson
Loud chirping of birds and sounds of animals in the distance wake me up from my slumber. I yawn before sitting up in the comfy, large bed laden with soft white sheets and pillows. Sighing happily at the fact that I’ve escaped my nightmarish past, I stare at my surroundings with joy. I’m finally starting over after years of praying of an opportunity to do this.
My warm feet touch the cold hardwood floor which makes me shiver slightly before I adjust to the chilly temperature. Although it’s late Winter, the weather isn’t too keen on warming up at all to welcome Spring with open arms. Opening the curtains, I let the sun’s rays kiss my skin as I bask in the feel of warmth on my body.
Padding my way into the bathroom I freshen up and brush my teeth before stepping into the large shower after grabbing a set of clothes. I find toiletries to pamper my hair and body with while I’m under the comforting spray of water. After staying in there for longer than necessary, I finally step out and wrap my body and hair in a baby blue towel.
Changing into my clothes, I find a hair dryer and quickly blow dry my wet strands before pulling it up into a ponytail. I step back into the room again to grab my phone and slide it into my back pocket. Nodding at my outfit in the tall mirror leaning against the wall, I make my way downstairs to have breakfast.
Noah is the first person I see. He’s sitting on a stool by the kitchen island and is dressed for the day in dark jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt. When he hears my footsteps his head snaps up, light green eyes focusing on mine before he grins widely.
“Hi, Ella. Say, do you know how to make pancakes?” He asks with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
I nod with a smile and laugh softly at his excited behavior when he hops off the stool and comes to stand beside me. I accept his offer to help only because I really don’t know where the ingredients or cutlery are kept.
One by one, I list off what I need to Noah which he finds quickly. Eventually, I have everything I need to make breakfast. Besides the chocolate chip pancakes I also make a few blueberry ones just in case. As I cook, Noah chatters away and doesn’t ask me about myself which I appreciate. I can tell that he’s curious but also respecting my space and privacy.
One after the other, the rest of the family start piling into the dining room that is connected to the kitchen. Evan’s eyes light up when he sees the pancakes whereas Michelle groans about how Noah had them yesterday. I narrow my eyes in mock anger at the smirking boy but nothing can stop the smile from spreading on my lips when he whispers out an apology before stealing four for himself.
Roman and Theo greet me as they all take a seat at the dining table. I serve a stack of both blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes with syrup and fruits. Placing a mug of orange juice on the table, I smile widely when everyone’s plates are filled with food. As I grab pancakes for myself, the family praises me on how delicious the breakfast is which makes me blush. Pride rises within me and it’s a feeling I had long forgotten.
We talk while eating about what needs to be done around the house and the ranch. Theo brings up some issues that Noah said he’ll help him with while Michelle mutters about the gardens needing to be watered. Roman adds that he may be going back to Houston in a few days. While he’s talking I find out that he works as an agent in the FBI Crime Associated Agents operation in Houston. Apparently they do most of the undercover and dirty work that isn’t public knowledge.
After everyone has eaten I clear the used plates and cutlery from the table before starting on washing those with the help of Theo while the others chatter away in the background. However, there is one name that stands out and captures my interest immediately.
“What time will he be back?” Evan asks as he grabs some files from a nearby shelf.
“By evening he said.” Roman answers before sipping on his coffee that I prepared for him just minutes ago.
Before anyone can say much more Evan requests some help with the accounts. I follow him into his office but tense quickly when I hear the door shut behind me. Forcing myself to relax I focus on my breathing as I sit in the brown leather chair. Evan brings some files over before turning on his laptop and we get straight to work.
Later in the evening I work on watering Michelle’s flower and vegetable garden like she had instructed me to. It’s currently six o’clock and she had wanted to get a start on dinner. Michelle told me they plant all year round so we had just finished planting flowers and vegetables for the Summer. But I become too fixated on the task at hand to be in tune with my surroundings, so much so that I don’t hear someone walk up behind me.
“Who are you?” I hear a rough voice and the suddenness makes me drop the hose.
Turning, my gaze lands on a tall man who stands only a few steps away. He has dark brown hair and clear blue eyes with golden tan skin. His features are sharp and angular, there is nothing that’s soft and subtle about him. I can see his well-defined muscles straining against his plain shirt, begging to be let free from the constricting fabric.
I look back up to his eyes only to find them roaming over my figure before a fire blazes in them when he stares a little too long at my face and arms. My cheeks color and I find myself wishing that the ground would swallow me up. Hastily, I yank the sleeves of my shirt down to cover the angry, purplish-blue bruises he has already seen.
“I asked you a question.” He barks angrily while advancing towards me.
I flinch back into the tree and automatically clench my eyes shut as I wait for the hit. My entire body is trembling in fear and tears well up in my eyes as flashbacks from the past start playing in my mind. But when I don’t feel or hear anything I open my eyes to see him just standing there staring at me in both confusion and slight shock.
“Why did you just do that?” The man utters in a dangerously low voice.
I fumble to explain myself. Thankfully, he’s cut off by Roman yelling my name as he walks towards us. I sigh in relief before tensing when I see that the stranger noticed the action and is now staring at me with a scrutinizing gaze.
Roman’s eyes narrow in on the stranger when he takes in my scared form. Pushing the man away he holds out his hand and waits for me to take it. I smile shakily, trusting him to not harm me. His kind eyes and softened features comfort me and I find myself slowly slipping my hand in his.
“Dad’s office. Now.” Roman mutters lowly at the man who is still staring at me with caution. And with that, he starts guiding me back to the house. “I’m so sorry about my brother’s rude behavior.”
“B-Brother?” I choke out before suddenly realizing why his features seem so familiar.
“That’s Ryder, the second oldest after me.” He explains before turning slightly to glance back at his brother.
“Oh, I wasn’t aware you had more siblings.”
“There’s six of us. I’m the eldest, then Ryder, Theo, Hunter, Judah and lastly, Noah.” He smiles down at me. “We were all born a year apart except for Noah.”
“Wow.” I mutter, feeling my head spin with how many names he listed off.
“What did he say to you to make you so scared of him?” He asks and it makes me flush in embarrassment.
I don’t want to tell anyone about my past but I also can’t help my reactions. I’m constantly on edge. Although I’m far away from him now I can’t help but still feel paranoid. It’s certainly going to take me some time to ease up.
“N-Nothing, he just surprised me that’s all.” I shrug as I look down at my feet.
I can feel Roman’s eyes boring holes into my head but thankfully he lets it go. We reach the house and he ushers me inside, telling me to see where his mother is before he disappears into his father’s office. I take two steps in the direction of the kitchen when the front door opens and slams shut. Ryder walks past me with dark and stormy eyes as they narrow on me briefly.
I let out a breath of air I didn’t know I had been holding when the office door shuts behind him. Making my way into the kitchen I’m greeted by Michelle’s warm smile as she asks me to help her. After some struggle we finally take down the plates and dishes from the top cabinets before she turns to me.
“Are you alright, Ella? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” She frowns and I smile weakly in response.
She stares at me for a moment as if she doesn’t believe me but thankfully she chooses to drop it. I work on getting the table set up before bringing the dishes and drinks over. She then tells me to call Noah and Theo so I head upstairs to get Noah first. I open the door just in time to see him close his textbook with a relieved sigh. He grins cheekily when I laugh before I tell him that dinner’s ready.
“I’ll be down in a few minutes.” He says and I nod before leaving to go find Theo.
I know he’s been working with the animals today so I don’t have to venture far before I spot him. He waves as he closes the door of the barn and I chuckle at the fact that his clothes and any exposed skin is covered is dirt and mud. He looks down at himself and smiles sheepishly in response.
“I think you should hurry and clean yourself up before dinner.”
“Dammit! I didn’t even realize!” He rolls his eyes playfully before glancing towards the stables with a frown. “I need to feed the horses though...”
“I can do it.” I offer which causes him to smile brightly.
“Really? Thanks, Ella! Make sure they have enough hay and give them some oats, okay? You’ll find everything inside.” He instructs and I nod in response before he leaves for the house.
I make my way to the stables and smile when the horses neigh cheerily as I walk in. Well, at least animals know how to greet someone nicely compared to Ryder Jackson.