RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 13


Ryder was at Andrew’s home later that night, lying on the guest bed and staring at the popcorn ceiling. Most people hated popcorn ceilings, but he liked them. They reminded him of the only place he liked when he was a kid, which was a foster family who actually treated him and Sarah well. The only real memory of a ‘home’ he ever had.

The rest of the foster families were a fucking shit show.

He sat up to grab the glass of water on his nightstand, the sunset dropping over the boring suburbia. Every muscle in his body ached and he groaned all the way to a seating position. His abs hurt the most.

Andrew said that Ryder could have a few days off this weekend to go see his family, let his muscles heal, all of that. Which meant that Ryder needed to make sure Julie dug deep into his muscles before then, especially in his glutes, which didn’t ache yet but he knew would tomorrow.

He thought back to seeing her today, some of her mascara running down her cheeks. For a moment he dreaded what he had walked into, but her big, hazel eyes were the opposite of drama and if anything, they were just tired.

He knew that look well.

He chewed on his lip, looking out at the subdivision as he found his mind wandering with thoughts of her. She wasn’t half bad, to be honest. Stubborn, like him, but also snarky. He liked her spirit in other regards, especially with how much she wanted to do right by her brother.

That part touched him the most, he had to admit. He had a thing for sibling loyalty, seeing as how Sarah was what got Ryder through their childhood. Mollie’s got her blonde curls. I wonder if they’ll get darker too. God I don’t want that little munchkin to grow up. Can’t believe she’s six.

Ryder ran his hand through his still-damp hair from a shower. Somewhere in his mind he heard his sister’s voice echo, telling him to do something nice for Julie. Show her he was willing to start on a new page, especially since she was on his team and Andrew was, undeniably, an ass.

Ryder looked at his phone to see the time, noting twenty notifications on Tinder. He was really looking to let off some of that steam, but when it came time to it, he just didn’t feel like fucking about with trying to meet up with a stranger.

Although, some of those girls on Tinder were as thirsty as a camel in the desert. More power to them, he always thought. Couldn’t imagine being a woman in the nineteen-fifties or earlier and being as horny as a rabbit, having to pretend like she was an innocent fucking angel.

Ryder would probably implode if he had to pretend like he didn’t have a sex drive.

“Fucking hell, man,” he said to himself, pulling on his face, the sound of stubble grating on his hands reminding him he needed to shave.

What was he doing, sitting there thinking about dating? It wasn’t really dating though, but he felt himself getting older. He wanted something a little meaningful, having blindly fucked his way through his twenties. Which made Tinder more unappealing than he expected.

Maybe it was because he had a fucking championship to win, rather than play contestant on the Bachelorette. That thought made him not reach for opening up the app.

Warlord. The competition. The money.

Maybe it would feel better to be nice to Julie. Maybe that’s what he needed to focus on now -- simple relationships at the gym. He hated doing that shit in his earlier years. It’s not that he necessarily hated being a good guy, it’s just that he was much better at judging people’s footwork rather than the small social cues that varied with person to person. That was just work to him.

He stood up, groaning from his muscles. He needed hot water on them, but hated taking baths. He yelled down the stairs, hearing Andrew listening to the TV. “Your hottub fixed?”

“Yeah, use it if you need.”

He went back to his room and stripped, putting on swim trunks and walking down the stairs. Andrew was watching ESPN.

The TV said,“...and then there’s Warlord. So many contenders this year.”

“Yeah Allen, we got a lot of retirees coming out of the woodworks. They increased the reward, which is good for us fans. It’s gonna be one hell of a show down.”

“I heard Joey Ryder might be making a comeback.”

“Man, Chris, I tell you if that’s true, we’re going to have one hell of a Warlord. With Jimmy Rocks, Ed James, Zack Mollesie, Raydog...I don’t even know how to make predictions here.”

Andrew spoke back at the TV as Ryder gripped the backdoor. “No predictions, brothers, just put your money on Ryder.”

Ryder opened the door with an upward crook of his lips and breathed in the late summer air, yawning as his eyes watered. God he was not looking forward to the press and shit.

Getting into the hottub, Ryder nearly moaned as his muscles melted into the heat. He thought to Julie, who always reminded him to grab twenty in the sauna.

This was almost perfect, if Andrew and Julie didn’t have a feud going on between them. And it’s not like it was easy for Ryder to pick a side, although he naturally gravitated towards Julie’s argument due him having a weak spot for sibling loyalty, but damn...Andrew did put his entire life into that gym and the men there.

Ryder tried to put himself in Julie’s shoes, imagining his own sister dying after they had both gone in on one of their dreams. He clenched his jaw and glowered.

Even if Andrew had some valid arguments, he was being an insensitive ass about it. And Andrew told Ryder that Julie didn’t have any family out here, which meant she was pretty fucking alone.

His sister’s voice echoed somewhere in his mind once again, always reminding him to be a good man. She was the only person that could do that. Make an effort, Joey.

He thought about maybe bringing Julie something in the morning, like a coffee. Letting her know he would be willing to start on a new foot.

Did women like coffees as gifts nowadays? Man you’re not hitting on her, you’re just showing her you’re not a douche.

He felt he had to do something after seeing her crying like that. He knew what lonely looked like, and those eyes of hers actually tugged at his heart a bit. Plus, she earned it for proving him jaded in that she was smart and damn good at her job. She liked MMA, and was loyal to her family, even if they weren’t here anymore.

If anything, her care for her brother, his name, and his wishes got to Ryder the most.

He understood that.

The next morning, Ryder had off for morning cardio, focusing mostly on stretching and lifting. So he walked to the gym, which was only thirty minutes away by foot. Hood up with his thick zip up hoodie and hands in his pockets, he enjoyed the leisurely stroll through the chilly morning. There was a coffee shop two blocks over, so he stopped by.

He lowered his hood when he entered, raising a brow as this one was really into their aesthetics with worn wood, plants and signs with dorky sayings painted on them.

The place smelled of fine coffee and that he enjoyed. It was eight in the morning but people were already sitting in there with laptops. Quite a few people, especially the ladies, lingered their eyes on him. He wasn’t bothered by it. Every fighter got some kind of look when in the middle of training, especially when they were in their sweats. It seemed to hide their figure and also show it off at the same time, or made them look like they were getting ready for a hard day of physical training. He’d stare too and admire well built people, male or female.

Although plenty looked at him for more than admiration. He was used to that too, though.

He looked up at the black board with white, hand written words and his eyes slightly widened when he saw all the freaking options.

What should he get her? A latte? That seemed popular, and he at least knew what that was. The rest was just Italian gibberish to him.

He walked up to the counter, the barista’s gaze frequently looking down to his chest, his visible wifebeater showing a bit of contour with how it clung to him. Women always seemed to lose their shit when he wore a wifebeater. He just liked them ’cause they were cheap, and anything he worked out in would be ruined with sweat. He didn’t need the fancy shit to train in.

He stared at the board, swiping at his nose as he said, “Alright, so I’m gonna be completely honest, I don’t come to these places often. I’m buying a coffee for someone who likes it though, and she mentioned a latte once. What do you recommend?”

The barista was nervous, fidgeting her hands and tucking her warm blonde hair behind her ear and said, “Oh yeah, no problem. Uh, what kind of latte?”

He furrowed his brows and glared at her, although wasn’t glaring at her. “There’s options?”

He softened his gaze when he realized he nearly frightened the poor woman, whose brown eyes widened as if she she might cry, nervously pushing up her circular glasses. Come on, lady, I can only deal with one crying woman in my life at a time.

“Yeah, uh, yes. Cold or hot for starters, then you can add flavors like caramel, or chocolate. Or different kinds of milk, like almond or oat.”

Julie probably wouldn’t want whole milk. That shit went straight to anyone’s thighs, or at least he didn’t want to buy her something loaded with calories when she seemed to closely watch that.

Except Fridays. He noticed she ate like a teenager on Fridays.

He pulled out his wallet, and shook his head. “Two percent, I guess. No extra flavor. Don’t know what the hell she likes.”

He hoped this would work.

In his younger days, he might have worried about what she’d think. Stew on if he got it wrong, or if she hated lattes, despite mentioning wanting a latte maker. It’s why he hated dating. You’re not fucking dating her. You’re just being nice. Right, so either she’d take it and be thankful, or make a comment about how he got it wrong.

Either way, he did his part and showed he can play nice.

There was a part of him that hoped she’d liked it. And more than just to make the hot sports therapist smile at him.

He hoped it let her know she wasn’t completely alone here.

God knows he hated that feeling.

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