RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 20

R Y D E R--- &--- J U L I E
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Punching the hands of Andrew, Ryder’s energy carried harder through his momentum. Next week they were flying out to New York for preliminaries, weigh-ins, and Ryder would make his debut.

He punched harder and Andrew shook his hand as Ryder paced, breathing heavily with a scowl lining his face. He wanted someone to fight. He wanted a real opponent, not just the gym. He wanted to go after an opponent with everything he had and beat the shit out of them until he won. He craved it.

Andrew said, “Damn, dude, that look you got is terrifying.”

Ryder grunted and wiped his forehead with his forearm.

“Go get some water, and run a cooldown mile.”

He nodded and took off the gloves, running his mouth guard under the fountain. He liked to wear it while training, as otherwise he clenched his teeth too tight. For him, fighting with it helped him get into the mindset. It meant whenever he put them in, he’d let his more violent persona take over.

His eyes trailed around the gym for Julie. She had moved in three days ago in Andrew’s spare room, who was actually rather accommodating. Apparently his home burnt down when he was a kid and he had a soft spot for that kind of shit. But of course, he had his own slew of jokes about her using the kitchen as payment.

Ryder hardly got to see her, as Andrew put Ryder on a tight schedule and she spent most of her time hanging out with a woman in her sixties. He was disappointed, in a way, as he had been looking forward to seeing her more.

When he hugged her at her apartment, with the way she leaned into him like he made it all better, something sparked in his chest. She had been so sad and damn it broke his heart to see someone nearly lose everything. And even after that, she had been concerned about what would have happened he had been there during the fire.

He didn’t know quite what was going on, but he was really enjoying every interaction they had. She felt real, where for a long time in his life, most of the women wanted to experience the high of his matches. To post pictures of the two of them all over the fucking internet, or get fucked right after a fight.

Then again, he didn’t blame them about the fucking, especially if he won the fight. There was nothing like holding a woman’s hips while he went deep, his body filled with victory.

Either way, when he looked at Julie, he felt more than that superficial shit. Damn, maybe I am getting old. There was a new, more alluring excitement to someone like Julie. It was deeper. She was hard to keep his eyes off and yet when at her apartment the other night, all he wanted to do was make sure she was alright.

It was an odd duality in him, where he hated when people relied on him, and yet also thrived off of it. Maybe he was just picky about who he liked doing that for.

Whatever was there was only growing with her living at Andrew’s. There was something about her leaving the shower and the lingering smell of her shampoo and lotion that tugged at a part of him he hadn’t felt toyed with in a very long time.

He spotted her petite, yet curvy frame standing in front of a punching bag that she was actually using today. She had her warm brown hair braided on both sizes and punched the shit out of the bag in front of her, lean muscles expressing. She had a lot more force in that body of hers than he would have given her credit for.

He looked away, trying not to get caught up in that.

Ryder liked when a woman knew how to punch a bag. What did he expect? It had been three months since he had been with a woman, and two years since he had a relationship.

He needed to let it go.

He tried to tell himself that it was just physical.

But some part of him knew that it wasn't.

...


J U L I E had spent all day punching, kicking, and running. Dolores turned out to be a gift from somewhere in the universe that finally took pity on Julie, and the woman recommended that she start punching bags herself.

She didn’t know why it took forever to cross her mind. Perhaps it was because the gym felt more like work rather than a place to work out. Dolores had offered for Julie to stay with her, but she declined, not wanting to ruin what she had there, preferring to risk her relationship with Andrew first.

At Andrew’s house that night, she was in the kitchen after a shower putting meal preps into the fridge. Andrew, of course, had to make jokes about being happy she was there to do it, but she also wasn’t going to refuse. He gave her a place after all.

Ryder came into the kitchen, and when they looked at each other it was immediately awkward, but in a good way. In a way where they weren't quite sure what to do with themselves.

Andrew wasn’t home either, as he was at a bar celebrating the upcoming fights with his friends.

“Just getting some water,” Ryder said.

She didn’t say anything, as he wore tighter sleeping pants, his wife beater clinging to his figure to show off how thick he had gotten. His arms and shoulders were exposed, and she thought back to when he held her close. He looked even more enticing now, like she wanted to be smothered in his warmth.

“How you holdin’ up?” he asked.

She looked at the tiled floor, tucking her hair behind her ear. “At this point, as long as my hair doesn’t fall out, I think I am just along for this crazy ride.”

“You comin’ with us to New York?”

“Yeah, I am, but I’m not really needed, just more on call in case you get hurt. You nervous?”

He leaned against the island countertop, a faint scruff on his face. “In a way. I’m mostly just ready to do this and get it started.”

“The MMA world on the internet is losing their minds, now that they’ve seen you’re on the roster. It’s good we got this Tony. Andrew says he is taking care of most of it.”

“Good. As long as I can make a few matches last under thirty seconds, it’ll make the others nervous,” he said, scratching the back of his neck, the muscles in his forearms flexing and she had to look away from that.

What was wrong with her? She found herself enamored with even the causal side of him.

She focused on something else. “My brother used to say half the sport was in the head. I mean most are, obviously, but it’s different when you have an opponent you gotta punch.”

I am butchering it.

She looked back up at him, and their gaze lingered. She wanted to say so much and yet had no idea what to focus on. When neither of them backed down, a warm burst of electric need went through her.

A loud bang shocked them, and it came from the back porch. Ryder moved with the speed he had been training to have, putting his thick arm in front of her and pushing her back, eyeing the door.

“The hell was that,” she said.

Someone jingled the doorknob, and Ryder used a tone similar to when he confronted Creepy George. “Get back, Julie.”

Whoever it was, she pitied them for breaking into the home of an acclaimed MMA fighter.

The slurred, drunken voice of Andrew reassured both of them as he walked in, reeking of bourbon. He frowned. “Oh, hell nah. You two don’t do that... shit here. Or... any time. Not wif Warlord.”

Ryder looked back at her, and his hand was right over her braless breast, and neither of them had noticed it while stuck in their reaction.

Their gazes connected, while he touched her breast. In seconds, she felt her nipples harden with embarrassment, and she knew he felt it. He dropped his hands immediately and ran it through his ungelled hair.

Ryder was about to say something to her, but it was clear Andrew was toasted, so he focused on the drunken coach. “How’d you get home?” Ryder asked.

“Uber. Threw up in the backyard. Didn’t wannit in the front.”

Ryder helped Andrew up the sairs and Julie looked up at the ceiling, her mouth hung open and chuckling.

Great.

The last thing she needed was to know what Ryder’s man hands felt like on her bare breasts. And she wanted so much more than that.

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