RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 23


Julie awoke the next morning with a stretch, nearly giving herself a charlie horse in her calf, groaning as she tried to slowly release it. Sitting up, she looked around the room that the morning light gently touched. She recalled all the events of the previous night and was happy that she didn’t push anything with Ryder.

At least, she was happy that she didn’t cross any foolish lines. Touching Ryder in a sexual way, in Andrew’s home, was a risky move that two grown adults knew better about.

But holy hell, who knew that that man could make her feel like a teenager again with the lack of self-control? She wanted to forgo any common sense and jump his bones, then perhaps lie next to him and fall asleep in his arms.

Julie’s lips faltered as she couldn’t control the way she wanted to smile when thinking about Ryder catching her staring at him, and he didn’t seem bothered in the least bit by it.

By the time she got up to make coffee, Ryder was out for his morning jog. She dressed for work, applying only basic makeup that she bought at the grocery store to make her seem refreshed.

When she walked down the slightly creaking stairs, she spotted Ryder in the kitchen downing a bottle of water and covered in sweat, his hoodie slumped over a bar stool next to the kitchen island.

“How’s Andrew?” she asked, walking to the front door.

“Feeling like shit. I’m just staying here today, gonna take it light,” he said, lowering his bottle of water when she turned to look at him.

Placing her hand on the doorknob, she said, “Make sure Andrew checks his phone by noon. I needed to report in about Keith today, since he might be signing up for the amateur Warlord category. I think that deadline is by five today.”

“Text me to remind me,” he said, throwing the bottle away.

“I don’t have your number,” she said, only to have her heart race as her cheeks gently flushed. She felt giddy at the thought of having his number, which was a major sign that this was moving past anything professional; at least on her end.

I shouldn’t be acting this way so easily.

He smirked at her, and damn did she like his boyish charm when he let it out. It was the way it revealed that a man was in there that was more playful than he let on that got to her, like there was a layer he barely let anyone see. “Lots of ladies would kill for such a privilege.”

She grinned, pulling out her phone. “Oh, shut up. What’s your number? Might as well have it, with us going to New York and all that.”

“Now she’s being bossy,” he said, throwing his water away as he pulled out his phone. “I don’t fucking know it, hold on...this thing is new.”

He read off the number and she texted him, to which she confirmed it was correct. She opened the door, shoving her phone in her purse. “If you need anything, let me know.”

“Sounds good,” he said, going to make himself breakfast -- but not without glancing at her one last time before she left.

Slowly, but surely, she felt something changing between the two of them.

Like bringing a lit match closer and closer to a wick of a candle that desperately wanted to burn.

For lunch that day, Julie met with Tony to go over details of the gym. They went to a local sandwich shop and she got a chicken salad sandwich, sitting down at a table with Tony close behind her. She wasn’t necessarily interested in having lunch with him, mostly because her life was so out of whack that she didn’t want to entertain meeting a new person on top of everything else.

The conversation had been rather bland, thankfully, with him speaking more like a reporter rather than a member of the team. He seemed like he was going to be good at his job, and that’s what mattered.

Until, of course, he said, “So, my brother has been moody for the last day.”

She paused with her mouth slightly parted, almost ready to take a bite. “Oh, uh, yeah...that’s unfortunate.”

“I hear that you and him had a small falling out. Over Ryder.” Tony raised his brows as he looked at her.

Her heart froze, the blood in her veins chilling. Recover. Make it seem like it’s nothing. She feigned annoyance, despite the way her heart clawed at her chest in anxiety and said, “That’s what Cody was telling me, yeah. He’s seeing things that aren’t there.”

Technically, it’s the truth. Nothing has happened between us.

“He told me,” Tony said, dipping his fry into ketchup, “That you had a crush on Ryder.”

She groaned and lost her appetite. I swear if this gets back to Andrew... “Look, as a nineteen-year-old girl, Ryder was hot candy on the screen. Like, how is that not obvious? I only got a crush on him because Jeremy was obsessed and played his fights the most. For the record, I also liked Ben Oswald. If Oswald was here, Cody would be acting the same.”

Tony nodded, leaning back into his seat. “Alright, just checking. Don’t need any drama, and Cody was in a real bad mood, so I figured it was based on something. Glad to hear it’s not.”

Julie let out a sigh of relief, as Tony seemed to be satisfied with that response.

But what in the hell was she going to do if she actually had something to cover up?

At this rate, I’ll find out, one way or another.

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