RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 26

R Y D E R---&---J U L I E

Ryder sat in the hot tub at the hotel’s pool with Andrew, who had gotten back from a press briefing and suggested meeting in here to relax, as tomorrow would be the big presentation, with the following day being the first round. The sun was set by now and Ryder couldn’t deny the relief that the public hot tub gave to his muscles.

“How’s Julie? She been tempting you lately?” Andrew asked, his quieted voice echoing around the tiled wall that surrounded them.

Ryder clenched his jaw before saying, “I’ll be blunt, man, I’m not talking to you about that. You shit on her too much as it is, and I am not adding to it.”

“She’s your sport’s therapist, Ryder--”

Shooting Andrew a dangerous glare, Ryder added, “We’re all adults here.”

“Hey, you’re the one that said you had an issue with the last one. Heather, was it?”

Ryder glowered as he gazed at the empty pool next to them. Coldly, he said, “Look, I need you to keep me in shape, not talk to me about my personal life. I’m working with you because of Lowers and proximity to my family. That’s it. I don’t have patience for meddling where you shouldn’t. I told you the stuff about Heather since I know she’s going be there tomorrow. Not because the same drama will happen with Julie.”

Andrew flippantly raised his hands. “It’s like no one gives a shit about the coach that keeps this all together, as if I’m saying all of this just to torture you. Obviously it’s not because I care about the team, or anything. Or about winning--”

“It’d easier if you gave Julie, or hell, anyone, a reason for sympathy,” Ryder said. “You’re so antagonistic in the way you bring shit up.”

“Yeah, well, Julie might be good at her work, but she is entitled with the gym’s name, and I have to put forward a dead man’s gym rather than my own, even though everything we got going on is because of me,” Andrew stated.

“Julie is mourning, not entitled.”

“It’s been six months.”

“And it sounds like her brother meant everything to her.”

“Well, whatever. That’s weird. Never loved my siblings that much.”

Ryder took that personally. “And I am entering this fucking competition all for my sister, you--” Ryder sucked his lips lips to his teeth in an annoyed miff, raising a hand and running it over his head.

Glaring at Andrew, Ryder added, “You know I am giving most of my reward to my sister for her medical bills. I’d take all the broken bones and torn ligaments to make sure my sister gets to live her second chance at life. So don’t talk shit about sibling loyalty to me.”

Andrew backed off and Ryder left the hot tub, not knowing where he’d wander off to, but decided he needed to cool off before he actually got angry.

Save that shit for the fights, for the poor fucker that fights me first.

J U L I E sat in a corner of the courtyard that night after having set up her outfit for the gala the following day. There were other fighters in the hotel and many were throwing a small party in their room or the lobby. Andrew requested that she go to something, but she decided to hangout with the reliable me, myself, and I.

Especially since she could hardly focus on anything other than Ryder, or if she managed to break free of that she’d just think of Dolores and wish that she was home. Julie needed to help Dolores prepare for moving the Juniper’s Cove indoors.

Julie was also eager to help out with another thing -- it turned out that Dolores liked to run Dungeons and Dragons with a small group of friends, and Julie couldn’t deny that she had to watch the older woman lead such a gathering. Julie’s dad used to play with his friends while her and Jeremy helped as kids. Her mom made him stop after a few years of playing, but her and Jeremy used to love game nights.

As cheesy as the game could be, Julie wanted to sit down at one of the games again and remind herself of her childhood. Back when everything was easy--

Someone walked through the small party of gathering people that hovered by the door and headed towards Julie. She glanced over to see it was Ryder, who dressed in his jeans, long sleeved shirt, and jacket. He sat down next to her, and he was close enough that she smelled his stupid cologne.

“How you doing?” she asked, looking at the small fire pit in front of her, eyeing the flickering flames, pulling her jacket tighter.

“Just hanging in there. Ready to fucking fight, rather than go to this stupid dog and pony show tomorrow.”

“Yeah, tomorrow will be interesting,” she said, giving a lame chuckle when thinking about the gala.

She didn’t know what else to say, having run out of jokes and superficial dialogue that usually allowed her to skirt past their awkward tension. If anything, she grew wary of putting on a friendly face and pretending that she wasn’t enjoying the way Ryder smelled or looked at her.

So, she just didn’t say anything, finding that his company was enough. There was something to it that made her feel calmer.

Ryder, without prompt, finally said, “I told Andrew to leave you alone, after he tried to dog you again. Doubt it will work, but let me know if he rides your case.”

“Talking about me?” she asked, glancing over at him, half smiling and half concerned.

“Just the usual bitching,” he said, leaning into his chair. Ryder glanced at her before back at the fire pit. “From his end, not mine.”

She gave a small smile. “What was he bitching about, so I know?”

“Your loyalty to Jeremy. That shit is personal, since I’m doing all this for my sister.”

She glanced back at the flames, shivering as her backside was cold, while her front was warmed from the fire. “Oh, you are?” she asked, trying to play it off as if it wasn’t a big deal.

Although a part of her was eager to know more.

“I didn’t tell you?”

A smile took over her face as she glanced back at him. “You’re an enigma, remember?”

He grinned, something warming in his eyes that she hadn’t seen before. Or maybe it’s just the flames reflecting in them... Then the humor fell and he looked at the fire, saying, “My sister had breast cancer and she has a shit load of bills. I’m trying to take care of it for her so she doesn’t have to go through with a bankruptcy. It’s putting a lot of stress on her marriage, too. She’s basically to me like Jeremy was to you.”

Julie looked away, sucking in the cold air of the New York night as her eyes darted around. “Sorry to hear that. I am glad she still has you, and that you have her,” she said, a wave of emotions running through her as if the cold and heat swirled in her lungs and into her veins.

She moved on quickly, already daydreaming what it would be like if Jeremy had survived; she did not feel like crying then. She added, “If you’re doing this for her, then you’re one of the better men that I’ve ever met.”

“It’s why I don’t talk about it. People catch wind of it and they go all soft on me,” he said. “Wish I coulda met your brother. Sounds like he’d be nicer than Andrew. Although, I’m ready to hit someone because of that dude. So that’s always a bonus, I guess.”

Julie grinned, staring up as a plane flew overhead, the lights disappearing into the dark clouds above. “He used to admire you. Jeremy did. He’d watch you religiously.”

She didn’t know what came over her, but she was tired of skating around her attraction and desire for Ryder. As nonchalantly as she could possibly muster, she quietly added, “I used to have a crush on you too, you know. When I was like nineteen and Jeremy wouldn’t stop watching your fights.”


“No joke,” she said, grinning as she looked at him, although her heart pounding furiously in her chest, feeling daring and fearless, knowing she always had Dolores to fall back on.

Julie figured, at the worst, the revelation would either just turn into a joke between her and Ryder, or at best, it would serve as an ice breaker and a real gauge for how he felt. She needed to know, one way or another, or else she’d go crazy wondering.

He grinned ear to ear, a myriad of expressions overcoming him, although they were overshadowed with mischievousness. Slowly and with confidence, he spoke as if he uncovered a deep secret, “I’m your fantasy man, then.”

She chuckled and groaned. “Oh, whatever. Anyone watching you enough, at my age back then, would have felt the same.”

Honestly, she felt better now that it was out in the open, especially since he seemed amused by it.

He chuckled, swiping his thumb along his chin and nodded. “That’s fucking gold.”

She looked back at him, trying to come up with a smooth recovery, but as their gazes connected, the same tension from over a week ago -- in Andrew’s home -- returned, and a seriousness overcame them as it was no longer hinted that they wanted each other.

In a subtle way, she had broken the ice, and he clearly wanted to edge closer towards the dark waters that lied underneath. So did she.

Her lips parted and she stared at him, not able to look away and yet also unable to come up with something to say.

He finally was the one to break eye contact, although nothing about his desire left. If anything, he looked around, as if to confirm their solitude before glancing back at her. “Go to your room? We clearly need to talk.”

Oh, something came to life in her that was as intoxicating as drinking for the first time. She knew she shouldn’t; she knew this would start a rolling snowball that would crash at some point -- either Andrew would find out, or the truth would eat at her, knowing how furious Andrew would be. And yet, all she could hear was Dolores, somewhere in her mind, telling Julie that they only lived once.

Plus, she didn’t know if that was an innuendo or if he meant an actual talk, but she desperately wanted to know what the hell was going on inside his head.

And this was their first chance at privacy since he slept over at her apartment.

“Yeah,” Julie said, breathing out. “Yeah, let’s go.”

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