C H A P T E R | 30
J U L I E ---&--- R Y D E R
The gala moved to an event of socialization, open for another two hours with a local restaurant catering, although most of the fighters only ate salads; the food seemed more for the coaches and sponsors.
By 8:21, Julie was too anxious to eat and stood out in the lobby to wait on Andrew, wondering if she was needed anymore. At this point it was just interested parties hashing out details.
Glancing around with no real purpose, her body stiffened with an excited nervousness as she caught Ryder nearing her. He casually stood next to her, chewing on his lip, crossing his arms, and leaning against the wall. He seemed to do that a lot, and she found herself drawn to it like a moth to flame.
Without looking at her, so as to avoid looking too interested in the other, he said, “You really are stunning tonight. Guys can’t keep their eyes off of you” --her glanced her way, his eyes dark, yet warm-- “Kinda wish I could let them know who their competition is.”
She grinned. Slyly, she said, “I got a fake boyfriend, thank you very much.”
He laughed and looked rather boyish about it, running his thumb along his chin. The smile reached his eyes, and she loved how he looked when his grin was genuine. He said, “Alright that was cute. Don’t even got a response to that.”
The warmth in her chest spread further, her mind racing like she was eighteen again and there was no real care in the world.
With more seriousness, Julie said, “Good luck with tomorrow, by the way. I hope today went well.”
He moved his gaze off of her, watching others as they walked by. “Saw a few guys I missed. Hope I don’t have to fight them. Got all the dumb shit out of the way with everyone wanting to ask what the hell I did for three years. Gave a death glare or two at some competition. I mostly just wanna leave now so I can focus on tomorrow.”
“You’ll do fine. You’re scary as shit in the ring.”
He grinned, looking her over for a quick second, something unremoved from all of this flashing in his eyes. He exhaled, and she even though it sounded disappointed. “What I really want is to take you somewhere private and enjoy watching you take that off. If Andrew wasn’t such a mother hen, I would.”
Her cheeks flooded with warmth, her body reacting to him as if his words harbored power over her. She laughed at his comment, then spoke with a sultry tone. “Well then, we can go somewhere nice on our own time, and I’ll wear this again.”
A daring thought flashed through her mind, the heat in her cheeks moving to between her thighs as Julie leaned in and mumbled, “I’ll skip the underwear for that, though.”
Ryder rolled his eyes and slowly looked away, his breathing growing deeper as a dark smile lingered on his face. With a husky overlay, he said, “You’re killing me, darlin’.”
Sensations of lust and hunger were padded by a soft glow at being called darlin’. She wished to melt right next to him.
“I admit some fault there. I like making you squirm.”
He looked at her like he wanted to grab her, throw her over his shoulder and carry her to the first private room they could find. For a moment, the look was so deep she thought he might.
The heat in his eyes completely faded. “Camera is coming.”
With the camera came Andrew, informing them that they wanted a picture of the team. Ryder stood next to her and placed his hand around her, gripping her hip as she pressed against his chest. I can’t wait to have him alone again...he drives me crazy. They all smiled except for Ryder, Rob waving to speak with what had to be his new investment.
Ryder left without looking at Julie, as Andrew loitered as if to have a word with her. Disappointment dampened the passion that burned only moments ago.
Andrew waved to someone leaving and said, “Alright, I am going to go with them, but you’re relieved for the night. We’re going to talk more about an opportunity where it Ryder can get into Hell Week, they’ll sponsor him no matter the outcome. How’s the night been for you, overall?”
She shrugged, another man walking by and checking her out with hardly any shame. Julie didn’t feel like talking much, Ryder’s prescence still very much on her mind. “Just a lot of looks.”
“Well, that’s to be expected,” Andrew said, adjusting his shirt. “Go ahead and go back if you want. Just be in the lobby by seven in the morning. The guys have their weigh-in at 7:30 and then then the first fights start at nine. We don’t know who goes when, so be ready.”
She sighed, just ready for tomorrow. “Sounds good.”
“I also made a few connections tonight, and said if you’re fine with it, that you can help their guys out if they need it. If they get to Hell Week, that is. Lots of them will get some kind of sprain during it.”
“Why me? They’ve got staff for general issues.”
“They might want to work with partnering for a larger gym opportunity. More business for you. Could be a way you keep your gym name, and I move elsewhere. Rhino would become a part of Lionheart, and you’d run the gym under my broader company name.”
Her brows moved up and down as she blinked rapidly. She had never considered something like that, and honestly, nothing about it sounded like a negative. She frowned, sure that there was a hangup somewhere, but when she couldn’t find one she gave a single, deep nod. “Yeah, yeah I could do that.”
She grew quiet at the thought of actually being able to preserve her brother’s legacy, without having to fight Andrew tooth and nail. I’m truth, she was willing to walk away if absolutely necessary, but all her heart wanted was to keep him alive in any way possible.
“What,” Andrew stated flatly, regarding her change in emotion.
“Jeremy would appreciate it,” she said with a steady voice, despite the shake in it. ”I appreciate it, too. Jer always said you’d prove yourself. It just...it would be nice if we got to keep the name, somehow, and you’d get your own name. It’d be nice not to have to fight about it all.”
“I know, Julie,” Andrew awkwardly said, his tone unsarcastically sincere before he gave her a pat on the back and walked away.
Flabbergast was the only word that came to her mind, having no idea what changed in Andrew.
Groaning and pulling out her phone to call an Uber, she decided she’d get a glass of wine at the hotel bar and take a nice bath. Perhaps even find a book, or watch an episode of the The Office on Netflix. She didn’t know what it was about the show, but it always made her smile.
As Julie waited by the lobby door for her Uber - the night too cold to wait outside - she stole a double glance when a blonde approached her that seemed keener on Julie than some of the men that night.
Especially since something lurked in the woman’s gaze that was wholly uninviting.
The blonde was Julie’s height, maybe a few inches taller, with a figure like Marilyn Monroe, accentuated by the tightness of her dress. Her nose was small, her lips well-defined and her smile clean and beautiful.
The woman’s brown eyes captivated Julie, although it was a captivation born from concern, as something intense burned in there.
“Hello. My name is Heather,” the woman carefully said with a honeyed voice.
“Hello,” Julie said curtly, forcing a polite smile. She glanced down at the Uber on her phone - it was still five minutes out, even though she was in the city. Of course, when I need it most.
“I work for Legends,” Heather said, looking around as if searching for someone.
“Oh yeah, he’s someone to look out for,” Julie said with a dulled expression, not necessarily paying attention.
“I hear you’re with Ryder?”
Julie narrowed her eyes and looked back at Heather. “Yes, I am.”
Heather gave another grin, shaking her head with a laugh. “He does love his sport’s therapists.”
“What?” Julie asked, sounding more like Andrew.
“I am his old one. And ex-girlfriend.” Heather paused, as if her statement won a victory over Julie. Especially since something uncontrolled flashed across Julie’s eyes, seeing this woman in an entirely new light now that she knew she had been intimate with Ryder. “Oh, I see, you do feel something there. Don’t know how serious you two are-”
“We are nothing,” Julie said, cutting her off, looking away.
Unfortunately for Heather, Julie was the opposite of drama. She’d rather deny than get into a verbal fight over something so trivial.
Heather peered out the window that overlooked the street. “Please. I saw him looking at you all night. I know when Joey wants someone. I saw you smiling when he was talking to you, so I am not an idiot.”
Julie tersely exhaled, and snappily asked, “What do you want?”
The corner of Heather’s lips revealed the faintest smile. “Just wanted to meet the competition. It is all a game.”
“Competition for Warlord?” Julie asked, raising a brow. She knew what Heather meant, but wanted her to say it.
Heather shrugged a shoulder. “Little bit of that, little bit of other things. I mean, there’s no other reason for me to introduce myself.”
Fine. I’ll bite. “Well, he hasn’t mentioned you at all, so I assume not much of a competition.”
Julie didn’t bother to remain, catching a look of ire in Heather’s eyes before Julie walked past, heading down the stairs to the lobby door.
Julie had no clue as to what that was about, or what to do with the information that Ryder’s ex-girlfriend was also his old sports therapist, or the fact that Heather was here tonight and felt the need to confront Julie.
Jesus, all these people are so dramatic.
One thing that made Julie a good athlete was rather than focus on the drama, she got competitive and focused on the game. Rather than wanting to get into a heated debate with Heather, Julie wanted to prove she was the better professional, and to prove to Ryder that she was above all of that.
She had a feeling that whenever the fights were over tomorrow, everything would only escalate once the celebrations began. Dune Legends picked his last name because as it states, he was quite a legend, much like Ryder. No doubt whatever after party would be thrown, Legends would be there with Heather.
Again, one step at a time, Jules. One step at a time.
R Y D E R looked around for Julie once he was done being the stud of Andrew’s marketing program, although Tony informed him that she had left.
The area seemed less interesting with her gone, and damn did he want to show that woman what he would do to her after her comments to him.
It didn’t help that it was more than just the physical. Something about her drove him wild. Julie’s witty comments and smooth confidence made him want to grab her and ravish her, to fill her with as much pleasure as he could and show her how much he could make her squirm.
A fighter named Ben Kennedy walked by, glaring at Ryder and trying to establish some fucking level of superficial dominance. Ryder rolled his gaze away, not caring in the slightest about whatever peacocking these idiot fighters wanted to engage in.
Only tomorrow mattered. Once tomorrow was secured, the real fight for Hell Week could begin.
Ryder gave Andrew five more minutes before he decided to go back to the hotel himself. A few women walked by, eyeing him carefully. He looked away.
That moment hit him deeper than he thought, as he realized that he was back in the heat of the fight and looking away from the gawking women. Life was fucking weird, as now he could only think about a singular woman’s pair of panties, and if she’d really not wear them next time she wore that damned dress.
He mindlessly fidgeted with what was in his pocket until he remembered it was the phone number he got from -- he pulled it out to look -- Samantha. He smirked as he recalled how crossed Julie had looked.
He couldn’t help but find it endearing how she blushed when he told her why he took it. Jules catching feels on me...
He sighed. I’m not much fucking better. That damn woman is going to be on my mind all night.
He threw the number away and decided he should head back. If he wasn’t going to mingle or flirt the night away, then he needed to rest and focus.
As he neared the foyer, his body tensed when a blonde dressed in a blue dress locked eyes with him.
Without maintaining his gaze, he continued to walk past her. To his surprise, she didn’t approach him as he passed her by. If anything, that was even more concerning.
The surprise didn’t last, however, as once he was outside on the sidewalk, he noticed that Heather followed, her heels clacking on the concrete.
“Joey, can I get a minute?”
He turned around, headlights and taillights of passing cars glinting off of the parked cars next to them. With as much control as he could muster, not wanting to give her even his anger, he said, “I’m not talking to you in public, where cell phones can take a picture of us. I’m not letting that become a rumor.”
She put her hands into her coat pocket and slightly shake herself to warm up. Heather gave a defeated sigh. “Then after the fight? McDaniels is hosting a winner’s party at his home after the fight tomorrow. I’m sure Legends will get through. I know you will. So we will both probably be there. It would be a good chance to talk.”
“Just go back to your hotel, Heather.”
She snorted. “We are staying at the same one.”
He gave a mixture between a grunt and a groan, nod needing this shit right now. Instead, he began heading back to the hotel, eyeing those passing him by. The night was chilly but his blood ran hot.
“Tomorrow, then,” he yelled after him.
Ryder glowered, ready to fight now. He couldn’t wait to leave this damn city, and the drama with it.
He groaned when he realized that Julie would probably encounter Heather at some point, especially if she was keen on following him around like this.
There wasn’t much he could do about it, do he just tried his best to keep it out of his mind. Especially since he knew he’d have to explain everything to her at some point.
This was why I wanted to go at this alone. I can’t afford to become distracted, because I absolutely can’t fucking afford to lose.