RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 32

J U L I E
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The rest of the day passed and Julie was like an aimless arrow, flying around in an attempt to strike something but unable to see her target; she was restless, unable to sit still as she couldn’t stop thinking about being alone with Ryder next. She wanted to jump his bones but also wanted to ask who Heather was. It wasn’t like Julie expected a bomb shell revelation, but she just couldn’t focus with that in the background.

She walked to the bar alone when she said she’d be thirty minutes late, as she spilled some afternoon coffee on one of her shirts and had to change. The sunlight outside was quickly fading, the air chilly, and the smell of leaves and cement about her.

Overall, the walk alone through the bustling city was actually kind of nice. Being around so many people reminded her that life moved on, in its own way, and that no matter what, she’d be alright.

Things are good. No matter what, she had to remind herself that her life was going in the right direction.

The bar was packed, and the guys were already at a corner booth that was filled, a few people coming up to fist bump Ryder, who clearly had showered and put himself together with jeans and a dark gray, long-sleeved shirt. Many at the bar had watched the replay of the fights, or of fights happening in other cities, and cheered them on.

Julie neared the table, not overly dress, as she felt like Nancy-Tony-fucking- Drew would pick up that she looked extra nice, and for no real reason. Andrew was the first to spot her, Ryder talking to a man next to him, an empty seat next to Ryder. And actually, in the circle booth that they sat at, it was the only empty seat. She hoped he did that intentionally.

Andrew raised his beer as she neared. “And here is our Sports Therapist, and other half of the gym!”

Julie grinned, shocked at such elation from this usual stiff dickhead. Damn, he’s not bad when jovial.

Ryder slowly moved his gaze to her, then nodded next to him in the empty seat at the end of the booth. She successfully repressed a grin and headed over, although she enjoyed that he kept it open for her. Julie sat down, her thigh pressing against his. She engaged in small talk of those at the table – a sponsor she recognized and a few new guys. She talked about the gym, her brother, and her credentials.

A waiter came and took her beer order, which was something light and wheaty. It was either that or a dark beer, but the dark beers were always so heavy on the stomach, and right now nervous butterflies fluttered in hers.

Ryder leaned in, smelling of cologne again. “You were late.”

She smiled, looking at the table. “Spilled coffee on myself.”

He chuckled and took a sip of his dark beer. “That’s something Mollie would do.”

“Mollie?”

Without hesitation, compared to his usual secrecy, he said, “My niece. She’s a messy kid.”

Julie grinned, once again imagining him as ‘Uncle Joey’. She didn’t want to get lost in those weeds when everyone was around them and said, “You seriously did good today. How do you feel?”

He leaned on the table, his shirt tight fighting. It was either that, or he just filled it well. “Sore, but that’s expected. Shoulder will need the attention, though. It didn’t like the punches I threw.”

“Good thing you have a sports therapist,” she said, taking her beer from the waiter.

He gave a slight smile, hovering his beer glass in front of his lips, smiling just ever more like he wanted to say something. But he refrained and sipped his beer.

“Say Tony...” one of the men at the table said, and she was grateful that his attention was stolen so she didn’t feel like she was sitting at the table with the principle.

Ryder leaned in almost just as soon as Tony was distracted, not in a way to hide conversation, but enough to speak quietly to her. “When you rubbin’ me down?”

She laughed and took a deep drink. “Preferably tonight. I’m not a morning person if I don’t have to be.”

“Good, neither am I,” he said and took another drink of his beer. “God I miss beer.”

“I’d hate to cut wine out. I don’t drink that much,” she said, feeling like she had to recover. “But gosh...sometimes you need it after a long day.”

The music played loudly and she was grateful it was a good distraction. Andrew leaned over and said, “They got a bonfire going at McDaniels. Only winners invited. Any of you want to go?”

Ryder didn’t seem interested and chewed his lip as he held his glass up to down at the remainder of his beer, but she figured that was just his usual self. Julie said, “I don’t know. It’s more of a thing for the guys, or if you want to get laid.”

Andrew chuckled and looked at Ryder. “Well, you gotta come to this one. It’s the first one. Just make an appearance,” Andrew said over whatever Ryder was about to contest with. “You should come too, Julie. As someone representing the gym.”

She nodded, really liking the way he continued to speak about her as if she were a partner. “Alright. Yeah, I’ll come.”

Ryder sucked his bottom lip to his teeth and released it in a quick movement before downing his beer. With a grovely voice, he grumbled, “Fine, I’ll go.”

Either way, it didn’t take a genius to figure out he really didn’t want to go.

Andrew said, “Alright, let’s go now. I am too old for this staying out all night bullshit.”

Julie finished her beer, and moved out, the alcohol warming her veins. She waited for the others to get out, making it a point to make eye contact with these men, to do her best in representing herself and Rhino.

They moved through the flood of people, most of them hooting at Ryder, and more flocking over to another table of a lightweight winner that she didn’t know the name of, but knew the face.

They got separate Ubers, as Tony and Andrew went with two others to continue their conversation. Tony threw a knowing glance at Julie when they got into their Uber, as she was riding along with Ryder.

As soon as the men drove off, Julie crossing her arms from the cold, Ryder said, “I know I don’t like Andrew, but a part of me does feel bad that he just left us alone. He clearly has no idea.”

A laugh spilled out of her, unable to control it. And like that, she was right back to feeling warm when next to him. “It’s too bad there are so many people here that know you, or I’d lean in. It’s chilly,” she said. She even brought a leather jacket, but it wasn’t enough.

He took a step closer. “We could bail. Do you think he’d notice?”

She lookined at him, wanting to flirt, but her mind and heart still weighed down by the wild card that was Heather. His gray eyes glinted with the lights around.

Julie said, “Even if he didn’t, Tony totally would.”

Ryder furrowed his brows and looked around. She checked her phone for the Uber, and it was two minutes away.

“The fuck does he care?”

“He thinks he is Nancy Drew.”

He tucked his hands into his pockets, something clearly bothering him. Especially since he didn't laugh at the joke. “Look, this is a random change in conversation, but speaking about nosy fucking people...someone might be there tonight that I don’t particularly want to mingle with. She might confront you too. It’s uh, it’s an ex of mine.”

Julie gave the slightest nod of her head. Quietly, and with apprehension, she asked, “Is it Heather?”

She looked over at him, and he looked at her like she was psychic and just brought up a part of his past that not even his own shadow would know.

She said, “She’s already confronted me.”

He rolled his eyes and swayed in his spot, sighing with frustration. “And what happened?”

Julie didn’t want to play games or add to the drama. After Jeremy’s death, she’s had enough drama for a lifetime. So, she went right for it. “That she’s you’re ex sports therapist. And ex girlfriend.”

He just looked ahead, his eyes moving in his head like he was hoping the right thing to say would magically appear on a sign in front of them. That slightly concerned her.

Julie’s expression fell, waiting for an answer. She hoped it would get some kind of response without putting him too on the spot.

"Look, I know this doesn't look good. But that’s entirely in the past. Two years, in fact. Although she’s come back around lately. Probably because of Warlord.”

Julie breathed in the cool air as the Uber neared them on her phone. She was happier than she thought she’d be to hear that, although a part of her still felt like an idiot in some way. "Does explain why you didn’t like me showing up now in the beginning.”

He smirked, although the humor fell as he asked, “So what the hell did she say to you?”

“Called me competition.”

“What’d you tell her.”

“That you haven’t spoken of her, so she’s nothing to compete with,” she said, putting her phone in her purse as the headlights of their Uber pulled over to the sidewalk in front of them.

He choked on his laugh, his grin wide and crinkling his eyes. She glanced at him and couldn’t look away, especially when he folded in his bottom lip and stared at her like there wasn’t an Uber waiting on them. He shook his head and eyed the Uber, still grinning. “You know, I like you, Jules.”

Well, that was one way to fend off the cold. Everything in her burned with a warmth that radiated from her navel and chest. “You’re not bad yourself, Ryder,” she said with a look, feeling like whatever uncertainty she had wasn't going to weigh her down now.

He neared the Uber, opening up the door. “You can just call me Joey when it’s us,” he said, matter-of-fact.

She passed him to get in, and leaned in to whisper, “I already did the other night.”

He narrowed his gaze on her, and as she scooted in, he said, “Oh, don’t even start. It won’t take much. And I still have to show my face at this thing ”

He got into the Uber and shut the door behind him, the driver confirming their address. She looked back at Ryder like she was on a first date, wanting to just go somewhere alone with him. He didn’t give her much of a look, rather leaning his elbow on the door, although the car was small enough that his hand reached over and he placed it on her thigh, rubbing his chin as he stared ahead.

Her heart fluttered, the space between her legs coming to life, and something so full of infatuation spilling into her veins, especially as he just left his hand there.

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