RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 3

J U L I E ____________________________________________

Julie sat in her office, tapping her pen on her desk while she waited for word on Ryder. When Andrew entered the doorway, she sat upright. She tried to hold back her disappointment when she failed to see Ryder with him.

“Well, what happened? Cody mentioned something about Warlord and his old coach,” she said, almost holding her breath.

She had been a nervous wreck while waiting. This will change everything if he’s here to train with Andrew. All of Jeremy’s hard work...it will finally pay off.

Andrew grinned, revealing straight teeth with the exception of a slight gap in the front. “Get used to it. He’s staying.”

She choked as she sucked in dry air. ”What?”

“He’s entering Warlord with me as his coach.”

She sat back down and let out a small laugh, darting her gaze around the room, eyeing one of her fake succulents as a wave of nerves washed over her like muscle relaxers. It was a similar feeling to getting accepted into university with a full ride -- all the doors seemed wide open.

Andrew moved the conversation onward. “I’m assigning you to him and he is to become your top priority. You’re on the team, Stevens.”

She stood back up, wincing when she bumped a knee into the table but the pain was insignificant compared to this. “Really?”

“You’re like a damn whack-a-mole with that standing up and sitting down. And yeah, he’s got a bad shoulder, and you had that one rip back in college. You’re better suited than Wes, all around. I can’t deny you’re good at your work, and you have the right motivation for this.”

“Right, yeah. Yeah, I can do that.” She laughed. “This is amazing.”

“Yeah, no kidding. This a huge opportunity for the gym. I would have called Lowers four months ago if I knew he was hiding Ryder the whole time.”

She returned the sentiment with another chuckle, and for a small moment of unusual agreeance, they stared at each other with joy and pride. Even if it was partially nice, it still felt awkward more than anything.

Andrew’s smile faded and he looked down at the ground, rolling back on his heels. A familiar silence returned. Ever since Andrew came to Julie two months ago asking to change the name of Rhino MMA to Lionheart MMA, knowing how much this place meant to Jeremy, their already tense relationship fell apart. The worst part was Andrew didn’t let up on it either, despite it only being six months since burying her brother.

Her expression deadpanned, guessing what was going through his mind. “No, we can talk about that later.”

He shrugged a shoulder, glancing back at her. “It has to be talked about. Not this very second, but now more than before. My name will be everywhere if Ryder performs. I need my gym name too. I’ve been carrying this place for six months and just attracted a fighter of legitimate professional quality, with titles under his name. This is my gym now, all but in name, Julie. I know you know that.”

A cheer broke out in the gym and Andrew turned around while Julie looked out her window to see that one of their fighters-Lucky-was cheering himself on for taking out Fang.

The men liked their nicknames around this gym.

Andrew turned back, tapping on her door frame. “Anyway, we’re getting a contract set up for you with the lawyers. There’s five screening competitions before Warlord. If he somehow wins, I am getting seventy thousand. If you sign on, you’ll get thirty thousand. That takes a hundred out of his reward and he keeps the rest.”

She stuttered, not having even thought about the financial incentives. She spoke with a high-pitched voice. “Thirty-thousand-fucking-dollars?”

“Yup. Coaches usually take the bulk, but that’s the bonus of this competition. The fighters get it, and everyone else fights for name recognition and a trophy. I want the name, more than the money, anyway. If we can just get to Hell Week, I’ll be happy.”

She chewed on her lip, and then her fingernail. She felt like she needed to go for a run as her heart raced. Then, she frantically nodded. “Oh shit, forgot to agree. I obviously agree. Not about the name of the gym, but I’ll join the team.”

He held his blink and moved forward for now. “I want his body in top shape. Massages, sports therapy, stretching. All of it. I want him limber and healing as quickly as possible. You’ll be traveling with us when we go to preliminary rounds, and I need you to drop everything if he needs it. I prefer to keep his therapist to one person who knows his body. I’ll be in touch when the contract is in.”

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