RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 38

J U L I E
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One of the first topics to arise was, of course, the cabin, and why Ryder and Kyle chose to return to it year after year. It turned out that Ryder’s sister moved to Connellsville nearly a decade ago to be with her husband, and Ryder had a penchant for visiting frequently.

“I can’t believe you’ve been hanging around Connellsville for so long, and I never knew it,” Julie said, looking out at the tree-lined road. “Then again, Jeremy would have sent you love letters if he knew, so maybe it’s for the best,” she said with a laugh.

Ryder chuckled, one hand on the top of the wheel as his other arm leaned on the middle console. “It is weird how small the world is, and how Connor’s family happens to be out here,” he said.

“I guess I owe him, then,” she quipped, looking at him warily, as once she said it, she realized how ‘romantic’ it sounded.

Not that they weren’t romantic with each other, but they still had yet to officially cross that line, with most of their banter either being casual or sexual in nature.

He moved only his eyes to her before looking back at the road, although they were gentler than she was used to seeing them. “Don’t let it get to his head. He’s already dad and husband of the year, according to Mollie.”

She laughed, both at the comment and at how easily he slid into that comment.

It had been a long time since Julie felt this excited for something. It wasn’t surprising, especially since an undertone of what her and Ryder would do later—of what he’d do to her—accompanied them the entire ride. She wanted to see this man unravel for her, to spend time with Joey more than Ryder.

And as they drove, Ryder had a way of talking and glancing at her with a mischievous, sexual overtone as the topics continued to roll out for them with ease: from Jeremy and her life—especially when they were younger—to Ryder’s fighting and what he liked most about it, all the way to Julie’s accident she had in college. They discussed the music they liked, what their favorite show was, and talked about watching TV shows and movies when they were younger and comparing who had watched what.

Honestly, there was never any awkward moment. Even the silence was alright with her. It was just genuine conversation and connection, despite the heat that burned between them...which only enhanced it, really.

After an hour and a half of driving, they turned down a thin road with a long, beautiful drive, the trees densely packed on either side. The windows were down, the air cool against her warm cheeks, bringing with it the smell of the fall leaves that gently floated through the air.

After passing by a few cabins—some looking residential versus rented—they reached the very end of the road and parked next to a log cabin. It was a thin, two-story building that looked like newer construction with smooth finishes and large windows, the logs nicely shaped and neatly stacked. The cabin spilled out onto a steep slope, although the driveway was nice and flat with an adjacent fire pit.

It was also the first time that Julie had truly gotten away from the gym since Jeremy’s death. It made her realize just how much of a hermit she had become, and how much life she was missing out on.

And even though she wanted to kick herself for such thoughts, echoes of Dolores and her wisdom grounded Julie, reminding her that she was just a wilting plant that needed a little extra water—as everyone does, sometimes.

“Thanks for bringing me today,” Julie said as they rolled to a stop, the gravel crunching under his tires as she rolled up her window. She meant it, as even though life had been shrouded by darkness, she began to feel the metaphorical rays of the morning sunshine waking up her spirit.

And, somehow, Ryder was a part of that sunlight.

“You needed it,” Ryder said, unbuckling himself after turning the truck off, sighing through his nose. “Plus, I would have just been thinking about you the entire time, anyway,” he deftly added, getting out without looking at her, save for a sly look over his shoulder while he shut the door.

She jut her jaw out with a grin and unbuckled herself with a chuckle, hopping out of the truck, opening the door to the back to grab the small cooler that she brought. On the other side, Ryder grabbed their bags. She couldn’t take her eyes off of him as he gave her another look when their gazes connected.

Him and those damn looks, like he knows how sexy he is and how smooth he can be.

Unable to hide the warmth that flooded her cheeks and navel, and hell, nearly everywhere else, she returned her own look. With purpose, she gently sucked on her bottom lip before releasing it, shutting the door in the same sly manner that he had. As she shut her door, his face hardened with concentration, like he was ready to grab her and lock up the cabin until he was done wither her.

A wicked grin stole her face as walked around the vehicle, her legs turning to jelly as her racing thoughts hallowed her out.

In a way, the sexual frustration was almost fun.

Almost.

It mostly just made her want to explode into a thousand pieces, like she was young and in love for the first time again—

Pursing her lips, she tried to shake those thoughts away. Not out of fear or panic, but because she was terrified of rushing anything, not wanting to ruin it. Plus, do I really feel anything like that for him? I barely just started calling him Joey...

As she walked closer to him, while he shouldered the door to shut it, he said, “Brave of you to give me that look and then just walk away.”

Her grin was anything but smooth. It faltered wildly as she tried to be coy, but the comment just excited her, imaging him taking charge and correcting the situation. Teasingly, she said, “You make it sound like a threat, but it’s really just the opposite for me.”

The corner of his mouth curled. With a single, slow shake of his head, he spoke with a grittier voice, looking at the white SUV that pulled up on the other side of them, “Good, because I am going to wear you out later, Jules.”

In true Ryder fashion, he rolled his eyes to look at her, gauging her reaction.

The warmth that pooled in her cheeks flooded downward to between her legs, a heavy breath escaping her lips as she narrowly smiled. “I am trying to meet your friends, and here you you are giving me blue balls.”

His laughter was quick and natural. It was sweet, with no reservation, and oh how it made her swoon...almost just as much as the way his hands felt on her.

“Feelings mutual, darlin’,” he said, walking by her before heading over to the SUV, although he leaned in to shrewdly add, “Gotta admit, I kind of like the idea of you standing there, wet for me.”

He languidly looked away with an expression of victory, as she was failing miserably to conceal what she wanted. It was like she was promised an ice cream cake for her birthday breakfast, only for her to be told she had to save it for lunch, then for dinner, then for dessert...

She just wanted the damn cake already.

Ryder took a few steps forward as the passenger door to the SUV opened, and Julie’s body might as well have been struck by a monsoon that was ravaged by a snow storm, in the sense that every emotion chaotically whirled inside of her body; she couldn’t focus on anything but Ryder, while also wanting to be on her best behavior for meeting his friends.

Carla and Kyle. His friends. You can fuck Joey later. Meet his friends now...god I am talking to myself like a caveman...

Her attention refocused when a woman, who could only be Carla, exited the white SUV. Carla was around Julie’s height, perhaps even a little taller, wearing a black yoga outfit. Her dark, sleek brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, which draped over her tan shoulders. From the other side came a man that was an inch or two shorter with medium skin, short black hair and dark eyebrows, wearing a white shirt that revealed a muscular figure underneath.

Kyle and Carla Martinez.

The woman flashed a white grin at Julie, waving as Ryder nodded at her. Julie couldn’t tell where Carla was looking, as she wore sunglasses. “Hey! It’s good to meet you, Julie,” Carla said, and Julie tensed with a grin.

Carla went to grab more stuff from the SUV as Julie, who was in near sexual whiplash, tried her best to sound cordial, “Yeah, it’s really nice to meet both of you as well!”

Kyle grabbed some bags, speaking with a slight accent, “Yeah, nice to meet you, Jules.”

Ryder chimed in, addressing Kyle, “You’re looking small, Martinez.”

Kyle chuckled, shutting the car door as Carla grabbed her purse before shutting hers, the two of them coming to face Ryder and Julie, the sun streaking through with the bright noon light.

Kyle squared his shoulders as he looked at Ryder. “Hey, shut the fuck up, man. I’m on a break right now.”

Julie tensed and wasn’t sure how to read anyone, but relaxed quickly when Kyle broke into a wide grin, Carla scoffing as she faced Julie, her reflection in Carla’a sunglasses. “In case you can’t tell, he’s my feisty little man.”

Julie gave a laugh. “All fighters are feisty.”

Carla nodded to Ryder. “Especially this one.”

Ryder rolled his eyes. “Don’t even start, woman.”

“Oh, shut up, you know you love me,” Carla said, grinning widely as she went in for a hug with Ryder. In true Ryder fashion, he didn’t get overly emotional or sentimental, but Julie was learning his expressions and could see how much his face relaxed –despite the lack of clear smile—as he dropped his bag to return the sentiment all the same, pulling Carla in with a single arm hug.

“Good to see you, lady,” Ryder warmly, and quietly, said.

“You look good,” Carla said sincerely, patting his biceps as the hug broke. “You killed it on the screen, man. We are so excited for you.”

Carla faced Julie, raising her sunglasses to reveal warm, brown eyes. “And come here, yourself! I’m a hugger. Let me know if it’s too much.”

Kyle quickly added, “She says that but don’t mean it. She’ll hug you anyway. She’s like a damn golden retriever.”

Carla turned around to playfully smack his chest, pressing her full lips together in a suppression of a smile before facing Julie again with a shake of her head. “Comparing me to a dog,” she joked, Kyle grinning at her from behind, the humor breaking his otherwise stolid face.

Julie could only laugh, eating up the chill vibe of these two. Carla said, “Anyway, bring it in. I also brought wine. We’ll need it, being cooped up with these two.”

Julie went in for the hug with her free arm and added, “Oh, hey, I like you already. Wine is perfect.”

Carla pulled Julie in for a genuine hug full of strength and soft perfume, while in the background, Kyle and Ryder went in for one of those exchanges where the guys grab each other’s hands and pull in for a quick tap of their shoulders.

Julie and Carla parted, and Carla looked them all over with a slight squint from the sun in her eyes as she said, “Alright, let’s go to the cabin! I’m looking forward to a weekend break. It’s a chilly fall, but that’s what the hot tubs are for, right? And ugh, I am looking forward to a firepit. Can’t have one at our rental.”

“I love a smoky firepit in the fall time,” Julie said, Ryder and Kyle chatting behind them.

“Do you like saunas?” Carla asked.

“Oh yeah, I use them for sports therapy.”

“Then you’ll love this cabin. It’s got one in the basement. The boys picked it originally because of it. The only time they could get away was sneaking in a weekend during training,” Carla went to the door as she punched a few numbers into the electronic lock, “and the sauna was like a free massage to them.”

“Heh, and now Joey just brings the whole sports therapist with him,” Julie said, ignoring the small voice in her head that reminded her how awkward that could be, considering Ryder used to date his last sports therapist.

Carla laughed. “Well, I’m happy to finally have some female company. It’s always just these two assholes. I don’t know what kind of wine you like, so I brought a few options. It was Joey that said you like wine, so if I got it wrong, we can just blame him.”

Julie stepped into the cabin, breathing in the smell of wood and cleaning supplies, chuckling .

Before Julie could respond, Ryder was quick to fill her in and said, “Hey, you complain about the two of us, and yet you keep comin’. Sounds like you’re full of shit.”

Carla spun around with a wide grin. “Hey, I gotta tag along because someone has to watch you two, or else you’ll get into a fist fight with a bear after too many beers.”

Julie snickered, imaging Ryder fearlessly insulting a bear because it pissed him off. She shrugged, “I don’t know Kyle yet, so I won’t say anything about him, but I can definitely see Joey doing that.”

“These women have no faith in us,” Kyle said as the two men entered, the door shutting behind them.

Ryder looked at Kyle. ”Yours doesn’t, but mine don’t know shit about the shit we’ve gotten into.”

Julie’s heart warmed at being called Ryder’s woman, especially by him. She sighed with an upward curl of her lips, glancing everyone over, “I don’t even know if I want to know what they’ve gotten into.”

Carla waved her hand and said, “Just dumb guy stuff. Anyway,” she paused and headed into the open living area where natural light spilled in through large windows, “Here’s the main floor. There’s a bedroom at the entrance behind one of those doors, but we rarely use it when we come here. This area is obvious — kitchen, living and dining. You and Joey have the downstairs to yourselves.”

It was in that moment that Julie realized she liked to be called Joey and Julie. It hadn’t dawned on her that they had similar names, as she always knew him as Ryder. Julie placed her cooler next to the kitchen island as Ryder headed for the stairs, with Kyle going up and Ryder going down, the two guys already caught up in another conversation. She really enjoyed seeing him so open and engaged, which was the opposite of who he was in the gym.

Julie glanced at Carla and said, “Yeah, I actually might go check the downstairs out.”

Carla chuckled, winking with a wayward grin. “Yeah, go on.”

Julie opened her mouth with a shy grin, pausing, not sure what to say. She wasn’t used to someone insinuating that the two of them had a fling going on.

Not wanting to linger, Julie turned around towards the stairs, everything in her sparking with an electric high as Ryder glanced at her while descending, smirking when he saw her. “Can’t say no to a beautiful woman following me down the stairs,” he said, loud enough that she was certain Carla heard.

All Julie could do was roll out a chuckle, as she was stuck between ‘Whatever’ and wanting to mumble ‘yeah, well, I want to see what wearing me out means’, but was just too full of fluttery nerves to get anything out.

She still couldn’t get over how euphoric she felt, or how excited she was to have Ryder all to herself, with no restrictions; to even be considered as his date in front of his friends.

She wasn’t even aware of walking down the stairs, as before she knew it, she was at the bottom, which spilled out onto a small landing where one door revealed a sauna, another to a smaller room, and then another to a master suite, which Ryder had already shouldered open.

I’m being so shy right now. Wake up, woman!

Julie had to pass him to enter the master, his face back to being difficult to read, although the look in his eyes—which trailed her as she walked by him—told her everything she needed to know.

As soon as she was in, he placed the bags down by the door and shut it, speaking with a voice that was lower in tone and grittier than usual, “I’ll never not find it adorable when you go quiet when put on the spot. Especially when it’s sexual.”

She dropped her jaw and grinned, saying, “Fine, I can’t help it. My brain turns to mush when I think of what you have planned for me. Or just when I think of you, in general.”

Their gazes only connected for a moment, and she tried to capture how a depth flashed through his hooded eyes before the hunger took over; she wanted more of that depth from him, but she also wasn’t going to argue with the way he took a step towards her, his eyes darkening with desire.

His hands were swiftly around her, encasing her in his arms as his thick, warm lips pressed deep into hers, his strength molding her body to his, the warmth and sturdiness of his chest pressing against her. The heat of their kiss was metaphorical and literal, their lips parting. Hungry tongues pressed hard on the other, the heat of his mouth on hers. Her arms snaked around his thick shoulders and under his open jacket, sliding her hand on his thin shirt underneath, his muscles hard in her hands. Her nose pressed into his cheek as they kissed, and she melted into the grip that he had on her, breathing in his cologne, musk, leather, and the wood of the cabin.

His hand traveled low enough to grab her rear, squeezing it while also pulling her hips closer to him. She moaned into his mouth, and something sexually aggressive returned the fervor, his grunt low, his hands possessive, and his kisses hungry.

He kissed her like he wanted her as his; like he wanted to overpower her and fill her with everything he had.

She began to throb between her legs, picturing him having his absolute way with her. She wanted this man so badly that it nearly hurt; she wanted to his face between her legs, then to feel his hands locked on her hips as he had his way with her...

The sound of the balcony door sliding open on the main floor made her pause, opening her eyes in a lusty haze. His eyes opened as well, pulling his face away in a lazy motion.

“We’re going to the store, man! Forgot a wine opener,” Kyle yelled out, able to be heard through the glass from above.

It was a good reminder that while she didn’t hear them above, that sound permeated through the windows.

Ryder rolled his eyes back to Julie, who not only realized, but accepted, a wicked smile curling his lip upwards, and what that insinuated.

Had they really been granted a surprise time alone? Oh shit, we might really do it then...

Ryder parted quickly, and then moved to the balcony door to slide it open, yelling back, “Grab the usual.”

A snicker sounded back, “Already on it, dude.”

Then, Ryder shut the door, looking at her and shrugging, “I usually get the basement and it’s easier to yell at each other like this. Weird habit of ours.”

A grin stole her face, absolutely enamored with all the small details of his life.

He took off his coat in a casual manner, laying it on a chair near the door, before taking in a deep breath and looking at her.

“I almost feel bad,” he said, his gaze moving all over her body.

“Why?” she quietly asked, only half paying attention, as the other half wanted to lean in and kiss him again, especially as he got within a foot of her.

He didn’t respond right away, and instead he continued to look her over, moving one of his hands to her hip, caressing and gripping it, tugging her closer with a look of wild passion in his eyes. He leaned closer, hovering his mouth in front of hers, his warm breath on her lips. “I’m gonna fuck you. A lot. And I been thinkin’ about it for a while now, and something tells me you don’t want me to hold back,” he said.

She didn’t even answer him, and rather dove in for a zealous kiss. His response was instant, and he pulled hard on her in a way that absolutely ruined her underwear, as his motion was fluid and full of power.

It was easy to become lost and consumed in him, as damn did she want this man to make her sore. Instead of pulling back, she moved her hips against his groin, his erection pressing hard against his jeans. She remembered its girth, wanting that to fill her as deep as he could go.

His lips parted, although only enough for him to mumble, his dark, lusty gaze boring into hers, groaning in almost a threat. “I can’t have you do that and not fuck you.”

“How far away is their store?”

“Ten minutes. So twenty ’til their back.”

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