RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 6

J U L I E
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Julie was in the break room the following Tuesday, picking parts of her salad out of her teeth. While she loved Cheetos, that was a Friday thing. Most days she ate healthy and with Ryder around, she didn’t feel like gaining any weight, just to prove to him that she was as professional as it got.

After lunch, she went to her office to make some afternoon coffee before sitting down to chat with Ryder. A year ago, Jeremy surprised her with a coffee maker, grinder, and fresh coffee beans. Her new found love for gourmet coffee began there, sprouting like a well-watered plant thirsty for caffeine, but she supposed there were worse addictions.

Now that her room smelled like fresh coffee and a warm mug in hand, she saw a face that ignited strong reactions all throughout her; Joey Ryder. It was his stupid face and the way those sweats looked on him. He was so brutal and handsome, with eyes warning anyone not to get too close. It was catnip to her and that annoyed her even more.

Julie sighed. He’s an asshole, remember? She just needed a boyfriend to fill the empty space in her head, or a new hobby; something other than the useless ramblings of her thoughts.

“Hey,” he said as he neared her room, no warmth to be found in his deep, raspy voice. He was clearly here to go over the information she received from Andrew, and that was it.

“You want any coffee or anything?” she asked.

“Black,” he said, sitting down in her chair, groaning as he moved. She was used to that, as most of the guys here were always in some state of being sore.

She poured him a cup, steam rolling off of the top. She handed him the mug with the UFC logo on it and sat down across from him. His short, dark brown hair looked freshly cut, the tips slightly gelled in his usual look.

She popped the back of her pen and put her hand down, ready to write. “So, let’s start with all major injuries you’ve ever had.”

“That’ll be quite a list.”

“Gotta know it.”

He nodded, taking a sip, scrunching his brows as he looked at his coffee. “This is good coffee.”

“Yeah, whole beans, freshly ground. One day I’ll buy a latte maker, but for now it’s just black.”

He sipped some more before setting the mug down and re-positioned himself, and she swore the way that hoodie draped over his shoulders was a cruel joke from whatever god was out there.

She had a thing for muscular shoulders.

“Let’s see, I have had a broken tibula, broken collarbone, rotator cuff tear at a severity of two, laceration in the back that tore some muscle, face and nose fractures, concussions, and broken ribs.”

“How did the healing go for those? Are there any lingering problem areas?” she asked, writing those notes down.

“Pretty well, honestly. The shoulder is the only thing that bothers me. But it’s more sore than injured,” he said, mindlessly biting on his lower lip.

She looked down at the notepad. “And the back? How deep was that cut? What was it caused from?” She was honestly keen on that, but that was mostly just out of curiosity. It was also important to ask, as lacerations cut the muscles in different ways than natural tears.

Plus, how did one get sliced in the back?

“That’s the one I don’t want to talk about, and all you need to know is it was shallow enough to heal for full recovery.”

She nodded, used to these men wanting to keep their secrets. Still, it only made her more curious. “Any joint pain?”

“Knees sometimes hurt but that’s normal at thirty-two.”

“Have you ever used any hard drugs?”

“Tried coke once. Don’t like how it makes my heart race. Weed is no stranger to me.”

“Do you drink?”

“I had a bout of severe drinking for a few years. But it wasn’t an addiction. Just coping.”

“How’s your mind? Anything I need to watch out for?”

“I don’t like random loud sounds. I can handle the gym, ’cause I’m used to those. It’s the ones I’m not expecting that I don’t like.”

She glanced up at the mass of muscle that was Joey Ryder, trying to imagine him frightened of loud sounds. “From what?”

“My history,” he said bluntly, swiping his tongue on his lip, his eyes hard on her. Breaking into him is like tackling Fort Knox.

“You don’t need to give me details. I just need to know the triggers,” she said.

“You my therapist now?”

She waved her hands around vaguely. “Your sports therapist, yeah.”

He gave her a deadpan stare before languidly blinking and crossing his arms. “I’ve been through a lot of shit. None of it’s holding me back. I just don’t fucking like random, loud sounds.”

She moved on, despite that also begging for her to know more about. “So, you’re moderately healthy then for a thirty-two-old fighter. That right?”

“That’s right,” he said, sniffing as he glowered. Also putting down that he is like talking to a brick wall.

“What made you want to do this? To enter Warlord?”

“Money. That’s all I’m sayin’.”

Ain’t getting much from him, that’s for sure. ”Alright, well, I’m going to monitor you for the rest of the day. I don’t need to be your friend for this, but I really, really emphasize the more you’re honest with me, the easier it is to treat injuries and to train. Usually it’s fine, but when working one on one with an elite athlete, knowing small details can enhance the training experience.”

“Noted,” he said, pursing his full lips.

“Well, welcome to Rhino MMA, Ryder. I look forward to getting you in top shape,” she said with as much professionalism as she could muster.

He exhaled and stood up. “When do I see you next?”

“I am going to watch you all day today. You’ll end with twenty in the sauna. Then two days from now we will reconvene. I want to give you some time to get sore and tight, figure out where your muscles lock up as long as nothing is killing you. We can go from there.”

She stood up and noticed that she came up to his shoulders. Even now, she felt some annoying, lingering of the crush from ten years ago still holding onto her like it was telling her to chip away at his armor, begging for her to reach beneath the angry surface. A warm flush spread through her neck and cheeks, recalling the way he glowered when in the ring.

Julie had forgotten how much she loved to watch that man fight.

But she knew entertaining such thoughts was pointless.

Ryder turned to leave her room, but as he stood in the doorway, he glanced over his shoulder and said, “Cake was good by the way.”

Her cheeks flushed with a burning warmth, and she was almost mad at him for making her blush like that.

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