Ryan felt like he was in a rut. It’d been two months since Taylor’s wedding and almost 4 months months since the kidnapping. He worked at the gym during the day and went to his apartment at night.
He never knew if Rosa would be there or not. Her shifts were crazy. And ever since she decided to go back to school for her BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree, it sucked up the rest of her time. She either came home and crashed, or spent the entire day with her nose in a book. Very little of her time was left for him.
Rea announced her engagement to Evan and they bought a house together. They hadn’t set a date yet, but he figured it’d be soon. They were disgustingly happy. But his sister and Evan had been through hell and he was happy for her. They deserved it.
Taylor and Elliott were just a disgusting. Happy and content together, married now, living in Reagan’s old house, formerly his father’s. Plus, they just broke ground on their own restaurant in Newcrest.
So, why wasn’t he moving forward with his own plans to build a gym? Dammit! He knew he needed financial backing and someone to bounce ideas around with. He couldn’t expect Rosa to help, she was pretty much checked out until she got her degree.
When he got home that evening, he saw Rosa had left a note. Why didn’t she just text him like everyone else? He sighed. He knew why. Probably because he’d text her back and bitch.
‘Going to be late tonight. Around 10:30. Don’t wait up. XXX’
What the fuck? School was out at 7:30. So why so late? He got no time with her as it was, and maybe when they could’ve had a late supper together, she ditched him. Yes, he was fucking waiting up. They were going to talk.
He threw a frozen dinner in the microwave and slammed the door.
He ate the nasty thing, alone, then grabbed a beer. When did his life get so damn boring? When Rosa moved in … no … when she went back to school. He flopped down on the couch and turned on the TV.
Finally, he heard the key in the lock and the door opened. Then the lights came on, blinding him. Ryan quickly closed his eyes. “Dammit!” he yelled.
Rosa let out a little yelp. “Ryan! You scared the crap outta me! What are you doing sitting here in the dark?”
“Waiting for you to get home. You’re late.” He was pissed.
“I lost track of time. We were celebrating. We all passed our exam. I didn’t expect you to be waiting up anyway. Is something wrong?”
“Who is we?” he asked, “I could’ve come and celebrated with you.” He knew, but he wanted to hear her say it. She was out partying with her fucking friends.
“Awww. Is somebody jealous?” she asked, dragging out her words, singsonging them like he was a small child.
Ryan didn’t think it was one bit funny. “Cut the shit Rosa.”
She sat down next to him. “Ryan, what’s really bothering you?”
He started spewing out everything he’d been thinking. “I need to move forward. I’m stuck in this stupid ass job. I want to open my own gym. But I need help and you aren’t around to talk to about my ideas. Plus, you and I, we’re just going through the motions in our relationship. You would rather party with your friends than be with me. I feel like I’m treading water and will eventually drown.”
Rosa was no longer smiling. “This is NOT my fault Ryan Murdock! You don’t need me to do what you want to do. I would’ve gone back to school regardless. I had that planned long before you begged me to move in with you!”
Ryan was beyond pissed. He was livid. He was trying to be serious and she just got defensive. “I didn’t beg!” Maybe I begged a little said a tiny voice in the back of his brain and he quickly pushed it away. “And, going back to school is NOT the same as starting a business!” he snapped back. “I thought we were in this together. Is living with me just a convenient place to sleep?”
“Ryan … no,” she said softly, seeming to finally get what he was saying, “of course not.”
“Rosa, it’s just that you don’t feel … invested anymore,” said Ryan, reaching for a word to explain.
“What do you mean Ryan?” she asked, looking like she was afraid of his answer.
“Fuck, Rosa. Invested in our future. Not just yours. Starting a business is a big deal and it feels like you are only focused on your career to the exclusion of all else.”
Rosa bit her lip before responding, like she was carefully choosing her words. “I have to Ryan … for me,” she said softly, “I have to make sure I can support myself. We live together … but it feels like we’re becoming more like friends with benefits … like you could walk away from me tomorrow.”
Ryan was floored. She still didn’t trust him. How did he not know this? “Rosa,” he said softening his words as much as he could, “I asked,” okay begged, “you to live with me because I thought you felt the same way. After all the shit that happened with Avery, I didn’t want to waste any time that we might have together … because I was falling in I love with you.”
She looked distressed at his words and shook her head slowly. “You wouldn’t know it anymore. Ever since that night Reagan called you to come rescue her, you’ve changed.”
That struck a nerve. “Almost get beat to death and see how you feel! I was pretty shaken up. That goddamned bastard tried to kill me, and I thought my twin sister might’ve killed him. He’s insane. I needed you badly, but when I got home, you were gone.”
“I was at work Ryan!” she said defensively.
“I know. But you could’ve called in.”
“Ryan … I don’t have seniority like that. That’s not fair. I can’t just make my own hours.”
“Would you feel better if we were married?” he asked. Maybe that was what she needed to know he wouldn’t leave her.
“What?” She was incredulous, not what he had hoped. “Was that some sort of back door proposal?”
“No. Dammit, I’m just afraid of losing you. It feels like I already have.” He had given up and had no fight left in him.
“Ryan, look at me. I came home to you. It’s you who isn’t ready to commit. Not me. So don’t you dare propose to me until you are damn sure that’s what you really mean. And until you do, you’re future’s in your hands and my future’s in my hands.”
She was fucking preaching to him. But was she right? And he wasn’t ready to commit? Or was it because he was stagnant and needed a change that he’d thrown out that half baked proposal? Finally he looked her. “I don’t want you to feel like we are only friends. We are more than that Rosa. We should be working together on our future, not in silos.” He couldn’t help but continue to try. He needed her. Without her, he had nothing.
She sighed, and leaned back. Maybe he’d broken through her walls. “What kind of future?” she asked gently. “Do you want children? We haven’t even talked about that.”
Ryan realized she was right. They hadn’t really talked about their future at all. He reached out, put his arm around her and pulled her close. Thankfully, she didn’t pull away. He missed holding her. “I’m sorry Rosa, you’re right,” he said gently, “we should talk about those things. Right now, I have a business to get started, so no, I don’t have time for kids, I can’t even imagine it. Did you want children?”
“No Ryan, I don’t want any right now either,” she said and sighed softly, “I want to get my career to a good place first too. But I do someday … with you.”
Ryan let out a relieved breath and pulled her closer. “I’m sorry baby. I don’t want to fight with you. Maybe I was a little jealous. We’ll figure it out.”
He kissed her forehead and she melted into him.
Soon, they both forgot about their argument.
The next morning, while Ryan worked out, he thought about everything Rosa said. She was right. Marriage scared the shit outta him, and kids, even more so. Because, frankly, neither of them was ready. They were both still getting established in their chosen professions.
He also knew he needed a business partner to make building a Gym work. But who? He had no idea. Maybe Evan could help him with some ideas, or even his father. His father had a successful business. Of course.
Ryan texted his dad and asked if he could meet for lunch. He wanted to get his advice. Just because they were different types of businesses didn’t mean the premises of starting a business were different. He felt energized again for the first time in a long time.
Ryan got to the restaurant before his dad. He was suddenly nervous. What if his father thought he was rushing things? He didn’t have long to stew over it.
His dad walked in and grinned when he saw him. “Hey! Thanks for asking me to lunch,” he said as he sat down and picked up a menu. “I usually work right through. What’s good here?”
Ryan felt a little pang of guilt. Damn, I should do this more often, not just when I need something, he thought. “Their pizza is good, I guess, and you’re welcome, but it was actually a little selfish,” apologized Ryan, “I wanted to pick your brain.” That just made his father’s chest puff out. Yep, I need to spend more time with him, thought Ryan and made a mental note to do so.
While they ate, Cole offered Ryan really sound advice for getting started. He also surprised him by offering up seed money to help.
“I didn’t come to ask for cash, Dad,” he said embarrassed.
“Ryan, I helped your sisters. I helped Taylor and Elliott with the restaurant. I’m certainly going to help you too.”
“You said sisters,” asked Ryan confused, “You gave money to Reagan? What for?”
“To help her with your mother,” he said and winced a little.
“You mean Avery?” he corrected. She wasn’t his mother as far as he was concerned.
Cole’s eyebrow shot up but he didn’t say anything about his refusal to acknowledge her as his mother. “She was bleeding your sister dry Ryan. And Reagan didn’t ask either. I just gave it to her and told her to keep it. She and Evan used it as a down payment on their new house.” He smiled before continuing. “Reagan and Evan will do well. He’s a good man and I’ve never seen her so happy.”
Ryan took a bite of his pizza and thought about what his father said. He agreed with his assessment of his sister. She practically floated everywhere. It was actually kinda disgusting, and maybe part of what prompted him to realize how much his own life sucked. “Speaking of Reagan,” said Ryan, “has anyone heard from Archer since he stalked her at the wedding?”
His dad thought for a second before finally responding. “Dad said he was transferred to Germany. Something about starting up an office there. Honestly, I think your grandfather called in some favors. After the wine bottle incident, and then him stalking her, he was worried for her safety, if not just her peace of mind.”
“That’s a crap answer and you know it,” challenged Ryan. “I thought we were having an honest conversation for once. Grandpa threatened Archer at his apartment, and he backed down. How the hell does that happen with that asshole. What is really going on with Archer and Jason’s dad. Why did you call him when Avery took Reagan? Why not the police?”
Cole ran his hands through his hair and rubbed his forehead. “Finish your meal and then we’ll go somewhere more private to talk. But what I tell you, stays with you.”
“Okaaay,” replied Ryan, even more curious now.
“Soooo, on a lighter note, how are you and Rosa?” asked Cole.
“Taking it slow,” said Ryan. It made him sad because when she moved in he thought they would be a team and they haven’t been. They sleep together more nights than before. But they still live their own lives.
Cole’s brow creased. “Oh? Trouble?”
Ryan didn’t want to talk about Rosa. “Not really. We’re just so focused on our own careers we barely see each other.”
Cole looked worried. “That’s a recipe for disaster. I know from experience.”
“With Avery?” asked Ryan, suddenly curious.
“No. Sort of, I guess. So, before Avery, I became engaged to a woman named Yasmine, right out of college. Like you, our careers had us barely seeing each other, and she eventually broke off the engagement. I was devastated and made a lot of bad choices afterwards. But they gave me my children, and for that, I’m grateful.”
“Damn. Were you a ladies man Dad?” Ryan laughed. This was a side of his father he hadn’t seen before and he was intrigued.
Cole laughed along with him. “Hardly. If I was, Dannie and I might’ve gotten together a long time ago. Instead, I had a series of broken relationships. I almost let Dannie get away too.”
“So how did you get with Avery?”
“We started seeing each other right after my breakup. She bought me a puppy and we eloped to Las Vegas. It was good for awhile, but I don’t think she ever really loved me, or you and Reagan for that matter. I’m sorry Ryan, I failed you two. I should’ve realized how bad it was long before it escalated.”
Ryan was seeing his father through new eyes. Avery had been a nasty manipulative bitch, and he could see how she could easily take advantage of someone kindhearted like him, his sister too for that matter. “Dad … don’t beat yourself up. I was buying into her bullshit too, at first.”
The waiter came over and his dad insisted on paying the bill. Ryan realized he really did admire his father. He’d been through hell with Avery. And then he and Reagan turned on him when they found out about Taylor. God they were awful to him. And yet he was there for them every time they needed him. In fact, he almost died for Reagan.
When they stood up to leave, Ryan impulsively pulled him into a hug. “I love you Dad.”
“Love you too son. Come on. Let’s go to my office and have that talk.”
Ryan sat alone in his apartment that evening, reflecting on the afternoon with his father. After they had an eye opening lunch, his father had taken him to his clinic and told him why Grandpa Ben was able to make Archer go away. It turns out his dad’s friend, Mickey Blake, Jason’s dad, and their family were involved in organized crime.
His dad didn’t know much other than that, because he tried to distance himself from it. But he did know that his own father, Grandpa Ben, had been involved with them at one point, growing marijuana for street use when it was still illegal. Damn, thought Ryan, Grandpa was mixed up with gangsters? No wonder he was so damn scary that night.
His dad went on the tell Ryan that, with the Blake’s help, his grandfather had gotten out had managed to get out of it right before he and Sofia got married. But the connections remained. BASE was just one of the companies owned by the Blake family. It was a legit company, yet a cover for some not so scrupulous activities. when needed. That’s why his dad had called them when Reagan was kidnapped – and when his sister had been run over. He had known they would use tactics the police might not be able to employee in order to help find and rescue Reagan.
Jason’s dad is a fucking gangster. That blew Ryan’s mind. And fuckhead Archer was involved with them too. He should’ve known that, just by the way he handled the operations for the kidnapping. And now he wondered if Jason was involved too. Probably. Doesn’t all that shit get passed down within a family? Ryan shivered to think about it and was very glad his family was no longer a part of it. He bet Aunt Ami didn’t know either because she still used BASE for security at C&M. Or, maybe that’s why she does. Damn. He felt like he’d been living under a rock.
He was glad his father confided in him. It made a lot of things make more sense. But still, he had his own issues to worry about. Rosa for one. She had school tonight and wouldn’t be home until late, so he dragged himself off the couch and to the shower.
As he showered, he vowed to himself to make things better with Rosa. He would make a concentrated effort to give more of himself and show interest in her career choice, even though the hours and time she was putting in sucked. He figured his own was going to get just as sucky very soon, now that he had the money to actually start working on building his gym. He knew their relationship wasn’t strong enough right now to weather the strain, especially after what she’d said. He didn’t have much time to turn it around, but he was going to try his best.