Ryder:SEALs of Honor, Book 14(5)

By: Dale Mayer

Ryder retreated as fast as he could.

She watched until he disappeared from sight. Even though little love was lost between the two men, they were teammates. They would still be concerned about each other. She hated that she’d come between them. She hadn’t intended to. Mac knew some of what had gone down between Ryder and her, and Mac had been there to help, hoping she’d patch things up. But she’d refused to answer Ryder’s many initial attempts to contact her because she wasn’t in a mental state to do so.

After he stopped calling, and she took over reaching out, she’d turn mute on the phone once Ryder answered and would hang up in exasperation. This went on for months. Followed by her stalking Ryder phase. Which hadn’t led to any communication between the two of them either. When Ryder had seen her with Mac, that had been it. Ryder had walked away from her at the barbecue without giving her a chance to say a word to him. And that was the only reason she’d gone to the party—because Mac had told her that Ryder would be there.

Now she realized it hadn’t been the best decision. Of course Ryder would’ve taken things out of context and would have believed she was with Mac. She’d seen the anger on his face—the hurt. Mac and Ryder had been good friends, until Ryder had seen her with Mac at the barbecue. Mac said things had changed after that. Not in a major way but, if Mac joined them while they were hanging out, Ryder would inevitably find an excuse to leave. Or, if they arrived at the gym at the same time, Ryder would head in the opposite direction. Subtle changes but obvious ones to Mac.

She knew Ryder’s walls would be higher, bigger and stronger after the barbecue. Another event she had to make up for. She had to get him past all that history in order for him to understand that Mac was her friend, not her lover.

She stared down at her hands, wondering at the foolishness of her actions. She’d specifically asked to come overseas—hoping on the off chance Ryder would show up wherever she was posted. That she’d see him, talk to him.

Afterward, she realized she had to talk to Ryder face-to-face, so she’d stalked him for months. Mac had caught her midstalking and finally wrangled the truth from her. She’d felt like a fool. Mac had alternated between angry and horrified. She remembered his words clearly.

“Well, I’ll be damned. As much as I’d love to know a woman cared enough to track me down, stalking is damn creepy,” he said.

And that’s when she’d stopped. Mac was right. She wanted to apologize to Ryder for being too scared early on to discuss what making love had done to their decades-long best-friends-only friendship. Hence the barbecue and her overseas assignments.

Yet, why hadn’t she said something now? Why did she keep avoiding this? She stood outside the medic tent to detect the direction he’d gone.

She could’ve gone into the private medical sector and made a killing, but here she served her country, putting herself in danger every day. Mostly as a punishment.

And for a chance to see Ryder. As she turned, somebody stepped up and blocked her way. She glared up at Corey. “What’s your problem?”

He thrust his face toward hers. “Leave Ryder alone. You’ve done enough harm already.” On that note Corey spun on his heels and stormed off.

Inside she broke a little more. She hadn’t wanted to hurt Ryder but knew she had. His declaration of love—after twenty platonic years as best friends—had been like a bomb of awareness going off inside that had confused and devastated her to the point she no longer knew what was real and what wasn’t. Like an injured animal, she’d hidden away, trying to find a new normal in a world gone awry.

It was foolish to say she was just young and immature. Ryder had always been there on the sidelines, watching, friendly and supportive.

He’d been at her graduation, her wedding. He’d been her best friend, but she’d been sure he wasn’t the one. If there was one thing she could count on, it was that he was her best friend. Forever. And he would never be the love of her life.

She found out the hard way how wrong she’d been.

That weekend she lost her longtime best friend … and her newest lover.

She didn’t remember how they had ended up in bed that night and stayed there for the entire weekend. Might have been the wine, but neither of them drank much. Ever. Might have been her devastation mixed with joy over her divorce. She’d been a mess at the time, finding George’s complaints about their marriage so off base. Was there anything more confusing than a major breakup? First there’d been George. Then no George. And through it all there had been Ryder. The mainstay of her life—until that weekend. The sex had been phenomenal, overwhelmingly hot, passionate, fun, caring. When she woke up after that marathon and saw his face, heard his whispered declaration, her heart wanted to rejoice, but her mind had rejected everything. Her feet had picked up and followed her mind.

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