Ryder (Slater Brothers #4)(3) by L.A. Casey

“No,” he agreed, “but it’d be nice if I could hit it at least once a fucking week. I haven’t touched you in months. I’d settle for fucking spooning at this point.”

He spoke of me like I was nothing more than a sexual object.

“And whose fault is that?” I bellowed, throwing my hands in the air. “You’ve pulled away from me. We don’t talk, we don’t laugh, we don’t do anythin’ but fight with one another and it’s your bloody fault. You have landed us in this rut, and the sad thing is I don’t even know why! I don’t know what you do when you leave the house every night or why you’re always on your phone, and it’s pathetic that I’ve just accepted it, but I’m too tired. I fight with you all the time, I’m too exhausted to do anythin’ else.”

I turned my head and looked out the window of the car, willing the tears in my eyes not to fall. I didn’t want to cry. I was fucking sick of crying.

“I’ve told you I’m taking care of some things. That’s all you need to know.”

He had been ‘taking care of some things’ for a fucking year now; he needed to change up his response because it was getting old, and the more I heard it, the more it grated on my already worn nerves.

I closed my eyes, gutted he still wouldn’t share his secrets with me.

“I don’t believe you, Ryder,” I said quietly.

“Then I don’t know what to tell you, Branna,” he replied with agitation though he tried to cover it up with a scowl.

“How about the truth for once?” I countered. “Just tell me where you go and what you do. Please.”

His hands tightened around the steering wheel once more as we approached our street.

“I can’t tell you, you wouldn’t understand.”

I looked down to my thighs. “I can’t understand if you don’t help me to.”

Ryder grunted as he pulled into our driveway, and put the car in park. He took his keys from the ignition and said, “This is on me, okay? It’s nothing for you to worry about, and you will worry if I tell you, and I don’t want that to happen. We’re all under a lot of pressure with Big Phil still out there, and my business doesn’t need to be added to that.”

He got out of the car, closed the door, then walked up the pathway and disappeared into our house, leaving me on my own with only my thoughts for company.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I said aloud, forcing myself to hear the words I’ve silently repeated over and over these last few months.

We couldn’t continue on the path we were on. Something had to change, and in that moment I knew exactly what I had to do to start the healing process for the many wounds that had been cut open and exposed over the last few years. I had to make a change. I had to separate myself from the very being that wounded me so... even if he didn’t mean to.

I squeezed my eyes shut as pain struck. The remaining fragments of my willowed heart shattered into a million pieces as I made a life changing decision. A decision that would affect not only me, but my family and friends too. I reached out and blindingly gripped onto the dashboard of the car to stop myself from collapsing forward as I realised what I needed to do to be free.

I had to break up with Ryder.

Don’t cry.

When my alarm went off the next morning, I sat up from my temporary bed in Dominic’s old bedroom and winced. I lifted my hands to my face and sucked in a deep breath as my fingertips ran over the tender flesh under my eyes. They were slightly swollen and stung like a bitch, no doubt from crying myself to sleep the previous night.

I wanted to weep all over again when realisation hit that the sleep I eventually managed to get did absolutely nothing to change my mind about the decision I came to about Ryder, and that hurt even worse. I was hoping I would wake up and completely disregard my thoughts from the night before, but I didn’t. I was so tired of being sad, and I needed to say goodbye to Ryder to stop that hurt.

I knew leaving him would open a whole other kind of wound filled with a different hurt, but I couldn’t see a way around our current situation. Talking to him didn’t work, shouting at him didn’t work, screaming and crying didn’t work. Nothing bloody worked.

I didn’t want to argue anymore, I didn’t want to cry anymore, I didn’t want to fight anymore. I was exhausted. I was done.

“How am I goin’ to do this?” I whispered to the empty room.

I closed my eyes and wished for the billionth time that I had my mother to talk to. I desperately needed someone to guide me, and I couldn’t ask Bronagh or my friends, because it was me they came to when things went wrong, not the other way around. I was the eldest. I was never meant to lose my way; I was supposed to help others find theirs.

I was on my own.

I opened my eyes after a few moments and took a deep calming breath.

Work, I reminded myself. You have to go to work.

I would figure out how to end things with Ryder later, but right now I needed to get showered, dressed and go to work. I loved my job, which wasn’t something a lot of people could say. It wasn’t easy, and there were times I shed a lot of tears when a delivery went wrong, but nine times out of ten, I got to aid a woman bringing life into this world, and that soothed my soul.

It was the only thing in my life that kept me sane.

When I exited Dominic’s old room, I listened for any sign of movement downstairs, but I heard nothing, which told me that Ryder wasn’t home yet, or that he was still in bed. I didn’t dare venture towards our shared bedroom to check because I would be hurt either way. If he were there, I’d be reminded that I had to break up with him, and if he wasn’t, it was another reminder of why I had to break up with him.

I didn’t win either way.

I turned and went back into the room I slept in and headed for the attached en-suite. I had showered in it multiple times over the last few months, so I kept some of my products in there for times when I couldn’t sleep with Ryder, or in our bed. It was so messed up, but lately I couldn’t sleep in our bed without him because I felt lonely, and I couldn’t sleep in it with him either because his refusal to tell me what he was up to hurt too much.

It was a royally fucked up situation that I found myself in, and unfortunately the only solution I could find would kill me as much as it would Ryder.

Don’t think about it, I willed myself.

After I showered, I dressed and plated my hair back into a French braid. I flattened my palms over the front of my uniform and made sure I attached my pocket watch and nametag to my shirt. In the bathroom, I filled in my brows to darken them and applied my favourite strawberry scented moisturiser.

I never put anything else on my face when I went to work. I did back when I first started, but I quickly found that I rubbed my face and eyes a lot during my shifts and thus ruined my carefully applied makeup. Not to mention it got it all over my hands, too. It wasn’t worth the hassle so moisturising my face and filling in my brows were all I ever focused on.

I grabbed hold of my bag and put my phone and purse into it then headed downstairs, and made sure to keep all noise to a minimum. Whilst in the kitchen, I passed on breakfast and made a cup of tea instead. When I finished drinking my tea, I checked the time and cursed under my breath when I saw I was going to have to hustle to make it in time to catch the bus.

I scurried out of the kitchen, grabbed my coat from the rack in the hall, put it on then high tailed it out of the house. I shivered as the crisp October morning air surrounded me, nipping at my exposed skin. I made a mental note to buy a scarf and a pair of gloves as I walked out of the garden and closed the gate behind me. I turned and briskly walked in the direction of the bus stop.

I didn’t know why, but I felt as if someone’s eyes were on me so I glanced over my shoulder and when I saw no one was behind me, I looked at my house and swallowed. I locked my eyes on the window to my bedroom and saw Ryder was standing at it, shirtless, with his arms above his head. I knew he was gripping onto the curtain pole above him, but I wished he hadn’t been because it showcased his rippling torso perfectly. I could see each sculpted muscle even at a distance.

He was looking at me, I felt his gaze trained on me, but I forced myself to shrug it off. I couldn’t allow myself to become putty in his hands simply by him looking at me. I had to be strong. I had to focus on me. I turned away from my house, and Ryder, and broke out into a jog. I didn’t stop moving until I reached the bus stop down the end of the street. I got there just as the bus pulled up.

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