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play hard

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One of the things that Freema prides herself on most is her ability to keep her personal life entirely out of the scope of anyone else’s business. As hard as that is, she likes to think she’s gotten into the groove of it over the years. Ryan meanwhile—god help him—is an absolute fucking disaster.

Their respective spectrums for acceptable levels of public intimacy don’t overlap; Ryan lives for chaos and attention and doesn’t give a damn who gets caught in the crosshairs with him. He’ll put a gentle hand on her during an interview and not understand why that makes her lose her entire train of thought. He’ll whisper something filthy to her as he walks behind her on camera and she’ll have to fake a laugh like it was a bad joke rather than a suggestion she couldn’t repeat out loud without blushing to her core.

It had been fun and casual and completely reckless at first, and then almost as quickly, it had become awkward and loaded with enough tension to slide a knife through. With the year they’ve both had, Freema would be lying if she said distance and time haven’t softened her a little. As if she hadn’t spent the better part of a fortnight with her heart in her throat and her phone glued to her hand when he was sick. Then, like idiots, they’d spent half a year in the same building dancing around each other, taking so long to ease back into their stride that by the time the moment had arrived, it was too late and she was on a plane to Heathrow, staring numbly at a single photo on her camera roll for six pathetic hours.

Two months of self-pity with a chaser of sexual frustration had followed, and at some point that she can’t quite put her finger on, she'd thought fuck it, and let herself fantasise about him again.

So, when Ryan, on one of their too-regular-to-be-just-good-friends FaceTimes, had whispered ‘meet me in LA the week before table reads start - I know somewhere private where we can just disappear,’ Freema had thought it over for a whole ten minutes before calling the airline to change her flight. What was at first simple and had then been complicated has come full circle. Ryan is a good friend, a phenomenal shag, and the rest they can work out at some point in the future—or not, as seems to be their speciality.

And now, well, they’ve been playing will-we-won’t-we with each other in a secluded beach-house for 36 hours because apparently they’re both junkies for the thrill of the chase, even the second time around. Freema’s face-down on a sun lounger with a terrible paperback thriller in her hands, and a bottle of suncream on the ground beside her which isn’t going to attend to itself.

“Ry,” she calls over to the deck, where he’s stretched out in a hammock sipping something orange and undoubtedly alcoholic. “Can you do my back?”

He flashes her that cheeky schoolboy grin that she wishes she could find anything other than adorable. His hands though, god his hands. The first touch of his palms on her shoulder blades sends a shiver through her, and Freema hates that her body gives her away this easily around him because playing it cool is fun and safe and means never getting hurt, whereas this is pure desire, the kind that drives you insane and bares your soul in the same breath, given half the chance.

Ryan’s hands on her spine ground her again; the soft pads of his fingertips, never still, dancing across her skin. Freema doesn’t feel the moment he unties the back of her bikini top, but she feels the aftermath of it as he slips his hands further and further around her sides until he’s grazing her nipples. The feeling goes straight through her, and she lets her book fall to the floor, no longer able to pretend it’s holding any of her attention at all.

Ryan’s a tease though, and his hands are gone before she can articulate aloud exactly how invested she is in him carrying on. His thumbs land at the dimples of her spine with the exact amount of pressure needed to draw a moan from her, and sure, if the teasing is going to continue then at the very least she’s going to get a great back-rub out of it.

Eventually he moves on, completely giving up the pretence of the suncream as he starts to massage her ass and thighs. Freema’s beyond turned on now, and if it weren’t tantamount to admitting defeat she’d be hopping up off this seat and climbing him like a tree without a second thought. Instead, she takes a deep breath, picks up her phone from the floor and—without warning—rolls over.

Ryan looks nonplussed as she shoos him to the side with one of her feet before dangling both casually in the air, crossing her ankles and taking a quick photo with the orange parasol in the background.


“It’s Monday,” she explains. “Me going incommunicado isn’t a good enough excuse to skip the musing. Plus, something about what’s happening right now tells me I won’t be taking many pictures for the rest of the week.”

“Oh?” Ryan frames his expression into a look of mock confusion.

She gives him a look. “Do I even have any suncream on me right now?”

“Well,” he shrugs. “At least enough to shield you on the twenty foot walk to the bedroom.”