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SERIES: Knight In Shining Suit (Episode 11)

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Jacob’s and Angela’s big day was also a big day for me. It was my debut. A coming out… a vindication… a resurrection… a rebirth.


I worked tirelessly for the entire day, tying up lose ends, making last minute confirmations, making sure that nothing will go wrong.

The ceremony by the beach was perfect. The way we arranged the place made it look like they were not in the beach at all. Instead, they were in paradise. We had the reception in an open area, facing the beach where huge lanterns were lighted along the shore and some in the sea itself. At least four bubble machines were blowing bubbles in the air. The ground of the reception had rose petals scattered around it. All the guests were wearing flower garlands. Torches were lit around the area of the reception, to give a little beach bonfire atmosphere. The whole setting was a combination of beach paradise and elegant wedding bliss. I was so proud with the results.

“I am so… so happy!” Angela said to me just before dinner started. “You are a genius, Astrid! I would recommend you to all my friends!” She beamed.

Jacob was so happy that his bride was positively glowing on their wedding day.

“Thank you.” He said to me and I know he really meant it. 

I was looking contentedly at the guests. It was after dinner and the bride and groom were dancing along with the other guests. Just then, I heard somebody speak behind me.


“So, I see you are back in business.”


I spun around and faced the source of the familiar voice. Bryan was staring back at me with a surprised expression.


I simply nodded at him, biting back a curse. Well, barely..


“Are… are you one of the guests?” I asked him.


He nodded. “Angela and Jacob were patients of mine.”

“Oh. Do they still have all their teeth accounted for?” I asked in a sarcastic tone.


He chuckled. “God, I miss your sense of humor!” He said. 

“I don’t miss yours though. Apparently, your idea of a joke involves getting my cousin knocked up behind my back.” I muttered.


“I miss your feistiness too.” He said sadly.


He stared at me for a while and then he sighed. “You look really good, Ash.” He said. Something in his voice told me that he was not very happy about it. Not one bit.


Then his eyes drifted off to my finger.


“I see, you’re still engaged to Van Woodsen.” He said quietly.


I raised a brow. “Of course I am! What did you expect? I don’t change fiancés as quickly as you do, Bryan.”


He sucked in a hard breath. “I gotta hand it to you, Ash. What a rebound relationship! Apparently, he was quite a guy. All your relatives are in love with him.” Then he narrowed his eyes at me. “I don’t think you love him, though. I know you.” He said.


“You don’t know what you’re saying.”


He shook his head. “I know exactly what I’m saying. You don’t love him. I think you were just using him to get back at me. Does he know? Does he know that you don’t feel for him half of what you felt for me?”

 “Back down there one second, Mister!” I said, quite irritated with him now. “You don’t know me, Bryan. Not even a bit. I’m happy now! Ten times more than when I was with you! He makes all my dreams come true.”


“Really? You were never a mercenary.”

“I didn’t want his money.”


“I heard the Van Woodsens’ pockets run very deep. Especially your fiancé’s. Owning a string of exclusive bars in his own name already. Plus those he will soon inherit from his parents. I thought you were different. I thought you hated rich guys whose worlds revolved more on their money than on their girlfriends. Rich guys who could easily replace you... or buy somebody else the way they bought you.”


God! Why did I even fall in love with a bitter, accusing, self-centered bastard like this? I thought to myself angrily.

“You may be a guest here, Bryan, but excuse me for this!” I said and without warning, I gave him one sharp slap on the face.


I quickly turned on my heel before I could burst into very unhappy tears in front of him. I wasn’t looking at my way. I ran straight into a hard wall as I turned around. And because tears were already sliding down my cheeks, I refused to look back at Bryan. I felt warm and comfortable at that very instant. I felt strong arms wrap around me in one comforting hug. I was too afraid to look. I just wanted to run away from Bryan.


“I see you haven’t lost your touch, Bryans.” A familiar voice said, which made my heart beat ten times faster. “It seems you still want the things you do not have.”

There was a long pause. And then Bryan retaliated, “Are you really sure you have her? You don’t know her as much as I do.”


“I think I know her now more than any man does.” And I knew there was a subliminal message hidden in that statement. 

“I doubt she loves you that much!” Bryan said tirelessly.


“It doesn’t matter. I love her more than enough for the both of us. Now, if you’ll excuse us, I need to take my fiancée away.”

I felt his arms come tighter around me as he whirled me away from Bryan. I followed his lead, but I refused to look up at him. I was afraid that he’d disappear… again. That he wouldn’t be real.

He brought me to a secluded corner. Then his other hand came around me and he continued hugging me. I cried silently in his arms. I was so mad at Bryan right now. It was hard for me to believe that I wasted three years of my life with a loser like him.

I felt him pull away from me gently. Then he tilted my chin up so I could look at him.


Our eyes met and a mix of emotions surged through me. Happiness because I missed that friendly face, the face of an ally. Excitement, as I remembered the last night we spent together. Warmth, as I realized how cold I have been over these last few months. Caution, because I realized I do not know him at all. Fear, because I know I can fall for him in an instant but I know I couldn’t trust him the way I trusted him before. 

“I was told that you were looking for me.” He whispered softly. “I was also told that you couldn’t wait to kick my ass.” Although his voice sounded sober, I can see that his eyes were dancing. 

Realization of the truth dawned on me instantly.


Ryder Van Woodsen.  

It was all true then. The message made it to him. I was hoping it wouldn’t. Because that would mean he wasn’t the owner of Oil Rig. That he was just a mere bartender. So I could reach him. So I could feel free to fall for him. Because he would be more real to me.

I pushed him away but his grip on my waist was tighter than I thought.

He raised a brow at me, challenging me. But his eyes were still dancing. 

I remembered why I was looking for him in the first place. His ring! His payment for my virginity. 

Anger surged through me again as I felt so embarrassed and so… low. I wasn’t able to stop myself. He deserved the same thing I gave Bryan.

“Ouch!” He said gently as his left palm caressed his cheek. Then he took a deep breath. “I can’t say I don’t deserve that. Anything else?” His eyes were still dancing, one arm still wrapped around my waist.

“Damn it! Who are you?” I asked, pushing him away from me with all my might. 

Finally, he let me go. I stood a good meter away from him, holding my hands in front of me, warning him not to come near me.

“Who are you?” I repeated. “I don’t know you.”

He took a deep breath. “Yes, you do, Ash.” He replied. “You know me. Maybe even better than anyone else.” 

“I don’t even know your name.”


“It’s just a name! What difference does it make?”


“A lot!” I muttered.


He took a deep breath again and then he said, “Ryder… Ryder Anthony Van Woodsen.”


“See? If you could lie about your name, you could lie about anything else!” I snapped.

“Wasn’t it all supposed to be a lie, Astrid?” He asked me. “Wasn’t it all supposed to be a sham? Wasn’t that what you hired me for?” 

“Because I thought you were real… before all that!”


He took a step towards me. “I am real, Ash!” He argued. “Every word I said at that party was true! About who I am. What I do. About my family. It was all me. I wasn’t pretending to be someone else.”

“But you allowed me to think you were someone else! Why, Ryder? Why would you agree to that deal? Why would you agree to be paid ten grand to pretend to be in love with me?”


He didn’t answer. He took a deep breath and then he said, “I don’t have an answer to that. Sometimes, I still ask myself the same question.” 

“God, I’m such a fool! You must have been having the laugh of your life behind my back!” I said angrily.


He shook his head. “I was having the time of my life. For the first time, I was sure that a woman enjoyed my company because of who I really am beneath my nametag.”

“I wouldn’t care, Ryder!” I said to him.


“I know.” He said. “And I liked that. It shouldn’t change anything between us, Ash.” 

I shook my head. “It does.” I said to him. “I can’t look at… you the same way now.”


Tears rolled down my cheeks. I started to take off the ring he gave me but he was quick to close his palms over my hands.

“Don’t!” He said. I stared up at him. His face was sober. His eyes were no longer playful and dancing. Is this the real Ryder Van Woodsen? I asked myself.

My phone rang that instant. I took a deep breath and answered it.


“Astrid, where are you? The party’s about to end and I need you here.” Leilani said to me.

“I’m coming.” I replied.

I stared up at Ryder again. “I… I have to go to work.”


He nodded. “I’ll wait for you up front. I’ll drive you home.”


“There is no need for that…” I started protesting.


“I’ll take you home.” He said in a strident, demanding tone.


I didn’t answer. Instead, I turned my back on him and walked back to the party. 

I kept myself preoccupied. It was too confusing to think about Ryder.


Who does he think he is? The king of the world? Can I just easily forgive him for making a fool out of me? Does he think he can give a very expensive ring and expect me to shrug everything off?


I said goodbye to the guests. I made sure everything is in order.

Finally, I said goodbye to Angela and Jacob. Angela was in tears when she hugged me.

“Bless you, Astrid! Bless you!” She said to me, in between tears.

“Thank you very much, Astrid. It was a job brilliantly done.” Jacob said, shaking my hand.

I said goodbye to my assistant and then I went down the front steps. True enough, a familiar McLaren was parked in front of the hotel. As soon as he saw me approaching, Ryder went out of the car and opened the car door for me.


We drove in silence. I didn’t know what to say to him. I would have babbled endlessly with Ryder Woodson, the bartender, but I am seriously tongue-tied now, in front of… Ryder Van Woodsen… apparently the richest bachelor in town!  

I remembered when I asked him to pose as my boyfriend, he was reluctant at first. He said that I may not be able to afford him! Well, it was so true!


He parked in front of Adam’s house.


I didn’t live here anymore, but he doesn’t have to know that. I haven't spoken to Adam in a while, I still have his keys and some of my clothes are still here, so I figured, it might be a good idea for me to sleepover. I could use a little chat with my lawyer.

“I can’t accept this ring, Ryder.” I whispered.


He stared at me, raising his brow. “You accepted it before.” 

“I didn’t know it was real then! Haven’t you forgotten? I was the girl who couldn’t tell the difference between cubic zirconia and diamond!”


“What does it matter if it’s real?” He asked. 

I took a deep breath. “I don’t want to owe you anything, Ryder.”


“You don’t.” He replied.


“With this ring on me, I feel like I do! And worse… it made me feel like… you paid me because of that night.” I said quietly.

He sucked in a deep breath. “Whoa!” He stared at me with a hard expression on his face. “That was never my intention!” 

“Then what was your intention, Ryder? Because the last time I checked, it is not normal to give thirty thousand dollar diamond rings to near strangers!” I snapped.


“You asked for a ring!”

“I asked for a fake ring! Or a rental!”


“The last guy who gave you a ring gave you a fake one already! I wanted to be original!” He snapped back.

I took the ring off my finger and I placed it on his palm.


“Here’s your ring!” I muttered. “Until you give me a better excuse as to why you gave it to me, I couldn’t accept it, because every time I look at it and every time I remember what happened between us, I will always feel like… a first-class whore!” I opened the car door, stepped out and slammed the door behind me.


I walked towards Adam’s house without a backward glance at Ryder. 

I found Adam on the deck, drinking beer and enjoying a cigar.

“Oh, since when did you fancy a Monte Cristo?” I asked behind him.


He almost jumped up from his seat that I couldn’t help laughing.


“Jesus Christ, Astrid!” He groaned. “I want my key back!” 

I laughed and sat beside him.

“Relax, cousin.” I took a beer from the cooler beside him. “If it makes you feel better, I missed you.” 

“It made me feel better! Loads!” He said sarcastically. 

We sat there for a while, listening to the gentle breeze and the sound of the waves. 

“What did I do to deserve this visit?” He asked.

I sighed and took a gulp of my beer. “Funny things happened recently.” I said to him. “Do you remember that I was sporting a very lovely ring?”


“The one that was meant to blind the person unfortunate enough to stare at it for more than a minute? 

I giggled and then I nodded.

“So? What about it?” “Apparently, it was a thirty-thousand Harry Winston.”


Adam took a gulp of his beer.


“Only thirty?”


I raised a brow at him. “You knew!”

He sighed. “I can tell the difference from cubic zirconia and diamond, thank you very much.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me, Adam?”


He shrugged. “You didn’t ask me

I groaned. Then I said, “Don’t tell me you also knew that the date I brought with me was a fake! He wasn't really a bartender!”


He was silent for a long while. I stared at him, unable to believe that Adam could hide the truth from me.


“Oh my God, Adam! How could you?” I groaned. 

“Hey, Ash. It wasn't my position to tell, and he asked me not to.” 

“What? When?”


“Well, I got the door for you, remember?” He said. “I recognized him at first glance. Ryder Van Woodsen is a prominent guy in some cities. He was new here. But in Manhattan, he has a face value.”




Adam nodded. “Sort of. Their family is not exactly unpopular. They’re quite rich and they own a chain of restaurants in three continents. When I saw him, I told him immediately that I was expecting to meet a bartender. He asked me not to say anything to you. But he’s willing to help you out in your own little game.”


Adam shook his head. “I don’t know. He didn’t say.”

 I sighed. “That was why you were looking at him funny all evening. That was why you were constantly warning me not to fall for him.”

He nodded. “I was not really happy that day, you know. Or maybe a little.” He smiled. “Because I know I would be getting my ten grand back. But other than that, I was worried.”


I sighed. “He must have been having the laugh of his life that night!”

“Who knows? Maybe he was bored with his life.” Adam said. “The ring was gorgeous though.” 

“I returned it.” I whispered.

“Good for you.” He said. “Show him you’re not one of the material girls he knew.”


I took a gulp of my beer. “I didn’t know until the guy in the jewelry shop told me I was wearing an authentic Harry Winston. That’s when I looked for him again. True enough, he wasn’t known in Oil Rig as the bartender.”

“He owns the place.” Adam whispered.

“I’ve been duped twice in a row, Adam!” I muttered.


Adam smiled. “But if it’s any consolation, I did a little research on him. He doesn’t seem so bad. He was just too much into his work, but the good news is… he was never rumored to be a womanizer.”


“I don’t care about Ryder Van Woodsen, Adam.” I said. But I know something inside me is deeply broken. I don’t know why. But I felt really sad to see him again today and find out that he really is Ryder Van Woodsen, and not the Ryder Woodson I was looking forward to see again.


“Then why do you sound so sad?” Adam asked wearily.


It took me a while to answer. “Because I was disappointed. Because, for a while, I was hoping to meet him again. To show him the side of me that isn’t… you know… cuckoo!” I sighed again. “I really liked him. The guy who went with me to the wedding. He was funny and smart. Down to earth and… romantic. He inspired me to be better. And now, I think I am. And I was hoping to find him again… so I could see what… lies ahead of us.”

“You found him again, Astrid. This could be the beginning of something great.”


I shook my head. “I will never see him again.” I stared at Adam sadly. “I will never see Ryder Woodson again. Because he doesn’t exist. He never did.” 

“What about Ryder Van Woodsen?” 

I shook my head. “I don’t know him.” I replied. “I never did.”

“Well, don’t you want to get to know the guy?”


I laughed humorlessly. “Come on, Adam! That guy is way out of my league! There is no way I’ll fit in to his world. It won’t last. And you know, if I will start believing in ‘ever after’ again, I need to find a man who can lead me to that. Not a playmate for a while, who will ditch me later on. I don’t want to live like that.”


Adam narrowed his eyes. “Live like what? Like a queen? With a guy who can give you everything your heart desires?”


I shook my head. “I’m not asking for much. I never did. I liked the simpler things. I just wanted a stand up guy who can grow old with me, would respect me and won’t look down on me. And I don’t want to live like… a bomb is about to fall on my head any day. That he might tire of me because he lived in an exciting world full of glamorous women who would do anything and everything to take him away from me.”  

“You’re a very complicated woman, Ash.” Adam shook his head. “Now, I understand. Even a guy like Ryder Van Woodsen would be crazy about you!” 

          “I’ve been through a lot. And now that I’m almost out of that zone, out of danger, I… wanted to make sure I won’t head down the same path again.”


“I don’t think you would head down the same path, Ash.” Adam said reassuringly. “Bryan is… one of a kind!” He added sarcastically.


“He’s a classic, isn’t he?” I said shaking my head. “You know I saw him tonight. At the wedding.”


“Oh? And how did that turn out?”


“Really bad. I slapped him.” I said.

“Finally!” Adam threw his hands up in the air triumphantly, as if he had been hoping for that to happen for a long time. “Now, do tell!”


“Well, he came up to me and congratulated me for getting back in business. Then he said that he didn’t think I really loved Ryder, that he thought I was just using Ryder to spite him. Then he told me that Ryder bought me. I couldn’t take it. I slapped him.”


“Still couldn’t accept the fact that he lost you. And he lost you to a better man. And then what happened?”


“I turned away from him, and ran straight into Ryder. I don’t know what he was doing at that party… but he was there at the right time. Bryan told him that he didn’t think that Ryder really had me.”

“What did Ryder say?”


“He doesn’t give a damn.” I replied. “He said he loved me enough for both of us and that’s all that matters.”


Adam snorted and then took a gulp of his beer. “Van Woodsen reads a lot of cheesy novels!”


“Sometimes I don’t know if he’s for real.” I admitted. Ryder just blows me away. But then again, I really didn’t know him.


The real Ryder Van Woodsen runs a chain of bars and has money I wouldn’t be able to count. There’s no way he will have time to read cheesy novels. And he didn’t step out of a romance novel either, that’s for sure!

Watch Out For Episode 11.....

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