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SERIES: Knight In Shining Suit (Episode 16)

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The minute I entered my mother’s hotel room, they noticed my ring.
“Oh my God, this is just too gorgeous!”  My mother said, pulling my hand.
“This is expensive!”  My Aunt breathed.  “It’s a Harry Winston!”
“Mom, Aunt!  You’re embarrassing me!”  I hissed at them. 

Ryder just chuckled.
“You spoil her too much, young man.”  My mother said, but I can tell that she was so happy for me.
“She deserves it, Mrs. Jacobson.”  He said.  “Astrid deserves to wear a ring as beautiful as she is.”
Ryder was the epitome of grace and gallantry.  He’s everything a girl could ask for in a boyfriend!  It’s like he was ripped right out of the pages of a romance novel.  He’s sweet, he’s funny, he treats my mother and my Aunt like they were queens, and he’s asking for the their approval for their little princess.  He keeps up with Uncle Reynolds’ endless chatter about the stocks, business and Forex.  Ryder can handle it all.  Looking at him, I wouldn’t even know he was the same man who slept beside me an hour ago.  It’s like he has tons of energy saved up somewhere.
He took us around the city.  We went to Bloomingdale’s.  I tried on a couple of dresses.  Ryder patiently sat on the couch, playing Judge. He told me whether or not the dress I put on looked good on me.  He even critics them.  He’s an even better shopping companion than Nicole is sometimes.  He pays attention to me.
I settled for three dresses.  I took them to the counter to pay for them but Ryder was quick to hand in his platinum card. 

“No!”  I said sharply.  I raised a brow at him.
He just laughed and then to my surprise, he leaned forward to give me a quick kiss on the lips.
I glared at him.  “What was that for?  They’re not even around!”  I hissed at him.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Ma’am.  I guess I got carried away.”  He whispered teasingly.
The cashier handed him his credit card bill and he signed for it.  I smiled at the cashier but when we turned away, I gave Ryder a pinch in the arm. 

He laughed.  Then he put an around my shoulders and gave me a squeeze.  “You’re too cute.”  He whispered.

When we went out of the store, we heard a woman’s voice call behind us.


We turned around and I saw a stunning blonde with long legs approach us.  She was tall, but her mini skirt was very short.  She pulled it off though.  She looked more like she was walking on the runway than Bloomingdales.
“Alizia.”  Ryder nodded at her.
She lunged forward and gave Ryder a hug.

“How have you been?  It’s been ages!”  She said.

Ryder gently pulled away from her.  “I’ve been good.”  He said.  “Busy.”

“When were you not busy?”  The girl giggled and rolled her eyes.  “You might as well marry your restaurant chains!”  She giggled again.
Obviously, she was flirting with him.  And I don’t know, but somehow, that really annoyed me.

I stared at the girl.  She was gorgeous.  Like she’s one of the Pussycat Dolls! I can tell that she’s wearing expensive clothes.  Her bangles were adorned with diamonds, as well as the sunglasses perched up her head.  Right away, I knew these are the women that vie for Ryder’s attention.  This is his world—when he can have a pick of girls as rich and as beautiful as this.  And I feel as annoyed as I am insecure.  I looked away from them.
Suddenly I felt Ryder pull me towards him.
“Alizia, I’d like you to meet Astrid.”  He said.  He looked at me.  “Alizia and I shared a few classes in Harvard.”

And she’s smart too!  I thought glumly. 

“Alizia, this is Astrid, my… fiancée.”  He said.

The statement raised brows!  Including mine!

It took me a moment to recover.  I extended my hand to Alizia, who still looked dumbfounded.

When I extended my hand, her eyes drifted off directly to my fingers to see if I’m sporting an engagement ring the sort Ryder Van Woodsen can afford. 

And viola!  I am! I smiled at her cheerily.
“Wow!  I am honored to meet the girl that finally tied Ryder Van Woodsen down!”  She said to me, smiling. 

“It took some work.”  I said.  “But I was successful.” 

Ryder chuckled.  “That’s not true!  You got under my skin the minute I saw you.”  He said.

“So when’s the big day?”  Alizia asked.

“Well, we haven’t set the date yet.”  I said. 

“Oh, better hold on to him until then.  Your man is a slippery catch.”  She said.  Then she turned to Ryder.  “Congratulations!  I’ll see you around.”  With one final wave, she went off.

I raised my brow at Ryder.  “Old flame?  Someone you charmed during one of your bartender episodes?  Speaking of bartender episodes, you filled in as a bartender last night, didn’t you?  You must have gotten a dozen phone numbers.”  I didn’t know what came over me.  But somehow, the idea of Ryder charming another woman as he pretends to be a bartender, the way he flirted with me the night I met him really irritated me!  Plus, women… looking like Alizia!  Supermodel that fits an heir like Ryder.

I turned away from him so he could not see the frown on my face.  It took him a few seconds to catch up with me. 

“Oh, okay, so we’re playing the part of jealous fiancée now.”  He said in an amused tone.
“I’m not jealous!”  I snapped.  I glared at him and then I walked away.

After a few seconds, I felt him tug at my hand.  He pulled me to him and to my surprise, he gave me a hug.
He was chuckling.  I tried to pull away but he refused to let me go.

“It’s not my thing to flirt with my customers.”  He whispered.  “As far as Alizia goes, we went out twice in college.  Two dates.  Nothing happened.  She tried initiating a third date… plenty of times… but let’s just say she’s not my type.”

I pulled away from him, relief washing over me.  “You didn’t have to explain that to me.  I wasn’t jealous!  You can fake an engagement but you can’t fake jealousy.”  I started walking away.  He caught up with me.
I was silent for a while, and finally, just to break the ice, I said, “Really, Ryder?  Alizia?  Tall, blonde, legs that go forever?  Not your type?”  Even I find that hard to believe.

“Nope.”  He said with a popping “P”. 

“If she’s not your type then I don’t know what is.”

He chuckled.  “Well, recently I discovered, I have a certain weakness for petite, strawberry blondes with rare violet eyes.”

Is he mocking me?  Because I showed a hint of jealousy?

I glared at him.  “Well, too bad there’s very few of them!”  I snapped and increased my pace.

“There’s only one actually.”  I heard him say.

My heart pounded in my chest.  I stopped walking and faced him.  I raised my brow, frowned but didn’t say anything.
“I made a mistake when I said it’s not my thing to flirt with my customers.  I actually did that… only once.  Because I couldn’t resist.”  There was laughter in his eyes.  That embarrassed me more.
“Stop that, Ryder!”  I said in an irritated tone.

He raised a brow and feigned innocence.  “Stop what?”

“Stop… making me blush!”  I said and started to walk away.

I heard a low chuckle and then I felt him take my hand.  He pulled me towards him and gave me a hug again.  “But you’re perfect with your blush, love.”  He whispered.

“But you shouldn’t be making me!”  I said, burying my face in his chest.  I shouldn’t be showing this much emotion for Ryder.  At least not when we’re not in front of my family.

“But I like seeing you blush, love.”  He said quietly.  “Let it be my prize for a job well done.”

I stared up at him and I can see that his eyes were dancing.  I raised a brow.  “Who said it was a job well done?” 

He laughed.  “I think they’re pretty convinced.”  He said.  He looked behind me and then he said, “But if not, maybe this will change their minds.”  Before I knew it, I was being kissed thoroughly.  Instantly, my heart melted, my knees turned jelly and I forgot how to breathe.  The butterflies are running wildly inside my stomach.  Electricity flowed from Ryder’s lips to mine.  I want… to linger there forever.  In his arms… with his lips on mine.
“Oh you two lovebirds.”  I heard my Aunt say behind me.

Ryder stopped kissing me, and acted as if he had not seen my aunt and mother coming. He stared at me, and as if he was contended that I have blushed enough, his lips curved into a crooked smile and then he released me gently.

Damn!  I looked away from him.  I turned to my mother who was staring at me lovingly.  Her eyes were almost wet, as if she was so happy to see me being thoroughly kissed in public.

“Are you okay, mother?”  I asked her.

“Oh she’s just feeling nostalgic.”  My Aunt replied quickly.  “You know... she misses your Dad.  

My mother looked like she was about to say something, but chose not to.  Then she reached out and touched my cheek.  She smiled at me and whispered, “He loves you a lot.  You’re lucky.  Even if he isn’t rich… you’re lucky because he’s crazy about you.”

Then before she could say more, my Aunt pulled her away into a nearby jewelry shop.
I was still staring after them.  I felt Ryder stand beside me.  When I looked up at him, he was staring at me wearily.
“Something’s wrong.”  I said.

He nodded slightly.  “But it doesn’t look like she’s ready to talk about it yet.”

“I’m worried.” 

“And yet you’re gonna have to give her time.  Until she’s ready to let it out.  But you have to make her feel that you’re there for her.  Even though she’s not telling you that she needs you.”
I stared up at him.  Hearing him say those words made me wonder if he was the same Ryder Van Woodsen, heir of a multi-million family empire.  Sometimes, it was hard to believe he is who he is.

“Why did you have to be the Ryder Van Woodsen?”  I said under my breath.  I knew I said it to myself, but I knew he heard it too.

I started walking, leaving him to tail behind me.  He didn’t make an effort to catch up with me.  I didn’t slow my pace down.

And I meant what I said.  No matter how wonderful Ryder is as a friend, I’m afraid he’s going to be just as complicated as a boyfriend.  Besides, I’m not ready for a relationship just yet.  And when I am… I want more than a man who wants to share his bed with me.  I want a guy who will give me his heart and soul.  

I followed my mother to the jewelry shop.  She and my aunt were looking at some rings.  I looked over at some bracelets.  I saw a white gold necklace with a huge amethyst pendant surrounded by diamonds.  It was absolutely stunning.  I looked at the tag price.  It was expensive but I think I can afford it by the end of the month after I get paid for the two weddings I have booked for the week.  Adam pays me on a monthly basis.  I can afford the necklace at once,  but I wanted to show him profit by the end of the month.  I don’t want the investors to pull out too early in the game.

“That will bring out the hue in your eyes.”  I heard Ryder say behind me.
“It’s beautiful.”  I smiled.  “Something to look forward to when I get my paycheck at the end of the month.”

He nodded.  “How’s the wedding business doing by the way?  You always seem busy.” 

I smiled at him widely.  The business is doing so great, I was so proud of myself for establishing it so fast.

“It’s great!  I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries.  I do an average of two weddings a month now.  I plan to increase that average to about four by the end of next month.”

He smiled.  “See?  You’ve come a long way from the girl that whined about being jobless at that wedding.  

I took a deep breath and looked at the necklace.  A couple of months ago, buying jewelry was the least of my worries.  Now, I’m looking at a fine gem and dreaming of making it mine soon.  

I looked briefly at Ryder.  I knew I wouldn’t be where I am now without him.  If he hadn't encouraged me or didn’t give me a push.  Adam and my friends had been telling me that there is a silver lining in the mass of dark nimbus cloud at the top of my head.  It was Ryder who showed me not only the silver lining, but the colorful rainbow over the horizon. 

Even if there is no hope of a real relationship between the two of us, I knew that I will never be where I am now, if it wasn’t for him.  And I will hold him dearly in my heart… for the rest of my life.

I reached out and gave him a gentle kiss, smiling against his velvet lips.  If he was surprised when I pulled away, he didn’t show it.  Instead he smiled back at me and reached out to push a lock of stray hair away from my face.
“Thank you, Ryder.”  I whispered.
“You’re welcome, love.”  He whispered back, and I just knew it was one of those moments when we just connected.  We knew exactly what the other was thinking.
We were interrupted by my aunt.

“Astrid, could you come here for a second?”  My Aunt called.  I reluctantly left Ryder’s side and went to the counter where my aunt and mother were looking at a beautiful diamond studded ring.

“Pretty?”  My Aunt asked

It was beautiful, but without a doubt, very expensive. 

“Very.”  I replied.  “What for?” 

“Nothing.  Your mother is thinking of buying it.”  My aunt said.
“Yes.  Using your father’s credit card!”  My mother grunted

“Mom, did you and Dad have a fight?”  I couldn’t help asking now. 

She shook her head immediately.  “No.  Of course not!”

“She’s just not happy that your father was not able to come with us to this trip.”  My Aunt butted in

“And to get back at him for that, I am going to buy myself a treat.”  My mother muttered.
“That’s an expensive treat!”  I said.

“He can afford it.”  My mother replied and handed her credit card to the saleslady.

I didn’t know why my mother was acting so weird ever since she came to see me.  I knew that something was up.    Maybe Ryder was right.  I just needed to give her time.  I might as well call my father tonight too.
All of a sudden, I felt someone come up behind me.  Before I can turn around, a pair of hands shove something over me from behind. 

“Oh my God, that is absolutely beautiful!”  My Aunt and my mother breathed, looking at the necklace that Ryder put on me.

My hand went to necklace and even without looking at it in the mirror, I know what it is.  My heart pounded in my chest.

“Ryder…”  I started to protest, but I felt a kiss at the base of my neck. 

“A guy can give anything to his fiancée.”  He whispered.  “Your family expects that.” 

That frustrated me.  I cannot refuse the necklace in front of my mother and my aunt.

I turned to face him.  His eyes are dancing 

“Doesn’t it bring out the violet hue in her eyes?”  He asked my Aunt and my mother.

“It absolutely does.”  My mother said.  “It looks lovely on you.” 

“Mrs. Jacobson, please make sure that she wears this necklace to every gathering that you have, especially when I’m not with her.”  He said to my mom.  “Something to remember me by.”

My mother laughed.  “You’re so sweet, Ryder.  Yes, I will remind her to wear that necklace every time she comes to see us.”
I glared at Ryder.  He laughed and then pulled me to him and gave me a hug.

“I’m still going to give you back the ring.”  I whispered when I buried my face against his chest.
“The necklace will do for now.”  He chuckled.

And because I knew I’ve been defeated by him, I slid my hand inside his jacket and gave him a hard pinch on his side.

He laughed and he gave me a kiss on the forehead.  Then he took my hand and we all went out of the jewelry shop. 

When my mother and my aunt were way ahead of us to hear what we’re talking about, I turned to him.
“Why did you do that?”  I demanded.
“Because I knew it will look lovely on you.” 

“Ryder, this is not part of the deal!  This is expensive!”

“But the glare you’re giving me right now, and the blush on your face?  Priceless!”  He teased.

“Don’t do this!”  I told him.  “I feel so… indebted to you already.” 

“Don’t.  I’m just playing my part well. 

“Too well!”  I said.
He sighed, then pulled me to him again and gave me a hug.  “Come on, Ash.  I’m tired.  I don’t want to argue with you.  Just… accept the necklace.  I want to give it to you.  I don’t know why.  But I do.  And… well, I was hoping to see delight in your eyes when I put it on you, actually.  Not… anger bordering on wrath.”

Now, I feel guilty!  He went out of his way to give me an expensive necklace so he could see delight in my eyes?  That’s too sweet!  And I refused him that reaction?

Honestly, I was delighted with the necklace.  I just didn’t know why Ryder had to give it to me.

I stared up at him, and sighed.  He would have been the perfect fiancé any woman can ask for.  But I know he isn’t real.  He isn’t really mine. 

“Thank you.”  I whispered quietly.  Then I tiptoed and gave him a kiss on the cheek.   I smiled beatifically at Ryder, because  I am delighted.  Because I know that deep inside my heart, I do want him… even though he’s too complicated for me. 


We went to Sugu for dinner.  There were people lined up, all in cocktail dresses and nice expensive suits.  They didn’t look like ordinary people at all.
Uncle Reynolds bumped into a man about the same age as he is.  He’s with his wife and a guy just about Ryder’s age.  He has dark blond hair and startling blue eyes.  He was eyeing me curiously and when I looked up, he smiled.  I nodded and gave him a slight smile.


“I didn’t know you were going to New York!”  My Uncle said, shaking the man’s hand.


“Only for the weekend.”  The man said.


“Did you have dinner already?”  My Uncle asked.


“We were hoping to.  This looks like a nice place but I didn’t realize you need to book one month in advance.”  The man said.  “Are you going in?  Did you have a reservation?” 

“Yes, we’re going in.  We’ve made arrangements.”


“You’re lucky!  We’ll go find some other place.  Try the Yakizakana.  This place is quite famous for it.”  The man said.


“If I knew you were here as well, we could have called earlier to make arrangements.”


“I don’t think you can do that.  Not in this place.  I don’t think even celebrities can get a table here at the last minute.”


“Well, I’m sure we can make last minute arrangements.”  Ryder interrupted.  He looked at my Uncle, as if asking him if he would like to invite his friends to join us. 

“Of course.”  Uncle Reynolds said.  “If it’s not too much to ask, Ryder.”


“It’s fine, Sir.”  Ryder replied.  He turned to the man.  “There’s three of you?”


The man nodded, and he looked a little confused.


Ryder went ahead of us, and the lady at the reception immediately smiled at him.  “Good evening, Boss.”  She greeted warmly.  “Your table is ready.”


“Can you please tell Jason to add three more?  I have three more guests.”


“Certainly, Sir.”  The lady said and she immediately spoke to someone on her headset.  


The man turned to Uncle Reynolds.  “Wow.”  He breathed.  “You know some people.”


My uncle laughed.  He turned to introduce us to his friend, his wife and his son, who I learned is named, Daniel.


“Dan, for short.”  He said extending his hand to me.  When I shook it, he gave it a squeeze.


I heard somebody clear his throat behind Dan.  Dan turned towards Ryder.


“Daniel Hughes.”  He said extending his hand to Ryder.

Ryder shook it, but the expression on his face was cold.  “Ryder Van Woodsen.”


I don’t know what went on, but somehow, I was afraid of the cold look both men exchanged with each other.  I don’t even understand why I feel guilty about shaking Dan’s hand, or smiling at him.  Ryder is not really my fiancé!  


“The table is ready.”  He said to my Uncle.


“Wonderful!”  My Uncle said.


Ryder turned to me and took my hand in his.  I saw Dan look at us before he followed his parents inside.


We were seated at a secluded VIP room.  I sat between Ryder and my mother.  Across the table sat Dan who was eyeing me curiously.  And somehow, I don’t know why I feel self-conscious.  He is cute!  Maybe not as cute as Ryder, but definitely way better looking than Bryan.


Ryder was sitting quietly beside me. When I think of him, I felt like I shouldn’t even be looking at Dan, who was eyeing me with interest.  I stared up at Ryder and I can see he has an irritated look on his face.
“Are you okay?”  I whispered to him. 

He wound an arm at the back of my chair and I felt him trace circles on my shoulder, but he didn’t answer.  He was looking at me, and I cannot read the expression on his face.  He was fine before we stepped in the restaurant, and now he looked a little pissed.  Was it because of Dan?

I smiled at him. I would rather spend time comforting Ryder with whatever it is that made him angry than make flirty eyes with Dan.

“Thank you.”  I whispered to him.  “Uncle Reynolds seemed very pleased.”

He smiled at me crookedly.  “You’re welcome.” 

“Is there something I can do in return?”  I asked.  “You don’t look too pleased.” 

He shook his head.  “I’m okay.  I don’t know what’s gone over me.”  He whispered against my ear.  “But I don’t think I like the way that guy is staring at you.”

I laughed.  I didn’t know what to feel.  Confused, excited, thrilled, scared.  All emotions enveloped me at once.  But somehow, that made my heart jump in delight.  Was he jealous?

“Are we playing the part of jealous  fiancé now?”  I whispered to him. “If I am, will you do something about it?”  He asked evenly.

I smiled at him.  “Yes.  Maybe I’ll play the part of comforting, loving, overly sweet fiancée.”

His eyes finally glittered and then he replied.  “Then yes.  Hell yes!”

I giggled.  I inched closer to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.  Then I leaned my head on his shoulder.  I felt him put an around me and then he gave me a kiss on the forehead.

“So, Ryder, how did you manage to squeeze us in at the last minute?”  Mr. Hughes asked.  “I thought that was impossible.”

My Uncle replied for him.  “It is impossible.  But you know Chuck, he owns the place.  So nothing is impossible there.”
Mr. Hughes was taken aback.  “Oh.  Really?  But you’re so… young!

Ryder smiled.  “Actually Sir, my parents own this place.  I will not be owning it until next year.”

“It’s the same!”  Mr. Hughes laughed.  “How did you get to know Reynolds?”
“I’m marrying his niece here.”  I think that reply is directed more to Dan than his father.

“Oh, you’re family now.”  Mr. Hughes said.
Ryder nodded.  “More or less.  I’m working my way in.”

Dinner was nice.  I can understand why people actually line up to dine here.  The food was absolutely superb!  The serving were big compared to other fine dining restaurants.  The place is neat and cozy.  The ambience is lovely.  The menu has lots of variety.

“How do you find the food?”  Ryder asked me. 

I smiled at him.  “Wonderful!”  I said.  “You have a Japanese cook?”

He nodded.  “The best in the city.”

“I wonder how much you pay him.”
   When he gave me a ballpark figure, I almost choked.  His chef is being paid about five times the salary that Adam gives me 

“That much?”

“Well, we’re generous with our employees.  Without them, our business will not be this good.” 

“That’s a great business practice.”  Mr. Hughes said.  “I hope all companies are like that.”

“No wonder everybody who served our table looks genuinely happy!
“My great grandfather started as a waiter.  He taught my grandfather, who taught my father, the value of the people who face your customers.”

“Then your business will have a lot more years to go.”

“That’s the plan.”  Ryder smiled.
Ryder would give me occasional kisses and would constantly hold my hand.  I enjoyed it.  He’s sweet, as always and I felt like I was stealing a few moments of heaven.  Heaven, I know I will not be able to afford in real life 

My Uncle asked for the bill, and so did Mr. Hughes.  Ryder shook his head.  “No bill.  My treat.”
“Come on, getting us reservations is enough!”  My Uncle insisted. 

Ryder chuckled.  “It’s okay, Sir.  Astrid or Astrid’s family and friends don’t pay here.” 

“Well, then thank you.” We parted ways with the Hughes.  Dan came up to me and shook my hand.  “It was lovely meeting you, Astrid.  Not really… lovely to know you’re already engaged.”

I giggled nervously.  “It was nice to meet you too and your family.”
“Well, take care.  And tell Van Woodsen to take care of you.”

“Don’t worry, I will.”  Ryder said coming up behind me.

“Thank you for dinner.”  Dan offered his hand to him and in spite of himself, Ryder shook it. 

When Dan walked away, I stared up at Ryder.

“With all due respect, you play the part of jealous, possessive fiancé  quite well.”  I tease 

He raised a brow.  “And you, my love, are not playing the part of comforting, loving, overly sweet fiancée well enough.”
I pouted.  “What?  I was being sweet.”  I protested.

He shook his head.  “Not good enough.  I’m still pissed.  You promised to comfort me, ease my anger.

“It’s not my fault if you were so difficult please!”  I argued.
He shook his head.  “On the contrary, I am one of the easiest people to please… and you… can please me the easiest.”

I looked up at him nervously

“One kiss?”  He asked.

I tiptoed and gave him a kiss on the lips  

He laughed.  “Still not good enough.  You ought to give me a real kiss, love.”
I pouted and was about to kiss him again when my Uncle called us. 

“Shall we go back to the hotel?  We can rest now and have an early start tomorrow.  I’m sure Ryder needs his rest too! 

I stared at Ryder.  “I guess I was saved by the bell.”

He laughed.  “That’s what you thought.  But you ought to give me that kiss by the end of this night.”

“Ryder!  Why are you doing this?”

Before he could answer, my Aunt called us to go.
He laughed.  “That is what you call ‘ saved by the bell.’”  Then he advanced towards where my Aunt and Mother were.  He led them to his car leaving me dumbfounded, nervous and excited all at the same time.

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