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We dropped off my family at the Waldorf Astoria. Then, Ryder and I drove back to his apartment in silence.
We were playing a dangerous game. In truth, no guy would put up with this. Why Ryder was doing so, I didn’t know. And he was doing it so well, and so nicely, it was getting more and more difficult for me not to feel something for him.
Damn! Already physically attracted to him; I didn’t want to wish this was all real. I couldn’t take that risk.
When he closed the door of his apartment, I turned to him nervously. He was smiling at me mischievously.
“Ryder, I can’t really kiss you here. No one is here to see us. No need to put on a show,” I said.
He stepped closer to me and tilted my chin gently so he could look into my eyes. “Who said I wanted it for the show?”
He stepped closer to me and tilted my chin gently so he could look into my eyes. “Who said I wanted it for the show?”
Without giving me a chance or warning, he bent down and gave me a thorough kiss on the lips. That kiss swept me off my feet. Once it started, it was so hard to stop.
He ignited the fire that had been threatening to light since this morning when I first saw him. I kissed him back, with just the same passion. He nuzzled my neck, and I pulled him to me.
“Ryder, please stop!” I begged him. “We shouldn’t be doing this.” I said, but I couldn’t make the effort to push him away.
“I know,” he whispered. “But I can’t seem to help myself.”
He went back to my lips and kissed me savagely. I couldn’t help responding the same way. I was hungry for him. I wanted him with every bit of my feminine being. At the back of my mind, I couldn’t help thinking how complicated we were making things. We’d already slept with each other on two separate occasions. Could we really afford to make it a third?
He wound his arms around my waist and lifted me off my feet. I clung to him, neither one of us dared to break the kiss. I landed on his soft mattress. He landed on top of me.
“Ryder…” I took a deep breath. “We have to stop…”
He kept kissing me. “Good luck with that,” he said in a low chuckle, and then he nuzzled my neck again.
“Damn it!” I cursed and pulled his neck and kissed him on the lips.
I started pulling his jacket off him. I didn’t care anymore. All I cared about was how good I felt whenever Ryder’s lips landed on any part of my body. I wanted him. I knew I couldn’t afford to keep him for good, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was now.
He took his shirt off, then I took off mine. He nuzzled his way down from my lips to my chest. I couldn’t contain it anymore. I felt thirsty and hungry and I wanted Ryder at that very instant.
But then he stopped. He stared at me and then kissed me gently on the lips. He smiled. “This has nothing to do with the necklace I gave you, Ash. Before you put any more ideas in your head.”
I laughed. Then I pulled him to me and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips.
“I know. I won’t return the necklace in the morning.”
“Good.” And he started kissing me again. I lost all my clothes save for the black bikini panties I was wearing. Ryder was only in his boxers.
He kissed me again. I couldn’t contain the fire threatening to consume me anymore. Ryder was teasing me, prolonging my agony.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, I said to him, “Ryder, please… just put the rubber on and take me!”
He stopped kissing me all of a sudden. I opened my eyes, worried about what made him stop. He was staring at me curiously.
“What? Why?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I don’t… I don’t have… protection here, Ash.”
“What? You don’t keep any in your apartment?”
He shook his head. “I don’t bring women here. What would I need it for?”
“Don’t you have one in your wallet?”
“Now you know not all guys keep condoms in their wallets.” He chuckled.
“Then what are we going to do?”
“If you’re worried about pregnancy, then I can withdraw,” he suggested.
“But pregnancy isn’t the only thing you worry about when you have sex, is it?”
He laughed. “You read a lot of Cosmo magazines!” he said. “In a polygamous relationship yes. But… we are monogamous, aren’t we?”
I stared back at him. “What… do you mean?”
“I mean I haven’t shared a bed with another woman since I met you, and as long as there’s a chance that we’re going to do this, I’m not going to.”
I smiled back at him. I didn’t know what to feel. I just thought that right then and there, I had died and gone to heaven. I was not expecting Ryder to make that commitment. I thought it was a physical thing for him, but he was willing to make it exclusive between us. And somehow, that thought was as breathtaking as it was scary and confusing for me. My desire for Ryder prevented me from thinking far beyond and ahead. I’d deal with that thought in the morning.
“Well… you know I haven’t… before you. And I haven’t…” I stammered.
A glitter lit in his eyes and he gave me a kiss on the lips. “You mean to say you haven’t been with any guy but me?”
I nodded shyly.
“Then we both have nothing to worry about,” he said. He leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the lips. Then he nuzzled my neck again.
“Why are we doing this, Ryder?” I whispered.
He stared at me. “Because I want you, Astrid. Not in the make-believe games that we play. I want you… for real.”
I kissed his jaw. “And everything Ryder Van Woodsen wants, Ryder Van Woodsen gets.”
He stared at me deeply. And I thought I saw a shadow behind his eyes. He shook his head. “Not everything…” And then without another word, he lost himself in me.
When I woke up that morning, I was naked and wrapped in Ryder’s arms. I felt comfortable and safe, adored and protected.
I heaved a sigh. It had been exhausting night of lovemaking. I was almost afraid it would consume all of me. I lost myself to Ryder. All of me. I didn’t think, I didn’t speak, I just… felt. I felt him inside me. And now, it made me want to stay locked in his arms forever.
I stared up at him. He was still sleeping. I knew he had a long day yesterday. He might want to sleep most of the day today. I’d imposed too much on him. But he was brilliant! He was the perfect fiancé and I’m sure my family did not have a doubt in their minds that I was okay now. That the Bryan-Geena episode no longer bothered me. That my engagement with this wonderful, sweet guy was real.
I propped up on my elbow and watched him sleep. He had a handsome face: his chiseled features, his perfect nose, the slight cleft on his chin, his long lashes. He was perfect.
Ryder and I, when we’re together on equal footing, felt like two pieces of a puzzle. We complimented each other, we read each other’s thoughts, and we finished each other’s sentences. We made a great team. He made me laugh. He saved me from hell. He encouraged me to be better. He would have been the perfect boyfriend, perfect fiancé. But he was still a complicated man, with a complicated life.
When this was all over, he would still be the heir of the Van Woodsen Empire. He was everything I tried to avoid since Kevin Moore and his mother insulted me over dinner many years ago. And Ryder’s family was probably a hundred times richer than they were.
I didn’t think I could afford to break my heart again. And not with Ryder. He was ten times the man that Bryan or Kevin was. Ten times the man I wanted! And I was afraid I would hurt ten times more if he broke my heart. And my heart… was the one thing I had left to protect.
I reached forward and gave him a kiss on the lips. Suddenly, his arms tightened around me, he kissed me back. He laid me on the bed and kissed me thoroughly.
“Good morning,” he said.
I smiled. I touched his cheek with my palm. “Good morning.”
He smiled at me mischievously and then all of a sudden he was on top of me and he was kissing me hungrily. The fire inside me ignited again and soon, I was screaming his name at the gates of Nirvana.
When we woke up again, it was already nine in the morning.
“I’m going to the hotel,” I told him. “What are you up to today?”
“I’m coming with you,” he replied.
“Don’t you have work to do?” I asked.
He shook his head. “When my fiancée is in the city, I’m all hers.”
I giggled. “You are too sweet! But I’m not really your fiancée, so you don’t have to go to hell and back for me.”
“As far as your family and my friends know, you are my fiancée. I’m not going to go down in history as being the first unromantic Van Woodsen.”
“Really? Your family has that tradition?”
He nodded. “Well, save for my father, who’s too romantic. Apparently, he forgot that the tradition meant he’s only supposed to be romantic to one.”
“You’re not like him?”
He shook his head.
“I thought heirs and tycoons like you always have a line of women waiting for them?”
“There may be a line, but that doesn’t mean I have to take my pick every single time.”
“Why is that? You said to me last night that you don’t bring women here. You don’t have condoms in your wallet. Why?”
“You’re not gay.”
“Hell no!” He said. “You, of all people, should be able to tell that.”
I laughed. “Why don’t you have sex all the time like guys of your age and privilege do?”
He shrugged. “I don’t pick sexual partners overnight like some men do. I’ve always been pretty cautious. And besides… why would you share your bed with someone you can’t bear to look at in the morning?”
“Supermodels and girls who look like Alizia are running after you. They’re beautiful! Why can’t you bear to look at them in the morning?”
“Because it’s all clothes and makeup,” he replied. “Nothing much underneath.”
“And you don’t like women who wear nice clothes and makeup?”
“I want one who looks more beautiful without makeup and wearing the simplest of clothes. Someone who looks prettier in the morning, with her skin so fresh and her hair disheveled against the pillows. Someone whose smile in the morning is brighter than the sunshine,” he said solemnly looking at me deeply.
I stared back at him, not knowing what to say. I knew I was blushing.
“Someone whose cheeks turn the darkest shade of pink at a mere compliment I throw her way.”
I turned away from him. Instantly, I felt him tilt my chin so I could look into his eyes.
“Yes, Astrid. Just in case you were wondering. I was talking about you.”
I sighed. “You’re still Ryder Van Woodsen.”
“So we will never work,” I said to him. “Someday we’ll drift apart from each other and I will lose you… and I don’t want that, Ryder. I would rather have you as a friend and know that I can call you or see you once in a while than lose you forever. You’ve… grown too dear to me. So we cannot insist on making this real. And besides… I’m not ready to commit myself just yet.”
He sighed and somehow, I detected a hint of frustration in him. He stared at me and said, “So until then we’ll just be friends?”
“We will always be… just friends.”
“For your information, friends don’t do what we did last night and this morning,” he argued.
“That was a slip,” I said, turning red again. “We really have to stop, Ryder.”
He leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the lips. I kissed him back. When he pulled away from me, he said, “Yeah, good luck with that.”
I reached out and pinched him in his arm as hard as I could.
“Ouch!” he yelped.
He took both my hands and pinned them at the top of my head. I struggled to get away from him but he was too strong for me. Then he leaned forward and kissed me again thoroughly. And then we were both lost again after that.
When it was over, we both stared at each other thoughtfully.
“I’m serious, Ryder. We have to stop.”
“Hmmm…” was all he said.
I took a deep breath. “I’ll make you a deal. New York,” I said. I couldn’t believe I was going to do this again, but somehow, with Ryder, I just couldn’t seem to help myself. I didn’t want to want him, but damn, I did! I couldn’t help but give in to him… at least one more time. For the last time, I promised myself.
“I’m listening,” he said.
“It ends when I leave New York.”
He took a minute and then he answered, “Okay. I won’t make advances on you when we get back to Malibu. But until then, I have a whole weekend to do whatever I want with you.”
“Can you do me a favor?” I asked.
“Anything for you, Ash.”
“Can you stop being Ryder Van Woodsen for a day?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean no expensive cars, no platinum credit cards, no high-class restaurants, no expensive presents. I want you to be you. Just you.” I stared at him. “Like the bartender I met that night.” And I knew I asked him this because that bartender seemed more real to me. That guy seemed more like the guy I dreamed of.
He smiled, and this smile really touched his eyes. He leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the lips. “Yes. And you, my love, are officially mine today.”
I didn’t know how long we made out in bed. We were laughing, tickling each other and chatting. Then we took a shower together. It felt good to be free to express what I felt for Ryder.
He put on a pair of jeans and a white hooded sweater. I smiled because he looked like the boy next door… a beautiful boy next door.
“You can’t take your car,” I reminded him when we were out of his building.
He smiled. Then he pulled me to him and gave me a kiss on the lips. “I know the rules, love.”
We took a cab to the hotel. I told my family that Ryder’s car needed to go for service and thus we have to commute or take a taxi today.
My family didn’t mind. The weather was perfect. And besides, it was nice to experience being a first-hand New Yorker.
To my surprise, Ryder knew how to take a bus and the train. He knew the city quite well, and he looked comfortable commuting like… an ordinary person. When we were walking down Sixth Avenue, I was looking at him thoughtfully. It dawned on me that I really, really liked him. Ryder fit in this world too… my world.
He stared at me and smiled and then he put an arm around me and kissed my forehead. I put an arm around his waist and I leaned my head on his shoulder. I knew that right then, in that moment, we were a picture of bliss.
He told my aunt, uncle, and mother that we would go somewhere and we’d meet them back at Macy’s after an hour. Then he took my hand in his and led me out into the streets.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I want to show you something,” he said.
We walked a couple of blocks and then he led me to a lane where there were bridal shops, stores that sell wedding favors, and then florists.
Wow!” I beamed as I went inside one bridal shop to study the quality of their wedding gowns.
I was delighted to go to the wedding favors’ shop and saw a variety of materials that I could use for the weddings that I plan.
Ryder was staring at me seriously.
“What?” I asked.
“Weddings happen in New York almost every hour,” he said. “You’ll get plenty of supplies here. And with your ideas, you’d be a hit here.”
I raised a brow.
“Did you not consider branching out?”
“I’m fairly new. I haven’t even shown profits.”
“But you’re growing at a record rate.”
I shook my head. “I’m merely an employee there. It’s not my decision to make.”
He took a deep breath. “I’m sure you can convince your investor.”
“Maybe. But I want to show income first.”
He nodded. Then he took my hand and pulled me out of the shop.
“If I branch out here, then I’d be like you. Half here, half in Malibu.”
He stared at me and his eyes glittered. “Exactly!” And without giving me time to react, he leaned forward and kissed me thoroughly.
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