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After dancing with Adam, Nicole and I switched and I was back in Ryder’s arms once again.
“Hmmm… I thought you weren’t going to dance with any other lady aside from me.” I said, faking a cross expression on my face.
He chuckled. “Well, I figured, I needed to score with the women in your life, starting with your Mother. I danced with the rest because I didn’t want them to think I was only impressing your Mother. Then I danced with your nieces and the little girls because I thought you’d think that was sweet. I danced with your best friend because I needed her approval too.”
“What’s the verdict?”
He leaned closer to me and said, “Your soul is sold, love. I’m afraid I am the highest bidder.”
I laughed as I stared up at him. He leaned down and gave me a soft kiss on my nose before leaning his head to the side to gently kiss my neck. Then he sighed and pulled me closer towards him. I rested my head on his shoulder.
“Can you just be real?” I whispered.
“You mean… can I just be rich, famous, and all those things I pretended I was?” He whispered in my ear. I couldn’t recognize the emotion in his voice. For the first time tonight he seemed uncertain. It was as if he was afraid of my answer.
I shook my head. “No. Not that. I wish you could really be the wonderful, funny guy who only has eyes for me, and would dance with my Mother, my aunts, my nieces and my best friend to gain their approval… for my sake. Not for the sake of the fake rebound story of the year.”
It took him a while to say something. I felt his arms tighten around me and his breath blew in my ears, making my knees feel weaker than they already are. “Even if I’m just your bartender, I am that man tonight, Astrid.”
I hugged him back and I sighed. “I know, Ryder. I hope you know you’re not just a bartender to me. You’re my knight in shining armor.”
“I’m not pretending, love.” He whispered gently. “I told you… I am yours tonight. And you are mine.”
I sighed. “Yes. I am yours, Ryder.”
And somehow, I found myself fantasizing that it was true. That he would want me to be his.
Not just because I asked him to.
Then I remembered what Adam said. It’s easy enough to lose my heart along the way. Especially with a guy like Ryder. He didn’t have to be the rich guy he was pretending to be. He’s smart and ambitious. And he’s sweet, charming and somehow, we… click.
Good thing, I only have this night to be with him. Only this night to have him exist in my life. This night to believe that I am the apple of this wonderful man’s eyes… the love of his life!
Ryder pulled away from me slightly. He had a mischievous smile on his face when he leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the lips. I indulged in his kisses. How often would a god like this want to kiss me anyway?
Well, in real life, I actually didn’t fancy filthy rich hunks and I never dreamt of dating one. I prefer to keep it real. I always thought a relationship with rich guys would be complicated. I wanted to be the center of my man’s world. It’s impossible to do that with a man who has the whole world in his hands. But tonight… I am making fantasies come true. Even though it isn’t really my own. But it seems to be everybody else’s. And it seemed Ryder just stepped out of the pages of a fairy tale. So tonight, I get to have him. He was my knight… regardless of how much money he had in his pocket.
And the more I kiss him, the more convincing we are to the rest of my relatives, and to Bryan and Geena.
We were interrupted by an announcement by the host asking all the single ladies to line up in the dance floor.
I rolled my eyes. “Do I really have to go?” I asked Ryder
He laughed and gave me a kiss on the lips again. “Of course! You’re the fairest of all the single ladies here. You should go.”
I watched with a bored expression as Geena giggled and the guests cheered, then she threw her bouquet with such force that it missed the eager bridesmaids behind her and landed directly in front of me.
My initial reaction when I saw the bouquet headed towards me was, I paid for those! I paid for those! Maybe that’s what made me catch it.
Geena rolled her eyes when she saw her bouquet in my arms. The crowd cheered. I smiled widely, pretending that I was ecstatic about catching it.
It was the guys’ turn to catch the garter. I saw that Ryder was one of them. He winked at me just as Bryan made a toss and I saw him fight his way to catch it. He almost landed on one of the other guys but he triumphantly held the garter in his hand.
I sat on the chair and nervously watched as Ryder took my leg and slipped the garter on. He was told by the host to use his teeth to raise the garter up my knees.
I knew I had a violent blush on me. I could only squeal and cover my mouth with my hands. After all, I had to pretend that this wasn’t the first time Ryder’s lips were touching my legs.
The crowd cheered, ‘Higher!’ ‘Higher!’
My heart pounded in my ribcage.
Ryder laughed. He held the lace in his mouth this time. His eyes sparkled as he slowly raised the garter higher above my knees.
He continued to raise the garter, watching the blush on my face spread to my neck, then further down my chest.
I wanted to tell him to stop but then I looked up and saw the frown on Bryan’s face and the irritated look on Geena’s. So I looked back at Ryder and laughed instead. He raised the garter higher towards my thigh and stopped regardless of the cheers of the crowd. Then he bent down to kiss my knee gently. He stood up, took my hand and pulled me towards him.
We heard the people bang their spoons against the crystal glasses, asking the bride and the groom to kiss.
Before I could steal a glance towards Bryan and Geena, I felt Ryder pull my chin towards him.
“I don’t think they just meant the bride and the groom, love.” His eyes twinkled.
I giggled and stared up at him as he bent his face towards mine and gave me one head-spinning kiss. People jeered on and I think they were cheering for Ryder and me louder than they were for the newlyweds.
Slow music played from the surrounding speakers and I felt Ryder wrap his arms around my waist. I rested my head on his shoulder. He kissed my forehead and then he rested his chin at the top of my head. I know we were the picture of bliss. The perfect, happy couple.
How I wish it was true. How I wish that I was totally over Bryan, that the impact of this wedding didn’t hurt me a bit, that I could not care less that it was him and Geena who would be sleeping in the matrimonial bed I booked a couple of months ago. I wished that Ryder was really here for me, that he was here…because he wanted to, and not because I paid him to be… because he really does belong to me.
“Would you like to join me outside?” I heard him say.
I stared up at him. His handsome face was peaceful and at ease. I nodded. Hand in hand, he led me towards the veranda. I was happy to finally be alone with Ryder, to finally get away from prying eyes.
I was thankful for the cool air and the privacy. Although there was not much of it, since there were other people in the veranda too. I can even see some of Geena’s bridesmaids flirting with some guys somewhere in the corner.
I stared at the lake view in front of us. I was content to stand close to Ryder quietly. It was just as comfortable as being alone.
I realized that I was more aware of Ryder’s presence than I was aware of Bryan and Geena being in the same room as me. I smiled to myself. More and more, I am positive that I will get over them.
How pathetic am I? If Ryder wasn’t here with me, people would think the same! Now only I knew just how painful it still is, and how sad I still am.
I felt Ryder pull me closer to him. I felt his breath on my bare shoulder and then I felt his lips on my neck
“Because it’s just the two of us here, I need not make up an unforgettable line to propose.” He whispered
I laughed and faced him. His eyes were sparkling. I took in a deep breath.
God, I wish I had his spirit!
He took my hand in his and he kissed it gently.
“Astrid Ysabelle Jacobson…” He started and I was surprised that he knew my real name. “You are the epitome of beauty and strength. You are smart and creative… you have a brilliant mind. Your being here showed just how courageous you are. Putting on a brave face and making your aunts and uncles think that everything is fine with you, even though you still ache, shows just how much respect and love you have for your family… seeing that you have not even thrown the bride and groom any antagonistic look or sarcastic remark, shows what a classy woman you are. You are a goddess, Astrid. Any man will be lucky to have you… any man will want to make you his bride. Someday, your real ever after will find you. Then you will understand that everything happened for a reason… you will learn to appreciate this pain… because if it weren’t for this, you wouldn’t find your way to the arms of your real soul mate, your real Prince.”
I couldn’t help crying at those words . His face was so sober, his expression was so genuine.
“I’ve known you for a short time, Astrid. I consider myself lucky to have met you. Torn as you may be now, I know you, of all people, will rise above this. To tell you the truth, they say that the bride is the most beautiful woman in the wedding…” He shook his head. “She’s not. You are. Trust me. I’m not saying this because you asked me to. I’m saying this because… I look at your innocent beauty… and I know I’m incapable of lying to you.”
He reached forward and wiped my tears with his fingers.
“Will you promise me some things?”
Because I couldn’t say anything, I merely nodded.
“Will you promise me that you will allow healing to come? That you will rise above Bryan and Geena?”
I bit my lip and whispered tremulously, “Yes.”
“Will you promise me that you will learn to love yourself beyond your love for anyone else?”
I let out a little giggle.
He took a deep breath. “And will you promise to find your way to me again… when the time is right? Maybe we can meet under different circumstances?”
This question took aback a little bit.
“We belong to each other tonight, Astrid. But after this night… it’s over.” He took a deep breath. “Someday, I would like to see what you have become… after you rise above it all. I want to see that you have kept your promises. I’d like to see the real you. The you that is buried underneath the smile that you put on. The you that Bryan and Geena attempted to bury in pain. And… I would like you to see me. The real me. The guy behind the mask I put on the day I met you.”
I stared up at him and realized what a sincere person Ryder is. He may not be the rich guy he pretended to be tonight, but the rest of him is genuine. The type that you rip right out of a romance novel.
“Will you promise to come find me again someday?” He asked solemnly.
I stared up at him, tears still streaming from my eyes.
“Yes.” The word was a mere burst of air from my throat.
He smiled and then he took something from his pocket.
It was the ring. He slid it on my ring finger. My breath caught in my throat. It was ten times more beautiful than the ring Bryan had given me. The stone in the center is probably at least two carats.
It was lovely and as it sparkled in the light, I thought I was gonna go blind.
“It’s beautiful.” I whispered.
“I’m glad you liked.” He said. “It’s not a rental.”
I smiled at him. “It’s lovely.”
The stone could be cubic zirconia or probably moissanite. At least Ryder was honest about it, he didn’t try to pass it up for a diamond when it wasn't. The beauty of the ring itself was extraordinary that you won’t mind what stone it is.
“A little reminder of your promises.” He grinned.
I laughed and then I said, “Yes. I promise to heal, I promise to love myself, I promise to come find you when all this is behind me.”
He grinned at me and then slowly his face descended towards mine and he kissed me. The kiss was deep, sincere… mind-blowing!
When the kiss ended, I couldn’t bear to open my eyes. I was afraid that if I opened them, Ryder won’t be there. He’d be gone. Everything would be a dream.
Then I felt him kiss the tip of my nose. Finally, I opened my eyes and found him still staring at me.
“Are you for real?” I breathed
He laughed. “I’m for real. At least for tonight.” He released me and then he took my hand.
“Come. People will be wondering why you’ve gone missing.” He said. “Plus, you’ve got another story to tell.”
I giggled. “Yeah. Like what’s the answer to ‘when’s the big date?’”
He smiled at me. “You can always say we haven’t spoken about it yet. You’ve just said ‘yes’ to me.”
I sighed. “Oh, yeah. I’m still in heaven. This is all a dream to me
When we rejoined the group once again, the first person I ran into was the very familiar groom.
“Astrid!” He beamed at me. “I am so glad you made it!”
But I smiled at him. Ryder squeezed my hand encouragingly.
“I’m glad I made it too.” I said bravely.
He stared at me for a while and then he looked over at Ryder
I realized that I have to introduce them… and then kill myself later probably, but for now, formalities first.
“Am… swee… sweetheart, this is Bryan, the groom. Bryan… this is Ryder Woodson.”
“Your date?” Bryan asked still looking at Ryder.
Ryder extended his hand to him. “Ryder Van Woodsen.” Ryder corrected me. “Her… fiancé.” He said.
In spite of my surprise that Ryder changed his surname, I didn’t miss the shocked expression on Bryan’s face.
“Wh… what?” He stuttered, not comprehending.
“That’s right, Bryan.” I said, keeping my voice steady.
“Wow! That was fast.” He murmured under his breath, looking at me grudging
“Apparently, still a lot slower than you.” I said to him.
It didn’t take long before Geena came up behind Bryan.
“There you are!” She said hugging her husband from behind, pretending to be oblivious of us… well of me, because I already saw her looking at Ryder as she approached us.
“Honey.” Bryan said putting an arm around her.
“This is Ryder Van Woodsen. Apparently, he’s Astrid’s fiancé.”
Geena looked at me for the first time. The insulting shock on her face made me want to slap her in front of her husband. Did she think I couldn't score a guy like Ryder?
Well, they both know me too well. They know I thought rich, cute boys were given fortune and good looks because they were lacking in the IQ department. Maybe Geena and Bryan couldn’t believe I somehow chose to conjure a Ken doll to life and brought him to their wedding… and he took his expensive, shiny car with him
“How long have you known each other?” Geena asked.
“Two months.” Ryder answered quickly. He pulled me closer to him, wrapping a possessive arm around my waist. He looked down at me with affection in his eyes. “I cannot wait to make her mine forever.”
“Well, she’s good at the waiting game.” Bryan snorted quietly but loud enough for Ryder and me to hear.
“I can wait as long as it takes.” Ryder said. “She’s definitely worth it.”
Though Ryder doesn’t know what Bryan was getting at, I knew just exactly what he meant. I smiled bravely at Bryan. “I changed a lot since the day I found out you knocked up my cousin! I told myself that the next time I find a wonderful guy, I’m going to seize the day! No more waiting games.” I said, trying to keep myself cool. Then I turned to Geena. “Congratulations on your wedding. I can’t really say it’s… original, but you pulled it off. You should be proud of yourselves. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we need to retreat to our suite so we can celebrate our engagement privately.”
I started pulling Ryder away
“You rented a suite here?” Geena asked
I turned back to her and nodded.
“Yes. The Paradise Suite. I was told it was the most romantic suite they have.” Ryder replied.
Geena couldn’t help giving Bryan a hard look that almost said, Why didn’t we get that instead?
“We don’t need the most romantic suite.” Bryan said, as if reading Geena’s mind. “My wife is pregnant. Nothing can be more joyous than that.”
Somehow, I felt that that comment is for me. Bryan knew how much I adored babies and children! I smiled at them, refusing to be defeated. “Oh, is that why you got married so hastily?”
Geena blushed violently and I could tell there was some truth in my words at least.
“We got married because we’re in love!” She hissed at me.
I smiled at them and I placed my left hand on my chest, so she won’t miss the sparkle of my new ring.
“Oh!” I sighed sarcastically. “Well, I can say that’s a relief!”
She stared at the ring on my finger and then raised a brow at me. I can almost see the lust in her eyes.
“It’s lovely isn’t it?” I asked her. “Anyway, good luck with your life together. I think you’re both going to need a lot of that! Ta-ta!”
I whirled around and pulled Ryder with me. We went straight for the exit without saying goodbye to my relatives.
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