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“Baby, you know I am enjoying every second we spend together, but there is no way I can just stop showing up to work. We finally got the licenses and the IT infrastructure set up for the H.E.L.P. Network. I have meetings and promotions scheduled for the rest of the month. There are so many other steps I must complete if I want to keep this project on track.” Lydia pouted as Ryder lay curled up with his head on her lap.

Her pleas went unanswered. Instead, Ryder pulled her closer with his head nestled on her lap as he snuggled next to her tummy. This kind of affection was so new to Lydia that she often experienced mild anxiety attacks thinking she would wake up from this amazing dream and find that she never left the bedroom where she was beaten so frequently.

In those days, she had given up any hope of ever being loved. To believe that this kind of love existed was just a fantasy to her back then. The way Ryder treated Lydia made her nervous. There was no denying his feelings were real because he always did everything in his considerable power to keep her close to him.

From the conversations she had with Michael during her self-defense training, Lydia learned that Ryder was never known for taking a break from work.

The “Thornton Family Name” was his legacy and therefore he protected it with his life. Yes... he was known for dating extremely beautiful women who tried desperately to play him in the hopes of becoming the new “Mrs. Thornton”. The problem with those aspirations was that he never fully trusted their motives. Ryder was convinced that the only thing those women really cared about was money. Not one of them actually cared for him. With that knowledge, it was easy for him to place a gulf of emotional distance between himself and anyone who attempted to get to close to him.

At least, his decision made sense to him until he met her.

Michael made sure she understood the gravity of his friend’s decision to spend every moment with her. He assured her of how much his longtime friend loved her because he had never witnessed any woman gain the kind of access he witnessed between Ryder and Lydia.

His pep talks eased her nerves to a degree, but she was still cautious of the whisper in her heart constantly reminding her to be careful. Even though he held her tightly, Ryder never said those words to her. He never confessed his feelings to her, so she tried to remind herself of the original agreement they had before they were married.

“I will be here for you. But, if for some reason it doesn’t work out, we can go our separate ways and you will have everything you need to live your life on your terms.” Lydia once appreciated that declaration because she had no intention of falling for anyone.

The problem with her original acceptance of his offer to help was that she always it as a friendship. Never in a million years would Lydia suspect that someone like her would ever be anywhere near Ryder’s radar.

He was a bright ray of sunshine in her life. Ryder always smiled at her exuding the joy she had once been denied until he took it upon himself to assure her that what he was doing wasn’t just for show.

Lydia noticed the interminable merriment that was an unwavering characteristic of Ryder. It was just who he was. Happiness showed up in his eyes as it flowed around him.

After spending two years together, her time in his house, and under his care, Lydia realized that her many prayers had been answered. She often cried out for mercy or begged God to help her. Many times she would cry asking why her life was so miserable when she hadn’t done anything wrong to anyone. Now, she found herself reflecting on the fact that Ryder was a blessing sent from above. Lydia never imagined in her wildest dreams that she would find a man to love so thoroughly.

When they were in bed together, he taught her what passion and romance should feel and look like. They shared a raw and open to intimacy that often scared her because she had no previous experiences to comprehend what it all meant.

With her head resting on the back of the sofa and her eyes closed, Lydia reminisced over every fine line of his face. He was the most adorable man she had ever met, and it pained her to imagine that she might not be able to give him what he deserved. She struggled to hold back the that threatening to spill on the gentle giant’s cheek as he peacefully rested on her lap.

As good as things were, three little words taxed her mind to no end. Lydia noticed he never said them. She was certain of that. It made her want to be as independently successful as possible just in case for some odd reason everything fell apart.


A package arrived at Ryder’s office in downtown Ansley. He received a call from his assistant Esmerelda to brief him on the package that was received in his office the day before he was set to return. He had officially been out of that office for four months and now it was time to get back to business as usual.

Never in his life had he been the type of person to sulk about anything, but he had finally agreed to Lydia working from her office and him returning to his. Ryder sulked until he reached his office which was a mere twenty minutes away. Even with the thought of Michael and some of his best guys protecting his wife, Ryder had come to feel a strong passionate love for her. For her to be away from him, made him uneasy.

It irritated Ryder to no end because of his need to be in Lydia’s presence.

After being virtually inseparable for months, he gave into Lydia’s pleas to return to a full schedule at work. Even with her assistant there in the office to take over when she had to be away, she had expressed that the clinic was her baby and she needed more than to show up occasionally to take stock of what was going on in her absence.

Ryder sat at his desk a little perturbed that he was unsuccessful at convincing her to set up an office in his building. He had no desire to be so far away from her. They had fallen into a carefully choreographed routine of working in the same building and he had come to cherish the idea of walking less than twenty feet to see her mesmerizing smile.

He enjoyed watching her work. Not only was she beautiful, but Lydia was also brilliant. Often, he listened in when she held a conference meeting for her new business endeavor. She worked diligently from the comfort of their wing of the clinic to pull together a medical system database to link healthcare workers on every level with places in desperate need of employees.

While they were planning their wedding, she was brainstorming a new business venture. His brilliant wife created a system that allowed people from different states to work in all states in the US and many countries abroad without having to reregister their license or retest. Once the healthcare worker from CNA’s to Physicians signed up with the Healthcare-Employment-Linking-Portability (H.E.L.P.) Network, their credentials were confirmed in the participant’s original state, and then their performance records were updated periodically to verify employability.

Lydia was determined to design a system that was easy for the healthcare workers to be called to any state especially during shortages. The goal was to make professionals on all levels readily and easily available nationwide.

Ryder was so amazed that she was busy building out the system even though they were trying to handle the major issues occurring in their lives. He offered to assist her in any way possible, but Lydia insisted it was something she wanted to set up on her own. She also promised to reach out to him if she needed any help.

With his mind on how Lydia always astounded him, Ryder’s sat at his desk considering the woman who held his attention like no other as his eyes landed on the packet which had been placed on his desk. He called to confirm that it had been properly screened before it was delivered to his office. Once he confirmed that all care was taken to ensure the package didn’t contain any type of bio-challenges or explosives, he opened the loosely sealed envelope.

The information found inside included details of an attempt to kidnap his wife. Pictures of Ryder and Lydia exiting their compound were included in the set. A few photos of them walking in and out of her medical center were also in the pile. The person claimed to be an insider who could give them the plans to grab his wife as well as any recorded information to secure a legal win should he choose to pursue it for five million dollars. There was a phone number with a message to call it at exactly five o’clock in the afternoon. Advisement against contacting the authorities was highly stressed because they had contacts with law enforcement on the local, county, state, and federal levels.

Ryder read and reread the information before placing the contents back in the package. On a smaller desk in his office, he picked up an item that looked like a cake cover. The dark gray circular shield was placed on top of the package. The device was created to block any type of signal transmission, listening device technology, recording, or camera technology just in case someone was trying to gain access to his office using any type of spying devices.

He walked over to the closet positioned directly behind his desk and opened a hidden door. Ryder slid his hand along a corner and watched as the false wall retracted. After a retinal scan and hand thermal scan, he disappeared into the safest room in the entire building.

From that room, Ryder picked up an old school landline and dialed an encrypted number.

“They finally decided to make a move. How soon can you have her in my office?” He asked Michael.

“We will be there in fifteen minutes.” His head of security responded.

“Make it ten,” Ryder insisted and hung up the phone.

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