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Who is he? She found herself musing over the stranger.

The man sitting next to her was someone she had never seen before. He was blond and very tall. The stranger was actually a really nice addition to the scenery. The only problem was that she had no idea why she was here with him.

When he sat at the table, she was a little bit surprised. For weeks she dined alone. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served in this room. Recently, only one person would join her besides the people who served their meals.

They usually prepared food for one. One place setting awaited her entrance for every meal. When she was first placed in a wheelchair and escorted to this room, it was difficult to eat the food because it lacked flavor. Once she came to the understanding that the servants were at her disposal, she instructed them on her dietary request.

A physician’s assistant monitored her progress. She was sure her mentor had cared for her once before, but Lydia had yet to see Dr. Hubert again. In a way, she was relieved of the weight of having to face him. But it hurt nonetheless because she believed her mentor was in some way displeased with her.

After she spent some time alone recovering from her injuries, the stranger showed up.

“How do you feel today?” A sultry bass-baritone voice resonated from him. Lydia stared in his direction for a moment not quite sure of what to say. This man was a complete stranger. Although at this point, she had to dine with him on several different occasions, he never once spoke a single word before. His only concern seemed to be the stack of papers his nose was always buried in.

Blue eyes bolder than any she had ever seen before lingered on her face as he allowed her time to respond.

Lydia was sure no one could see it because her skin was on the darker side of the color brown, but her cheeks warmed under his gaze. She was convinced she blushed even if no one knew except her. If his eyes weren’t the most alluring ocean blue eyes she ever had the pleasure of beholding, it was safe to say her response to him may have been somewhat different.

But then again, probably not.

“I... Uhm... I’m feeling better.” Lydia’s words kind of hung up in her throat as her thoughts rambled around in her head the man asking her questions.

“Good. Tomorrow a therapist will come and visit with you. I would appreciate it if you would allow her to do her job and help you. Okay?” Even though she was sure it was an order, his request was issued with the most charming charismatic smile.

The man’s demeanor and disposition were very genuine and amazingly tender. Lydia felt compelled to do whatever he asked.

As they sat in silence, the evening meal was served. She picked at her food, not sure why she had an uneasy feeling. The cook’s efforts were noted from the few bites she tasted because everything was exactly as she specified. For some reason, the delicious meal wasn’t able to revive her appetite.

Lydia hadn’t realized she was moving her food from one side of her plate to the other.

“Was it not prepared to your specifications?” The concern in his voice tugged her from the worries in her mind.

“Oh, yes. It’s fine. I seemed to have lost my appetite.” She stated as she looked away from him. Something about the man-made her far too uneasy.

With no reason for the feelings of insecurity that crawled silently into her subconscious. Lydia noticed as long as he sat next to her there was an antsy sensation in her stomach that made it impossible for her to eat one more bite.

Ryder glanced at her with concerned eyes making her nervous. They weren’t mean or unpleasant, she just wasn’t accustomed to this type of setting with a man who wasn’t her fiancé. Sitting at the table with him alone was a foreign and difficult adjustment to make.

She began to exhibit symptoms of anxiety. In the back of her mind, she knew what would happen if Kemi were to find her here like this.

“Lydia. Lydia.” The voice caught her attention.

“Yes.” She whispered.

“You don’t have to be afraid. He can’t hurt you.” Hearing those words did nothing to quiet the ball of fear that was growing in the pit of her stomach.

Memories surged from one corner of her brain to another. How many times had he hit her for less? Their three-year relationship was inundated with abuse from the beginning to the end. As her mind slipped back into the past, something snapped. Lydia collapsed from the chair and fell onto the floor.

When she opened her eyes, he was carrying her.

It was the weirdest sensation to find herself floating as if on a cloud. If a statue could walk, Lydia imagined it felt like the man who was carrying her because his body was just like marble. Only his soft skin and flesh confirmed to her that he was indeed a real person.

He was a man. A man who was able to carry her with ease. Lydia’s arms were wrapped around his neck. She told herself to let go but she desperately needed to be next to someone who was stronger than her. Before she had a chance to reconsider holding onto him, they were in the room in which she slept.

As Ryder gently placed her on the bed, Lydia was sure he would leave out and send in the ladies who had assisted her for the three weeks that she could remember. Lydia was shocked to see him bring in a chair to sit next to her bed.

“I think maybe too much was rushed and you are feeling the stress of so many changes in your life. We will do things a little bit differently from now on until you are ready to handle all the new activities.” He stated with ease.

“If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. Okay?” There it was again. His manner of speaking made Lydia want to say yes to anything. Her head bobbed up and down informing him of her agreement. In a way, it was as if she were a robot at his command.

“What would you like to know?” He asked.

For a moment she glanced at him as he awaited her questions. Not sure of what to say, she finally decided to go with the first thing that came to mind.

“What’s your name?” She inquired.

“My name is Ryder Dean Thornton. I’m 40 years young. I’m an only child. My birthday is on June 2nd. My social security number is... well, you don’t need to know that.” He laughed at his joke. Ryder glanced in her direction to find that Lydia giggled without restraint. She wasn’t sure where it came from, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Ok. What else?” Ryder’s eyes glimmered like pools of the prettiest blue water she had ever seen.

“How do we know one another?” She asked with confusion written all over her face.

“I was on my way home early one morning when I found you in a really bad situation. I thought you might get hurt so I brought you to my house.” She saw he was careful in the way he chose to answer her question. Lydia studied his face. She was sure he was withholding something from her.

“Please. Tell me how you found me?” It was a question she really didn’t want to know the answer to, but she knew it had to be said. His hands clasped together, and he dropped his head as he recalled the way he met her.

“I saw you on my way home early in the wee hours of the morning. I thought you were trying to jump from the Lockelan Bridge. I’d never seen anything like that before. It scared the crap out of me, so I parked my truck and raced over to grab you just before you took the plunge. When I saw your face, it really tore me up. You were so...” The words stuck in his throat. He stopped talking and rubbed his face with his hands.

Lydia sat up and scooted to the side of the bed. She placed her hands on either side of his face and pulled him close matching her eyes with his. She stood just above him as he sat in the chair and extended her arms and wrapped them around his neck. Her head rested on top of his as Lydia expressed her undying gratitude to the man who saved her life.

“Thank you so much for saving me.” She whispered ever so quietly in his ear as she held onto him. Tears wound their way down her cheeks onto his face. If it weren’t for him, there’s no guarantee anyone would have found her in the cold watery grave she had selected for herself.

Lydia was eternally indebted to Ryder for saving her life. All she could do was thank God he found her in the nick of time.

“Can I ask you a question?” His voice was muffled by the position of his face on her bosom.

“Yes?” She responded.

“Why did you do that? Why did you try to take your life?” He whispered to her.

“I was long gone before I made it to that bridge. My mom said she would disown me if I didn’t marry my fiancé and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt he was trying to kill me because he hated me so much. So, you see, I had nothing and no one.” With her arms still wrapped around his neck, she stared up at the ceiling since it always seemed to draw her focus away from the pain.

“Why do you say he was trying to kill you?” Ryder continued to question her. Lydia pulled away from him. She lay back on the bed and fixed her eyes on a point on the ceiling that caught her attention some time ago.

It was the only place she felt a real sense of safety. To disassociate herself from the things which threatened to tear her apart, was the only way she had managed to survive the three years of the most terrifying hellish existence that was her life.

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