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Women often attempted to gain his attention had nothing to give anyone. Ryder viewed them as parasites who only sought to take what someone else sacrificed dearly to secure. Those were the people he spent most of his life fending off. They were treacherous snakes who applied every tactic in the book to secure his affections. There was no loyalty or interest in him for that type of woman. The only thing they saw was his money.

Ryder was the heir to a vast empire. He kept his eyes wide open for “Golddiggers” and the like. The women who made it their business to know who was whom in the town of Ansley and the larger cities of Little Rock and West Memphis plotted to do nothing more than secure a bag. They were constantly seeking what man was dumb enough to get them pregnant or say “I Do” and Ryder was determined to never find himself in the ranks of those misguided fools.

Because Lydia was nothing like them, he felt the strongest desire to see her shine. The protector in him needed to wipe away the hurt that kept her hostage even though she was no longer in harm’s way. Ryder ached to repair the damage that was done because Lydia Kensington was no run of the mill person. She had graduated top of her class at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences UAMS College of Medicine in Little Rock, Arkansas. Ryder learned from Dr. Hubert that she was actually a fourth-generation alumnus of the university.

He found out Lydia had always been a brilliant student.

While viewing her school yearbooks dating from kindergarten up to her graduation from medical school, his stomach tied up in knots as he saw her progression from an adorable chunky little girl with pig-tails, unblemished dark brown skin, and soul-searing crystal blue eyes to transform into the quirky successful woman she had become. Lydia never missed an opportunity to flash the same heartwarming smile from one picture to the next.

Each photo reflected a spark glimmering in her eyes which hinted she knew something everyone else was unaware of.

If Ryder wasn’t careful, he was sure he would give away the fact that he noticed how cute she was and that he felt drawn to protect her no matter what he was required to do.

As his hands found their way to the warmth of her chin, he was thankful to see how nicely she was healing. Ryder had never seen a woman beaten so badly. It really troubled his heart to bear witness to the condition in which he found her.

“Lydia, I...” Ryder started to say the words but hadn’t realized it would take some time to convey exactly what he needed to say.

Instead, he leaned closer to her and placed a feather-soft kiss on her forehead. His warm soothing lips lightly trembled against her skin. Though he had tasted many women, none were as sweet as the juicy blackberry he held in his grasp. He moved down pensively to place a kiss on each eyelid. Heat resonated from him as he lingered on her skin. Ryder continued to adorn her with his brand of affection.

Finally, he made his way down to the most adorable dumpling nose he had ever seen placing a small peck there before daring to proceed further.


His entire life he was known as a confident person who got things done, and of course, nothing made him nervous. Originally he planned to explain how he wanted to help her, but her confession of what she suffered stoked a fire in him he had no explanation for.

As his brain became overrun with so many thoughts, Ryder jumped to by showing her what he found difficult to express in words. She left the support of the bed reaching out for his massive frame. Satiny brown skin ignited a fire in him as she pressed her considerable chest into his. Ryder was dumbstruck by the most impressive real breasts he ever had the pleasure of feeling. Lydia was all woman. There were no fillers. She was completely natural.

Her body sought more and Ryder accepted her response. His lips met hers in a kiss meant to heal her wounded heart. It was apprehensive at first, but the longer they remained locked in each other’s embrace, their kiss shifted to a need neither of them expected. Hidden in the darkness waiting for the chance to ignite a fire in their souls, they were met with a passion neither of them knew existed.

Ryder stepped back when he felt her body waver. As his eyes searched hers for an answer to what was building between them, she locked the most alluring stare on him and he was drawn in close to her once more. Ryder sampled her beautifully plump lips again and again. His mind wasn’t prepared for such a smoldering flame to ignite between them.

In order to pursue what was on his mind, he was forced to break their embrace before he became lost in her.

“I know this is sudden and I know it may be hard for you to accept my request, but I want you to stay with me.” Like the gentleman that he was, Ryder’s lips caressed hers seeking more but willing to wait until she was ready to give him everything.

“Will you be my wife? Do you think you could allow me to show you what real love looks like?” He whispered as he pulled a little wooden box from his pocket. When he opened it, the ring inside was surely big enough to come with its own zip code.

Lydia placed a hand over her mouth. So many thoughts twisted and turned themselves around in her mind. What if he was a psychopath? What if he was a killer? What if...? In all of the noise and confusion of her mind, one thought stood out from everything else.

“You owe him your life.” She reminded herself. The blue flames flicking in his eyes called out to her. Lydia didn’t see lies or reservations. She saw a man who was sincere about the question he posed to her.

“Why do you want to marry me?” There was no way to prevent her from seeking a better understanding. His response was so swift it almost knocked her off her feet.

“Because you deserve to be loved.” His words did not waver when he responded. There was no deception held in those crystal balls. Lydia was sure Ryder spoke the truth because he didn’t have to think of what to say before he said it. That was the very thing that secured her answer.

Lydia had experienced what the power of deception and hate could do to one’s innocence. Even though it was crazy to accept someone into her life who was a total stranger, for once in her life, she wanted to feel what it was like to have a decent person by her side. Other than Dr. Hubert, she had no one else... that was until she met Ryder.

“Yes. I’ll marry you.” She agreed. Lydia had already experienced hell with Kemi. Maybe she would enjoy paradise with Ryder.

Once he slid the ring on her finger and helped her back on the bed, the mountainous man walked to the other side and curled up next to her.

Lydia lay still and said nothing. She hadn’t expected him to join her like this so soon. Honestly, she wasn’t sure how it would be between them, and that kind of scared her until something caught her eye. When she glanced down at the bottom of the bed, Lydia saw his long legs hanging from the bottom of the bed. With that sight rooted firmly in her mind, she lost it.

A fit of laughter took over her body shaking her uncontrollably. Lydia laughed so long and so hard, her sides began to hurt.

“What’s so funny?” The frown on his face didn’t make it any better.

“Look at you.” She pointed to where his feet were resting on the top of the footboard.

“Alright, little miss giggles. We can fix that.” Ryder got up in one swift motion. In no time, he was on Lydia’s side of the bed where he proceeded to scoop her up and carried her out the guest room through his house and up a flight of stairs. It seemed like he walked a mile with her tucked snuggly against his chest. They entered a massive bedroom with an enormous California King poster canopy bed set-up in the center of the room.

Lydia was safely deposited on the left side of the bed just before Ryder jumped over her into the middle of the bed. He promptly pulled her to the position right next to him. He wasted no time wrapping his arm around her waist and within a matter of minutes, he was fast asleep.


The room was pitch black. The curtains were drawn around the bed to shield out the sun. She wasn’t sure if it was day or night. Lydia turned over onto her side and was pulled into a bear-hug. He was still snoring, so she was sure he was asleep. Lying next to him felt safe. For once in her life, it was nice to be surrounded by what she was sure were the protective arms of such a beautiful strong man.

Since her arrival, he never disrespected her or harmed her in any way. The only thing he did quite successfully was to care for her and take every precaution to nurse her back to health.

Lydia closed her eyes and enjoyed the security she had stumbled upon by chance. Being held by Ryder changed her. It changed how she saw the world. He was masterful at showing her what it felt like to be cared for by someone for once in her life and it was a feeling she hoped to hold onto forever.


Living with his mother and grandmother taught him the importance of perfecting the art of strategy.

When a move was classified incognito, it was important to ensure every step was plotted with the utmost care and precision. Speed was also a highly effective skill in the pursuit of outdoing an opponent. With the knowledge Ryder possessed about strategy, he was successful in closing many business deals. Whenever he set his mind on accomplishing anything, it was an extreme rarity for him to hear the word “No”.

The sensitive nature of his plan to wed Lydia was a move he would be required to make without consulting anyone in his family. Ryder was expectant of their behavior should they learn of his interest in Lydia. With that knowledge in mind, he would stop at nothing to prevent a single word, regarding his actions, from reaching the wrong ears before he could successfully execute his plan.

Armed with a sense of urgency and a need to legally solidify his union with Lydia, his orders were put in place before he ever popped the big question.

A highly trained and trusted team was briefed on his expectations. A few trusted members of his security were instructed to purchase a wardrobe for his bride-to-be. They prepared his flight plan and took care of the secret ceremony he designed for the occasion which included a lengthy stay at an opulent residence on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada.

To keep prying eyes and ears from questioning the validity of their marriage, Ryder made sure they would share enough time alone to convince others that their relationship was genuine.

Yes, it was kind of cliche to get married in Vegas, but it would also be a legal marriage. Sure, people would challenge their marriage, but there was nothing anyone could do about it once it was finalized.

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