My mother was driving me nuts. She was lonely. I understood that. With Angelina gone, she spent most of her time alone. Mother had never done well alone. I had seen her at the club playing tennis with a few of her friends earlier in the week. She had put on a good show for them, treating me like she was proud of me. But I knew she was still mad at me. I’d been going along with her acting all my life.
I had sent Della to my office to organize some files on my desk that didn’t really need organizing. I just wanted her safely out of the way while Mother was here. I wasn’t sure my mom could act as if she liked Della. And I wasn’t going to have Della hurt or embarrassed.
The rest of the staff loved Della. When they saw her coming, everyone became happier and nicer. They didn’t want to let her down. Whatever had been wrong the moment before they were willing to fix. It was helping me out a shit-ton. My jealousy over the fact that the males on my staff bent over backward to make her smile was difficult. But then who wouldn’t want to make Della happy? I couldn’t be mad at them for that. As long as they kept their hands off of her.
“Where’s Della?” Marco, our golf pro, asked as he walked into the clubhouse.
“Why do you need Della?” I asked, reminding myself that this man was happily married.
“She was working on getting me a sub for next week. They’re inducing Jill on Monday and I want to be with her and the baby the first week.”
“I have her working on something. I’ll check to make sure she has a sub for you. You should be with your wife and child,” I replied.
“Thanks, Mr. Kerrington,” he replied, and nodded before heading over to grab a water from the cooler.
The back door swung open and Vince stood there, looking wide-eyed. “Mr. Kerrington, sir, you need to come quick.”
It was Della. I knew that look. She was having one of her episodes. Shit!
I ran for the door. “Where is she?” I asked him.
“In your office, sir. She came up to see you and then your mom stopped by. I tried to call you but it went to voice mail. Your mom went into the office to talk to Della. After she came out I heard Della whimpering. I knocked, sir, but she didn’t respond so I went in.”
“That’s enough. I know the rest. Don’t tell anyone about this, do you understand?” I waited until he nodded before I sprinted across the parking lot into the main offices. My mother is off her damn leash. Fuck! I shouldn’t have left Della alone for so long.
Several people called my name as I ran for the stairs, not wanting to wait on the damn elevator. Taking the stairs two at a time, I reached the third floor in less than a minute. My office door was closed and I was thankful Vince hadn’t left her exposed to whoever walked up there.
I swung the door open and scanned the room until I found her sitting against the wall with her knees pulled up to her chin. Her arms were wrapped around her legs and she was rocking back and forth, whimpering. I hated seeing her like this. She’d been doing so well. Her night terrors had eased off; she hadn’t experienced any in a month, at least.
“Della.” I called her name as I walked over to her, hoping she could hear me and my voice would draw her out. I bent down beside her and pulled her into my arms. She was stiff and cold.
“No, no, no, no, no,” she chanted over and over.
“I have you, sweetheart. You’re in my arms. I have you, Della. Shh, it’s okay. Come back to me, baby. Please come back to me. I’m right here and I have you.” I whispered in her ear how much I loved her; I wasn’t going to let her go until her body started to ease.
Slowly, her arms loosened their grip around her legs and wrapped around me, and then she buried her face in my neck. She was back. I continued to tell her she was wonderful and she was mine and I would take care of her. Reassuring her reassured me that I had her. That she was here and I could take care of her. I had let her take on too much responsibility because she was good at it. I had started letting her work longer and I was checking on her less. This was my fault. My mother would never have gotten to her if I had been watching her closer.
“I’m sorry,” Della said in a teary voice against my chest.
“Don’t say that,” I replied as I ran my hand over her hair and down her back. “Please, baby, don’t say that. I hate for you to think you have to say that.”
She sniffled. “I need to be stronger. I want to be stronger. I want to be tough.”
Did she not realize how fucking tough she was? She had lived a horror story for sixteen years of her life that had ended even more horrifically. And she still laughed and found reasons to smile. She was brave enough to live life, even after enduring the monsters that had terrorized her in her room as a child. And they weren’t pretend. She’d faced real monsters and she had survived. There was no one as fucking tough as this woman.
“Della, you are tougher than anyone I know. Just because you have to protect yourself sometimes and fade away from me doesn’t make you weak. You’re a survivor. You are my inspiration and I love you. No matter what, I love you.”
Della clung tighter to me. My mother had upset her. I would deal with her. She wouldn’t get close to Della again, even if I had to ban her from the club. This would stop. I was done with my family hurting what was mine.
We sat there in silence. Della let me hold her as close as I needed to. She let me kiss her head and hands and run my hands over her arms and back to reassure myself she was okay.
The knock on the door ended our peace and quiet. Della started to move out of my lap but I held her to me. I was going to ignore whoever it was. Vince should have been out there by now.
“Is everything okay, sir?” Vince asked from the other side of the door.
“Yes, we’re fine,” I replied.
Della tilted her head back to look up at me. “Did he see me?”
I nodded. I didn’t want to lie to her, even though I knew she hated for people to see her when she was like that.
“He’s going to think I’m insane,” she said with a defeated sigh.
I grabbed her chin and made her look up at me. “No, he won’t. You aren’t insane. You are intelligent, lovable, and beautiful. But you are not insane. You lived through hell and you beat it, Della. Most people can’t overcome something like what you’ve overcome. Don’t ever think you’re less than amazing.”
A small smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “You just love me,” she said.
“More than life,” I replied before pressing my lips to hers.