I had drunk three cups of coffee that morning to prepare myself for the early tee time I had with Nile. After Della had told me about her dream last night and shared her memories, I hadn’t been able to sleep. I’d wanted to hold her and watch her sleep. The idea of her having another dream like that and my not being awake to stop it scared the shit out of me.
That was fucked up. What she’d lived through was more fucked up than I could even imagine. She worried that she wasn’t strong enough, but, damn, anyone who had lived through what she had and still functioned normally day to day was strong. Della did more than function. She laughed, she made friends, she enjoyed life, she made me smile, and she completed my world. She was the strongest person I had ever met.
“Sorry I’m late. The girls woke up early and I was trying to get them something to eat so they could watch television and let their mother sleep late,” Nile said, interrupting my thoughts.
With his dark hair and blue eyes, he looked so much like Della that it was hard for me not to stare at him. There was no arguing that this man was her father. “No worries. I haven’t been here long,” I assured him.
“You want a caddy?” I asked. I never used one but most members did.
Nile glanced over at the golf cart I had already pulled around with my clubs and a set from the clubhouse. He had mentioned last night that he hadn’t brought his clubs with him.
“No, I think I’d like it to be just us,” he said with a smile.
He wanted to talk about Della. I figured as much. Which was why I hadn’t already had a caddy on standby.
“All right, then we’re ready to go. I have water in the cooler but if you want something more, a cart will be around by the time we get to the third hole. We can order something from it if you prefer.”
“Water’s great. Too early for anything else,” he replied.
I drove us to the first hole. “Della is looking forward to meeting the girls and your wife down at the beach today.” They had planned a beach day. Nile was going to join them after our game. I was going to go work and give Della time alone with them.
“The girls can’t wait to see Della again. They really took to her. Jillian adores her, too.”
I parked the cart. “Della’s hard not to adore,” I said before getting out.
“Yeah, she is. She’s much like her mother . . . uh, Glenda, that way.”
I hadn’t met Glenda but I wanted to. Della looked like her birth father but she didn’t have his personality.
Nile pulled his driver from the bag. “Della seems happy here,” he said.
“She is,” I replied.
He didn’t move to set up his shot. He studied me instead. “You haven’t proposed to her. And I couldn’t help but notice she didn’t make it sound like marriage was in her near future last night when the girls were questioning her.”
Not a conversation I had expected to have with him today. I pulled my driver from the bag and tried not to get pissed by this line of questioning. “We haven’t talked about marriage yet.”
Nile nodded. “I see,” he said.
What the hell did “I see” mean? I was going to marry Della.
“I’m going to shoot straight with you, Woods. You’re a good man. You have a bright future. When the woman you want to marry walks into your life, you will know it and you will want to be married to her. So, seeing as how you aren’t thinking of marriage to Della just yet, I know, as a man, that you aren’t sure she’s the one for you. I was going to wait but I have decided to ask Della to move to Phoenix and live with us. Jillian is on board with this idea. We stayed up most of last night talking about it. We have an extra bedroom and Della can finish school. She’s only twenty. She needs a family around her.”
I could hear what he was saying but I felt like I had just stepped outside of myself and was watching this conversation happening. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. This man was not suggesting taking Della away from me. I shook my head before he finished talking and he stopped midsentence.
“No,” was all I managed to say. He had blindsided me. I hadn’t expected this.
“No?” he repeated as if he didn’t understand that word.
“No,” I repeated. “You’re not taking Della away from me. I’ll follow her. Anywhere she goes I will follow her. She’s it for me. She isn’t going to Phoenix. She’s staying here with me. I’m going to marry her. No, I haven’t proposed yet, but I intend to. She just came back to me. She’s finally facing the horrors of her past and letting me help her heal. She’s mine, Nile. She is mine. She’s not going anywhere.”
Nile studied me a moment, then he nodded. A smile touched his lips. “That’s what I wanted to hear,” he said, then turned and walked to the tee as if the conversation were over. It wasn’t fucking over until he told me he wasn’t asking Della to move to Phoenix.
“What does that mean?” I demanded.
Nile glanced back at me over his shoulder. “You showed passion and determination to keep her. You want her forever. I wanted to make sure. Now I just need to make sure she wants the same thing.”
“You mean you lied to me to get me to admit I was going to marry her?” I asked. I wasn’t sure I liked this man anymore.
“No. I’m very serious. If Della wants to move to Phoenix with us, then I’m taking her. I will spend every damn dime I have making up for the fact that I was a kid when she was born and didn’t know any better. I will give her a family and I’ll make sure she feels loved and a part of my family. But I needed to know that if I leave her here, then she’ll have someone who loves her with the passion that forever requires.”
Wait . . . he was still asking her to move to Phoenix? “Della isn’t just mine. I belong to her.”
Nile nodded. “Good. If she feels the same way she will tell me no when I ask her to move to Phoenix. If she does, I will know that she has a happy future ahead of her. I will also expect an invitation to the wedding.”
“She won’t leave me,” I said with more force than necessary.
“I guess we will see. Won’t we?” he said before giving his complete attention to his swing.