Jasmine may have only been a couple minutes older than Jocelyn but she seemed years older. She laid out on a towel as if she were a teenager and talked to me about name-brand clothing, which I knew nothing about, but I tried hard to follow along.
Jocelyn and July asked me to build a sand castle with them, then we played in the waves until seaweed wrapped around July’s leg and sent her screaming to the shore.
Jillian and I talked when the girls gave us a chance, but I preferred playing with them. They were so full of life. Nile had been a good father. They loved him. They all called him Daddy, which I thought was endearing.
“Are you going to come live with us? I heard Daddy talking to Mommy about it late last night. They thought I was sleeping.” Jasmine watched me carefully.
I wasn’t prepared for that question. She had waited until her mother had gotten up to take July to the restroom. I couldn’t figure out why Nile would even think to ask me to come live with them. I was happy here. I had a home.
“I have a home here,” I told her.
She nodded. “Yeah, but Daddy said you aren’t engaged and it didn’t look like you were going to get engaged. He was thinking you could live with us and go to college. We could be your family.”
I was pretty sure Nile had never meant for me to know about this conversation. “I don’t think we should be talking about this. If your dad wants me to know about it, then he will talk to me about it.”
Jasmine rolled over and looked up at me. “He’s going to. Just so you know.”
Was this kid really nine? She acted like she was fifteen.
“Here comes Daddy now,” she said with a smirk.
I glanced back over my shoulder to see Nile walking toward us in a pair of blue and yellow plaid shorts and a white polo shirt. He looked like he’d just walked off the golf course.
“Daddy,” Jocelyn squealed from next to her attempts at another sand castle, and went running to him. He reached down and picked her up and hugged her. Then he pretended to care that she’d gotten sand on him. It was cute.
“Hey, Daddy, what did you shoot?”
“Seventy-nine. I’m rusty. Woods shot a seventy. It was impressive.”
I was glad that they’d gotten to spend time together. Nile and his family were going home tomorrow. I wasn’t sure if, or when, I would see them again.
“How have you girls fared out here on the beach?” he asked, sitting down beside me.
“Other than the time July got seaweed on her leg, I think we’ve done brilliantly,” I told him.
Jasmine laughed. “It was epic.”
Nile looked over at her and grinned. “I can only imagine.” He looked around. “Where are Jillian and July?”
“Restroom,” I explained.
We sat there a few minutes and didn’t say much. Jocelyn kept calling out to us to look at her sand castle, but other than that we all remained quiet.
Finally, Jasmine and July returned and July plopped down in Nile’s lap and told him every second of everything he’d missed. He listened to her like he was hearing the most intriguing story ever told. She expected it, too. She was secure in the fact that her dad wanted to listen to her. He wanted to know what she had to say.
“Girls, let’s go down and get our feet wet and leave Daddy to talk to Della for a few minutes,” Jillian said, standing up and holding her hand out for July to take.
I glanced at Jasmine, who was giving me an I told you so look before she stood up and followed her mother and sisters down to the water.
“Why don’t you and I go for a walk?” Nile suggested, standing up and holding out his hand for me to take so he could help me up. I didn’t need his help but he was wired to be a gentleman, so I let him.
We began walking and I waited for him to say something.
“I want you to move back to Phoenix with us, Della. We have an extra bedroom over the bonus room. It would give you privacy and you would have a separate entrance into the house. You could go to school out there and we could all get to know each other better. The girls love you. Jillian thinks you’re great. We all want you to come live with us, though I know you have a life here.”
“Della!” Woods’s voice broke into Nile’s surprising offer and I stopped and turned around to see Woods running toward me. What was he doing here?
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Nile said beside me with an amused tone. I didn’t have time to focus on him and his offer. Woods looked upset.
“Woods?” I searched his face to see if there was something wrong. Was someone hurt?
“Don’t leave me,” he said, grabbing my arms and taking a deep breath like he had been running for a few miles.
“What are you talking about? I’m not leaving you.”
He looked over at Nile, then back at me with determination in his eyes. “I love you. You’re my one. My all-in. Don’t leave me.”
Had Nile told him he was going to ask me to leave with him? If he had, then why would Woods even think I would go? Had I made him feel that insecure about us? Of course I had. I had run off and left him with nothing but a letter. I reached up and grabbed Woods’s face and looked into his eyes. I needed him to hear me.
“I’m not leaving you. Ever. You’ll have to send me packing to get me to leave, and then I plan on fighting back. I will handcuff myself to you and refuse to budge. Nothing will make me leave. Nothing.” I brushed my thumbs over his cheekbones; it was really unfair how they were so perfect.
“He’s going to ask you to go to Phoenix,” he said, watching my face.
“I know. He just did. Doesn’t mean I’m going,” I told him, and smiled up at his beautiful, troubled face.
“So, you’re not leaving me?” he asked.
I shook my head and dropped my hands from his face and turned to look at Nile. “The fact that you and Jillian and the girls would be willing to accept me into your family so easily is humbling. I am touched. I want to get to know you and them. But I won’t be leaving Rosemary. I won’t be leaving Woods. He’s my family. The people here are my family. I don’t need another one. I have what I need here.”
Nile didn’t look hurt or ready to argue. Instead, I could see a pleased expression light up his face. “As much as I wanted you to come live with me and give us a chance to become a family, I’m thankful that you have someone who loves you like that,” he said, nodding his head at Woods. “I can trust him to take care of you and know you’re okay. I didn’t take care of you when you needed it. Now that I’ve found you, I want you to be happy and safe. I believe this man can give you that.”
Woods pulled me against him.
“He can. He does that and so much more,” I replied.