er, seeking approval. He had loved his father. He needed to mourn his loss.
My mother hadn't spoken to me during my father's funeral. I had gone to comfort her but she turned from me and walked away. There were a lot of things I expected in life, but that hadn't been one of them. Ever. Nothing that I'd done had affected my mother's life. However, she'd helped my father as he had tried to destroy mine.
Seeing him lying there cold and still in the casket hadn't struck me the way I imagined. Everything was too fresh. I hadn't had time to forgive him. He had hurt Della. I could never forgive that. Even with him dead and buried in the ground I couldn't forgive what he'd done to her. She was the center of my world.
My mother had been able to see the lack of emotion in my eyes. I wasn't one for pretending. At least not anymore. A week ago I had walked away from this life I'd been born into without one ounce of remorse. It hadn't been hard to let it all go. My focus had been on finding Della. The woman who had walked into my life and changed everything. Della Sloane had become my addiction when I hadn't been available. In all her twisted perfection she had made me fall helplessly in love with her. A life without her in it seemed pointless. I often wondered how people found joy in life without knowing her.
With the sudden death of my father, the life I had just washed my hands of and been so ready to walk away from was now being placed completely on my shoulders. Della had stood beside me quietly from the moment I'd stepped foot back in Rosemary Beach, Florida. Her small hand tucked into mine, she knew when I needed her without my saying anything. A squeeze from her hand would remind me that she was there beside me and I could do this.
Except at this moment she wasn't with me. She was at my house. I hadn't wanted to bring her here, to my mother's house. My mother might have wanted to pretend that I didn't exist but I now owned everything in her life, including the house she lived in. It came with the country club, and my grandfather had made sure that when my father passed away this would all become mine.
Not once had my father thought this might be something I needed to know. He held it over my head that he controlled my life. If I wanted this world, then I had to bend to his will. Yet all along it would become mine on my twenty-fifth birthday or in the event of my father's death. Whichever came first. There was no running from this now.
I thought about knocking and changed my mind. My mother needed to stop acting like a child. I was all she had left. It was time she accepted Della in my life, because I was getting a ring on her finger as soon as I could convince her of it. I knew Della well enough to know that it wouldn't be easy to get her to marry me. With my world completely morphing into something I hadn't expected, I wanted the security of knowing that when I came home Della would be there.
I started to reach for the doorknob when the door swung open. My eyes lifted to see Angelina Greystone standing in the doorway of my parents' house with an innocent smile on her face. The evil twinkle in her eye couldn't be masked by her attempt to appear nice. I had almost married this woman so that I could get the club that was going to become mine anyway. My father had made me believe I had to marry Angelina to get the promotion and future I deserved.
What my dad hadn't banked on was Della walking into my life and showing me there was more for me than a loveless marriage to a heartless bitch.
"We were expecting you. Your mother is in the sitting room with some chamomile tea I made for her. She needs to see you, Woods. I'm glad you took her feelings into consideration and didn't bring that girl. "
The one thing I did know, despite what the witch had just said, was she knew Della's name. She might have wanted to pretend like she had never heard of her and didn't know her, but she did. She was just being spiteful. What I didn't know was why the fuck she was at my mother's house.
I pushed past her and walked into the house without responding to her. I knew where my mother was without her help. The sitting room was the place my mother always went to be alone. She would sit on the white velvet chaise lounge that had once been my grandmother's and she would stare out at the water through the large picture windows that lined the room.
I ignored the click of Angelina's heels as she followed behind me. Everything about her grated on my nerves. Her being here in the middle of a family situation on the day of my father's funeral only added to my disgust. Why was she doing this? What did she think this would win her? I owned it all now. Me. Not my father. And certainly not my mother. I was now the Kerrington in control.
"Mother," I said as I walked into the sitting room without knocking. She didn't need a chance to send me away. Not that I would go without having this conversation. As wrong as she had been, I loved her. She was my mom, even though she had always stood beside my father and never once thought of me. It had always been about what they wanted for me. But it didn't make me love her less.
She didn't turn her attention from the gulf view outside. "Woods, I was expecting you. " Nothing more. It hurt. We had both lost a part of our lives with my father's death. She didn't see it that way. She never would.
I walked over to stand in her line of view. "We need to talk," I replied simply.
She shifted her eyes to look up at me. "Yes, we do. "
I could have let her control this conversation but I wasn't going to. It was time I set some boundaries. Especially now that I had Della with me and we were back in Rosemary.
"At least he came alone. " Angelina's voice came from the door and I jerked my head to glare at her intrusion. She wasn't a part of this.
"This doesn't concern you. You may leave," I replied in a cold tone.
"She is a part of this. She's going to stay with me. I need someone here so I'm not alone and Angelina understands that. She's a good girl. She would have made an excellent daughter-in-law. "
I understood my mother's pain at losing my father was fresh---and she was in pain. But I wouldn't let her control this. It was time I made some things very clear for both of them. "She would have been a selfish spoiled bitch of a daughter-in-law. I was lucky enough to realize it before it was too late and I ruined my life. " I heard both of their sharp intakes of breath but I wasn't about to let them speak. "I control everything now, Mother. I will take care of you. I will make sure you want for nothing. However, I will not accept or acknowledge Angelina in my life. More importantly, I will not allow anyone to hurt Della. I will protect her from both of you. She is my perfection. She holds my heart in her hands. When she hurts it brings me to my knees. There is no way to explain to you the way I feel about her. Just understand that I will not allow anyone to hurt her again. I won't forgive that. I lose a piece of my soul when I see her in pain. "
The tight line of my mother's mouth was the only answer I needed. She wasn't accepting this. Today wasn't the day to try to convince her about my feelings for Della. She was mourning and I was still angry with the man she was mourning. "If you need anything, call me. When you're ready to talk to me without resentment toward Della, then call me. We will talk. You're my mother and I love you. But I won't let you near Della, nor will I put you before her. Understand that if you make me choose, I will choose her without a second thought. "
I walked over and placed a kiss on the top of my mother's head before walking past Angelina without a word. It was time I got back home. Della didn't do well alone. I was always anxious when I left her.
He still hadnt cried. No emotion at all. I hated that. I wanted him to grieve. He needed to let it out instead of bottling his emotions because of me. The idea that he was hardened toward his pain because he was protecting me twisted my gut. His father had betrayed him by sending me away. But I had seen the look in Woodss eyes as he looked at his fath
"Della?" I turned to see Woods walk into the living room. His eyes scanned the room before they found me standing outside on the balcony. He immediately headed for the door. There was a determination in his eyes that worried me. He opened the door and stepped outside.
"Hey, did things go okay?" I asked before he pulled me into his arms and held me tightly against him. He had done this a lot over the past week.
"Shes grieving. We will talk again once shes had time to process everything," he said into my hair. "I missed you. "
I smiled sadly and pulled back so I could look up at him. "You were gone for about an hour. Not much time to miss me. "
Woods ran his hand through my hair, brushing it out of the way, and then cupped my face. "I missed you the second I walked out that door. I want you with me all the time. "
Smiling, I turned my head and kissed his hand. "I cant always be with you. "
Woodss eyes darkened with something I recognized well. "But I want you with me. " He slipped one of his hands around my waist, tugging me up against him. "I cant concentrate when Im not close enough to touch you. "
I grinned as I pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist. "When you touch me we tend to get carried away. "
Woodss hand slipped under my shirt and I shivered as he moved it closer to my chest. "Right now I want to get carried away. "
I wanted that too. I always wanted that, but he needed to talk. He needed to say something.
His phone rang, interrupting both of us.
His face tensed and he let his hand slide out from underneath my shirt reluctantly before reaching into his pocket to pull out his phone.
"Hello," he said in his business tone. He looked at me apologetically. "Yeah, Ill be there in five minutes. Tell him to meet me in my dads . . . in my office. "
He was having a hard time calling his dads office "his. " That was only another glimpse into the pain he was ignoring.
"That was Vince. There are several board members in town and they want to meet with me in an hour. Gary, my dads adviser and best friend, wants to brief me first. Im sorry," he said, reaching out to take my hand and pull me against him.
"Dont be sorry. There is nothing to be sorry about. If theres anything I can do to help you, then I will. Just tell me. "
Woods chuckled. "If I could get away with keeping you in my office all day with me, then I would. "
"Hmmm . . . I dont think youd get a lot of work done. "
"I know I wouldnt," he replied.
"Go, show that board that youre ready for this. "
Woods pressed a kiss to my head. "What are you going to do?"
I wanted to work again. I missed seeing everyone and having something to do. Lying on the beach every day wasnt really me. "Could I have my job back?" I asked.
A frown wrinkled Woodss brow. "No. I dont want you working in the dining room. "
I had been prepared for this. "Okay. Then Im going to go find a job somewhere else. I need something to do. Especially with you being so busy. "
"What if you need me? Where would you want to work? What if I cant get to you? That wont work, Della. I cant protect you if you arent near me. " I was only adding more stress for him. He needed more time to adjust. I would give him that. He needed to heal. I would have to find a way to spend my days.
"Okay. Well wait a couple weeks and talk about it again," I said with a smile, hoping to reassure him.
He looked relieved. That was what I had wanted. "Ill call you once this meeting is over. Well have dinner together. I wont leave you here alone long. I swear. "
I just nodded.
Woods pulled me to him and kissed me. It was a possessive kiss. Right now he needed me to be there for him. For now, that is what I would do. Be there for him.
"I love you," he whispered against my lips, and then pressed one last kiss to them.
"I love you too," I replied.
Woods left and I stayed outside on the balcony looking out at the gulf. I had missed out on life for so long and now I was learning that life was about sacrifice. Especially when you loved someone.
My phone rang this time and I picked it up from the table Id left it on earlier. It was an unknown number. That meant one thing: it was Tripp.
"Hey," I said, sitting down on the lounge chair beside me.
"How are things?"
"Okay. Woods is adjusting," I replied.
Tripp let out a weary sigh. "I shouldve come home for the funeral. I just . . . I couldnt. "
I didnt know what it was in Rosemary that haunted Tripp. But I knew that something did. Since hed left he had called me twice. Both times it had been from an unknown number and both times he had seemed off. Almost depressed.
"Jace said he tried to get in contact with you and couldnt. Youve changed your number. "
"Yeah. I did. I needed some space. "
"Jace misses you. He worries about you. "
Tripp didnt respond and I didnt feel like I was the person who should push him to respond.
"Ill call him. Let him know theres no reason to worry. I shouldnt have stayed in Rosemary so long. It messes with my head. I cant go back there. Therere things . . . stuff I dont like to face. "
I already knew this. I had no idea what those things were but I knew that they haunted him.
"Are you working again?" he asked.
"No. Woods doesnt want me working right now. He needs me to be available for him. Im his only source of support. His mother . . . well . . . you know how she is. "
Tripp paused a moment and I wondered what he was thinking about. I really didnt want him to say something negative about Woods. "Right now he needs you. I get it. But, Della, you started this journey to live life. Dont forget that. You left one prison; dont find yourself in another. "
His words sliced through me painfully. Woods was nothing like my mother. He needed me right now because he had lost his father and been thrown into a position he wasnt prepared for overnight. He wasnt trying to control me. "This is different. Im choosing to stand beside Woods. I love him and I will be here for whatever he needs. Once hes better hell be fine with me getting a job again. "
Tripp didnt respond and we sat there for a few minutes in silence. I wondered if he disagreed or if he wasnt sure what to say to that.
"The next time I call I wont block my number. I want you to have it if you need it. "
I wouldnt need his number.
"Just . . . dont give it to Jace or anyone. Please. "
"Good-bye, Tripp," I replied before ending the call. I didnt want to hear his doubt and concern. He was wrong. Everything was going to be fine with Woods and me. He was very wrong.
One month later . . .
I glanced over at the phone and considered calling Della. I hadnt spoken to her in five hours. My morning had been packed with meetings and conference calls. She never complained. That bothered me. The fact was I thought she should complain. I was failing her. How was I supposed to run the Kerrington Club and take care of her? Any other woman would have been in my office throwing a fit. But never Della.
A swift knock on my door kept me from picking up the phone. I would call her in a minute. "Come in," I called out, and started looking for the papers Vince had brought me to sign earlier.
"Vince wasnt out there so I knocked. " Angelinas voice wasnt what I expected to hear.
"What does Mother need now?" I asked without looking up at her. That was why she was here. At first I had been annoyed with her presence but she was helping my mother more than I could. More than I wanted to.
"She misses you. Its been over a week since you called to check on her. "
Angelina was as good at guilt trips as my mother was. The two of them were so much alike. "Ill call her later today. Ive got work. If thats all, please see yourself out. "
"You dont have to trea
t me so coldly. Im helping you the only way I know how. Every day I stay here with your mother is for you. Its all for you. Im in love with you, Woods. I cant compete for your heart because you wont allow me in. But what is she doing for you? I dont see her helping you---"
"Enough. Dont ever put yourself on the same level as Della. I didnt ask you to take care of my mother. I can hire someone to help me if I need it. As for Della, shes the reason I get out of bed each morning, so never underestimate her importance. "
Angelina stiffened and opened her mouth to say more. I lowered my angry glare back to the contracts in front of me. I was done with this conversation. "Leave. "
The clicking of her heels on the hardwood floors as she left the office was the most welcome sound Id heard all day.
When the door closed behind her I reached for my phone to call Della.
"Hello," her sweet voice said into the phone.
"I need you," I replied.
"I just finished a late lunch with Blaire and Bethy. Ill be right there," she replied.
"Just come in when you get here," I told her.
Exactly ten minutes and fifteen seconds later my door opened and Della stepped inside. Her dark hair was pulled up into a ponytail. The short sundress she was wearing hugged her curves more than I would have preferred. I stood up and walked around my desk.
"Hi," she said with a shy smile.
"Hi," I replied before resting both my hands on her hips and pressing my mouth on hers. Her lips were always so plump and soft. The faint taste of cherries from her lip gloss clung to my tongue.
This was what I needed. This was what got me through each day.
Della broke the kiss and placed her hands on either side of my face. "Are you okay?" she asked softly.
"I am now. "
Della gazed up at me as if she were studying me closely. Then she stepped back and turned to the door. Before I could ask her what she was doing the lock clicked in place.
"Take off your clothes," she said simply, then began to slip the straps of her dress down her shoulders.
I was at a loss for words at the moment. I did as I was told. I couldnt take my eyes off of Della. As her dress pooled at her feet and she stood there in nothing but a pair of pink lace panties and a matching bra, my hands started to tremble. Seeing her like this never got old.