A “Welcome Home Tripp” party wasn’t exactly something I wanted to attend. That was a shame really. I liked Tripp. He was a friend. My bitterness over the fact he was home and staying in his condo with Della was overriding everything else.
I was going so that I could get her alone and talk to her about this. I didn’t want her to feel like she had to stay here if she was uncomfortable. I’d give her a fully furnished condo to stay in if she wanted it. She didn’t have to stay with Tripp.
I knocked once then walked on in. No one was going to be able to hear me over the noise anyway.
The place was packed. I scanned the crowd for Della.
“Woods, about damn time you showed up,” Tripp called out over the music that was pumping through the condo’s built in speaker system. He was sitting at the bar with Jace, Bethy, Thad, and some unknown female who was sitting in Thad’s lap. Della wasn’t anywhere in the room. Dammit.
“And he’s back,” I said, forcing a smile.
“Just for a visit. Can’t stay long. Dad will try and get a monkey suit on me if I do,” he joked. But the words were too close for comfort. I knew what it felt like to have your father’s claws imbedded deep.
“I’m trying to get him to stay. But he has it in his head he’s only visiting before his next adventure,” Jace said. I knew he was trying to ease my mind about Tripp being here. I could tell by his tone of voice. Right now, I just wanted to find Della.
“Where’s Della?” I asked, unable to pretend like I wasn’t here for her.
Tripp’s eyebrows shot up and his gaze narrowed. I ignored it and looked directly at Jace.
Jace rolled his eyes and shook his head at me.
“She’s in her room. Why?” Tripp replied.
“Why is she in her room? Is she okay?” I asked looking back at the hall that led to the two bedrooms in the condo. Both doors were shut. Which one was she staying in?
“She had a phone call and went in there so she could hear. Again, why do you care?” Tripp asked.
I wasn’t going to answer him. This wasn’t his business. He was stopping through. He said so himself.
“Woods and Della met when she passed through a few months back. They uh… they uh… hooked up. They’re friends now. He’s a little protective,” Jace explained.
“You’re engaged,” Tripp said as if I needed reminding.
I leveled my gaze on him. “I wasn’t when Della and I met. And it doesn’t stop me from caring about her. I need to make sure she’s okay,” I said, before moving across the room toward the hallway.
I opened the first door and the lights were off. I closed the door and opened the next one. Della was sitting on the bed with her legs crossed and a phone pressed to her ear. Her eyes lifted to meet mine and they widened with surprise.
She was okay and I should close the door and walk away. But I didn’t. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me.
“Uh, yeah. I need to go. I’ll call you later,” Della said into the phone as she watched me warily. “I’m fine. I just had company walk in and I don’t want to be rude. Okay. Yeah. I love you too. Bye.”
She pressed the end button on her phone and slowly lowered it to her lap. “Woods?” The rest of her question was left open.
“You weren’t out there.” I nodded my head toward the door. “I wanted to check on you.”
Understanding dawned on her face and she gave me a small smile that made my chest feel tight. “Thank you but you know you don’t have to worry about me. I’m fine. Really I am.”
She wasn’t fine. I wasn’t sure she’d ever been fine. I walked across the room and sat down beside her on the bed.
“I’ve wanted to come check on you since Friday night. You know you can call me if you ever need me.”She turned her head just an inch so that she could meet my gaze. “You were busy with your fiancée this weekend. You don’t have time to worry about me.”I had only been with Angelina today at lunch. “I’ve hardly seen Angelina this weekend,” I replied, hating saying her name to Della. It seemed wrong.Della dropped her eyes to stare down at her hands. “I saw the two of you when I got off work today.” She didn’t say more. I thought back to the disaster of a lunch we’d had with our parents and the fight we’d had on the ride over to the club. Then I’d apologized because Angelina had been right. I was torturing us both by being an ass.“We had lunch together,” I explained. I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to explain but I did.“You fought and you made up. I don’t understand how you can ever be happy, Woods.” Her honest reply caused the tightness in my chest to ache.“Me either.”“I can’t let myself care about you anymore. I’m afraid of how I feel about you and I don’t want to get hurt.”She was making it hard to breathe. The soft pleading in her voice was going to break me.“I would never hurt you,” I swore. I could never hurt her. I just wanted to protect her.“But you do. Every time I see you with her it hurts. That’s not your fault. It’s mine. I cared too much too fast. And Friday night didn’t help. It only made me care about you more.”We had barely even had a chance to be friends. She was already putting space between us. I couldn’t let her do that. I needed her. She was the only bright spot in my life right now.“What about our being friends?” I asked.She shrugged and then squeezed her hands together tightly in her lap. “I don’t know. I don’t think I can. When you’re… when you’re sweet and caring like you were the other night… no one’s ever been like that with me. At least not a guy. I can’t seem to control my emotions.”Fuck. I couldn’t lose this… this thing between us but I also didn’t want her hurt. I’d do anything to keep her from getting hurt.“I want to be there for you when you need someone. Please don’t push me away.”Della let out a sad laugh. “That’s just it. You can’t be there for me when I need someone. It makes my heart hurt just a little more each time. I’ll be leaving soon. Let’s just keep our distance until I go.”Hell no. I started to tell her just that when the door opened and Tripp stepped into the room.“You okay?” he asked Della without looking my way. I didn’t like the way he looked at her. The concern in his eyes pissed me off.“We were just talking about my leaving soon,” she replied without looking up at him.“You’re not leaving,” I argued. If she wanted to have this conversation in front of Tripp then we’d fucking have it.“I can’t stay here,” she replied.“Yes you can.”“She doesn’t want to, Woods. And why the urgency to get her to?” Tripp said taking another step in Della’s direction.“Stay the fuck outta this conversation, Tripp. You don’t know anything about her.” Della stood up and held up her hands to stop me from saying anymore. “Stop it.”I looked up at her and the sadness in her eyes tugged at me. I liked seeing them twinkling with laughter. Not like this.“You need to step back and think about this bullshit you’re doing. The Woods I remember wasn’t an insensitive jerk. Della doesn’t deserve this. You’re engaged. Whatever you feel for Della has to end. She’s leaving with me in a couple of weeks. We’re going to travel together. Why don’t you let this go, huh?”She was leaving with him? The refusal to believe Della was going to leave with Tripp pounded in my head. Yet there she stood not denying it. Only looking sad and beaten down. Fuck this. I couldn’t keep doing this to myself. She wasn’t staying here. I had no future with Della. And if I didn’t marry Angelina I had no future in my father’s company. Tripp’s hand slipped over Della’s shoulder and he squeezed it. That was all I could handle. I stood up and stalked out of the room. I didn’t look back. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I just left.