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"Why, Nicholas?" asked her father, eyes narrowing as he crossed his arms. "What could you possibly want my daughter for? She hasn't even graduated from university yet!"

He cringed slightly at the harsh onslaught of words, the painful strife of his impulsive actions. How could Nicholas possibly explain Dina's previous marriage proposal to the man that devoted his life to his children, to his daughter's future? 

A pain erupted within his chest, a pounding against caged walls, crumbling into a pile of dust like his sense of rationality.

Nicholas's eyes caught sight of the world beyond their contained conversation. The ripples of autumn soothed the howling winds with its brush of fate, red, yellows, brown tangible flakes of nature drifting into a sea of freefall motion.

Time slipped between his fingers like boiling sand, ripping a blister on his skin, a mark of regret, a symbol of mistakes. Nicholas knew time was cruel to those that did not take advantage of it. He knew that his time on Earth was limited, for Nicholas had a greater purpose in life.

His purpose revolved around Allah. Everything Nicholas accomplished in life was thanks to Allah, and all his mistakes belonged to him, and they held him back far too long.

If he allowed the sand to continue down the hourglass, he would miss his opportunity. 

He brought his eyes back to Dina's father, meeting his scrutinizing gaze with gentleness. "I want to marry her," he repeated firmly, "because if I don't, then I can't live with myself."

His jaw clenched. "Excuse me?"

"Sir, please hear me out," tried Nicholas again, practically begging for a chance. "My father, Scott Muller, was the man who arranged for Dina's betrothal."

His eyes widened. "Your father? Why would he do that?"

"He wanted to use your family as a pawn to make me take over our family business. He retracted the marriage agreement because I compromised with him."

"So, why do you want to marry Dina if all is cleared?" he asked, voice holding a slight edge to it like a blade. "I've worked my whole life to give my daughter an education. I came to America with nothing but a couple dollars and a passport. I worked menial jobs day and night so that my children could get a college degree, so that my daughters could carry through life without needing a man to support them."

"I admire you, sir," admitted Nicholas quietly, catching her father off guard. "You should be proud that you and your wife raised such an independent daughter. In no way am I trying to take her away from you or your family. If anything, I want to become part of the Younes household."

He raised a brow, almost in disbelief. A million thoughts raced through this father's mind, a thousand concerns, and a hundred questions. He stroked his graying beard, contemplating the legitimacy of Nicholas's claims.

In his eyes, Nicholas was nothing but a stray asking for his daughter's hand, yet he could see the reluctance lacing umber irises and the ambivalence that lined his tanned forehead. 

Nicholas continued, keeping his tone soft and calm even though his blood drummed against his veins. "I want to marry Dina because I've fallen in love with her character," he said, a small smile finding his lips. "I've got a thousand legacies to my name, but nothing to hold onto. They're meaningless and empty titles, but being a Muslim man is the first legacy I can call my own, my first decision without fear. And I have your family to thank for that."

"But Dina-"

"I want to marry her because she is the type of Muslim woman Allah tells believers to marry," he interrupted. 

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