Reckless In Love
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“I can’t talk about that now.”
She flinched, and he cursed aloud. Damn it, he hadn’t meant for it to come out so sharply. He just didn’t have much control right now. Not on any front. Not when everything inside his head, his heart, felt like it was spinning out.
He stopped walking and reached out to take her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m being an asshole.”
“I am.” He nearly cursed again. “See, I’m doing it again.” He made himself pause to try to get his shit at least a little bit together before saying, “I’ve just got to make it through the meet and greet. And then we can get out of here, get away from all this, and talk about what happened this morning or anything else you need to talk about.”
But even as he said it, he knew he was the one who needed to talk. To confess. And to face up to all the things he’d been trying so damned hard to hide from for so long. For longer even than before his mother had become so sick.
“That sounds great.”
He should have let go of her hands then. Should have headed into the first meet-and-greet room where everyone was waiting for him. But just as he’d known would happen, he couldn’t bring himself to let go of her. “You don’t have to do this, Ash.”
She didn’t ask what he meant. Instead, she answered in a way that told him she didn’t need to. “You were there for me when I needed you. Now I want to be here for you.”
He wanted to ask what she meant—how had he ever been there for her? She was the one who had held him while he cried over his mother in the desert.
But before he could, James opened the door to the room full of fans, and the young girls inside saw him and started jumping up and down and calling out his name.
An hour and a half later, Drew paid the taxi driver and stepped out with Ashley’s hand in his. They hadn’t spoken during the drive, but just being with her was enough. He’d made sure to put on his baseball cap before leaving the venue and had asked the driver to take them to a deserted stretch of beach that his friend Nicola Harding—Nicola Sullivan now—had told him about the last time he’d seen her. She’d scoped out lots of great places to get away while playing shows in big cities. Evidently, he wasn’t the only one who needed to get off the bus and away from the crowds from time to time.
“I’ve always loved the sound of the ocean,” Ashley said after taking a deep breath of the sea-salt air. “The way it’s never the same beat, never the same rhythm, and yet I can always count on it to make everything better.”
“Just like I can count on you.” Still holding her hand, he stopped their progress across the sand. “Thank you—not just for what you said in Robert’s office this morning, but for noticing the way fans have been reacting to the song in the first place.”
“They all really do love it. And maybe one day,” she added with a tiny quirk of her lips, “I’ll figure out how to listen to it without crying the entire time.”
He reached up to brush the thumb of his free hand over her cheek, right where her tears had been after the show. “Is it bad that I’ll take any excuse to touch you?”
In the slight ebb of the ocean tide, he heard her breath hitch. “It doesn’t feel bad.”
Jesus, the urge to kiss her tore at his insides, it was so strong. But that wasn’t why they were here. They were here because after this morning, he owed her the truth.
“Everyone says I’m living the dream,” he began, then shook his head. “I hate to sound like I’m complaining.”
She put her hand on his arm. “That’s not what it sounds like.”
“I know how lucky I am.”
“Yes, you’re lucky. But luck wouldn’t get you where you are without talent and hard work. I’ve seen how much you do every day. It’s not like you’re lounging on the beach between shows.” The little smile she gave him was so beautiful as she added, “Well, most of the time, anyway.”
Maybe it was her smile, maybe it was the moonlight shining over her like a halo, or maybe it was just that he’d kept it all bottled up too long, but before he could stop himself, he was saying, “This morning, at my label, it was like you saw through the act I’ve been putting on for everyone. That’s why I shut down on you afterward. Because I knew I was finally going to face the truth. I kept trying to tell myself that maybe I wouldn’t have to face it if I just pushed you away instead. But you’re the last person I ever want to push away.”
She held his gaze, as fiercely strong and passionate as she’d been that morning with the executives. “What’s the truth, Drew?”
His mom would have asked him that same question, just like that. No pauses. No trying to make it all easier.
“The truth is that I’ve always loved writing and playing songs. I never had to think about it, never had to try, it was just always there. I knew the sound I wanted to make and I made it. And it was great when I found out other people liked it, too. Liked it enough to come out and see me and download my demos online. When the label wanted to sign me, it was just another thing I didn’t have to think about. But maybe I should have.” Though she was frowning, she waited for him to continue his thought. He liked that about her, how she knew when to push and when to pause. “It’s great most of the time, but sometimes...sometimes it’s like being in a cage. A really nice one, with plush leather seating and a built-in coffee maker.” He was glad when she smiled at that, and it made it easier to continue. “Back when my mom was alive, she would ask me, ‘Are you happy?’”