Reckless In Love
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At the words chastity belt, her father’s face turned a ruddy red. “That’s not fair, Ashley. I just wanted to protect you the way I always have.”
“I know you did, but I’m twenty-two. I’m not a little girl anymore, like that picture you insist on keeping in your office that was taken almost ten years ago. You had to know that I was going to grow up and fall in love one day.”
“I did know that,” he said in a resigned voice, “but I hoped it would be with someone normal. Someone steady. Someone safe.”
“Drew is normal and steady and safe. He’s also exciting and brilliant and the most fun person I’ve ever been around.” Despite his enormous fame, she’d seen that right from the start. “You know how great his family is and how great he is, too. So why would you think that would change just because he’s a big star?”
“It’s less that he’s a big star,” her father said slowly, “than that he’s always had big dreams and plans. I can’t see him being happy buying a house in Palo Alto and settling down.”
“But you’re assuming I would be happy doing that.”
Her father started at the unintended sharpness in her tone. “Well...I suppose I have always assumed that.”
It wasn’t fair to be angry with her father for that. Not when she’d always assumed the same thing. “Like I said, I was really nervous when I first joined his tour, and I thought I would be totally out of my element and that I belonged in an office somewhere. But I love being on the road. I love how every day is a new adventure. I love coming up with new ideas and trying new things. And, most of all, I love being with someone who has never for one second thought about making his big dreams smaller.”
“You really are happy, aren’t you?”
She reached for her father’s hand again. “I really am. I mean, I’m still scared, too. But I’m starting to think that some fear is good...because it means I’m risking. Risking for what really matters. Risking for love.”
Her father’s eyes grew watery then. “I love you, honey. But you have to understand that it’s going to take a while for me to learn to deal with all of this. And not just because it’s Drew. It could have been any guy and I would have had just as hard a time letting you go.”
“I’m not asking you to let me go, Dad. Just to let him in.”
Finally, her father nodded and gave her a small smile. The first one she’d seen from him so far. “I’ll try, honey.”
That was all she could ask him to do, just to try to give her boyfriend—oh, what a lovely word that was—a chance. “Do you want to go watch his show?”
Her father began to shake his head, then stopped himself. “Sure.”
She put her arm around him, and he did the same. Together, they walked out of the room and headed to the side of the stage, where James was keeping an eagle eye on Drew. She gave him a smile to let him know everything was going to be okay, then let Drew’s music take away her worries and fears, just the way it always had.
* * *
Two and a half hours later, Drew strode off stage and immediately pulled Ashley into his arms to kiss her. For the entire show, she’d been at the forefront of his mind. Thankfully, part of the way through she’d appeared side stage with her father, their arms around each other. Now it was his turn to make sure his former professor knew just how much he loved and respected his daughter.
“Professor Emmit, I’d like to speak with you once I’m done with my after-show duties—in about an hour, if that’s not too late for you.”
Her father’s expression wasn’t exactly open and friendly as he looked at Drew, but he nodded. “Certainly.”
Ashley looked a little nervous as she glanced between the two of them, but she simply said, “Can we both come to your meet and greets?”
“Of course.” He slid his hand through Ashley’s. “I was hoping you’d be there.”
When she smiled at him and he saw the love she felt for him shining from her eyes without shadows anymore, even the major upcoming confrontation with her dad couldn’t dim Drew’s joy.
* * *
An hour later, Ashley headed back to the bus with Max, while James took Drew and the professor to a small, late-night coffee shop a short way from the Miami strip.
Making sure he was facing the corner rather than the door, after they ordered two cups of coffee, Drew took off his baseball cap and said point-blank, “I’m in love with Ashley. She’s brilliant and funny and beautiful and has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known.”
“She is all of those things,” her father agreed.
It felt like he was talking to an impenetrable brick wall, but Drew couldn’t let that stop him from trying to break through it. “I know I’m the last person in the world you want her to be with. She knows it, too, which is why we both tried so hard to fight what we were feeling for each other. But I couldn’t stop falling more in love with her by the second.”