Tempt Me Like This
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He turned to the crowd. “Thanks for coming to say hi.”
The entire time he was signing autographs and taking selfies, he was aware of Ashley standing nearby making notes on her tablet. And just knowing she was there made him feel good.
* * *
Ninety minutes later, they had pulled off the freeway and were heading straight for the Valley of Fire. They were sitting in the front section of the bus beside Max so that Ashley wouldn’t miss the moment when the national park came into view. James was there with them, too, and Drew was charmed by the honest interest Ashley had in both men’s lives. He could tell she wasn’t just asking about their wives and kids as research, but because she liked hearing them talk about the people they loved. Some musicians stayed separate from their crew, preferring to keep things as impersonal as possible, but Drew had always enjoyed getting to know everyone. One of his favorite things about touring, in fact, was how much it felt like family after a week of living in each other’s pockets. If he couldn’t see his real family, then at least he didn’t have to feel totally alone.
Ashley was laughing at something James had just said when she suddenly stopped. “Oh my God, look at that!” She pointed at the bright red and orange rock formations rising from the middle of the otherwise flat and barren desert. She turned to Drew with a huge, awestruck smile. “They’re like flames rising from the ground.”
She nodded, grinning even wider as she said, “Valley of Fire. What a perfect name for this magical place.”
As they got closer to the park, more and more of the incredible rock formations came into view. Drew had been here a good half-dozen times, but it never ceased to blow him away.
Soon, they were pulling into the visitor’s center parking lot. Fortunately, Ashley was wearing Converse sneakers instead of heels or sandals, and she immediately hopped out of the bus so that she could see one of the rocks up close.
Drew turned to James and Max. He dug them both, but sometimes he wished he could drive himself around in a car like a normal person. “You guys don’t mind waiting here, do you?”
Max nodded, grinning like the true romantic he was. “Sure, no problem for me.”
But James was frowning. “Last time I let you loose in a desert, you almost didn’t come back.” That had been a rough day, one Drew had no intention of repeating. James did his staring-you-down thing for a few moments before he finally grabbed one of the black baseball caps on the dash and shoved it at Drew. “Don’t take this or your sunglasses off. And if you run into any other hikers, keep your head down.”
At first these precautions had felt like overkill. But more and more, Drew was glad to know that James was there to make sure they got in and out of crazy situations safely. And now that Ashley was with him, making sure nothing got out of hand was even more important.
Baseball cap on, he headed for Ashley. She was running her hand over the red rock, but turned as she heard him approach. Her smile was radiant, and he nearly stumbled at how deeply her pleasure affected him. He wanted nothing more in that moment than to keep giving her pleasure. Any and every way he possibly could.
“I can’t believe we’re practically the only ones here. The Vegas Strip is pretty cool, but this—” She waved her hand at what was surely one of the wonders of the world. “Thank you for blowing my mind, Drew.”
He put his hand beside hers on the rock. It was warm, but not nearly as warm as her skin had been that morning when she’d barreled into his arms. He wanted to tell her she’d blown his mind from the first moment he’d set eyes on her. But with her father’s take care of my baby ringing in his ears, Drew simply said, “You’re welcome. Ready to explore?”
She nodded, but as they were heading off toward one of the trails, she stopped and looked back. “Aren’t James and Max going to come with us?”
“Not this time.” In order to distract her from asking why not, he said, “I was ten the first time we came here, all eight of us piled into a beat-up old RV my parents had bought secondhand.”
“It must have been such a grand adventure.”
“It always was whenever we took that thing out. We fought sometimes, but we played more. And we always knew our mom was going to show us something really cool. Like this sand, for instance.” He bent down to scoop up a handful of the red powder, then let it slowly blow out from between his fingers. “Not just because of the amazing color, but also because of how fine it is. I remember coming home after our first trip here and all of us were dumping red sand out of our tennis shoes for days.”