Tempt Me Like This
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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.”
The waitress brought their coffees, but instead of picking up the cup, her father closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose. After quite a long while, he opened them and looked straight at Drew. “I promised Ashley I would try. But I have to tell you just how hard it is, after you promised me you would keep her safe.”
“She is safe with me, sir.”
“If it were just the two of you in Palo Alto, then maybe I could find that easier to swallow. But your life—I honestly can’t even begin to understand how crazy, how unpredictable, how unsteady it is. All I’ve ever wanted is for my daughter to feel secure. She should have everything she wants.”
“And if she wants me? If she wants this life?”
Professor Emmit shook his head. “I don’t understand it.”
“I see a lot of you in Ashley,” Drew said after a few moments. “How methodical she is, how she keeps asking questions and doing research until she feels that she truly understands something.”
“She and I have always been a lot alike.”
“Doesn’t she also share a lot of qualities with her mother?”
“Well... I...” Her father frowned into his untouched coffee. “They have the same eyes. And their laughter sounds the same.” His frown deepened. “And I suppose Ashley always loved riding roller coasters and diving into the ocean in a way I never have.”
“Just like her mom.”
The professor’s gaze met his again. “Yes. Just like Camila.”
Drew could hear all the longing, the frustration, in the other man’s voice as he spoke of his ex-wife. “What if,” he said slowly, “Ashley is living the life she wants? What if being in a relationship with me is just the perfect mix of steady and unpredictable?”
Her father pressed his lips together. “It’s not easy for me to see things that way, but for my daughter, I’ll try. Although there is one thing I will never bend on, Drew. You’d better go out of your way to make her happy every single day or—”