Chapter 10: Temptations

"How many times do you plan to call me today?" Rick balanced the receiver between his ear and shoulder. He cradled Jude in his arms. "Mel, I'm fine."

"You're not a good liar," she replied. "I wish you would come in to be examined."

Rick groaned. "I don't need an examination. Just rest and some down time with Jude. Just the few hours I've been with him have helped. I feel better."

"You coughed most of the night," Mel reminded him.

"But I'm not coughing now." An idea came to him. "Jude's about to take a nap. Why don't you come home for an extra special lunch engagement?"

"Are you propositioning me?" she said, her voice softening. "Again?"

"I think I'm addicted," he said in a low voice. "I can't seem to get enough of you, Dr. Boudreau."

"Your offer is tempting."

Rick grinned. "That sounds good. I've always wanted to be a temptation."

"Well, you are."

He paused. For so long, he wanted to be the absolute one for another person. He thought he'd found that with Abigail, but it wasn't to be. The timing wasn't right, he guessed. But with Mel... It seemed that everything was falling into place.

He rose from the sofa and placed Jude in the crib. He smiled. He had a son and a woman who loved him. It felt so good to finally get it right.

"Will you come home?" he asked. He held his breath, stifling the cough that had lodged in his chest. He flattened his palm against his chest. A cough would set Mel off. He was too close to what he wanted for his plans to get messed up now. "Will you?"

Soft laughter tickled his eardrums. "Yes, you talked me into it, you silver-tongued devil."

Rick wanted to laugh but didn't want to chance a cough. "Hurry up. I'm counting the minutes."

"I love you," she said softly.

"I love you, too."

~*~

Despite her worries about Rick's cough, Mel spent the rest of the morning with a goofy smile on her face. She couldn't help it. Rick made her feel so happy inside. Just the sound of his voice brought joy to her day. Even when he worked her nerves like now. Argh, she groaned. Why wouldn't he get checked out? By the end of their lunch 'engagement', she planned to make sure that he changed his mind.

She finished her rounds and headed for the nurse's station. "I'm out to lunch, but if there's an emergency, page me."

"Of course, Doctor."

Mel smiled and finished signing out.

"Melisande."

She stiffened. That voice and that tone only belonged to her upset father. She turned away from the station to face him. "Dad."

He glanced at the purse on her shoulder and the car keys on in her hand. "Going to lunch?"

"Yes, I--"

"Good," he interjected. "We can go to Company."

"No, we can't," she said. "I have plans."

"We need to talk."

She swallowed hard. "Fine. We can talk while you walk me to my car."

Clayton's mouth tightened. A frown darkened his brow. But he didn't protest. He held his tongue until they reached the parking lot.

"You're living at the Bauers."

She nodded.

"I learned this from Ross Marler!" he said through clenched teeth. "You should have told me."

"I knew you'd react this way," she said. "Besides, it's only temporary."

"Temporary?" His eyes narrowed.

"Until Rick and I find our own place," she stated. "Look, Dad, I'm sorry you didn't hear about this from me. The truth is, I wasn't up for another argument with you. I'm happy with Rick and I know you don't approve."

"It's not that," he said. He lightly cupped her cheek. "I don't want you to get hurt."

"Rick wouldn't hurt me."

Clayton shook his head. "Maybe not intentionally. What do you plan to do about the Realtor? Did Rick even understand where she was coming from? Or did he tell you that you were making a big deal over nothing?"

Mel bristled. She backed away from her father. "He doesn't know the signs."

"You're making excuses for him."

"You're not giving him enough credit," she responded. "How would he know the signs? It's not his fault. He wants to sue."

Her father cocked an eyebrow. "Oh, really?"

"Dad," she said with warning in her voice.

"Sweetheart, this is the perfect example of what I've been telling you."

Mel inhaled a sharp breath. Her father was being unreasonable. This side of him didn't impress her. "He's doing what he thinks is right. How can you find fault with that? He's white, Dad. It won't change and I won't push him from my life because of it. You're worse than Archie Bunker."

His caramel-colored cheeks darkened to a dusty rose. "I'm not racist."

"I didn't say that." Mel sighed. "I know what you're saying and why, but I don't understand what you want from me. You, of all people, should be happy for me. Rick and I care about each other. Why doesn't that matter to you?"

"It does," Clayton said quietly. "I don't want you to get hurt."

"Well, Daddy," she said, her voice hoarse, "the only person hurting me right now is you."

Her pager buzzed. She looked at it. Her critically injured patient had taken a turn for the worst. She slipped the pager back inside her pocket and looked at her father. "It's the hospital. My lunch is over. I'll see you later."

~*~

"That's it for me." Remy slammed his geology book closed. "I have a game tonight."

"Yeah, I know," Marah said. She tapped her highlighter against his closed text book. "What are you doing after?"

His eyebrows lifted. He and Marah had begun to spend more time together. With so many guys after her, he was surprised that she wasn't trying to fit somebody like Ben Reade into her schedule.

"Nothing. What's up?"

Pink colored her alabaster cheeks. "Wanna check out my Aunt Cassie's new club? I have free passes and anything else would be my treat."

He frowned. "You don't have to pay for me. I can pay my own way."

Marah averted her gaze for a second. "I do have to pay when you're my guest..."

His eyes narrowed. "This sounds suspiciously like a date."

"What if it is?" she asked quickly. "Would you say yes?"

Remy drew in a harsh breath. He wanted to, but... The stereotype of the black athlete dating the blonde, blue-eyed beauty crossed his mind. Did he really want to go there?

He took a closer look at her. Marah Lewis was more than just a beautiful white girl. She was his lifelong pal. If neither of them had too many expectations, a date should be harmless.

"Why not?" He shrugged, hoping to appear nonchalant. "Two friends hanging out. It should make for a fun evening, right?"

"Two friends." Her smile faltered. "Yeah, right."

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