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“Taylor, do you know how many women your age are no longer acting? Here you are at 42, and you keep getting offered role after role! I’d give my right arm just to have more shot, and you’re sitting here telling me you’re thinking of passing on one this big? Give me a break already!”

“I am grateful to still be getting steady work. It’s just that it’s not much fun anymore.”

“That’s why they call it work!” her old friend told her. “The kind of movies you make don’t pay like action films with Stallone or Van Damme, but you make ten for every one they do so it all equals out, right?”

“It isn’t the money, either, Jane,” Taylor told her.

“Then please tell me what it is! What’s going on inside that pretty little head of yours?”

Taylor Farris was indeed 42 years old, and she was not only still making romance movies, she was making three or four a year. She was one of those people who had the ability to seem believable in every role she played. No matter who she played or where her characters lived or what they did, they always fell in love and married the handsome, wonderful guy. He could be a single dad who walked dogs or a handsome attorney or her long lost beau from high school. In the end, her characters always found themselves living happily ever after.

But for Taylor herself, when the final scene was shot, she always went home alone. Every time. Yes, she went home to an amazing, incredible penthouse in New York’s upper east side, but she always went there by herself.

And for as long as she could remember that had been just fine. She’d been too busy making movies and money to care about things like love, romance, or children. But for the last year or so, and especially the last six months, she’d found it harder and harder to think of anything else.

Her career had proven to be both a blessing and a curse in that the money and lifestyle that gave her so much freedom also severely limited her choices when it came to a husband. What man, other than a fellow actor who understood the business, would put up with living with a wealthy actress who was on location several months a year? How would she be able to have and raise children? Yes, she could hire a nanny, but why have them if someone else was going to be there day in and day out?

Based on what both men and women of all ages told her, she was clearly still a very beautiful woman and that, too, was a dual-edged sword. Her beauty was what allowed her to play the leading lady in one romance movie after the other, and yet it was the thing she needed to at least initially attract the attention of the kind of man she’d like to marry, and she knew her looks wouldn’t last forever. Her future husband didn’t have to be model handsome. In fact, that was a bit of a turnoff for her as the preferred the kind of man people called ‘ruggedly handsome’. But he did need to be someone she found attractive enough to want to hold or kiss and yes, to make love with her. And the longer she waited, the less opportunity she’d have to ever have children, something she now very much wanted.

As difficult as all that was to try and explain to her best friend, Jane Eilman, a former actress who’d do anything to get another role, it would be even more difficult trying to tell her how she was feeling, and why none of this was making her happy anymore.

Jane had a stable, steady, and…sexless marriage. She would also do anything to have her husband pay some attention to her, while Taylor could have pretty much any man she wanted, but only on a ‘rental’ basis. How could she tell Jane how sick and tire she was of the endless stream of good-looking actors who walked in and out of her life on a regular basis when her friend would love to have just a fraction of that kind of warmth from a man even for a few hours every now and then?

To Jane, it seemed like Taylor had it all. But to Taylor Farris, It was as though her life was spinning out of control during its prime, and that feeling had gone from mildly unsettling several months ago to overwhelming and relentless the last several weeks.

Taylor had been in love before but only once. Right after graduating from college, her high school boyfriend from the small town they grew up in in eastern Oregon looked her up after having spent four years on active duty in the Marine Corps.

He was still boyishly handsome, and during those four years he’d matured so much. He was so grounded and settled and down to earth. She’d fallen hard for him, and looking back, she couldn’t help but feel that had she married him, she’d be happier than she was in her fancy penthouse with more money than she could spend in three lifetimes. She’d have far less money, but Taylor honestly believed she’d be much richer.

But because he’d loved her so much, he’d encouraged her to follow her dreams and fly to Hollywood and read for a part in a movie. Once that was out of her system, she could focus on a real career and raising a family—with him. Except that she’d been called casino oyna back the next day for a second reading, and that very afternoon she’d been given a part in the movie. Not the one she’d read for, but still a very substantial supporting role, and that role helped her land another role, and the rest was, as they say—history.

She thought about trying to explain all that to her friend of many years, a friend who’d married an actor-turned-director, and who also lived in a swanky penthouse on the floor above her. Her friend had money, too, but Taylor knew she was very unhappy. Her life was hollow and empty and nothing but one dinner party after the other followed by some premiere and then another party. She and her husband had no children, and he’d made it quite clear he didn’t want them. She was now too deeply invested in him and in ‘the business’ and would ride it out hoping to feel better tomorrow by taking one more pill or having one more drink today.

Taylor had never really thought of her life as some kind of roller coaster let alone like there was some pressing need to get off, but lately all she wanted to do was walk away. And yet what was there to walk away to? And to where would she walk? How would she meet the proverbial nice-guy-underdog like her characters always did in her movies to walk away with? What guy like that would follow her back to New York and her top-floor penthouse and her parties and all the surrounding phoniness?

The scariest question of all was, “Is it already too late?” Had love and a family already passed her by?

“So are you gonna make this movie or not?” Jane asked bringing Taylor back to reality.

“Um, yeah. I guess so. After all, it’s a Christmas special, and of all the ones we do, those are usually the most fun. I have to say I’m not happy about going to Diamond Head for three months, though.”

Her friend laughed and said, “Uh, honey?” Diamond Head is in Hawaii. You’re going to Diamond Rock. Iowa. You know, 125 miles from Des Moines, the closest thing to a city for many hours—by plane.”

“Don’t remind me,” Taylor said with a shake of her head. She’d done the small-town thing a few times and they were invariably as exciting as watching grass grow or paint dry. She’d hole up in her private bus, focus on her work, and eventually she’d be back home in Manhattan getting ready for the next movie.

“It’ll be over before you know it, Taylor. And this will give you time to sort through whatever mid-life crisis you’re having and move on. And then you’ll be back to yourself in your own home and here in civilization, right?” her friend said cheerfully.

“Right. Back home. In civilization,” she repeated without conviction.

What she didn’t say was, “All by myself.”

An hour later, Taylor’s perky and often-opinionated executive assistant, Anne Barber, came in and let her know they had first-class tickets from LaGuardia to Des Moines for the following morning, and that her own private bus would be there waiting for them when they landed.

*****

Diamond Rock, Iowa. City Hall

“So…I guess we’re gonna have these Hollywood types crawling all over us pretty soon.”

“Yeah, but it’ll be good for business. We’re the only game in town for food, shopping, and lodging, and even though we’re back in the black, we can really use the additional revenue.”

“No, you’re right. I guess I’m so used to my same old, quiet routine it’s a little hard to imagine having all these folks around here making demands and wanting what they want right now.”

“Maybe it won’t be so bad, Dad,” the young mayor told his father who happened to be the town’s chief of police.

“I hope you’re right, Burke. We’ve only got three cells in the jail so anything big could be trouble.”

His son chuckled then said, “Look on the bright side. Maybe you’ll get to meet the star. What’s her name?”

Mayor Decker shuffled through some papers on his desk and found the one he wanted.

“Ah, here it is. Um…Taylor Farris. She’s pretty hot, Dad.”

“Give me a break, son. I’m 52 years old and a small-town sheriff. She’s a hot movie actress who lives in…”

Both of them said it together one word at a time.

“New…York…City!” before laughing.

“I’d say you’re the better candidate for that,” his father told him.

“No thanks. The last thing I need is some snooty, stuck-up starlet ruining my life and even worse—Shay’s.”

The truth was his father was still a very nice-looking man even at 52. His wife had passed away while Burke was in high school, and he’d remained the town’s most eligible bachelor until his very handsome son returned home from a four-year stint as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Burke Decker had been a hometown sports hero and golden boy who went on to play football for Iowa State. He’d surprised everyone when he announced he was going to join the military as his way of giving back to the country he so dearly loved and that had been so good to him. But slot oyna he followed through and did just that.

During his senior year, he met a girl who turned his world upside down. Rebecca Manley was as beautiful as Burke Decker was handsome, and she shared the same values he treasured. Both of them were utterly smitten and the couple was married right after graduation and just one month before her new husband reported to Marine Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia.

After commissioning, she drove out to Virginia while Burke attended The Basic School, a six-month finishing course for all newly commissioned officers. He wanted to be an infantry officer and got his first choice, then spent another couple of months going through IOC or the Infantry Officer’s Course, also at Quantico.

From there, he and Rebecca were sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where Burke found himself headed for Afghanistan just four months later in charge of a platoon of hard-charging Marines. Two months into that first tour, he also learned his gorgeous wife was pregnant and would be delivering a couple of months before his scheduled return.

The first time he held his beautiful daughter, Burke Decker fell in love for the second time in his life. From that moment on he doted on the baby girl they’d named Shay as much or more as he did on his beautiful wife.

Three years and one more combat tour later, Burke was a month away from leaving active duty when the battalion commander’s wife, Phyllis Adams, wanted to throw a farewell party for the young woman she thought of as a kind of older daughter or much-younger sister.

Phyllis was always the life of the party, and a lot of that was due to the way she invariably ended up getting smashed not long after it started, and this one was no exception.

Rebecca kissed her husband and daughter goodbye around 7pm and told Burke she’d be home before midnight. He was more than happy to babysit with his second-best girl and give his wife a night out alone with the other wives.

He got a text at around 11pm telling him Phyllis was blitzed (as usual) and she’d be driving her home, but still be in before turning into a pumpkin at midnight.

“And do wait up for me!” the text said.

Burke smiled knowing how much his wife enjoyed lovemaking. He was already tired and would be exhausted, but he’d stay up and then…get it up…because that’s just what you did when you loved someone that much.

But Rebecca never did come home.

The following day, Tammy Johnson, the battalion supply officer’s wife, who’d been in the back seat of the car, was trying to explain what had happened as she recovered in the base hospital.

Burke stood beside her bed along with her husband, Captain Trey Johnson, as each of them held one of her hands.

“Burke, I’m so sorry! It was just so awful and it happened so fast. I really don’t remember much, but I do remember Phyllis going on and on about, you know, never getting laid anymore. Her poor husband. The way she drinks, who’d want to, right? I mean, you know how she gets when she’s drunk, and Phyllis is always drunk. Anyway she started in on Rebecca about how horrible things were at home and how lucky she was to have you. Then she got all sappy and started crying. I saw her reach over and I thought she was trying to give Rebecca a drunk hug or something. I heard Rebecca say, ‘Phyllis? You need to sit up straight, okay?’ Somehow, she got her hand caught in the wheel. After that, all I remember is the car lurching left and then waking up here.”

Tammy was confirming what the police had told him around 3am. Phyllis had died instantly and Rebecca passed away en route to the hospital. Tammy had been in the back seat, and although her right side had taken a pretty good beating as the car spun around after taking a direct hit head-on, she’d fully recover and be okay in a few days.

And just like that the best thing that had ever happened to Burke Decker was gone. The only ‘saving grace’ was that at three, Shay was too young to understand death. She just wanted to know when mommy would wake up again when they paid their last respects during the joint memorial service at the base chapel.

Burke didn’t do much that last month except to sit around and feel sorry for himself and hold his daughter as much as he could—the only connection he had to the woman he’d so dearly loved. He wasn’t much of a drinker, but he got drunk more than a few times before realizing that wouldn’t change a thing except to make them worse.

He came home to Diamond Rock and moved in with his dad for a few months until he was finally ready to make another go at life. The town was in terrible fiscal shape and one day his father asked him if he’d consider running for mayor.

Burke had laughed for the first time since Rebecca died.

“Me? A politician? Are you kidding?”

“No. Not at all. You’re smart as hell, you’re disciplined, experienced in life, the people all love you, and I think canlı casino siteleri you’d do a great job.”

Burke smiled at his dad said, “You know I’d be your boss, right?”

“Yep. And I can live that,” Chief Brett Decker told his son. “What I can’t live with is my son sitting around here doing nothing. I’m not setting a deadline, but you can’t stay here forever, Burke. When I lost your mom, I thought I’d die. I didn’t show my grief, but I damn sure felt it, and I know what you’re going through, son. I truly do. But I also know the best way to get through this is to stay busy. So unless you want to take some mindless job, give this some serious thought.”

His father really did ‘get it’ and was willing to do pretty much anything to help his son and granddaughter who was now five and halfway through Kindergarten.

Running for office was not only service to the community but the best thing Burke could think of to stay busy and keep his mind off the one thing that consumed him. Even a small-town campaign had demanded all of his time and attention and provided the much-needed diversion he’d been hoping for. Between work and his daughter he managed to hold it together. He also couldn’t overstate the value of having his dad nearby, even when he moved out shortly after winning the election last November by a whopping 209 votes—the largest margin of victory ever in Diamond Rock.

Since being sworn in two months later, there had been some tough battles with the town council. Most notably, the only person who ran against him was the head of the council, Georgia Lyons. Like his father, Georgia had lost her spouse several years ago. And like Brett Decker, she was still a very attractive woman for someone who was 50. But unlike him, Georgia had never let go of the hurt and the anger, and even now she was all business and ready to ‘go to war’ at the drop of a hat. Losing to someone who’d essentially been gone the last eight years only made her more resentful of the new mayor and she never missed an opportunity to show it.

In spite of her rather caustic personality and her bitterness at having lost the election, Burke managed to persuade the council to adopt new fiscal policies and now, almost a year later, the town was finally out of the red. With the money coming in from the film cast and crew, things were looking very good for Diamond Rock, Iowa.

Now the town’s newest, most-eligible bachelor, Mayor Burke Decker hadn’t dated at all even though he’d had plenty of opportunity. Everyone in town ‘knew’, and the women who’d let him know they were interested always politely caveated their remarks with, “Whenever you’re ready, of course.”

After nearly a year and a half, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready again, and yet he would love for Shay to have a loving, devoted mother; a mother who wanted to make Diamond Rock her home. That was pretty much non-negotiable although Burke might possibly consider moving as far away as Des Moines, but even that was iffy, at best.

His father had no sooner left his office than his favorite councilwoman, one Georgia Lyons, walked in having blown right by his red-faced secretary, Allison Williams.

“I’m sorry, Mayor Decker. She just…”

“It’s okay, Allie. I’m always pleased to see the councilwoman,” he said with a smile.

“Hah! Like hell you are,” she snorted taking a seat without asking.

“So. To what do I owe the pleasure this time?” Burke asked knowing he was about to be blasted for something.

“Have you looked outside?” she began.

“Not in the last few minutes,” he admitted.

“Well, if you had, you’d see there’s a huge bus parked right in front of city hall. A bus with those Hellywood folks on it. Are you going to get your father to tell them to move it or do I have to?” she said with her typical edge.

“No need to bother the sheriff,” Burke told her. “I’ll walk out and have a chat with them. I’m sure they’re just trying to get the lay of the land.”

“Lay of the land? That bus belongs to that movie star! She’s going to want to own the land around here unless someone puts their foot down. Or…up her ass!”

“Okay. Fine. I’ll go check it out,” he said as he stood up and walked over to the window.

There it was. Big as life. Her name and face were both painted on the side. Burke didn’t know Taylor Farris from the Man in the Moon, but if she looked anything like the image on her bus, she was a downright good-looking woman.

“Just get them the hell away from city hall!” Georgia said as she stormed out. “We don’t need this…Hellywood…crowd around here anyway. I can’t even imagine the negative effect they’re going to have on the children of this town!”

Burke smiled but didn’t speak. He was quite sure the effects would be negligible and more than likely even positive. But Georgia wasn’t a glass-half-full kind of woman, and in her world, Hollywood was synonymous with evil.

The young mayor threw on his black overcoat, scarf, and gloves and told his secretary, one of the many young women very interested in him, where he’d be.

“Good luck, Mr. Mayor!” she said sweetly with a big smile.

“Okay. Thanks, Allie. I don’t know what I’d do without you around here.”

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