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As her car turned off the main highway, Shay Daniels looked out of the window, searching for some kind of landmark. She continued driving, hoping to reach her final destination shortly. In the distance up ahead she could see the resort where she would be spending the next two and a half weeks. She still couldn't believe she was finally on vacation. It was a long-awaited, long-expected and definitely long-overdue break. Now she was finally here.
Serenity Resort and Spa was certainly breathtaking. But to her, it was nothing special. She was used to luxurious resorts set in spectacular locales. She gave a half smile as she removed her dark sunglasses to get a better view. Like so many other places, she was sure it was all hype and little substance. She'd been there, done that, and she'd seen it all before.
Serenity Resort was perched high atop a hill, nestled against the background of Arizona's Tucson Mountains and surrounded by the Sonora Desert and mountain range. But like all the other resorts she'd been to before, it was just another place where the reality never quite measured up to the expectation. It offered nothing new. She paused. She hadn't even given the place a chance. Perhaps she really was becoming too cynical.
As the host of the Romance Channel's most popular show, Romantic Destinations, she was used to stunning venues. Finding and covering the best honeymoon havens and idyllic locations for romance was her job. And she did it extremely well. Once an episode of her show aired, the featured resort was nearly always guaranteed a boost in guests. She could practically pick and choose the places she wanted to review. She'd wanted to feature Serenity Resort before, but the owners hadn't accepted her offer.
Over the course of three years, Shay had traveled to just about every exotic destination around the world and interviewed hundreds of couples about their weddings, honeymoon plans and romantic getaways. But not this time, because this trip was different. This wasn't business; it was personal, something just for her and she needed it.
The show was on hiatus and she was exhausted. It was her first real, almost do-nothing vacation in years. The almost part had to do with an article she'd promised to write for the Romance Channel's website run by her friend Jade Copeland, the site's editor-in-chief.
It had been the vacation she'd planned to take with her boyfriendnow ex-boyfriend. That was nearly a year ago, and it had taken that long to clear both their busy schedules and make the reservation. It was going to be their time together to renew their relationship. But apparently he couldn't wait that long. He'd dumped her six months ago and moved on. The vacation was already paid for in full, so she'd decided to go anyway.
Actually, there was more to it than that. She needed the time to reassess what had gone wrong. Running away really wasn't her style, but she knew she had to do something. She needed to get out of New York City and relax, refocus. With eight million people, the city still wasn't big enough. And Shay found out the hard way at dinner with Jade just before her vacation.
Midway through a perfect chocolate mousse, she noticed her ex-boyfriend Bruce walk into the restaurant with what looked like an inflatable Barbie doll. It was the first time she'd seen him in months. He calmly walked over to their table, introduced his fiancee and then gave Shay the "We're all adults here, so can't we still be friends?" speech. "Sure," she'd told him. "Why not?" But she knew that wasn't going to happen.
"Can you believe he actually told me I was cynical and emotionally detached?" she said indignantly, as she'd watched Bruce and his fiancee walk away from their table. It was pure psychobabble as far as she was concerned. It was clear that he was looking for a way out and the self-help books and seminars gave him exactly the justification he needed.
"He actually told you that," Jade said.
Shay nodded. "Yeah, how crazy does that sound? Me, of all people. Do you believe it? All those stupid self-help books have really gone to his head. He really thinks he's some kind of shrink. Why didn't he just admit to himself that he cheated on me, plain and simple?"
"Come on, Shay, this is me. The truth is you have become a bit jaded lately," Jade said. Shay opened her mouth to protest.
"Oh, come on, don't act so offended. You know it's true. And before you say anything, I'm telling you this as your best friend. You have lost your sense of optimism. You used to love your job at the network and it showed. I don't see that anymore. It's like you've forgotten what romance is all about.
"Look, I'm not saying it's crazy wrong, I understand it. You know I understand it. Every guy you've ever dated has dumped you and lately you've been damn near carrying the whole show. You do the research, you edit, you host and in your spare time you write pieces for the website. That's a lot for one person. Granted, the show is the better for it and so is the website, but in doing all that, where does that leave you?"
"Alone again," she said solemnly.
"Exactly. Now where does it say that's right? It used to be that when you interviewed couples on the show you were full of excitement. You interviewed with your heart and it showed. Now you just seem to go through the motions without ever feeling what you're reviewing. It's called the Romance Channel for a reason, remember. It's like you don't even believe in love anymore, let alone the possibility of a lasting relationship. But that's exactly what we're supposed to be selling."
"You mean the whole happily ever after scenario?" she deadpanned.
Shay shrugged. "I don't know, maybe I don't believe anymore. I guess getting dumped three times in a row can do that to you. I go on assignment and see all these couples who believe they've found the perfect love, and just because they go to some romantic resort they think it'll last forever. They're wrong. Do you know how many emails I get from those same people telling me they've separated or divorced? Too many," she said. "It makes me wonder why I even bother."
"Good Lord, it's even worse than I thought," Jade said. "Shay, the show is predicated on love and romantic getaways. How can you possibly be excited about a romantic location when there's not a romantic bone in your body anymore? You're the writer and the host. Our audience is supposed to see the joy of romance reflected in you. They're supposed to experience these places through you. They're not anymore. The ratings are slipping. I think maybe you need professional help before it's too late."
Shay shook her head. "The only kind of professional help I need is a nice quiet room in Arizona and lot of mental rest and relaxation."
"Bruce, Marvin and Leo. That's three guys in five years, and three relationships ending the same way. You need help. You need a therapist. You see women and couples on the happiest days of their lives, and you keep getting dumped. That's gotta affect you."
"It doesn't," she said emphatically, tossing her napkin on the table and motioning to the waiter to bring them the check.
"Then you are so in denial."
Shay rolled her eyes and shook her head. "It sounds like some of that psychobabble book speak is rubbing off on you. Why is it that every time a person disagrees with someone else it's called denial?"
"I'm not a therapist, I have no idea. But in this case it's true, you are."
"You know what?" Shay said, handing her credit card to the waiter. "The only thing that's affecting me is stress. I've been working nonstop for months, no, make that for years. Two and a half weeks away from the show and away from this drama, that's all I need," she said quickly, as she cut her eyes across the restaurant to Bruce and his fiancee. "And when I get back you can best believe Romantic Destinations is going to be better than ever."
"Now that's the spirit I want to hear. Oh, wait," Jade said suddenly, reaching into her large purse. "I have just the thing. Here, you need this more than I do right now." She pulled an invitation out of her purse and slid it across the table.
Shay picked it up and read the invite, then looked at her friend. "What am I supposed to do with this?"
"It's Dr. Love. Go check him out. Trust me, his books are incredible. Everybody reads them. The man knows what he's doing. He's been the guru of romance for the past eight years. If anyone can give you pointers on romance, he can. He specializes in sex, seduction, love, romance, dating and relationships. He teaches these incredible workshops that literally sell out in a matter of hours."
"Good for him, but no thanks. I can do this by myself. I don't need help. Besides, his books are the reason Bruce dumped me."
"Well, I still think you need to check him out. He's doing an invitation-only book signing this evening. I've read his books and listen to his show on satellite radio. He's incredible. He could definitely broaden your romantic horizons."
Shay shook her head as she slid the invitation back to her friend. "My romantic horizons will be just fine."
Jade smiled mischievously. "You know, what you really need is a good old-fashioned hot and sexy vacation fling."
"Is that your professional diagnosis, Dr. Jade?"
"It is and you should even write about it. That'll definitely spice up the online article you're gonna write. So how long has it been since you had any erotic entertainmentfive, seven, ten months?"
"Jade," Shay declared as she looked around.
"Well, whatever it is, it's been too long. So I think it's time. You're going on vacation. Find yourself a gorgeous hunk of man and get your romance groove on."
Shay laughed as she signed the credit card receipt. "Now that's the best advice I've heard all night. And that's exactly what I intend to do. No more doomed relationships for me. I'm free and I'm going to enjoy it."
"All right now, you go girl," Jade said, cheering her on.
"I'm going to find the first gorgeous man in town, get him back to my room and ride out the rest of the vacation in style."
They laughed riotously as they grabbed their things to leave.
The car suddenly jerked to a stop and the driver blew his horn. Shay refocused her attention instantly. She looked out the front window seeing that a young couple had just walked in front of the car. The driver looked up in the rearview mirror. "Sorry about that, ma'am. It gets really busy around here sometimes and people don't always watch where they're walking."
She nodded as her musings faded. That conversation was just about a week ago. Now, thankfully, she was a few thousand miles away and ready for two and a half weeks of nothing but rest and relaxation. She glanced out the front window. There was another rush of several women hurrying toward the resort. "Is the resort always like this?"
"Some days it's more popular than others. I guess today is one of those days when it's really popular. There are also a few major conventions in the city and just about every hotel, resort and inn within a twenty-mile radius is booked solid. This is the beginning of the area's really busy season."
"I see," she said.
"But don't worry, I'll have you there safe and sound in a few minutes," he assured her.
She glanced out the side window and smiled, remembering the absurd conversation about Dr. Love. She didn't need a therapist, personally or professionally. She was fine. She wasn't cynical about love, she was realistic. The happily ever after fairy tale just didn't happen to real people. It never did. There was no love at first sight or instant attraction. There was just the feeling of need and want. And what a person did about it was up to them.
So right now, all she needed was a couple of weeks away to recharge. And what she wanted was a quick distraction from it all. The show was on a six-week hiatus and after months of continuous travel, she needed a mental and physical break. And since the goal was to get a producer's credit this season, she needed to be refreshed and ready to get back to work with a few dozen new and exciting show proposals.
So far, she didn't have a single idea of what to do or where to go. She looked up at Serenity Resort again considering the possibilities, then immediately rejected the thought. The owners had turned her down before and she'd certainly been in far more extravagant locations.
Hawaii, Aurora, Scott, Aspen, Napa and Lake Tahoe were her most recent show locales. Serenity was in the middle of nowhere, not exactly exotic and as far as she could see, its most redeeming quality so far was that it was a few thousand miles from New York and her ex.
The car turned wide along the circular path to pull up in front of the beautiful adobe-style resort. She looked up at the building. It was exactly as the online tour showed, an eclectic mix of Southwestern styled architecture set against the lavish setting of Arizona's Sonora Desert. She took a deep breath and then released it slowly, seeing the small sign out front. It read Serenity and included a brief definition below. Suddenly the idea of the next two and a half weeks made her smile. This was exactly what she needed.
She arrived in early evening as she usually did when she traveled. She always wanted her first view of a place to be in the evening, near sunset. It helped set the mood of the show. The car stopped. The driver looked up in the rearview mirror again. "We're here. I'll take care of your luggage," he said. She nodded, grabbed her purse, put on her sunglasses and got out of the car. The bellman greeted her then hurried over as the driver opened the car's trunk. She glanced around and walked away from the main entrance toward the edge of the driveway. She looked out across the desert to the city in the far distance and the mountain range beyond that. The near setting sun blazed the sky a fiery red reflecting a purple haze along the distant mountainous terrain. Fine, she yielded.