Chapter 2
The Plano sun beat down mercilessly on Alex’s black Honda Civic.  Sweat trickled down her forehead. Inside the car it had to be 100 degrees; hard to believe the air conditioner was on. All it seemed to be doing was blowing hot air. By the time she got home there might be a cool breeze coming from the vent.  
The gym was Alex’s solace,but in the heat it was hard to feel refreshed after her workout. She had been overweight all her life, sometimes more so than others.  At forty-four Alex was wanting to look better than she ever had before. She didn’t want to reach mid-life and look like a frumpy mom.  So she hit the gym five times a week and it was starting to pay off.  Even her husband, Josh, of twenty-two years, was starting to notice. 
Alex had tried exercising at other times in her life but could never stick to a regime.  This time was different.  She was starting to feel the effects of aging, stiff knees, sore back, in bed early every night, and she wanted to ward it off as long as she could. The weight lifting and aerobic classes were paying off.  Not only had Alex lost 40 pounds but she had never felt more alive.  Josh noticed the changes in Alex and enjoyed watching her move in her new found body.  She was sexier now than she was when they got married.  She was thinner too. Alex was aware of Josh, as well as other men, noticing and it made her feel young and alive, motivating her to continue her routine. 
Alex attributed her commitment to fitness to Veronica Becker.  Veronica routinely had fitness gurus and “before and after” guests constantly motivated her. If they could do it, she could too.  Alex watched Veronica’s show every day to catch the latest fitness news and see which “unobtainable” guest she had snagged. Veronica also had great contests for her viewers.  She gave away designer clothing, appliances, trips to her show, as well as vacations.  
Josh was tall, blonde and a bit arrogant.  As a financial advisor for a large firm, he worked long hours and tried to pay attention to his wife when he was home.  He loved her and tried not to take her for granted, but Josh knew he had gotten the better end of the bargain when he married Alex.  The other men he worked with complained constantly about their wives, the nagging, inattention to their sexual needs and how much money they spent.  Josh was a blessed man and he knew it.  Alex worked an average paying job that appreciated her hard work, paid her handsomely for it, and that was their play money.  His check went for the bills and the necessities of raising a child.  Their daughter, Mattie, now twenty-one, took classes part-time at the local community college and worked part-time at the school computer lab.  Her expenses were low and Josh knew it would be no time before she would be moving out on her own.  He knew he had the ideal family and tried very hard not to assume it was by happenstance.  
Josh and Alex had endured some rough times too, mostly over the raising of their daughter.  Alex was too tough, Josh too lenient.  Then they would swap.  It kept Mattie on her toes, never knowing which parent might be on her side.  Sometimes backing each other up caused more arguments once Mattie left the room.  When she started college, life around the house had become less chaotic.  Mattie became absorbed with school and work and was home less and less, giving Alex more time for herself.  Alex had let her appearance go over the years, concentrating on rearing Mattie.  Josh didn’t seem to mind, his career was kicking off and the less distraction the better.  And so their lives plowed on at an average speed in an average direction in no particular fashion.
Now that Alex had more time to herself she began to realized the disadvantage of marrying so young.  She had never done anything for herself.  From eighteen years old Alex had put someone else before her; first Josh and his career, then Mattie and her rearing. She had a full time job as a customer service rep for a marketing company.  She spent eight hours a day in a cube talking to customers and vendors.  She enjoyed her job and liked the people she worked with. She spent a minimum of five hours a week in the gym, usually getting closer to ten. She kept to herself at the gym and was very focused when she worked out. At home she still made dinner each night for Mattie and Josh. If they came home late, or in Mattie’s case not at all, they both knew leftovers would be in the fridge waiting for them. Now, for the first time in her life, Alex was trying to take more time to focus on herself and become more independent. 
Josh arrived home from work later than usual and Alex was coming out of her skin with excitement.
“You’ll never guess what happened!!!”
Josh was exhausted.  Just watching her sucked what little energy he had left. “Tell me.”
“I won a trip for two to New York! To the Veronica Becker show! Can you get away?” she asked expectantly, but Alex already knew the answer
“When?” Josh was snowed under at work and knew it didn’t matter when it was he couldn’t leave the office.
“April 15-17,” she replied in a hushed tone.  
“That’s the end of tax season and things will be crazy at work.  No, I can’t get a way.”
Josh and Alex hadn’t had a vacation in 4 years, since Mattie was in high school. “See if Mattie can go”, was Josh’s response, even though he knew that was not what Alex wanted to hear.
Alex was disappointed but wasn’t surprised.  She knew Mattie would have to work and not be able to travel with her either. On Monday, when the rep from the Veronica Becker show called to finalize the details, Alex had decided she would travel alone.  Although she really didn’t like venturing to knew places on her own, she was not turning this opportunity down.  Time to try this independence she was looking for.  
April 15th arrived and Alex could think of nothing else.  Josh’s usual day was ten hours or more but during tax season he could be at the office up to twenty hours, barely sleeping or eating. Mattie was excited for her mom but school projects had her weighed down. So Alex shopped alone for a new outfit and worked out extra at the gym to look good on TV.  Her plane tickets arrived and her seat was in first class.  She looked on-line at the hotel she was to stay in and couldn’t believe the luxury. This was the trip of her dreams. 
When her plane landed in New York she navigated through the maze of corridors to the escalator, following the signs to “Ground Transportation”.  She prayed she could find the car that was sent from the show to pick her up. To her amazement, a driver stood at the front of the crowd holding a sign stating:
Alexandra Daniels
The Veronica Becker Show
She could hardly contain her excitement! She was really here, New York City!  And riding in a limo!
The driver dropped her at her hotel and told her he would return for her at 1PM the next day.  Alex checked in and was told all her expenses were paid and to enjoy her stay. 
The room was on the forty-fourth floor.  The view was breathtaking.  She could see for miles. She had no idea what part of New York she was in, maybe Manhattan.  The room had plush carpeting and the sheets on the bed were the softest cotton. She plopped on the bed, sinking into the plush satin, and flicked on the TV.  As she channel surfed she ran across a Derek Dunbar movie about three fourths the way through.  She finished watching it, took a relaxing shower and called for room service.  Josh called at nine to wish her good night.  Mattie sent a text with the same.  Alex felt she was a million miles from her life.  
At 1PM the next day Alex was downstairs and getting in her car.  The trip to the studio took about forty-five minutes, traffic was brutal.  Nervous about meeting her icon in person, Alex’s stomach was in knots.  The studio was immense. There were people everywhere, rushing back and forth.  It seemed like organized chaos. Alex was taken to Veronica’s dressing room.
“Oh, good afternoon, you must be Alexandra Daniels! Welcome.” Veronica’s smile was so genuine.  Alex began to relax.
Veronica’s makeup artist was hard at work making her beautiful.  
“Please, call me Alex. I’m so excited to be here!  Thank you so much for this trip!” 
“Alex, take a seat. Tell me about yourself. How was your flight and your hotel room?”
Alex raved about the luxurious room and gave the Reader’s Digest condensed version of her life. Veronica seemed genuinely interested, despite having the crew rush all around her. 
“Alex, you’ll be seated in the front row. I’ll introduce you.  And after the show you can meet my guests.  Today we’ll be having fashionista, Barbara Marx,  and actor, Derek Dunbar, as my guests.  That should be fun.  I haven’t met him yet.  Do you like him?”
Alex’s heart skipped a beat.  Could it be? This was definitely the best trip ever! “Oh, yes!  I have seen all his films.”
Alex cast her eyes down, ashamed of her fan-ness.  “Yes, all. I’m quite the fan. Its a bit embarrassing.”
Veronica was light-hearted, “Don’t be embarrassed.  Thats how actors make their money. Without fans they wouldn’t last.  Well, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy meeting him, won’t you! Glad we could make this a memorable trip!” Veronica giggled as Alex was rushed away to the seating area. 
The show drug on for Alex.  She couldn’t wait for Derek to come out. 
Not only had Alex a passion for working out but she’d also become a movie junkie.  New releases, old releases, at home or at the theater.  Her spare time had been filled to the brim.  Watching an R-rated movie had been a forgotten luxury while Mattie was growing up. Josh and Alex focused on good quality television whenever Mattie was in the room. Now that Mattie was grown and rarely home, Alex decided to do some catching up. Since Josh spent long hours at work, Alex had a void to fill. She could only spend so much time at the gym…
In her obsession with films she came across a movie star she was unfamiliar with – Derek Dunbar.  He was handsome, tall, blazing blue eyes and had a Scottish accent. At least she thought he did.  His accent varied from movie to movie.  He reminded her of her first actor crush, Sean Connery, in the 70’s.  Even as a young girl she was fascinated by his accent.  In her west Texas town they didn’t have accents, not compared to their relatives in Dallas or Houston.  Not his kind of accent. She’d been drawn to it.  She was drawn to it still.  
She went on the internet and watched YouTube interviews with Derek Dunbar.  He was definitely Scottish.  She enjoyed hearing stories from his film sets, practical jokes, funny moments, the way he laughed.  It aroused her.  He seemed genuine, friendly.  She saw videos of him giving autographs to groups of fans, at premiers shaking hands with the crowd.  Not the typical “get out of my face I want my privacy” star.  But then there wasn’t much information about his private life.  Oh, there was a biography about his childhood and how he came into acting but not much about girlfriends, dating or law troubles.  Alex searched more YouTube interviews.  
Derek, with his most inviting smile, talked to an interviewer about his latest movie.  In an effort to ask the most unusual question of the day the reporter asked,
“Have you ever written a love letter?”
Derek eyes looked to a faraway place, melancholy, “Yes, I have.  A long time ago”.  Then laughing it off says, “Who writes when there is texting?” 
The reporter laughs too but isn’t dissuaded.  She wants a story.  
“Do you want a wife, kids, the white picked fence?”
Derek smiles, “Sure someday. But where’s the time?”  And laughs it off.  
His laugh is contagious but his eyes are not laughing.  The interviewer is finished but has not seen the depth of the question.  Did she hit a nerve?  
In other interviews Derek is accused of womanizing that he neither acknowledges or denies.  He laughs the questions off.  He is branded a playboy, unable to settle down. Photos of him encourage the reputation.  Shirtless, pensive, an Adonis.  Rumors of dates with various starlets circulate the gossip magazines in the grocery store and the internet. 
Alex watched every movie he was in.  She discussed her interest in Derek as an actor and found the other women she worked with lusted after him too.  He was obviously in running for the “Sexiest Man of the Year” by the way women talked about him.  Alex felt her obsession wasn’t so bad after all.  She shared it with half the women on the planet.
Finally, Veronica introduced Derek. Alex was giddy but tried to contain herself.  She didn’t want to appear the crazed fan, even if she felt like it inside.  She couldn’t believe how excited she was. Now she understood her mother’s fascination with Elvis Presley and how thousands of women could swoon over a man. 
Derek came out and was just as Alex had expected.  He was warm, friendly, funny, and made eye contact with her. At least she thought he did.  This portion of the show seem to fly by and was over too soon for Alex. She waited hesitantly for Veronica to call her up to the stage.
The show ended and Veronica invited Alex to come up and meet Derek.  
Alex took a deep breath and tried to steady herself.  
“Hello Alex! I hear you’re a fan of mine too”, Derek stated teasingly, admiring her blush. 
“ Yes.  I really have enjoyed your movies.”
Derek invited Alex to have a seat next to him and asked,  “Which one do you think is the best?” 
Alex thought a moment. 
“Best movie overall or the best movie you were the lead in?”  Alex had many favorites but there were a couple that stood out to her.
“You tell me.” Derek was surprised Alex actually had a real opinion.
“I have really enjoyed the period pieces you’ve done, The Great Queen and The Hun are my favorite of those.  Of the more modern movies The Stranger and Judgement I thought were very good scripts and the acting was great in them.  Which was your favorite to make?” Thrilled she was able to put two coherent sentences together, Alex was felt calmer.
Derek thought about it, “The Great Queen since it was my first but Judgement was a great movie and the first I produced and directed.  Although The Stranger is very dear to me.  I love that story.  I think you’ve picked my favorites too.”  
As the crew began closing down the set for the day Veronica thanked Derek again for his appearance and congratulated Alex on her good fortune.  As she excused herself to prepare for another show, an assistant began escorting Alex and Derek down the back hall. 
“Do you have dinner plans?”, Derek asked her as they paused at exit door.
Was Derek inviting her out?  Alex needed to steady herself.
“No, I don’t.  I don’t have any plans.”
As Alex and Derek walked out the stage door.  The paparazzi swarmed them as he tried to open a path to his car.  Derek grabbed Alex’s wrist and dragged her behind before she was engulfed by the crowd of cameras. There was a frenzy of shouted questions about Alex.  Who was she? Were they dating? Is it serious? Is she a future co-star? Derek tried to be polite, refusing to acknowledge any questions while asking the crowd to back away a bit while they tried to make their getaway.  
Derek Dunbar wasn’t just any actor but one of the busiest actors in Hollywood. He had sandy brown hair, bright blue eyes, a strong square jaw with a hint of five o’clock shadow and an alluring scottish accent.  He wasn’t just good looking he was a good actor; versatile, playing comedy, drama or action. Women found him sensual and sexy, men admired the way he made women feel.  He could have any woman he desired and most often did.  His career, only 12 years in the making, was gaining strength and he had his pick of scripts.
“Is it always like this?”  Alex was surprised how vulturistic the paparazzi were. 
“Yes, it is.  I’m sorry about all that. I should have expected they’d have the car staked out.  I’m sure you’ll be in a few tabloids tomorrow. Try not to think about them. Have you been to New York before?”
Alex couldn’t believe what was happening. “No I haven’t. This is my first visit.”
“Let me show you around.  We’ll need to lose these cameras. You don’t mind fast driving do you?” Derek has a mischievous smile on his face.  It made Alex smile too. 
“No, I’m used to it.  Show me what ya got!” Alex was getting comfortable and brave.  This aught to be fun.
Derek didn’t lie, he drove fast.  Really fast for the traffic in New York. He stopped at a deli on a quiet street, out of the way of the busy traffic.  Away from the paparazzi for a moment too, Alex imagined.