Four years after Roman Kincaid was catapulted into stardom as a country-western singer and A-list movie star, he is burned out: exhausted by a grueling schedule, drained by the ceaseless demands of producers and managers, weary of meeting the needs of others at the expense of his own. Leaving a sold-out show in Phoenix, he rents a car and drives north and east, landing in the Painted Desert town of Rainbow Rock.
Nearly three years after leaving her old life behind, Lottie Beale is feeding people and baking pies, managing the Kachina Café and tending secrets of her own. When circumstances conspire to give two attractive people some time alone together amid the world-class vistas of the Four Corners, they discover more than either had bargained for.
“Ro-man! Ro-man!” A capacity crowd in the Ak-Chin Pavilion chanted his name under the starry desert sky, but Roman Kincaid barely heard it. He stood in the stage wings, gearing up for an encore and wondering when his dream had become a nightmare.
“Okay, guys,” he said to his back-up band via their ear buds. “One encore only. Let’s do ‘Gamble.’ Start with the chorus.” He took two steps toward the stage entrance, swinging his guitar into playing position.
Sam, his manager, caught his elbow. “Are you sure about this? That crowd adores you. You could probably play three encores, sell more CDs—”
“No.” Roman left no room for argument. “One and done. And no backstage stuff, either. I’m outta here.” He took a deep breath, pasted on the same fake, crowd-pleasing smile he’d used in the last half-dozen shows, and jogged back onto the stage to the roar of twenty thousand excited voices. He strummed the intro and launched into the chorus of his first number-one hit:
“Love is such a gamble.
You break a new deck every time.
Sometimes you’re dealt the aces;
Others you draw to nines.
But when I met you, I knew it was true.
A winning hand you seemed.
Now I have the rush of a royal flush.
You are the gamble of my dreams.”
The crowd cheered wildly as he played his way through the music he now sang in his sleep. In fact, he realized as he watched fans taking up the beat and clapping along, that was pretty much what he was doing now. He struggled to suppress a yawn during the guitar interlude as he turned to acknowledge his band.
I spent my early life dreaming of a crowd like this. When did performing start to feel like a chore? He put the thought away. Lately he’d been thinking of times when he’d heard of some celebrity being hospitalized for exhaustion and assumed it was a euphemism for drug rehab. Now he wondered. When was the last time I felt truly rested? The question was an imponderable. Months, at least.
He hit the last chord and took a deep bow, then shouted, “Thank you, Phoenix!” and dashed off-stage.
Susan Aylworth started her first book when she was nine. “It was called Buff, The Proud Stallion. I wrote eight whole pages.” For her fifth grade career day, she stated her ambition to become “a rich and famous author.” Decades later, she is pleased to have achieved the ‘author’ part of that goal. A former university professor, she enjoys researching backgrounds and careers for her novels. “It’s one way to live many lives at once.” She lives in northern California with her husband of 45 years and two spoiled cats.
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