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This week I heard from a reader. I do not often hear directly from readers, but the ones who have written up until now have sent good news: they enjoyed Dance for A Dead Princess or Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. Until this week, the ones who didn’t like my books, either left words to that effect in Amazon reviews, or remained silent. No one took me to task in a long, personal email.

But this week, a reader not only left a negative review on Amazon, she wrote me a long email outlining everything she thought was wrong with Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. And I could immediately tell that she didn’t “get” the story. She had received a free copy as part of a Read and Review program, and I’m sure she was under the impression that Ride was a formula romance novel. And, reading between the lines, she was upset, outraged might be a better word, because there were no explicit sex scenes in Ride and because Ride is an honest look at how difficult love can be and how we sometimes find lost pieces of ourselves in the people we believe we love and hang on at all costs. Ride is a complex book. It does not say hot sex equals undying love. I know that is theme of formula romance. But I was not writing formula romance in Ride, to the chagrin of Unhappy Reader.

I have come to feel that, as a female writer, all of my work has to overcome the presumption that because a woman wrote it, it is formula romance. When I set up promotions on the various ebook promotions sites, I often have the Hobson’s choice between “Romance” and “Contemporary Fiction.” I consider both of my books to be “Women’s Fiction” although even that label does not immediately remove my novels from the formula romance presumption. While Dance for a Dead Princess does have some elements in common with formula romance, as Diane Donovan of the Midwest Review observed, it goes far beyond formula fiction.   In my day job, as an attorney, I deal with the presumption of innocence, which, frankly, is more akin to a presumption of guilt. And I have come to feel, in my night job, as a fiction writer, that any book for a female audience carries the formula romance presumption.  And when it doesn’t live up to that presumption, some readers, like Unhappy are, to put it frankly, outraged.  Hence her personal email critique.

What is formula romance, you are asking at this point. Good question. The roots of formula romance have impeccable literary credentials. The unforgettable Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and the equally charming Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin are the ancestors of the modern romance novel. In both books, a heroine of little fortune marries a man of means for love and not for pure social advantage.  In archetypal terms, the Cinderella trope.   The plots of both books center around the barriers between the hero and the heroine and how these are ultimately resolved. Jane Eyre attempts to resolve a moral issue, a married man in love with a young women of little means but great love and virtue. Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners, poking subtle fun at the mating conventions of the day. The hero overcomes his pride of position to marry the young woman of great love and virtue but little fortune. From these outstanding beginnings, modern-day formula romance has evolved (or devolved) into predictable plot lines, which are resolved in fifty-thousand words or less. (Unhappy complained that Ride, at 100,000 words was just too long, and she was sooooo bored. My advice: if a book bores you, stop reading it.  It’s like  hitting yourself in the head:  it feels so good when you stop.)

In the modern formula romance, Hero, with six-pack abs, which he miraculously unveils within five pages of the opening, (and which are always on the cover), has sex with Heroine in Chapter One. Notably, they are both strangers. By Chapter Two, the glow of orgasm has faded, and they realize they have made a huge mistake. Like two mature adults, they immediately fight and vow never to see each other again. Then, for twenty-something more chapters, the two vacillate between their determination not see each other and their determination to have more sex, which is described in excruciating detail in alternating chapters. Fight a chapter, F– a chapter. (You get what I mean.)

On this solid and mature foundation for a marriage, Heroine winds up with a very large diamond on her finger, since Hero not only has that six-pack, but he is also great hubby material because he is good in bed and, more importantly, he has revealed he is not a simple ranch hand but the owner of most of Texas (or is a prince of a European state determined to restore its monarchy). Formula romances  close with a wedding or an epilogue showing a happily pregnant Heroine.

These books sell well to readers like Unhappy, so Clever Author multiplies this storyline like rabbits, varying the setting and the characters’ names, but never the plot. And if Author is even More Clever (or Diabolical, you decide) the original book will have a Heroine or Hero with ten brothers and sisters, each of whom will star in a subsequent formula romance. These books are easy to spot on the ebook promo sites because, in addition to male six-packs on the cover, they all have titles that include the word “Series” or “Chronicles.” “Book One of The Thornton Family Chronicles” Or “Book Three of the McLaren Brothers’ Brides Trilogy.” Or “Book Twenty-five of the Sisters of Seven Corners Series.” You’ve seen them. You know what I mean.

Not to be rude, but I run from these cookie-cutter books like the plague. They remind me of those clear plastic sleeves of chocolates that you can buy at Costco at Christmas. Year after year, the blue ones are milk chocolate with Kahlua centers, the pink ones are dark chocolate with an unidentified green cream inside, and the gold ones contain an unknown liqueur that might be brandy. Might. Many of these literary formula offerings have no ending, so that if a reader wants to know what happened to Hero and Heroine (does tragedy strike? does he lose that six-pack and therefore the girl? does he become King Travis the 25th of MoldyDisheveia), she has to buy “Books Two through Thirty of the Hot Brothers of MoldyDishevia Series.” And Extremely Clever Author laughs all the way to the bank. And gets featured as an Amazon Bestselling Extremely Clever Author in the Amazon Newsletter. (Read their newsletter if you don’t believe me.) Oh, and the piece de resistance, Author gets a lifetime guarantee of ads on the obnoxious Book Bub, which mainly features trashy formula romance with those hot-sex covers. But that is another blog post.

At any rate, I have come across a beautiful video that explains visually what Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is all about. I will explain in my next post and show you the video to see what you think. Is there room in the world for a woman writer to write a book that is not formula romance?   In the meantime,  my deepest thanks to my readers who did “get” it, and my undying gratitude to those who left reviews explaining exactly what they “got.”  I am forever in your debt and humbled by being allowed to entertain you in 100,000, I promise, well-chosen words.

And now, one last word to Unhappy. Despite your email statement to me making light of the loss of a child, losing a child is one of the most tragic events of anyone’s life. It is a tragedy that no one completely recovers from. The only thing offensive about you email, was your statement that “losing a child is no big deal.” Wrong, Unhappy. Very, very wrong, on that one. Formula romance books are fungible. Children are not.

Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is not a book for every reader. It is a book for anyone who wants to laugh and cry,  for anyone who is willing to be frustrated by characters that life has broken and healed and broken again,  and for anyone who is willing to look inside and love your own, beautiful and utterly unique soul. Ride is a challenge that not everyone will want to meet. But that’s just fine by me.

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The Grosvenor Hotel, London

The Grosvenor Hotel, London

Last week, I explained why I was drawn to use Diana, Princess of Wales as a fictional character in my first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess. Although I am ten years older than Diana, my life paralleled hers in certain ways in the early and mid-eighties. I had three children, just a little younger than Diana’s boys; and like Diana, I was enduring the heartbreak of a disastrous marriage and acrimonious public divorce during those years. As Diana had to learn to tread lightly through the legal thicket that surrounded her in order to keep her children, so I, too, had to learn how to thread the narrow path through the court proceedings that would allow me to raise my beloved children. For me, and I am sure for her, those were terrifying and desperate times.

Like Diana, I longed for a comforting male presence in my life, someone to take the sting out of being reviled in public by the father of my children. But that proved as impossible in my life as it did in Diana’s. The men who came into the princess’ life eventually departed, tired of the glare of the media and ever-present lens of the paparazzi. In my own case, no man was willing to risk more than ten years of constantly being threatened with character assassination in a courtroom at the blink of an ex-husband’s disgruntled eye. I could understand, of course. I wouldn’t have chosen to live that way, either. If I’d had a choice.

In Nicholas Carey I created for Diana the kind of male friend I had longed for. Attractive, intelligent, witty, and always on her side. Although Taylor Collins initially sees Nicholas as an arrogant womanizer, on the morning that Taylor has been dumped yet again by her former fiancé, Chris Hunter, she suddenly sees the Nicholas Carey that was Diana’s steadfast friend in every heartbreak. My favorite scene in Dance is the morning after Taylor has spent the night crying over Chris’ engagement. Nicholas shows up early and uninvited at her hotel to comfort her.

From Chapter Ten of Dance For A Dead Princess:

She awoke at nine thirty the next morning to a hangover and someone knocking on the door of her suite. Painfully she got out of bed, tied on her robe, and headed through her sitting room. When she opened it, Nicholas Carey was standing in the hall in his power overcoat with two cups of coffee in paper cups with lids and a brown bag.

“I thought you might need these.”

Without a word she stepped aside, and he entered. He walked over and put the food and drinks on the coffee table. Then he took off his overcoat and laid it over the ottoman. He was dressed for the office in a gray suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie.

“Come sit down and have some coffee. I guessed you were a nonfat latte fan. And the muffins are blueberry. Everyone likes those. I know it was a rough night, and you look like it.”

“My head is pounding.”

“Coffee, then. Drink up.”

Taylor felt as detached as if she were still dreaming. Something horrible had happened yesterday. Oh, yes. Chris. And Allison. A New Year’s Eve wedding. Her eyes suddenly teared up.

Nicholas held out a white handkerchief bearing the ducal arms. “Thought you might need this, too.”

Get a grip, she told herself, as she wiped her eyes. No more crying. Especially not in front of Nicholas Carey. She took the paper cup he offered and sat down on the sofa. The coffee was rich and strong. He was right. She needed it.

He opened the bag and offered her a gigantic muffin on a paper napkin. “You need some food, too.”

But she waived it away. “Can’t.”

“Just a few bites. My guess is you didn’t eat much for supper last night.”
“How did you know?”

He sat down next to her and sipped from the other cup. “I’ve had a lot of practice with The Morning After. The women in my life, particularly Diana, had a knack for getting their hearts broken. I’m the steady shoulder to cry on. Come on. You aren’t going to feel better unless you eat a little something.”

Taylor broke off a piece of muffin and nibbled at it as she sipped coffee. “Thank you. For the call last night and for coming this morning.”

“As I said, recognizing a woman about to be hurt is my speciality.”

“But aren’t you guilty of that, too?”

“I’d like to think I’m not. But I do have a substantial string of ex’s. I can honestly say they all saw the breakups coming because they were always over the same thing.”

“And that was?”

“Marriage. A woman gets restless after a couple of years if she doesn’t get an engagement ring. And I’ve no intention of ever getting married again. I gather whatever happened last night took you by surprise?”

The coffee was beginning to bring Taylor into focus. “It did.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She sighed. “No. But I guess talking about it makes it go away sooner. And I want this to go away.”

* * *

In Chapter Ten, I gave Nicholas  the opportunity to demonstrate he’s the perfect friend with lots of experience in comforting beautiful women with broken hearts. And he is disarmingly honest about his own breakups. For Taylor, as devastated as she is over losing Chris, her Morning After with Nicholas is the turning point in their relationship.

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CHAPTER TWENTY

January, 1995

That night, Carrie went to the club with a light heart. She had signed off on the Harper deal. Alan was ecstatic and had forgotten the prospectus disaster of the morning.

Publically she had set February twenty-third as the date for the Harper sale; privately she had set March first for her resignation from the firm.
Stan was playing especially well that night, and Lara was nowhere in sight. They went home after the show and made love in the soft glow of the winking yellow light.

Afterward, Carrie cuddled next to him and said, “I reached a very important decision today.”

He gave her a tired, half-smile in the dark. “Did you? How about telling me in the morning. I’ve been up since five a.m.”

“I know. But something really important happened today. I need to tell you.”

He sighed. “Ok. But don’t blame me if I fall asleep in the middle.”
She knew he was tired, but she had hoped for more interest. She considered waiting until morning, but he would probably sleep in, which meant she would have to go to work and wouldn’t be alone with him again until this time tomorrow night.

She began by telling him about the numbers mixup in the prospectus, but halfway through he interrupted. “Look, I get you made a big mistake because your mind hasn’t been on your work lately. You can skip the details of who said what and why it matters. It probably happened because you aren’t getting enough rest, either. You don’t have to come down to the club every night of the week.”

A knot formed in Carrie’s stomach. First he didn’t really want to hear what she had to say. Now he was suggesting she give up the part of the day that she lived for. She tried to keep her voice calm, but she knew the rising tide of emotion inside her made her tone sharp. “That’s not what I meant! I want to be at the club as much as I can. I don’t have enough time to be with you as it is.”

Stan rolled over to face her in the dark. “So you’re complaining I don’t spend enough time with you?”

“No, oh no.” She hadn’t foreseen the discussion going so terribly wrong. “I wasn’t being critical of you.”

“Well, I hope not!” he muttered and turned his back to her.

Despair griped her like a rip tide. She tried again, “Would you just hear me out?”

He sighed and replied without changing position, “Do we really have to do this tonight? I’m tired. Whatever I’m not doing that you want me to do, I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

“I wasn’t going to ask you to do anything.”

Irritated, he rolled over and faced her again. “Are you sure about that? Weren’t you going to ask me to spend more time with you?”

Carrie was taken aback by his anger. And she hadn’t expected him to guess at least part of the purpose of her plan. “Well, I suppose in a way I was going to ask that. But the thing is, I wasn’t going to ask you to change what you’re doing.”

“Then how do I find any more time to be with you?” he demanded as if the whole idea was completely unreasonable.

“Because we’ll have more time, in general, together. I’m going to resign from the firm on March first.”

Stan sat up and turned on the bedside light. He rubbed his eyes as if everything about their conversation was a colossal trial. “I’m sorry, Carrie. I can’t deal with anything like this tonight. I’m exhausted. I’ll go sleep on the couch.”

“No! Don’t do that!” she reached out to keep him from leaving. “I won’t say anything more about it tonight.”

Placated, he switched off the light and lay down again with his back toward her. Carrie turned her own back to him and let the tears fall slowly and silently into her pillow. She had hoped he would feel the same joy in her decision that she had. Instead, he didn’t seem to care or understand what was driving her to change her life. Finally, exhausted by the day and her emotions, she fell asleep.

She woke with a start two hours later. The beside clock said three a.m. Stan’s side of the bed was empty. From the living room, she could hear the hum of the television.

Alarmed, she got up, pulled on her robe, and went to investigate. He was sitting in his usual corner of the sofa, a glass of wine in his hand and a half empty bottle at his feet.

He looked up when she came in and frowned. “Go back to bed.”

“Can’t you sleep? I thought you were tired.”

“I am. But I started thinking about what you said, and I couldn’t drop off.”

“You mean my quitting Warrick, Thompson upsets you?” She had never expected that response from him.

“Absolutely. You’re giving up ten years of success in your career just to follow me around all day. Do you know how that makes me feel?”

“How?” She was so surprised she could barely speak.

“Horrible. Trapped. Responsible.”

“Responsible to whom?”

“To you!” he snarled.

Carrie felt the world slowly dissolving around her. “But I thought we loved each other. I thought we wanted to be responsible to each other.”

Stan shook his head impatiently. “I can’t say what I feel right now except trapped.”

“But, Stan, I want to quit. I hate what I do. It’s boring and mindless and soulless.”

“It pays the bills. Rather well,” he snapped.

“True. But money isn’t the most important part of life.”

“See if you think that when you start going short every month!”

Carrie paused and tried to size up the situation. Finally she observed, “That sounds like resentment.”

“Oh, that’s a good one! Now I resent you because you make three times what I do, and you want to throw it away to spend all day in bed with me!”

“Wouldn’t you like that? I mean, wouldn’t you like to spend days together, not just in bed, but walking by the bay, having lunch in the cafes, shopping together?”

“There won’t be time if you quit you’re job. We’ll both be waiting tables day and night to make up for the money we won’t have.”

Carrie stared at him. “But I’m going back to music. I’m going to play again.”

“Oh, great. And you think Harry’s going to give you a gig at the club.”
“He’s offered. More than once.”

“Well, even if he does, you’ll find what Harry pays isn’t nearly enough. Want to live like that?”

“I – I ” Carrie stared at the bottle at this feet. “No, I don’t want to live like that. But I don’t want to live like this either.”

“And that means?”

“Walled up alive in the firm, wondering what you’re doing all day and who you’re doing it with.”

“Is this about me and Lara?”

“Yes – at least in part. I mean, it’s about you and anyone you have time for when I would so much rather be with you.”

Stan’s voice took on a low, nasty, insinuating tone. “You just don’t get it, do you? You think you can keep me from seeing Lara if you quit your job and ride herd on me all day?”

“I – no.” But hadn’t she unconsciously meant to do exactly that? The truth of what he was saying spread over her sickeningly.

“Do what you want!” Stan exploded, getting up from the sofa and heading toward the hall where a coat tree held his jacket. “Just don’t expect me to be your willing prisoner!”

Carrie ran toward him and grabbed his sleeve as he opened the front door. “Wait, Stan! Don’t go out now. It’s dark, and it’s cold, and it’s late. Please just come to bed. I’m sorry. I thought this would be good news. I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought you’d want to spend more time with me, too. Please, don’t go!”

But he had already slammed the door behind him.

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q.  Deborah is also the author of the award-winning novel, Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

January, 1995

The Harper Biotech deal hit a sudden snag during the end of January. The accountants decided the company’s assets had been overvalued and ordered a new look at all their holdings to see if the proposed stock split would survive Securities and Exchange Commission scrutiny. Karen cooled her heels in her office for a week, waiting impatiently for them to agree on their final numbers.

But as she sat by her telephone day after day, she wasn’t holding her breath for the call from the Harper accounting department. Instead, she was thinking non-stop about Stan. Where was he? What was he doing? Who was he with?

She knew his habits well enough during the evening and the first hours of dawn, but she had little idea what he did with himself while she was at work. Pictures of Stan with Lara Beaumont began to torment her. Did they sleep together? Eat in the small cafes around 4th and G? Walk by the bay? The thought of Lara doing everything she wanted to be doing with Stan herself was pure torment.

The Harper executives got their numbers together and demanded almost non-stop meetings in the last days of January. Karen sat through seemingly endless discussions about asset values, the corporate pension plan, and executive compensation. She tried to focus as the suits argued with each other, but her mind was on Stan.

Alan came into her office, white-faced the morning after the most heated Harper exchange yet. They wanted an absolute guarantee from Karen that the numbers they had put together would support the stock deal. She knew she had to give an opinion; but her thoughts had been elsewhere during the debate, so she put them off to everyone’s great displeasure.

“What’s going on?” Alan demanded as he closed her office door, always a bad sign. He threw a proof of the stock prospectus on her desk. It landed with an ominous thud.

I’m not going to talk about Stan and my private life, she told herself as she prepared for the confrontation. She expected Alan to berate her for her evasion the day before. She picked up the prospectus and immediately felt her face go as white as Alan’s. “Oh, no!”

“Exactly! The asset and debt numbers are transposed. According to this, Harper is ready for bankruptcy, not a stock deal. How in the hell did you let this happen, Karen?”

By obsessing over Stan and Lara Beaumont. Keep your composure, she reminded herself. Stan is not the only one trained as a performer. Even if it’s bad, make it look good. “It happened because there have been too many changes coming at me too fast.” Not a bad lie, she reflected. “These haven’t gone out to anyone.”

“No one from Harper has seen them?”

“No.” She said a silent prayer of thanks as she spoke. The Harper people hadn’t been happy when the proofs weren’t handed to them yesterday. She was weak with relief that she had obeyed her instincts against Harper’s displeasure.

Alan became visibly calmer. “Then let’s round these up and destroy them and get the correct ones in the client’s hands as fast as we can.”

“Not a problem.” She just wanted Alan out of her office, so she could drop her professional mask and let herself feel the terror and relief sitting side by side in her heart.

He opened the door but turned before he left. “Are you going to give them an opinion today? Can this deal go forward? If you don’t give them an answer, they’re going to pull out and take this back to their usual securities counsel in New York. Make up your mind, Karen.”

As soon as the door closed, she folded her arms on her desk and put her head down. She wanted to cry, but she might be discovered. She had come within a tenth of an inch of ruining not only her chance for partnership, but her career. If Harper had seen those transposed numbers, she would never have lived it down.

I have to get myself together. I have to make some decisions. I don’t have enough time to spend with Stan. I don’t even know what he does all day, and it’s driving me crazy. And I hate this job. I hate this place and this firm, and Alan Warrick’s smug, self-righteous face. I’m only a money-making machine to him.

Her thoughts raced like a runaway freight train. She stared out of her glass walls at the city and the bay below and waited until her emotions began to clear.

She wanted to jump up and run straight back to the loft and into Stan’s arms. If he was even there at ten a.m. He’d played another early morning gig on a different television station also with Lara, and she imagined them now lingering over brunch. Whenever she objected to those after-gig rendevous, Stan reminded her indignantly of Lara’s connection to Deanna.

An aircraft carrier was moving slowly across the bay, accompanied by its helicopter escort. Karen watched its stately progress as she considered what to do.

Lately Stan had taken to sitting up alone, sometimes after they made love, sometimes as soon as he got back from the club. He would sit with a bottle of wine in front of the pointless blue glow of the muted television.

I need to spend more time with him, she thought. He’s alone too much. And seeing him on stage at night and for a few hours between midnight and dawn isn’t enough to know what’s really going on. We need more time together. Lots more time.

Something had to change in her life, she decided as she saw the big ship round the bend by Point Loma, break free of the chopper escort, and move into the open ocean. I have to break free, too. Something has to go. Stan or Warrick Thompson. The choice was easy.

The decision sent a wave of pure joy through Karen. She turned back to the Harper deal on her desk, her mind now focused on the legal issues in front of her. I’ll see this through, and then I’ll tell Alan I’m leaving.

And what will you do, then? A voice in her head spoke up.

Karen smiled. Music. I’ll go back to music. I’ll take Harry up on his offer to play at the club. I’ll work as hard at something I love as I do at this stuff that I dearly hate. Stan won’t be able to say I’m not a performer. And he’ll look at me on stage the way he looks at Lara Beaumont.

Karen summoned her secretary. “Tell Alan we can meet with the Harper executives this afternoon to give them the green light on this deal. And make sure every one of those faulty prospectuses is in the shredder within thirty minutes.”

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

January, 2008

Judge Karen Morgan flew back to San Diego alone on January 3, 2008. Her husband Howard and Meg Atkins took a flight to Philadelphia. As Karen watched them walk toward their gate, her thoughts were on her answering machine and whether, by some miracle, it contained a message from Stan.

* * *

January, 1995

January of 1995 had begun with Alan Warrick’s delight over a public offering for another new client, Harper Biotech. Alan hovered in Karen’s office day after day, obsessed with every detail.

“Huntfield Harper is a friend of the Burnett family. He heard about their deal and decided not to take his business to New York. Harper isn’t like Burnett. His company has been public for ten years. They’ve done a lot of stock offerings. This is a stock split. They’ll expect the best from us.”

“And they’ll get it, Alan. Don’t worry.” First rule of law firm life, never let them know you’re afraid, Karen Moon thought as she smiled at Alan. But she was worried about this file because her mind was on Stan and Lara Beaumont.

He had begun the round of morning television appearances that Harry had finagled through his contacts at the local TV stations. Although he hated getting up early, Stan loved the publicity.

On those early January mornings, she risked getting to work late in order to see him. Some days, she was lucky enough to hear him and still reach the office before Alan missed her. On other days, Stan was the last to perform; and she arrived to find Alan pacing her threshold like an angry bull about to charge.

“What’s going on? This is the third time this week you haven’t shown up until nine thirty.”

“Nothing is going on, Alan,” she lied. She was becoming an expert at deceit. “I was here past mid-night. I needed some sleep.”

A half-truth because she hadn’t been continuously at her desk. She had dashed to the club for the last set at eleven and then returned to the office to check the documents out of overnight secretarial at midnight. She had been in bed with Stan by one.

Defeated, Alan slunk away. But he hated to lose. He’d be back for round two, Karen reflected as she stared at the piles of paper on her desk.

Lack of concentration was her biggest problem. Ever since Stan had told her the truth about his relationship with Lara on New Year’s Eve, she had been tormented by worries that they spent the days together while she was at the office. Lara kept showing up at the club in the evenings; and, despite knowing how much Carrie didn’t want him to, Stan always invited her on stage for at least one number.

As Carrie sat at her table during their performances, her smile pasted on, she heard whispering around her. Some people thought they were a married couple, and they did have the air of people who’d been together for a long time.

“Don’t tell me how to run my life or my career!” Stan shouted when she brought the subject up late one night in mid-January. They had just come home after the last show, but Stan was restless and full of adrenalin and not ready to sleep.

Carrie, on the other hand, was exhausted. She had to be in the office by eight the next morning. “I just don’t like the way she upstages you.”

“She doesn’t upstage me! What would you know about that anyway? You’re a lawyer not a performer. You don’t even know what the term means.”

The barb was meant to go deep, and it did. Stan saw her tears but ignored them.

“You’re better off without her,” Carrie insisted. “She’s only a mediocre vocalist at best.”

“She’s a performer. You’re not.”

He had wanted to hurt her, and he had. Carrie went into the bedroom, undressed, and got into bed. Even though Stan was just on the other side of the wall, he seemed as remote as the stars.

* * *

January, 1995

Stan left for his gig on Early San Diego at six a.m. Carrie walked him sleepily to the door of the loft, kissed him goodbye, and went into the kitchen and made coffee. She was too impatient to wait for the pot to brew, so she grabbed the first drips with her mug and gulped them down. Her head ached; and she still felt hollow inside, the way she had felt after their quarrel last night.

As she sipped the hot, black liquid, her eyes roved over the living room and rested on the familiar objects Stan used so much that they seemed a part of him. The piano occupied the corner under the window. Trumpets and mouthpieces were carefully arranged on the cheap metal table near by. The stereo equipment and cherished album collection sat on particle board shelves on the back wall.

His soul was visible in the instruments and the recordings he loved. Stan Benedict wore no mask. She could see into his soul simply by looking around the room.

She walked over and ran her finger tips over the piano, the trumpets, and the stereo, absorbing the aura of Stan that lingered in each. The living room clock said seven. She didn’t want to miss his performance. She walked over to the television and flipped on Early San Diego. She wished he would be one of the first up so that she could make it to the office before Alan came in at nine.

But luck was not on her side that morning in more ways than one. Not only was Stan slotted for eight thirty; but when he finally appeared, he had Lara Beaumont at his side, radiant in white sequins.

* * *

The club was full that night. Stan’s roving eye delighted not only the usual Table of Four but a New Table of Women in evening dresses on the front row. He played the first set almost exclusively for them.
Carrie knew what it meant. He was daring her to pick a quarrel over Lara. She hadn’t mentioned it in their brief telephone call that afternoon, merely telling him he sounded great. He rarely telephoned Carrie at work, and she felt certain he had called so she would complain about Lara. But she failed to mention her, so Stan raised the subject.

“I’m glad you liked my playing. What did you think of Lara’s tune?”
“You know what I think about her. We don’t agree, so there’s no point in talking about it.”

“If that’s what you want.” He sounded disappointed.

“It is what I want. I’ll see you at the club tonight.”

And she had hung up, certain Stan had called to renew the previous’ nights emotional split.

Carrie went on stage at the break to head off any thought Stan might have had of sitting at the New Table of Women while he drank his scotch. She didn’t want him to succeed at creating another quarrel after the show.

Typical of Stan in his provocative phase, he didn’t join her right away. He kept his back to her endlessly emptying his spit valve and arranging and rearranging his flugel horn for the next set. While she waited, Harry came up beside her. His uncomplicated smile was a welcome relief.

“How’s the show tonight?”

“Terrific. Your ad campaign is paying off. The place has been full all week.”

Harry grinned. “Yeah, I know.” But his face clouded as he asked, “Have you been watching Stan on those TV spots?”

“Sure.”

“And what did you think?”

“That he’s better performing without Lara.”

Harry nodded. “He has to accommodate her lack of ability.”

“Funny you should say that. I told him the same thing last night at home after the show.”

“What did Stan say?”

Carrie told him about the fight.

“I wish she’d go back to one of her cruise ships.” Harry said. “Don’t give up on him, Carrie Moon. He needs you.”

But as Harry walked away, she sighed under her breath, “I wonder.”

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

December 25, 2007

On Christmas afternoon, at around two thirty, Karen pretended to believe Howard’s claim that he had left some important documents at the office. As soon as he had departed, no doubt to deliver the same diamond bracelet to Meg Atkins he had handed to her over brunch, she hailed her own cab and headed to Julliard at Lincoln Center. The day was overcast and cold, and the stars and musical notes that adorned the gigantic Christmas tree in Milstein Plaza had already been lit.

Karen walked around the Plaza pausing successively at the long white Julliard building, at Avery Fisher Hall, and at the Metropolitan Opera House. She wandered back to Julliard and stood in front, taking in every detail. “I could have been here,” she thought. “I should have been here.”

She found a place to sit. Even if it was cold and dreary, she wanted to be where music was learned and performed on this day when she felt as if she were the most alone person on earth.

* * *

November-December, 1994

He had come to her. As warm November lazed, day by day, under the autumn California sun toward mild December, Carrie marveled at the miracle of his presence in her world. At the office, she lost focus as she tried to read the dry documents that were her professional life.

At night, after hearing his last set at the club, they would talk and make love in his loft so late that she would sleep through the alarm. She would wake to the heavenly smell of eggs and bacon and the realization he would be hurt if she didn’t stay for breakfast although she was already hours late for work; and she knew Alan was waiting impatiently in front of her empty office.

She avoided what was staring her in the face: the natural rhythm of his life was far different from hers. He worked when she slept and slept when she worked. When he pulled her back into bed on weekdays for more lovemaking, she was painfully aware of putting her career in jeopardy. But she took the risk. Her need for Stan ran like fire in her veins. Her entire waking day was consumed by measuring the minutes they were apart.

Karen looked around Milstein Plaza in the gray December afternoon light and thought of how, in those early days with Stan, she had struggled to find time to practice flute. Being with him had awakened the music of her soul, and she longed to play for hours on end the way she once had.

But time squeezed her dry. She struggled to keep up her billable hours and be with Stan as much as possible. Every night, she counted the minutes until she could leave the office and slip into her usual place at the club. She knew he was waiting for her. She had to be there. She wanted to be there. She couldn’t let him down. And so, playing her own music, once again slipped down the priority list in her life. After all, he was the real musician. By her decision, she had made herself the amateur. Being close to Stan would simply have to be enough to fulfill her own creative needs. She didn’t have time for more.

They had spent their first Christmas tucked away in a cozy blue and white suite at Aynsley House, an exquisite bed and breakfast in an old Victorian gingerbread in Napa. Karen had wanted to give Stan a memorable Christmas gift that would take them out of their ordinary routines. They arrived on Christmas Eve to find two iced champagne flutes next to a huge four poster where rose petals had been scattered in a heart on the blue and white comforter. For those four days, she and Stan had dressed only when they went to the dining room for dinner. The rest of the time they made love – in the four poster, in the gigantic oval Jacuzzi tub, or in front of the fire. Stan’s craving for her seemed insatiable. On Christmas morning, he gave her a small gold trumpet on a fine gold chain.

At the time, Carrie Moon had seen nothing amiss in those four days, and she had wanted them to go on forever. But twelve years later, Karen Morgan at Milstein Plaza, eyes fixed on Julliard, knew the warning sign she had missed. A cloud had crossed Stan’s face on Christmas Eve at check-in at Ansley House when she had pulled out her American Express card to cover the bill.

* * *

A week later, on New Year’s Eve the club was full, not only with couples, but with an array of gorgeous women in gold, silver, and black sequined gowns. One group in particular that Carrie dubbed the Table of Eight waved and smiled and blew kisses to Stan all night long. And as the evening wore on, he never took his eyes off them. He seemed to be playing just for them.

Harry had reserved her usual spot close to the stage, and when Kristin wasn’t singing, she joined Carrie. As the second set began, Kristin leaned over and whispered, “Is everything ok with you two?”

“I thought so when we left home,” she whispered back. She wished Kristin hadn’t said anything, so that she could have gone on pretending Stan’s attention to the other women was just her imagination. He was an entertainer, she reassured herself; he was merely playing to his audience.

But something worse than flirtation appeared at eleven thirty. Carrie felt the cool rush of air as the back door opened, and she turned to see Lara Beaumont in body-hugging cobalt blue, one-shouldered satin. Stan’s eyes riveted on her face. She smiled and waived slightly as she looked around for a table. The only empty spot was at Carrie’s, so she slid into that seat, whispering, “I hope you don’t mind. Stan said to come by if I finished early at the Hyatt.”

Stan said to come by. The words hit Carrie’s heart like five lead bullets. He’d been talking to Lara. When? Not while she’d been at the loft; but she was at work a good part of every day.

Lara had just barely sat down when Stan summoned her to the stage to sing with him. Carrie saw Harry frown slightly at Kristin, who shrugged in return.

For the next half hour, she worked to keep a pretend smile on her face, masking her disappointment as Stan and Lara worked their way through “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Memories,” “I Can’t Get Started,” and “New York, New York.” Carrie watched the approach of midnight uneasily. Lara was all over Stan. If he gave her the first kiss of the New Year, Carrie knew her heart would break.

As the giant clock Harry had placed on stage began to chime midnight, he began “Auld Lang Syne” at the piano. Stan played along, while Kristin and Lara sang. The entire audience joined in. Carrie held her breath when the song ended. Kristin leaned over the piano to kiss Harry; and predictably, Lara reached for Stan. But he turned away, his eyes on Carrie in the audience.

She was so relieved she couldn’t stand up for a few seconds. Stan left the stage and came down to give her a kiss. “Happy New Year,” he smiled. Behind him, she could see Lara’s deeply disappointed face.

“Happy New Year,” she said and added one more kiss of her own.

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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