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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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