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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 SEVENTEEN

New Year’s Eve, 2007

On New Year’s, Terri was in another snit because he was working a Vegas gig at the Bellagio with Epic that she hadn’t been asked to join. She didn’t want him traveling without her and with Cat. Hypocritically, he accused her of being unreasonable. But he knew very well Cat would try to lure him into her bed. And, of course, so did Terri.

Honestly, before the night he’d seen Carrie, he’d have gone with Cat in a heartbeat. At forty-eight, his years of being hit on by twenty-something slut singers were numbered. But since that night at the Del, he had wanted only Carrie Moon in his arms.

And that longing made his hellish life with Terri an even greater hell. As their sex life declined to the vanishing point, she lectured him with Dr. Philisms about saving relationships. He wondered when, if ever, she would figure out he had no intention of saving theirs.

He had thought the fight over the Vegas gig would finally see her exit. But he began to realize she was terrified of being alone. First, she demanded he make Marilyn put her on the gig or she would be his ex-girlfriend. But when he ignored her ultimatum because he couldn’t influence Marilyn’s choice of singers and because, in this case, he didn’t want to, Terri backed down.

But she remained determined to get something she wanted. So next she insisted he take her to Vegas with him. Money was tight, as usual. He had no intention of packing a New Year’s on the Strip onto his overburdened credit card. But when Terri figured that out, she just slapped down her own plastic and went anyway.

Now as he watched her sleep off a bottle of champagne in their petite suit at the MGM Grand, he reflected upon how much he hated New Years’ Eve. But even more than he hated New Year’s, he hated himself for the way he’d treated Carrie that night. Women set great store by the details. Call backs. First kisses. Giving up old girlfriends.

* * *

New Year’s Eve 1994

The club emptied rapidly after midnight. He felt uneasy in the car on their way back to the loft. He wondered if she’d guessed he had intended to kiss Lara but had chickened out at the last minute. Her eyes had gone deep, serious green, the way they did when she was holding something inside.

But by this time, he knew she would go to great lengths to avoid conflict with him. Whatever her private worry about Lara, he was pretty sure she didn’t want to talk about it that night. He could force the issue, but he was tired and half-regretting what he’d done.

They went back to the loft and made love. Exhausted, he fell asleep almost immediately, but too much champagne interfered with deep sleep. At two thirty he slipped out of bed, poured himself a strong scotch, and sat on the couch, counting the rhythm of the yellow winks from the neon sign outside.

Carrie loved him in a way that no one ever had, not even Deanna. He wanted to be wanted that way. She filled up the place inside his soul that had always been empty except for those few years with Deanna. All his life, he’d been knocking on closed doors, asking indifferent people to love him. And now, this amazing woman did.

But, and as he sipped the scotch, he reflected upon this enormous “but.” The money she earned made him uncomfortable. He was just a two-bit jazz player in a San Diego nightclub. He could never equal her income. He had been smoldering ever since he had watched her plunk down that credit card at the fancy bed and breakfast.

No, he had begun to tell himself after they came back from that trip. Their lives were just too different. And he could never return her consuming passion. He couldn’t give up Lara and his memories of Deanna.

“Stan? What’s wrong?” She crossed the room to him, but he held up his hands as if to keep her from coming any nearer.

“Nothing. Go back to bed. I just woke up and couldn’t sleep any more. I decided I needed some time to think.”

“About what?” She sat down on the sofa, but not as close as she normally did. He could tell she felt his need to stay in the space he had reserved for himself.

He shook his head wearily. “Lots of things. Things I don’t want to talk about right now.”

Her eyes became deep green, and he knew she was focused and upset. She studied his face in the dark for a long time before she asked, “So I guess Lara Beaumont is one of the things you’re thinking about?”

“What if she is?”

“I wish she weren’t.”

“She’s been a part of my life since Deanna. Ten years. I told you. We get together. We break up. I start seeing someone else, and Lara reappears. I think things over and get back with Lara.”

“So that’s part of what you were doing now? Thinking things over?” He watched her try to keep her hands from shaking.

“Yeah.” He gave her a defiant look, challenging her to tell him he had no right to reject her.

But Carrie just gazed back, her amazing eyes quiet and sad. Finally, she asked, “And what did you decide?”

“That it felt wrong not to kiss Lara tonight. We’ve had a lot of New Year’s together.”

“If it felt wrong, then why didn’t you do it?”

“I knew I’d hurt you in front of Harry and Kristin. Harry doesn’t like Lara. He likes you.”

“But I thought – “

“What did you think?”

She was struggling to hold back tears. Her voice was husky with the effort. “I thought you preferred me. That you kissed me because I’m your girl.”

Stan stared at the yellow light, winking like the heartbeat of the night. He felt a mixture of remorse and intoxication. Her hands were visibly trembling.

“Right now, it doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels as if Lara should be here.”

“I – I see.” She stared at the yellow light, too, as if so it embodied the pain he was inflicting upon her soul.

After a bit she said, “But you and Lara obviously don’t stay together, even when you leave someone else for her.”

“That’s true,” he agreed. He was concentrating on the light the way he concentrated when he played. His body was present, but his mind was far away.

Carrie moved closer to him, but he drew back into his corner of the sofa.

“Why can’t I be near you right now? I love you.”

He gave her a long, skeptical look. “You don’t even know me.”

The sting in his words brought more tears that she managed to keep in check. “I think I do know you, Stan. And even if I don’t know everything about you right this minute, I want to learn the rest.”

Her eyes met his as she spoke, but he looked away quickly toward the light outside as if even that much contact was too intimate at that moment. She leaned over and reached for his hand. “Please don’t do this to us, now. This has been the best, most important relationship of my life. You don’t belong with Lara. You belong with me. I can’t explain this kind of love, so I won’t try. But I know it exists because it’s burning inside me like a fire that won’t go out.”

He looked at her fingers over his, and slowly withdrew his hand. At the same moment, he felt her heart split and wondered why he couldn’t stop what he was doing to her.

She leaned toward him slightly and tried again. “Stan, what was that night at Sambuco’s all about if Lara is the one you really want?”

“I don’t know. Right now I don’t know anything.”

He watched her get up and go back to the cold bed alone. A few minutes later, he heard her crying. The yellow neon winked outside the window, a steady accompaniment to her quiet sobs. To escape the sound of her grief, he considered going to Lara’s where he knew he’d be welcomed with sizzling sex until dawn. But that, he told himself, was just the trouble. It would only be sex. Whereas with Carrie, lovemaking was passion that pierced the armor imprisoning his soul.

Suddenly, he hated himself for what he’d done that night. He went into the bedroom and took her into his arms. “I’m sorry,” he whispered against her hair. “I’m so very, very sorry, Carrie Moon.”

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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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

December 24, 2007

At six p.m. on Christmas Eve, Karen Morgan once more stared at the bare, dark trees in Central Park as she waited in her empty suite at the Plaza for Howard to arrive. He had telephoned that he was on his way from the office, and he had reservations at seven at La Vache, a trendy French bistro ten blocks away. What was Stan doing that night, she wondered.

Knocking interrupted her thoughts. Why couldn’t Howard carry a key? He was such a baby: dependent on her, his secretary, his paralegal, and his junior associate. He was fully functional only in a court room.
To her surprise a messenger was standing at the door. He handed her a package that held two, blue Tiffany’s boxes and smiled. “Mr. Morgan wanted these delivered.”

“Thanks.” Karen took the package and sat down on the sofa in the living room. She pulled out identical boxes and stared at them for a moment. Howard never bought her more than one gift. She was too puzzled to wait for tomorrow. She’d act surprised when she opened them. Carefully she pulled the silver ribbon off of each one and looked inside. Identical diamond bracelets. Clearly one was meant for her, the other for someone else. But whom?

Probably Meg Atkins, the highly attractive blonde, twenty-eight-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears junior associate who was part of Howard’s litigation team. Apparently Meg didn’t mind spending Christmas helping Howard prepare for trial. Howard had mentioned that he had asked her and her husband to come to New York over Christmas because he needed Meg’s help. Karen wracked her brain to remember what the husband looked like. She’d seen him standing next to Meg at the Christmas party. He was about his wife’s age, an earnest, owlish tax attorney who worked in Warrick, Thompson’s pension planning section. Odds were he’d never know what the senior partner had given his wife for Christmas.

Karen had vague knowledge of Howard’s various affairs over the years, but this was the first hard evidence she had come across. She could confront him, but it would be pointless. He would deny it and claim the bracelet was to reward Meg’s hard work on the case. Even if she pointed out that it was professionally inappropriate, Howard would ignore her. He did what he wanted to do; he always had. What she wanted was inevitably irrelevant.

Besides, Karen thought as she wrapped the two boxes up again and put them back in the larger box they had come in, her feelings for Howard, if they had ever existed, had been extinct for years. The most horrible part of this discovery was not that Howard was sleeping with another woman. The horrible part was knowing down to the depths of her soul she didn’t care.

* * *

December 24, 2007

Stan lay in bed at two thirty a.m., wide awake. Terri had dropped off the minute her head hit the pillow. Thank God. He had been in no mood for sex that night.

They had played a Christmas party at the Hotel Del with Epic. Terri had looked daggers at Cat all night, and done everything possible to upstage her. In the process, she’d upstaged Marilyn, too. Bad move, he reflected. It was Marilyn’s band. At forty-five, she was highly sensitive to being shoved out of the spotlight by the twenty-somethings. Cat was smart enough to understand the politics and stay away from Marilyn’s toes. But Terri was determined to make her mark to impress Stan. She might not ever work Epic again.

He really hoped so. Marilyn had been so pissed she’d taken him aside during the first break to heap well-deserved blame on his head. Terri was his live-in. Why was he leading Cat on? Make up his mind, so the band drama would go away. Marilyn hated band drama.

Stan got up without waking Terri, who’d had too many pink martinis during the breaks. He went into the living room and slumped on the sofa. He looked around. The house was his, free and clear. He’d won it in Vegas on a lucky streak a few years back. He’d never expected to have a place of his own. He smiled because at last he actually had a home no one could kick him out of.

He knew he should tell Terri it was over. He looked at the sad, spare little Christmas tree slumped in the corner with a few presents underneath. Tomorrow wouldn’t be a good day for the news. But there was a deeper reason why he didn’t just tell her to pack and go.

When he’d met Terri, he’d become tired of the endless flow of women through the revolving door of his life. One night stands had gotten dull. The women on the chat lines predictably swooned over his profession and made conquest far too easy. He liked Terri’s spunk and determination to make it as a singer, and her complete oblivion to how cheap she actually was. He’d sworn he’d make it work even though he didn’t love her. Maybe even start a family. Well, no, not that. But he’d promised himself to stay with her, so he wouldn’t be alone.

He had never really been alone since he’d discovered how to charm women in his early twenties. And after he was widowed, they lined up to comfort him, each one determined to be “the one” to make him forget Deanna. But now he was sick of the compromise that Terri and all his relationships represented. He’d seen the real thing just a week ago. Tonight’s gig had been torture. Every time he’d looked into the crowd, he’d pictured Carrie’s face as she gazed up at him during the Warrick, Thompson party. And he’d have given twenty years of his life to see her in the crowd that night on Christmas Eve at the Del. What was she doing? He couldn’t imagine she’d been making love with that prick of a husband who likely couldn’t do it anymore anyway. Not wild, passionate Carrie Moon. She would never go to bed with a robot. Where did she live? He tried to imagine her house. She’d had a charming little condo in Del Mar back in their day. What had she created for herself and the prick? And then a thought so chilling swept through Stan, that he got up and went to the kitchen and poured himself a stiff scotch straight up. Children. He hadn’t asked if she and the robot had any. The thought split his heart in two.

How he hated Lara. No, it wasn’t her fault. He hated himself. He’d used Lara the way he was using Cat now. He knew his pattern, but he was powerless to stop himself. He couldn’t give in to love and lose control. If only he could, he’d have spent the last twelve years with Carrie.

* * *

November 1994

The phone woke him at ten a.m. on Sunday. Lara wanted to take him to brunch at Croce’s. She’d sung there the week before and had been paid with, among other things, a gift certificate.

He told himself seeing Lara would put Carrie out of his mind. But it didn’t. She seemed so plastic and artificial and cheap in her tank top and thigh high skirt, as she rubbed her legs against him under the table at every opportunity.

He managed to ditch her after the meal, pleading the need to practice. He walked by the bay for a while, but the ache in his heart didn’t ease. He tried practicing. That usually took his mind off of everything. But it didn’t. He kept seeing Carrie’s face looking up at him in the darkness of the club.

By three, he wondered if she were at work. He looked up Warrick, Thompson in the phone book and walked to the Emerald Shaprey Center, whose six hexagonal glass towers loomed over him and West Broadway, like an army of transparent Titans. The elevators in the marble lobby were guarded by a man in uniform who told him that Warrick, Thompson was on the twenty-sixth, twenty-fifth, and twenty-fourth floors. But off-limits until Monday morning.

Awed and intimidated by the corporate grandeur that separated his life from hers, he wandered back to his loft feeling tired and defeated. He’d screwed it up. He didn’t realize how much he’d miss her. And he didn’t know how to unscrew it.

When he pulled out the keys to his front door, the scrap of paper with her phone number fell out. It was worth a try.

She answered on the third ring. His heart was in his throat. “Carrie, it’s Stan. I thought you’d be at the office.”

“I was earlier in the day.” Voice flat. She wasn’t going to make it easy.

“Look, I’m sorry for the other night. It was a rotten thing to do. I miss you at the club. Harry misses you, too. Could we get together and talk?”

Silence. He struggled to keep his breathing even and the anxiety out of his voice.

“You mean now?”

“Well, it’s my only night off. If you’re not working, I mean.”

He could picture her eyes in thoughtful mode. Were they gray or green or that haunting mixture of color that defied a label?

“I’m at home. I’m tired. I’ve worked all weekend. If you want to come by, we could go for coffee.”
“You’re in Del Mar, right?”

“Yes.”

“Let me buy you dinner. I used to play a lot at Sambuco’s back in the day. The food’s good. We’ll get a bottle of wine and talk.”

“Ok.”

“Around six?”

“Sure.”

* * *

The condos were typical, coastal narrow stucco two-story buildings, directly on the ocean. Expensive, he thought. Hers was painted white, and he found her end unit without any difficulty. He followed the path from the parking lot to her front door but paused just outside. The haunting lilt of a flute playing Brazilian samba stopped him in his tracks. At first he thought it was a recording. But suddenly the tune shifted from throbbing syncopation to a passage from Mozart and the Magic Flute, and he realized she was the source. She was experimenting, he realized. And she was a damned good musician. Better than he had ever guessed.

He wanted to go on listening, but eavesdropping felt wrong. He rang the bell.

When she opened the door, she took his breath away. He had never seen her in anything but a suit or a cocktail dress. She was barefoot, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt and holding the flute in her long fingers. No makeup, and all that magnificent red hair loose around her shoulders. She looked about nineteen. This was Carrie Moon, the musician. The lawyer had disappeared. The change was so dramatic he could not speak for about thirty seconds.

“You sound amazing.”

“Thanks.”

“I didn’t think you still played.”

“I just started again.” She stepped aside, to let him in, then led the way down the white-tiled entry way to her living room. He noticed the music stand facing the ocean, which would have been visible in daylight through the sliding glass doors that dominated the room. He took in the comfortable, white sofa and matching chairs. Soft, black mohair throws cuddled beside red and black cushions, inviting him to sit and nestle among them. The walls were covered with abstract oils with slashes of orange, yellow, blue and green. Although the room exuded money and taste, it was also charming and inviting. But she, of course, spent little time there he reminded himself.

“What’s that?” he pointed to the page of thick notes on the music stand.

“The first movement of the Prokofiev flute sonata.”

“Play some of it for me?”

She hesitated.

“I’ve played for you,” he reminded her.

She put the flute to her lips and took a long breath. The haunting opening melody filled the room.
He watched her face as she played. She was happy the way she was at the club. And when they’d made love. The sharp sting of Lara and why he was here hit him. He wished for the hundredth time he hadn’t been so insensitive.

“You shouldn’t have given up music as a career,” he said when she finished.

She smiled but did not look at him as her long fingers twisted the silver joints apart, swabbed them out, and put them back one by one in the leather case. “Maybe not. But I did.” The profound sadness in her voice touched him. She went on, “You can want something too much.”

“You told me that on one of the nights when we walked by the bay.”

Her stormy green eyes suddenly met his. “Or someone.” She closed the flute case with a sharp click.
“Let’s go to dinner,” he said.

* * *

He reached across the red-checked table cloth, in the candle light flickering against the red brick walls of Sambuco’s and took her hand.

“I’m sorry.”

“You’ve already said that.” The wine was taking the edge off her anger and distrust. Her eyes were beginning to sparkle again. Stan hoped he hadn’t blown it forever.

“Will you come back to the club?”

“That depends. Tell me about her.”

“Who?”

“Lara.”

“Didn’t Harry explain?”

“In your own words. Who is she? Why is she important to you?”

So she was going to make this hard. Well, he deserved that.

“I met Lara and Deanna in Las Vegas. They were show girls at Caesar’s Palace. I played their gig that night. They were roommates.”

“And when Deanna died?”

“Harry told you. Lara and I have been an item, off and on. We end up in horrible fights.”

“Over what?”

“Deanna. Lara claims I don’t love her, that I just use her to avoid admitting that Deanna is really gone.”

“And do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Love Lara?”

Stan studied their hands twined together. Then he looked back at Carrie and the auburn glow of her hair in the pale yellow light.

“I thought I did. Until –”

She waited for him to finish. When he didn’t, she repeated, “Until?”

“I looked down that night at Harry’s and saw you looking up at me from the second row.”

She smiled, her entire face alight.

“Come back to the club?” he repeated. “Play with us?”

A shadow crossed her smile. “I don’t know about playing. I’m not a professional any more. I don’t have time to practice enough.”

“You sounded fine to me.”

“Endurance. I can’t play for hours the way I used to.”

“You could still sit in on some tunes.”

She smiled. “We’ll see.”

He rubbed his thumb along their entwined fingers. “Carrie, there’s another reason I want you to come back.”

Her green eyes met his. “Why, then?”

He sighed deeply, and studied their joined hands before meeting her steady gaze.

“I play better since you’ve come. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because you actually know what I’m doing. If it’s good, you know. And if it sucks, well, you know that, too.”

“What about Lara?”

“She’ll be back on a cruise ship in a month. She’s never here long. Look, you said you saved the club so that you could hear me play. What was the good of that if you don’t come back?”

“You have a point.”

* * *

He walked her to the door, wishing she would ask him in.

But she opened it with her key and smiled from the threshold. “Thanks for tonight.”

“Sure. And, again, I’m sorry.”

“Understood. You can stop saying that now.”

“Tomorrow night, then? At Harry’s?”

“If I can get away.” She smiled and began to close the door.

Disappointed, he turned away and walked up the path toward the parking lot and his car. Wanting her close to him throbbed in his veins. He could smell her hair and taste her lips.

He opened his car door but stopped and stared at her building. He heard the rush of the ocean onshore and smelled the fresh, night sea breeze. And he remembered how it felt to hold her.

He closed the car and locked it. His heart pounding, he retraced his steps and knocked.

When she opened the door, he swept her into his arms. Her mouth opened hungrily under his, and she hugged him hard to her. Then, without a word, she smiled, kissed his open mouth, long and lingeringly, and led him down the hall to her bedroom.

* * *

He slept intermittently. He lost count of the times they made love. He felt like a man rescued from death. He had never thought anyone could love with the fire and intensity that burned inside of her. He was afraid it would consume him and yet afraid that it would not. He wanted to be one with her in a way he had never experienced with anyone else. If she consumed him or he consumed her, he could never lose her. He slept and woke to her fire over and over until dawn.

The alarm went off at six a.m. He struggled awake at the unaccustomed hour.

She wrapped him in her long, soft arms and whispered in his ear. “You don’t have to get up. Unfortunately, I do.” She kissed him, long and deeply; and he wanted her with that throbbing desire that blotted out all rational thought.

But she rolled away, and seconds later he heard the shower start in the adjoining bath. He dozed and wished she didn’t have to go to work.

A little later, she bent over the bed, now dressed in one of her usual conservative black suits. Carrie was gone, and now she was Karen the lawyer again. But she gave him another one of those bone-deep kisses and caressed his cheek.

“Sleep, sweetheart. There’s no rush for you to leave.”

He pulled her down to him in one long, last, glorious kiss. “Tonight at Harry’s. Ok?”

“Of course.”

The front door clicked behind her. He sank deeply into the sheets that smelled of her and sex. After a while he drifted off in the soft dark of early morning.

When he woke, the sun was streaming hard bars of light through the blinds. He opened his eyes and saw the time, ten a.m. He got up slowly, showered, and dressed, savoring the creams and lotions and soaps that attested to her feminine presence. She had left a note in the kitchen that coffee was ready to be brewed in the pot. He made a cup and sat on her patio, savoring the deep rich hazelnut and watching the changeling Pacific, first blue then green in the morning sun. He missed her. He never allowed himself to miss anyone. And he missed her, down to his soul. But a warning bell was already going off within him: their lives were so different. She was locked in those massive glass towers downtown while he was alone here by the sea.

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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Las Vegas at Night

Las Vegas at Night

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

December 16 & 17, 2007

He did not sleep with Cat, but he sat in the bar with her until four a.m. Terri waited up, a ball of white-hot fury. He had met her in a strip club in Las Vegas two years ago. He’d played a gig for a software convention with Epic, the corporate band that had just done the Warrick, Thompson party. High on adrenalin from the performance, he had wandered down the Strip until he came to “Elegance, A Gentleman’s Club,” and Terri.

She’d been working the pole when he came in. She eyed him immediately and hit her bump and grind routine a little harder to get his attention. He put a couple of twenties in her G-string, bought her a drink, and took her back to his hotel.

That December night as she railed about Cat, shaking her layered, bleached blond mane, and shooting daggers of molten, blue-eyed jealousy, he’d reflected that her chief interest in him was working with Epic. The band was a well-known, cover, dance-party outfit, designed to appeal to the well-healed mid-forties-and-up convention crowd. Marilyn Gordon, the owner and lead singer, had jumped on the corporate band concept ten years ago, and she’d developed a very successful operation to showcase her own considerable singing talent.It was Stan’s best-paying gig. He’d drop anything and run when Marilyn called.

But his work was dependent upon her whim. He had no power to influence her to use Terri although sometimes she would throw her a gig or two because she knew it would make life easier at home for Stan. In truth, Terri was a mediocre singer. But her full curves and provocative dance style drove the old guys crazy. So Marilyn used her now and then.

Terri had stopped screaming and was reciting Dr. Phil platitudes about relationships built on trust. Stan had heard them all before from the uncountable number of women who had passed through the revolving door of his life. He wondered if it ever occurred to Terri that his liaisons numbered in the hundreds. When one left, it was never hard to replace her. That’s what bars, strip clubs, and chat lines were for. Even though he was starting to develop the characteristic middle spread of the forties, his profession attracted women. He would never have any trouble getting laid.

Terri’s wrath began to wind down. Stan had yet to utter a word. He had learned this technique over the years. If he argued back, the fight would go on and on. If he remained silent, the current woman would gradually let her outrage die because his silence would tell her he had no intention of changing. So if she didn’t like his behavior, her only option was to leave. Eventually, they all did. But he could see, somewhat to his disappointment, Terri hadn’t reached the exit point. In the face of his silence, she had convinced herself to forgive him. And now she wanted makeup sex.

He didn’t. He had seen Carrie that night; and her long, soft body was the only woman he wanted. She had always been like a drug that he tried to resist, but never could.

She looked sexier in a suit that Terri did in her G-string. When she walked, her hips swayed under her straight wool skirts, a move that drove Stan wild. Women didn’t understand that their allure lay in the anticipation they created. Night after night at Jazz by The Bay, Stan had studied Carrie in her demure, black cocktail dress, imagining just how he’d unzip it very slowly, then ease it off her shoulders and let it slide to the floor, leaving her standing before him in her lingerie.
True the club had always been full of women, spilling out of their evening dresses. But they left nothing to Stan’s imagination. All the females in Stan’s world exuded fuck-me-now invitations in bold faced type. But Carrie Moon was different.

So very different.

She smelled faintly of lavender soap, not heavy, nose-clogging perfume. She not only loved his music, she understood how much time and study had gone into it.

The other women around him were not trained musicians. They had no real ability to know if he was a good or a bad trumpet player. When they said they admired his tunes, they were asking him to sleep with them. But Carrie had studied at one of the best schools in the country. If she thought he was good, her opinion meant something.

He had wondered, sometimes, if he’d had the chance to get a music degree what opportunities would have opened up for him. He’d saved and taken lessons from some of the best teachers in the business, but he didn’t have a conservatory certificate to put on his resume. His life had always been a scramble from gig to gig.

The sun was coming up. Fortunately, Terri had dropped off before she could follow through on her demand for sex. Stan rolled over and closed his eyes. If he could sleep, maybe he’d begin to forget about seeing Carrie. Maybe the drug humming in his veins would flush itself out of his system, and he’d be back to his old, feelingless life. That was the only safe way. But he was tired of being safe. Of all the women who had passed through his world, he had loved only two of them: Deanna and Carrie Moon.

* * *

November 1994

After the fiasco with Lara, Carrie didn’t come back to the club. Night after night, Stan went on stage, hoping to see her at her usual table in the second row. And night after night, he was disappointed.

Harry watched him. “Miss her, don’t you?” He said after the second Friday without her. She’d been absent for ten days.

“Miss who?”

“You know.”

“A little.”

“Lara wasn’t a smart move.”

“Carrie was trying to get too close. I needed some space.”

“Well, you’ve got plenty now.”

Stan shrugged, picked up his horn case, and headed for his car. He threw the bag into the trunk, then turned down the path to the bay. He found the bench where he and Carrie had talked after the shows and sat down. He watched the ferry skim across the black water toward the lights of Coronado where the island glimmered against the night sky like a golden mirage.

“Get over it,” he told himself. Women came and went in his life all the time. He rarely felt anything but relief when the latest had had enough and walked away.

But Carrie haunted him. He could see her sometimes emerald, sometimes gray eyes looking up at him on stage, and her smile of delight when he hit a particularly high note as if he had done it just for her. And some nights, he had belted out the big ones to impress her.

And then there was the way she made love. It was different with a woman who loved you. Passion and fire. The way it had been with Deanna. At least, before the drugs took over her life.

He watched the ferry dock on the other side of the bay. One a.m. That should be the last run. He wondered what Carrie was doing. Probably at work in that black hole of a law firm. She had risked everything in the most important year of her career to save Harry and the club and Stan’s gig. And then he’d pranced in with Lara.

But he had feelings for her. After Deanna died, she had made her interest him in him very clear. He’d wanted it to work because he felt as if he could hang on to Deanna through her.

But Lara wasn’t Deanna. She had a cold, calculating edge that had not been part of his wife’s makeup. Stan always felt if a better deal came along, Lara would be quick to jump ship. Still, she was from his world, unlike Carrie.

No, that wasn’t completely true. Carrie knew music. She had to have been a really fine musician to have won a place at Julliard. Lara’s singing wasn’t in the same class at all.

Stan wished he could hear Carrie play. Harry had told him he’d invited her to sit in at the club. Fat chance she’d take him up on the offer now.
Across the bay, Stan could see that the ferry had made its last run. The lights were out; the boat was moored at the dock. The wind picked up and sent small waves slapping at the boats in their berths on his side of the water. Slap, slap. The boats bobbed in the black water.

He got up slowly and headed up the path to his car. The aching in his heart had deepened. Tomorrow was Sunday and his day off. He wondered what Carrie was doing tomorrow.

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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LOVE SONG

CHAPTER TWELVE

November 1994

Through her tears, she watched him vanish up the path toward the parking lot.  Go after him. Fight for him, her heart said. Show him you won’t desert him. Show him it’s safe to love you.

He had already left when she reached her car. She drove the few blocks to his loft at Fourth and G. By some miracle, there was an empty meter in front. She got out and hurried up the steps to ring the bell.

Answer. Please, answer, she prayed. Her breath came in short, harsh sobs as she stood waiting for a reply from upstairs.

None came.

Karen rang the bell, more insistently this time. She counted ten seconds and rang the bell again.

Then suddenly the iron security door swung open, and Stan was there. Without a word, he pulled her inside and into his arms.

* * *

December 2007

As the American Airlines jet began to taxi toward take off in the late December twilight, two days before Christmas, Judge Karen Morgan sat back in her first class seat and closed her eyes. One week since she had seen Stan at the Christmas party. Seven miserable days of coming home to the blank answering machine. No call. No message. So why did she expect one? She had told him the truth: Carrie Moon was dead. Why then did she think he would come after her and insist she wasn’t? Because she so desperately wanted him to? Because she had once fought for his love in an effort to rescue him from a life of numbness and emptiness, and now she wanted him to do the same for her? But the odds were against it. She ordered a scotch straight up and closed her eyes.

The jet sped east through the darkness, but Karen was back in the lift in Stan’s building as it creaked upward toward his loft. Her nostrils were full of the cool salty breeze, sweeping over her hot arms and face, damp with perspiration and desire. And she could smell the familiar dark, masculine scent of Stan, the mixture of sweat and sex that surrounded him after hours of performing.

Sometimes, Karen reflected, as she listened to the big jet engines labor, life brings you to a split second when you suddenly understand everything is about to change forever. In the twinkling of an eye, as you stand poised on the edge of the inevitable, you pause to burn into your memory what life is like at that moment – the moment before change engulfs you. That sliver of time before the future arrives to transform your life forever is as tiny as an atom, yet as wide and deep as a black hole in space. You stand poised for less than a breath upon the rim of this vast knowledge that all the events of your life have happened for only one purpose: to bring you to this moment of irrevocable change.

* * *

November 1994

Stan said nothing as he held her tightly against him as the elevator lumbered upward. When it stopped, he pushed aside the iron bars to allow them to exit.

He led her down the hall to his loft. As they stepped inside, he pulled her into his arms and brought his mouth down on hers in a crushing kiss.

* * *

Karen Morgan shivered at the memory of that night and downed a huge gulp of scotch. Where was Stan at that moment? It was Friday night, so he was probably playing another gig. The old stab of jealousy bit through her heart as she remembered him flirting with the blonde singers last week. Did he ever remember how they had made love over and over again that first night, each time more intensely than the last?

No, Karen answered herself. She was certain Stan didn’t remember. He had more than likely made love to so many women in the last twelve years that the details of his first night with Carrie Moon had long ago disappeared completely from his psyche.

But then, why had he called? If women were nothing more for him than interchangeable Lego pieces, why had he picked up the phone after twelve years? Curiosity, most likely. Certainly not to apologize. Stan would never apologize for what he had done to them both.

* * *

November 1994

On that first night, Carrie finally dozed just as the first tentative light filtered through the long loft windows. She tried to fight the impulse to sleep, knowing she had to be at her desk by seven a.m. to make up for not going back to the office at midnight. But the combination of exhaustion, satiety, and the joy of being surrounded by Stan and his warmth overcame her.

She woke to bright sunshine and Stan’s kiss.

“Wake up, sleepy head.” He pulled her close and made love to her yet again. But afterward, as she lay cradling Stan in her arms, she felt a rising tide of panic. What time was it? Would Alan have missed her?

Unlike last night when she had remained as close to Stan as possible after they had finished making love, she slid away from him and sat up.

“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?”

The hands of the clock on the beside table were irrevocably placed at ten a.m. Carrie caught her breath. She had never arrived that late for work in nine years and two law firms.

He watched her eyes travel to the clock. “Late for work? Then I guess you don’t have time for one of my famous breakfasts?”
She shook her head and began to get dressed.

* * *

At ten thirty, Karen walked into her office, uncomfortably aware she was wearing yesterday’s clothes, had not showered, and smelled like Stan and sex. Alan sat behind her desk, going over the documents from the overnight secretarial pool. The knot in the pit of her stomach tightened.

He looked up and surveyed her from head to toe. Karen wanted the floor to open and swallow her.

“I see you didn’t make it home last night.”

“I – ” For the first time in her association with Alan Warrick, she didn’t know what to say.

“We were concerned when you weren’t at work by eight.” Every word was a nail hammered into her professional coffin. “We called your apartment and got no answer. I decided I’d better start going over these documents to keep the deal on time.”

A flash of anger surged through Karen. “My being late this morning isn’t going to delay the IPO. We still have two weeks before the sales date.”

“And Burnett keeps changing its numbers on its assets. I hope you are paying attention to the changes.”

Her anger deepened. She wanted to take Alan by the throat and scream that she was entitled to a life away from Warrick, Thompson and that sleeping with the man she loved didn’t mean her brains had become mush. Instead, she summoned her cool, professional tone.

“I’m quite aware of the changes, Alan. That’s why these documents were in overnight secretarial. I appreciate your pinch-hitting for me, but I’m here now and ready to look these over.”

Even though Alan was one of the name partners, that tone from Karen always made him back down. It reminded him she possessed the true securities expertise. He was merely a litigator who knew enough to get him through whatever trial happened to be the case du jour in his life. Even if she showed up late in last night’s clothes, she knew the securities code inside and out. She would be hard to replace. He didn’t want her to know that, of course, but he did.
Beaten by her commanding tone, Alan yielded her chair and headed for the door. He turned back, however, before he left.

She kept her eyes on the documents, hoping he’d take the hint and go. But his gaze remained on her until she looked up.

“I gather last night wasn’t about scouting properties for Waterfront Development?”

“Last night was not about anything to do with you, Alan. Or the firm.”

He frowned. Obviously he wanted the whole story, and obviously he wasn’t entitled to a word of it. Beaten again, he sent a parting shot across her bow as he turned to leave. “Remember what’s at stake this year, Karen. Don’t screw up.”

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

seaport-village-dusk.1170.430.s

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BEGUINE

CHAPTER ELEVEN

November 1994

“Damn!” Alan Warrick stormed into her office at three o’clock on Tuesday.
Karen looked up from the piles of Burnet IPO documents unperturbed.

What’s wrong?”

“Look at this! Just look at this!” He thrust a stack of papers into her hand.

She glanced down and realized they were Harry’s books. “Where did you get these?”

“His accountant had them messengered over in response to the letter I sent last week. Son of bitch, the guy is meeting the damn lease terms. He’s showing a profit. What the hell are we going to do now?”

Still deadly calm, Karen said, “There’s nothing we can do. We’re not responsible for making these facts. Our job is just to report them to Waterfront Development.”

“Like hell it is!” Alan stormed at her. “We’re Warrick, Thompson, not some guy with his solo shingle out front. We’re the ones who get the client what he wants.”

“Within the bounds of the law,” Karen observed.

“Yes, damn it, yes. Ok.” Alan took the documents back and stared at them for a few moments. Then he thrust them at Karen again. “Look, can’t you find anything wrong with these? You’re the accountant. I’m just a trial lawyer.”

If you only knew what I did to them in the first place, she thought. But she maintained her poker face. She pretended to study Harry’s books for a few minutes. Then she said, “Sorry, Alan. Nothing wrong here. He just has a little investment income that takes him through the low months. And that’s held in the name of the club. You won’t get to first base trying to evict him using these.”

(more…)

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BEGUINE

CHAPTER TEN

November, 1994
“Why were you looking at Harry’s books tonight?”

Even when Stan’s voice was angry, it stirred her heart. Karen closed her eyes for a moment as she stood by her car in the parking lot. After finishing in Harry’s office, she had listened to the last set from the back of the club where she thought Stan wouldn’t notice. She had hurried out while he was packing up his instrument, never dreaming he would follow her.

She took a deep breath and turned to face him in the dim light. “He had a problem he wanted me to look at.”

“Some sort of problem that has to do with your firm, right?”

Karen’s blood ran cold. “What makes you say that?”

“I saw a letter on his desk, and the letterhead said ‘Warrick, Thompson.'”

Her mind raced through ideas of what to tell him. But truth was the easiest way out. She gave him the same explanation she had given Harry about her involvement with Waterfront Development.

He moved nearer as she spoke and set his instrument bag on the ground. He was so close she fantasized about being in his arms and kissing him, even as she told the cold, impersonal story of her mandate to close Jazz By the Bay.

When she finished, Stan stared at her without saying anything for a long time. Then he demanded, “Why’d you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Risk your career to save Harry’s place.” He moved a step closer as he spoke, and she could smell his familiar warmth. It made her think of sleeping in his bed last Saturday night and of wanting him so much it still hurt. His voice became cold. “If you did it for me, you shouldn’t have. I didn’t call you last week for a reason.”

His hostility penetrated her heart even more deeply than the silence of her phone had done day after day, but she was determined to maintain her dignity. “I know that. I did it for Harry and Kristin. And for me. If the club isn’t open, I can’t come to hear you.”

“You can’t get involved with me, Carrie Moon.”

“Why?” The word surged up from the depths of her aching heart.

“You’ll just get hurt.”

“And what if I’m already hurt?”

“It would be a much worse hurt if you got involved with me.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

His tone was as final as a death knell, and it kindled her anger. “You don’t know anything! You’re trying to hurt me enough to make me go away.”

“No, I’ve already told you the truth for your own good. I’m not going to let myself love anyone because I can’t take losing anyone else I care about. Love doesn’t work out for me.”

“Then you might as well be dead.”

“Maybe. But I know what I can and cannot risk. And I can’t risk getting close to you. I know that’s what you want, Carrie Moon. And you’re wasting your time.”

“Am I?” Karen suddenly stepped toward him, shaking her hair out of its workday confinement and letting it hang loose in a red-gold cloud around her shoulders. She turned her face up to his, inviting him to kiss her.
He wanted her. Of that much she was sure. His eyes locked onto hers, and his chest rose and fell with the effort he was making to control himself. She moved another step closer and could feel his warm breath on her face. She tilted her chin up just a little more, encouraging him to lean down to her.

To Karen that moment seemed to last for an eternity. The larger world had collapsed and only she and Stan were left as they stood bathed in the soft gold of the street lamps, surrounded by the nothing of the black night. She felt the cool breeze from the bay on her hot skin as she waited for his kiss. She wanted to freeze her life forever at this moment of potential, where no disappointment yet existed.

But Stan drew back. “No. I won’t kiss you.” He picked up his trumpet bag and turned away, heading for his car without looking back. Karen watched him get in, start the engine, and gun it out of the parking lot. So much for her hopes of spending the night with him. Maybe it was some comfort that he wasn’t sleeping with anyone else that night. But not much.

She got into her own car and drove slowly home. She undressed and crawled into her cold bed, replaying over and over the moment when the two of them had been facing each other, and there had still been time for him to decide to kiss her. She lay awake until dawn, listening to the ocean, longing for the kiss that had not come and remembering what it had felt like to sleep in Stan’s bed.

 

san-diego-bay

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CHAPTER NINE

December, 2007

“Stop,” Judge Karen Morgan told herself as she turned away from the french doors, went back to her study, and picked up the trial brief she had thrown aside earlier. “Don’t think about the past. Don’t think about Stan.”
But the temptation was too strong. As soon as she sat down at her desk, the words on the page began to swim in front of her eyes until she closed them. In the darkness, she relived the first Saturday of November 1994.

* * *

November, 1994

It was six o’clock, and she was supposed to be meeting Harry at the club at six thirty. But she was still trapped in her office. The Burnett accountants wouldn’t stop calling with new numbers for the IPO.

Her head ached with the effort to keep their changes straight. By seven-thirty, she could take no more of their relentless nervousness over the upcoming deal. She left for the club, hoping Harry would understand why she was so late.

“It’s ok,” he said, when she arrived. “I’ve got the books in my office. I’ll send some supper. I’m on stage at eight, but I’ll be in at the first break, and you can tell me how it looks.”

Karen took a deep breath as she sat down at Harry’s desk and opened his ledgers. She was crossing a Rubicon that could forever bar her from partnership at Warrick, Thompson. If anyone found out what she was about to do, she would be reduced to hanging out her shingle as a solo in some seedy executive office suite.

Harry had sent her filet mignon. She was starving after nothing but stale vending machine sandwiches all day, and the food was heaven. As she went through Harry’s numbers, month by month, she could hear Stan performing. Even at this distance, his high, clear sound penetrated her soul. If I just didn’t love him, she thought. If I could walk away, heart intact. But I can’t.

He played “I Can’t Get Started,” and she wondered if Harry had told him she was in the office. She hoped not. The fewer people who knew, the better. She cursed herself for not swearing Harry to secrecy.

He appeared at the break, around nine thirty. “How was dinner?”

“Terrific. The club always has good food.”

“It’s a draw for the music. People come to eat and find they like jazz. How does it look?”

“I’m not finished yet.”

But Harry read her face. “You see a problem.”

“I’m trying not to. But of the last ten months, you’re in the black in only four.”

He sighed and sank into the folding chair in front of his desk. He was sweating from the stage lights. He wiped his forehead with his hands, then sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.

It felt like a deathbed vigil. Karen’s stomach tightened, and she wished she hadn’t eaten. “I’m not completely finished looking over last month. It was a pretty good one. And you are so close to showing a profit in August and September that maybe your attorney could argue those months should count, too.”

“I can’t afford an attorney, honey,” Harry said, quietly. His expressionless eyes were fixed on the floor. Then he looked at her. “Unless you’d do it for me.”

Karen felt like a trapped animal. She stared at the pictures of Harry and Kristin in performance on the wall, trying to think of what to say. “I would if I could, but I – I can’t.”

She saw the moment the light went on in Harry’s eyes. “You can’t because you work for them, don’t you?”

She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. When she opened them, Harry was still staring at her.

“You came to spy on us? To see what the crowds were like? Why didn’t you just shut us down after the first week?”

The tears in his eyes made her hate her job and Waterfront Development with all her heart.

“Because I don’t want to,” she managed to say. “Before you jump to a lot of conclusions, would you let me explain?”

“I guess it’s fair to hear you out.”

“I’m up for partner at my firm this year.”

“The one on the letterhead?”

“Yeah. And Alan Warrick – the one who signed the letter – is my boss. Alan brought me here to San Diego, and my work has made a lot of money for the firm. He wants them to make me a partner.”

“What if they don’t?”

“Then I’d be expected to leave. It’s like losing your job if they don’t make you a partner.”

“So a lot rides on this year for you?”

“My whole future. Just like you and keeping the club open.”

Harry nodded. “Go on.”

“Well, Alan wants the firm’s clients to like me and to get to know me. So he involved me in the Waterfront Development deal. They bought this land from your old landlord.”

“Ok.”

“After the deal was done, Alan announced Waterfront has big plans to redo all of this. And they want some of the existing tenants out.”

“Meaning me.”

“Meaning you,” Karen agreed. “So he instructed me to come down and scope out your audiences and tell him you weren’t meeting the lease term because that is what he wanted to hear.”

“Why didn’t you tell him that?

Karen smiled. The second set had begun, and Stan’s version of “My Funny Valentine” filled the club. Now Karen’s eyes spilled over. Harry’s face softened. She said, “That’s why.”

“You fell in love with him.”

“I did. That first night. And now if I can’t come to see and hear him, I’m not sure how I can go on.”

“That means more to you than making partner.”

“A lot more.”

Harry smiled and leaned over to put his hand over hers as it rested on the books. “You’re a good girl, Carrie Moon. And Stan Benedict ought to love you, if he has any sense at all.”

“But I don’t think he does, Harry.”

“Love you or have any sense?”

“Both.” Karen managed a smile as she wiped her eyes. “Look, I have to tell you the rest of the story.”

“Ok.” He withdrew his hand and leaned back in the spindly folding chair. “Shoot.”

“I honestly couldn’t tell what your profit margins were from observation. Some nights you have standing room only. Other nights, I can see you don’t break even. But I was pulling for you to make the lease term. So I told Alan he had to review your books before ordering you out. I hoped maybe there’d be something in here that would save the club.”

“Do you think there might be?”

“Give me another hour. I studied accounting as well as music. Both are all about numbers. Let me see if I can’t find some way to move things around. Delete some expenses or something.”

“Is that legal?”

Karen gave him an ironic laugh. “Harry, me even being in this room right now and saying what I just said is so illegal that a little more isn’t going to matter. Accounting is creative sometimes like music. You stretch a tempo; you change a key. Let me think about it a little longer.” And pray for a solution.

At that moment, the door burst open, and Stan appeared. He stared at Karen, obviously surprised to find her in Harry’s office. “What are you doing here?”

“I asked her to take a look at something for me. Nothing important to you.”
Harry treated Stan like a son who needed protecting, even though he was only about ten years older.

“You’re up next. We need you on stage.”

“No problem. Karen and I are finished here. I’m going to send you a glass of wine.” Harry took Stan by the arm and walked him toward the door. She wanted Stan to look back, but he hurried away with Harry, his mind focused on his upcoming performance.

Although wine and accounting were not good partners, she drank the zin
anyway, as she went over Harry’s numbers. He managed to stay in business despite not turning a profit, month after month. There had to be an answer.

At ten thirty, Harry came back.

“Any ideas?” he asked as soon as he shut the door.

“Yes. One.”

“Which is?”

“Look here,” Karen pointed to the income column. “Every month you show $2,000 in investment income that you put into the business. That’s the way you get by in the months you are in the red. And that money is enough to put you in the black for all ten months of this year.”

Harry’s face brightened. “So they can’t jerk my lease?”

“It depends. Where does that $2,000 come from?”

“My auntie back in Atlanta died the year that I opened the club. She left me a pretty nice lump sum. I invested it, so that I could draw on the income to keep this place afloat during the early years. The lump sum has never been touched, thank God. But I’ve been used the income to keep the club going.”

“Whose name is the fund in?” Karen felt her heart constrict when she asked. So much depended on the answer.

“I actually hold it in the name of the club. My accountant told me to do it that way.”

“Your accountant is an angel, Harry. Waterfront can’t touch you. You just need to have that income shown on these books on this line, here in business investment income.” Karen’s heart was so light she felt as if she could get up and dance on Harry’s desk.

“Is that all?”

“That’s all. Just tell him to do that, copy these, and mail them to Alan Warrick.”

“And what happens then?”

“Then Waterfront will probably offer you a lot of money to buy out your lease.”

“What if I don’t want to sell? I like this place by the water.”
“Then they are going to have to recognize Jazz By the Bay as the centerpiece of whatever they plan to do.”

Harry’s face lit up. He pulled Karen to her feet and hugged her. When he let her go, he said, “No one will ever know about any of this. Not even Kristin.”

“I’m relieved you understand. Stan can’t know, either.”

“Of course not. Do you think I’ll ever be called to that fancy firm of yours?”

“It’s not mine, yet, Harry. Not until I make partner. But, yes, it’s possible they’ll want you to come down if they make an offer to buy you out.”

“Then I’ll be sure they never guess I know you.”

“Thanks, Harry. My career is in your hands.”

“It’s mutual, Carrie Moon. It’s mutual. Now, on Monday night I want you in here at eight sharp with that flute of yours. No excuses.”

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 BEGUINE

CHAPTER EIGHT

December, 2007

Next day, Karen tried to settle in her study to read the case file that would come before her the following week. Normally she would have been glad to see to see a civil trial on the docket for a change. The presiding judge kept sending her a steady diet of gruesome murder cases. But now the very thought of sitting on that bench every day for the coming week depressed her, no matter what she had to listen to. Seeing Stan had turned her world upside down again. She realized she was living a lie. But that was dangerous knowledge. At least living a lie as Karen Morgan wasn’t as painful as being Carrie Moon and loving Stan Benedict.

Around two o’clock that afternoon, Karen could not read another word. She put down the meaningless trial brief she had been staring at for a half hour and went into the den. The house was as quiet as death. And as empty. It was nearly Christmas, and she hadn’t bothered with a tree or decorations. Howard cared nothing for them unless they were giving holiday parties. But this year he had been too busy with the trial in Philadelphia to demand she play hostess.

She stood by the french doors and stared at her expensively landscaped backyard pool, shimmering in the December sunshine. All she could think about was Stan on stage last night. And the way he had put his arms around the singers and leaned down to joke with them. Which one was he sleeping with? But then, knowing Stan, he might not be sleeping with either of them. That was part of the hell of caring for him; he couldn’t be predicted.

* * *

October, 1994
After the Saturday night she stayed over at Stan’s, she had thought he would call. He had taken her home and work phone numbers Sunday morning just before he walked her to her car in the parking lot at Jazz By the Bay. She had hoped he would ask her to breakfast, but he had seemed very distant except for taking her number.

“I’ll call to make sure you get home all right.” He opened the driver’s door that she had just unlocked, and gave her his impish grin.

“Ok.” And she smiled. But the silent phone drove her slowly crazy all afternoon.

On Monday, she ploughed through the Burnett stock offering. She struggled to think about anything except Stan and how badly she had wanted him to make love to her on Saturday night. And she dreaded the moment when Alan would drop by to demand her final word on Jazz By the Bay. But fortunately he had been called out of town and would not be back until the next day.

That night, around eight, she struggled with her desire to go down to the club, just to hear him play. But she managed, instead, to get herself into her car and home, where she lay awake most of the night.

On Tuesday she jumped every time her secretary forwarded a call. But they were all from the Burnett accounting department. She worked at keeping the irritation out of her voice at each successive disappointment.

That afternoon, Alan turned up in her office.

“So, can we tell Harry Rich he’s in breach of his lease?”

Karen worked hard to keep Alan from seeing her rising panic. She couldn’t just hand Harry and the club over like trophies to be hung on Waterfront Development’s mantel. Truth was the best answer. “I honestly can’t tell what’s up with him. Some nights it’s standing room only. Others, no one is there.”

Alan shrugged. “I’m pretty sure we’ve got him.”

“I think you should ask to see his books before you make any assumptions.” As Karen spoke, she prayed his books would save Jazz By the Bay.

“Waterfront is getting impatient,” he objected.

“Probably, but they won’t be happy if we don’t do our homework. Write him and ask to see his books. It’s a term of the lease. I checked.”

“Ok, I’ll have my secretary get a letter out today.”

That night, she wanted to run to the club and warn Harry. But she couldn’t. She worked for the firm that represented Waterfront. She would break every ethical rule if she told him what was coming. She made herself go home to her empty condo and cried when she saw there was no call from Stan on her machine.

By Friday, she was worn out with waiting for the call that had never come and with overseeing the details of the Burnett deal. And her fantasies of making love to Stan would not go away, despite her best efforts to think about other things.

At eight o’clock, she handed off the documents to the overnight secretarial pool and decided to go to the club. Her hands actually shook as she locked her car and headed for the entrance.

Stan was on stage when she arrived, but instead of his usual friendly gaze he immediately averted his eyes to what was the Table of Five that night. Karen felt the knot in her stomach tighten. Even though he hadn’t called, she had thought he would show he was glad to see her.

As she made her way to her usual table, she noticed the club was only about a third full. Harry came over to take her order instead of the waitress.

“Where have you been?” he demanded, smiling. “Haven’t seen you in almost a week. Didn’t you like your steak last time?”

“No, it was great.” How did she tell him Stan was supposed to call and never did?

“Well, I’m glad you’re back. Your usual?”

“Red zin.”

“You got it.”

She sipped the wine slowly because she knew she had to go back to work in two hours to proof the Burnett documents. But she wanted to gulp it down to deaden the pain in her soul. Stan had meant it when he said he wouldn’t get involved with her. That’s what the silent phone had told her for the last week.

She lost herself in his music, crying inside and wondering what had changed since she’d driven out of the parking lot on Sunday. During the entire set she hoped for “I Can’t Get Started” but he didn’t play it; and she knew it was his way of letting her know she shouldn’t have come back.

During his break, an hour later, Stan took his scotch pointedly to the Table of Five, just giving her a friendly off-hand nod as he passed. He sat with his back to her, joking and laughing with the women as if she weren’t there.
Karen stared at her empty wine glass, knowing she should leave, but too upset to do anything except sit where she was and try to hold back the tears. Suddenly a full glass appeared beside her empty one, and Harry sat down.

“You need a refill.”

She smiled up at him, knowing her eyes had betrayed her. “I can’t, Harry. But thanks. I have to leave. I have to go back to work.”

“At eleven o’clock at night?” he stared at her. “Girl, what do you do for a living? You can’t be a hooker dressed like that!” He gestured toward her simple black suit.

She laughed in spite of herself. “I’m the next best thing: a lawyer.”

“Well aren’t the courts closed this time of night?”

“I’m not that kind of lawyer. Corporate law. Deals. That stuff.”

Harry shook his head. “And all this time I thought musicians and doctors were the only ones who had to work all night.”

Karen laughed again, but her eyes darted toward Stan and the Table of Five despite her efforts not to look that way.

Harry leaned closer and put his hand over hers. “If you want to tell me what happened between you two, I’d be glad to listen.”

“Last Saturday night, after you gave us dinner, I wound up sleeping over at Stan’s. I’d had too much to drink and not enough food that day. Nothing happened. I slept in his bed; he slept on the couch. But he said he’d call me during the week.”

“And he never did.”

She nodded. “That very first night when we walked by the bay after the show, he told me not to get involved with him because I’d only get hurt. I think he meant it.” Her eyes were fixed on Stan’s back at the Table of Five, now in an uproar over one of his jokes.

But Harry shook his head. “He’s just trying to scare you off. Don’t let him, honey. He doesn’t care a thing about those women. That’s why he’s sitting over there. Because he’s scared to death of what he feels for you.”

Karen stared at Harry, wanting to believe him but not sure if she should.
He patted her hand softly. “He’s terrified of being hurt again. But I know he’s been looking for you. I’ve seen his eyes every night when he comes on stage and you aren’t here.”

“But isn’t he sleeping with them?” she nodded toward the other women.
Harry let out a soft chuckle. “Sweetheart, do you think they’d be sitting together night after night if he was?”

Karen laughed. “Hadn’t thought of that.”

“Stan’s a world class flirt, that’s all. And he wants to see if he can drive you away.”

“But why?”

“Because everyone he loves deserts him, one way or the other; and he thinks you will, too. So if he drives you away now, he won’t get hurt later on.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve known Stan for seventeen years. Since he was eighteen, a skinny kid, blowing everyone in town away with his high notes. Cocky as hell about his music. But never sure anyone loved him or would stay with him until Deanna. But, then she died, and he changed. Not so sure about himself as a musician anymore and deathly afraid to get involved with anyone.”

“He really loved her,” Karen said.

“It was something to see them together. She was Stan’s world. Made up for the family he never had as a kid.”

“She was the only person who loved him and didn’t leave him.” She felt that familiar twinge of jealousy.

“But she did leave him,” Harry contradicted. “She died. And that just convinced Stan that for him loving anyone only ends in heartbreak.”

Karen looked over at Stan’s back, as he resolutely blocked her out of his world. “So what should I do?”

“Stay around. Show him he can’t drive you away.”

Karen smiled wistfully. “I wonder if I’m capable. Rejection hurts.”

“Oh, you’re capable, all right,” Harry said as he stood up. Stan was heading to the stage, throwing back the rest of his scotch as he passed her table, so he didn’t have to make eye contact with her.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because unlike those women over there, you really care about him. You’re the one who’ll always be there for him when things get rough.”

Instinctively Karen knew he was right. But she put on her lawyer-skeptic tone. “How do you know so much about me?”

“I watch you when you come in. I see the way you look at him when he plays. You know his secret.”

“And that is?”

“He gives away his soul with every performance. He wants the audience to love the music as much as he does.”

“And they do,” Karen added softly.

“The music, yes,” Harry agreed. “But they don’t love Stan. And that’s his dilemma. No matter how afraid he is of love, he wants to be loved. And you understand that, Carrie Moon.”

“Who told you who I used to be?”

“He did. I told you he misses you. He talks about you.” Harry studied her face as he stood by the table. Behind him, she could see Stan on stage setting up for the next set. “You and Stan have a lot in common besides music.”

“He told you about that, too?”

“Uh, huh. Why don’t you bring your instrument in one night. Play a little.”

“I couldn’t. It’s been too many years.”

“Hogwash! Bring it in. You need something in your life besides those suits and those documents. And you’re a long way from home.”

“How do you know?”

“Accent. I’m from Atlanta,” Harry said.

“Asheville, North Carolina.”

“Brothers and sisters?”

“None.”

“See your parents often?”

“No. They passed away when I was in college.”

“Then that’s another reason the two of you need each other. You both need a family. ” At that moment, Stan began to play “Somewhere Beyond the Sea.”

“Are you going to stay?” Harry asked.

Karen nodded. “Yeah. But bring me some coffee, if you don’t mind. I really do have to go back to the office and read those documents.”

However, Harry came back with more than coffee. He held out Alan’s letter in all its twenty-pound, engraved letterhead glory.

“I got this in the mail yesterday, and I don’t really understand it. Since you are a lawyer, would you mind explaining it to me?”

Karen reached for the letter, gingerly, as if handling a snake. Tell him, a voice in her head insisted. Tell him right now you can’t advise him. You represent his enemy. You are the enemy. “Oh, God, please no,” she thought. “Please, no.”

She stared down at the page, the words a blur. She didn’t need to read it; she knew what it said. “You have a new landlord, Waterfront Development. They want to see your books to see if you are in compliance with your lease.”

Harry’s face fell. “The six out of twelve months thing. I don’t think we’re ok on that one.”

“Are you sure?” Karen tried to keep the urgency out of her voice.

“Not completely. Hey, how come the old landlord didn’t bug us about that part of the lease?”

“They could ignore the condition if they wanted to. But I would guess Waterfront has plans for the property, and you’re in its way.” God forgive me for acting as if I don’t know the truth.

“They want to kick us out.”

“I would say yes, based on the tone of this letter.”

Harry looked away toward the bay, his face a mask of anxiety and anguish. “I can’t lose the club. It’s all Kristin and I have. We’ve put everything into it for the past ten years.”

And it’s all Stan has, too, Karen thought, but didn’t say it.

Harry’s face brightened. “Hey, maybe you’re the answer to a prayer. You do this suff for a living, right?”

“I do.” Tell him you can’t help him, she thought. Tell him now before you get in too deep. But then he’d know you were the spy, and there’d be no chance with Stan. Ever.

“Think you could come down early tomorrow night? Go over the books for me? Tell me what you think. Come around six thirty? I’ll make sure you get a free dinner.”

“It’s a deal. Now I better get out of here. I have documents waiting for me in my office.”

“At midnight on Friday night?”

“At midnight on Friday night. See you tomorrow.”

Karen got up and headed for the door without looking back.

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