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It is said that the spaces between the notes make the music.  In the same way, the longing between separated lovers makes the story of their love.

Batumi  is a seaside city and the capital of Adjara, an autonomous republic,  in southwest Georgia.  There, at the edge of the Black Sea, Georgian artist  Tamara Kvesitadze  has created the 26-foot tall, moving sculpture called “The Statue of Love.” Her steel creation is based on the tragic love story of Ali and Nino, a Muslim boy and Georgian Christian girl who were separated by the coming of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Nino fled to Paris with the couple’s child while Ali joined the defense of Azerbajan and was killed when the Red Army invaded in 1918. The novel by Kuban Said, a Dr. Zhivago– style epic, was published in 1937.

At seven p.m. each evening, the computer-controlled statues move slowly toward each other in a spectacular light show, They join briefly in a passionate kiss, and then pass through each other,  leaving the beloved behind.  When I saw this video, I wished I could send it to Unhappy Reader, whose dissatisfaction with Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks, I explained in my last post.   Perhaps viewing the video of “The Statue of Love”  would explain the story of Carrie Moon and Stan Benedict to Unhappy Reader in a way my words apparently failed to do.

At the beginning of Ride, an invisible force seems to draw Stan and Carrie toward each other evening after evening in Jazz By the Bay, just as the statues move toward each other in the twilight by the sea in Batumi.  Carrie thinks she is drawn toward Stan and his artistry as a musician without realizing her obsession stems from her need to recover her own inner artist and musician, the persona she left behind when she became a lawyer. Although Stan fights his attraction to Carrie because he thinks love never lasts for him, her unconditional support shines like a beacon in his emotional darkness and draws him closer and closer, just as the computers driving “The Statue of Love” move the lovers irresistibly toward each other in the twilight.

Stan and Carrie meet in a passionate embrace, like the the lovers in the “Statue of Love.” But they, too, literally pass through each other, as the pressure of their very different lives drives them apart.  Stan’s insecurities lead to muffing his chance  to become a big name musician in Los Angeles.  Carrie finds she cannot sustain the pressure of her legal career and the demands of wife and soon-to-be mother.

Tragedy strikes, moving Stan and Carrie apart, like the moving figures in the “Statue of Love.”  Years pass like the hours that pass before the computer activates the moving figures in Batumi once again.  And then, just as the computer switches on at the appointed time, the Universe moves Carrie and Stan toward each other once again, this time to learn love’s greatest lesson of all.

To view the magnificent spectacle of the “The Statue of Love” at twilight go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ds9fE0tnzE

To purchase a copy of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks, click the link on the side bar of this website.  And let me know if you agree or disagree with Unhappy Reader.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the experience of using Princess Diana as a minor, but important, character in my first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess. Some readers have understood that I wanted to preserve my own view of Diana in the book. She was a beautiful, naive, young woman, looking for love with an older man after an emotionally barren childhood. But instead of creating a family to nurture, as she wanted to do, she was badly used by her husband, who was chronically and openly unfaithful, and she was abused by the institution of monarchy which her marriage was designed to serve. For the trouble she took to produce two princes and two royal heirs, she was later unfairly labeled unfit and unstable by Charles and his supporters in divorce proceedings.

Some readers are put off by Diana’s presence in Dance For A Dead Princess. In their opinion, even mentioning her is somehow exploiting her memory. But that view is very short sighted because if we don’t mention her, we forget her. And forgetting her is exactly what institutional monarchy wants us to do. Charles, who never made a place for Diana in his life, has filled the place that should have been hers with the woman who destroyed Diana’s marriage. And now the party line is to forget about Diana altogether and to criticize anyone who mentions her favorably as exploitive.

I came across this type of criticism recently when I discovered the work of Peter Settelen, a British actor and voice coach. In 1992 and 1993, Diana hired Settelen to help her improve her public speaking. Tapes of her early speeches demonstrate she had little skill as a speaker at the beginning of her career in public life. But after working with Settelen, she improved dramatically.

When Settelen began to work with Diana, he told her she would have to find her own authentic voice if she wanted to excel at public speaking. To that end, he recorded a series of sessions with her in which she described the events of her life. They are charming and candid, and well worth watching. And they reveal the side of Diana that my fictional character, Nicholas Carey, knew and loved and desperately missed as the novel opens.

Settelen has been criticized, of course, for making the tapes public. He had to go to court and fight to get them back after they were found in Paul Burell’s attic. Earlier, Settelen had been told the tapes had been destroyed.

Settelen candidly admits they were meant to be private teaching tools. But, as he also says, Diana did not know she was going to die; and the opportunity to hear the story of her life in her own words is a powerful way preserve her memory. The tapes Diana made with Settelen are well worth a listen. And listening to them explains why my fictional character Nicholas was driven to preserve Diana’s memory at all costs out of loyalty to his greatest friend.

Here is the YouTube link, the Diana Tapes with Peter Settelen.   What do you think of the tapes?  Did Settelen do the right thing to publish them?

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The Grosvenor Hotel, London

The Grosvenor Hotel, London

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

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

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

From Chapter Ten of Dance For A Dead Princess:

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

“I thought you might need these.”

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

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

“My head is pounding.”

“Coffee, then. Drink up.”

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

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

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

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

But she waived it away. “Can’t.”

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

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

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

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

“But aren’t you guilty of that, too?”

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

“And that was?”

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

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

“Do you want to talk about it?”

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

* * *

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

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CHAPTER 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 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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