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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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Back in the day when newspapers arrived on the doorstep in the morning instead of on iPads, Nooks, and Kindles, people had careers as newspaper columnists. Anne Landers, who died recently, was one. Erma Bombeck was another. Depending on whether the column was published daily or weekly, the writer labored on a regular basis to produce copy audiences wanted to read.

Now I fully understood that a serious blogger has the same responsibility when I opened my little word shop on WordPress some months ago. I figured the Christmas holidays would be my temptation to backslide. Wrong. I sailed through Christmas with flying blogger colors.

No, it was January that derailed my weekly posts, and work that snuck up on me on little cat feet like the fog in Carl Sandburg’s poem. My job involves three things: reading, writing, and staying sane reading about crime for a living. I am the appellate version of the public defender, and I tell the stories of guilty people who have made some pretty bad mistakes. I tell their stores to the mid-level courts of appeal here in California and to the California Supreme Court and write lots of legal reasons why they should get new trials. (That doesn’t happen, much, as you’ve guessed.) You lose in the trial, court I’m your next step in the food chain.

How do you represent guilty people, most people gasp at this point. It’s not hard. Here’s why: a good lawyer is like a car mechanic. Think about it. Your mechanic does not get emotionally upset when you and the tow truck arrive at his shop. (Well, truth to tell, they do get kind of emotional about MiniCoopers, but that’s another story and an exception to the rule. Every lawyer knows there is an exception to every rule and probably more than one. But that’s another story, too.)

Your friendly car mechanic does not give you a lecture or cite scripture or otherwise have an opinion about fault and broken machinery as your car exits the tow truck. No, the mechanic looks at the problem, gives you an estimate, and goes about the job of fixing what he can.
His blood pressure never rises.

And that’s what I do. I read what happened at the trial and write the story for the court according to a prescribed set of legal rules. I do not judge. That is not my job. The jury judges. I just write.

The other way to look at what I do is to consider baseball. I’m the pitcher. My job is to throw the balls across the plate. The umpire (the court of appeal) calls the balls and strikes and says when the batter is out.

Anyway, although I am paid by the state, I am a subcontractor, which means I am self-employed. I had no background in self-employment until I began this job. My father was a government employee, and I had always had salaried jobs, too. The downside to salaried work is you work according to hours your boss sets, on projects your boss dictates, and according to rules your boss makes. In exchange for giving up these freedoms, you get a paycheck at promised intervals from your boss. But self-employed people only get paychecks when they have completed the work they have contracted to do. Sometimes that means a lot of paychecks, and sometimes it means not so much. Work flow is uneven. The perks are you have more control over your time and the projects you agree to do. You set your own hours and work in you jammies if you want to. (Me the fashion plate does not often want to. But that’s another story, too.)

There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms of employment, and everyone is different; so it is not a one-size-fits-all world. It took me a long time to learn how to manage my little business, but I’ve done a good job, and I’m very proud of my achievement. I’m rainmaker, CEO, chief partner in the firm of one, accountant, secretary, and gopher.

To my great delight, January rolled around with a bumper crop of good projects for me. Smile! But that meant giving up a lot of my own time to read and get ready to write the briefs that will be due over the next few months. Sigh! So I’ve not forgotten my responsibility as a serious blogger. I’ve just had it temporarily derailed by a sudden influx of work. Instead of blogging at night, I’ve been reading about murder. And not murder as in Agatha Cristie or Inspector Morse.

I’ve missed blogging, but self-employed people must never, never look a gift horse in the mouth. It is very bad luck. Always, always be grateful when you have too much work to do. Beating the bushes looking for work is not fun. This is the first and the greatest law of self-employment.

I suppose I could make up for my lapse by posting in rapid-fire succession all the posts that have been on my mind over the last few weeks. But I kind of dislike being bombarded. I respect my fellow bloggers who, like me, have fallow times. Four posts a week from the same source, as entertaining as they can be, sometimes overwhelm me. I want to take in everyone’s info and express my gratitude, but there’s only so much of me to go around.

Anyway, I am back. I intend to adhere to one a week, and I am grateful for the New Year, for my readers, and for all the pages and pages of murder trials that are hanging around my office waiting to be spun one by one into unbrief briefs. (Only a lawyer would call 25,500 words a “brief”!)

iah109ts

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CHAPTER ONE
Mid-November, 2010, New York

Conference rooms are all the same. As are airports. On a cold, wet, mid-November afternoon, His Grace, the Eighteenth Duke of Burnham, decided that those who thought running the Burnham Trust was a glamorous job should go from London to Paris to Brussels to New York seeing only conference rooms and airports. He was now trapped in one of the beastly things on the twenty-eighth floor of the Manhattan offices of Craig, Lewis, and Weller, studying the deepening early twilight through the sheets of glass that formed the walls. His mood was as black as the coming night. This was the last leg of his autumn trip to ascertain the status of Trust assets in several countries. And two weeks of nonstop polished mahogany tables, crystal water decanters, dense financial statements delivered by earnest twenty-somethings, and masses of sandwiches on large silver trays had been a mind-numbing combination. He longed to go back to his suite at the Plaza, draw a hot bath, and order a bottle of Balvenie Cask 191.

But a quiet evening in was highly unlikely with Ami Hendria in town. Twenty-eight-year old blonde bombshell actresses were not fans of a low key evening by the fire. Still, he would be the first to admit that one reason he kept Ami around was to avoid having the world find out who Nicholas Carey truly was: a middle-aged homebody, longing for some solitude and a nightcap. On the other hand, the female segment of the populace would have refused to believe his real persona if he had posted it on a billboard in Times Square because, as a widowed duke, every woman he encountered believed he was swinging Prince Charming. And he was anything but that.

Oh, he was bored if his mind wandered to scotch and the possibility of eluding Ami’s grasp that evening. To bring himself back to the present, he looked down the nine-foot glossy mahogany conference table and counted the populace. Three lawyers from Beville, Platt, and Fisher on one side, all local counsel for the Burnham Trust. And two on the other side from Craig, Lewis, and Weller for Miss Reilly’s Female Finishing Academy. Why did it take five lawyers to sell a house to a girl’s school? And why weren’t any of them the one he wanted to see? His operative had named Taylor Collins, a partner in the Craig, Lewis real estate section, as was the one likely to know where Diana’s tape was. He’d told Hollis Craig he wouldn’t sell the Abbey to his daughter Tracy’s school unless Taylor was on the deal. Yet, he’d been trapped in this conference room for more than an hour, with no sign of her.

The tape was so sensitive, Nicholas knew he couldn’t approach Taylor Collins directly about it. But he was more than happy to offer Burnham Abbey, the ancestral home of the Careys, on the sacrificial altar of subterfuge. The place had long been an albatross around his neck that he was determined to remove. He smiled happily at his picture of his father, the Seventeenth Duke, turning in his grave in the chapel about now as the lawyers blathered on blissfully and incomprehensibly about the terms of the deal.

For as many of his forty-nine years as he could remember, he had detested lawyers of every ilk. The American big firm types were particularly irksome because they all looked, sounded, and dressed exactly alike. Dark suits, starched white shirts with monograms on the cuff, and subdued silk ties. And the women lawyers. Oh, he didn’t even want to think about their sexless, baggy black outfits. Was being neutered worth all that money they reportedly made? He knew Taylor was thirty-nine, but he bet she looked at least forty-five and was twenty pounds overweight. And probably chain smoked and had a face like a bulldog. He didn’t look forward to dealing with her.

Well, here was his chance to find out. The massive, dark mahogany door to the conference room opened, and another female suit stepped inside. Except this one was so, so different from the others. And not at all the woman he had expected to see.

“Sorry to be late. I had a call from the Cuniff trustee that I had to take.” She was speaking to Hollis Craig, but a pair of eyes the color of spring violets were fixed on him. Very like Diana’s eyes, but deeper.

“My partner, Taylor Collins, Your Grace. She’s going to be in charge of the file for Miss Reilly’s as we agreed.”

His heart was racing so fast, he had difficulty speaking, so he merely nodded in response. At thirty-nine, she looked ten years younger. He guessed the form-hugging black wool suit on her tiny five foot two frame was Chanel. She barely weighed a hundred pounds. Her jacket allowed a demure ruffle to spill over its dark edge, highlighting the single strand of perfect pearls circling her creamy throat. Her dark hair was pulled back into the usual professional woman’s knot, revealing more perfect pearl drops in her exquisite little ears. He wondered what she looked like when her hair was wild and free. Her face was impassively professional, yet he sensed much more lay beneath the surface. Physically he was drawn to her so strongly that he wondered what color La Perla’s she was wearing, but he longed for more than sex. He desperately craved the impossible: time alone and the chance to know who she was beneath the lawyer facade.

The conference room doors opened once more and another black-suited woman with hair also tightly wound roused Nicholas from his fantasies. She wasn’t as expensively dressed, and he recognized her immediately as the telephone receptionist who sat at the throne-like desk opposite the elevators. Her task was to greet everyone who arrived at the twenty-eighth floor.

“Your Grace?”

Why did all professional woman have to slick their hair into those ridiculous knots? Did it make them seem more serious? More competent?

“Your Grace, ” she repeated. She was young, early twenties. There was that look in her eyes that said, maybe I will be his Cinderella. Even a woman in a business suit longs to be a princess. Or at least a duchess. Although he doubted Taylor Collins would be interested.

“Yes, Miss –?”

” La Breaux. Marie La Breaux.”

“Well, yes, Miss La Breaux? What is it?”

“A call for you.”

” I’ll take it later. After we’ve wrapped up in here.”

“I’m afraid it’s the headmistress from your ward’s school.”

“Oh, God. Very well.” Nicholas got up and went into the adjoining conference room, this one dominated by a long glass table, sterile enough for surgery, surrounded by empty high-backed chairs. It looked like a board meeting of ghosts, and for a moment Nicholas saw the empty room as a metaphor for his own life. The people he had loved the most were all ghosts: his mother, Deborah, Diana, Annabel.

“Hello?”

“Helen Myrtin, Your Grace, from Miss Whitcomb’s School.” Her thin, nasal vowels sliced through the silence and reminded Nicholas that in person she appeared as intimidating as she sounded. Thirty-five. Always dressed in suits so crisp they looked like military uniforms. “I’m afraid there’s been a bit of difficulty with Lucy. Again.”

Nicholas had hoped she wouldn’t refer to the past, but in fairness, she had a right to sound exasperated. It had taken a hefty chunk of Trust cash, tastefully donated to the school’s general fund, to keep Lucy there the last time. “Tell me about the problem, Mrs. Myrtin.”

A very human sigh surprised him. “I’m so sorry, Your Grace. I hate giving bad news.”

“If she’s drinking again–”

“I wish that were the only problem. Unfortunately, Lucy has begun to experiment with drugs. She had too much to drink, threw up in the loo, and passed out. One of the other girls found her and called Matron who called Dr. Briggs. When he looked her over he found signs of cocaine use. And later we located some of the drug among her things.”

Nicholas gripped the phone and willed her to stop speaking. The alcohol had started last year. It had been tough to deal with a fifteen-year-old with a taste for scotch. Maybe he should have seen the other coming. But he had put his head in the sand. “Are you very sure that she was actually using the stuff–not just trying to sell it?” Both were bad, but using was worse. It would be much harder to stop that.

“Perfectly sure.” The headmistress’ voice tightened in response to his denial. Give me any window, any hole to escape this he prayed. Don’t make me deal with another failure where Lucy is concerned. I know it’s my fault. But it hurts too much. Far too much. Still, fate had already done its work. There was no going back. “Dr. Briggs says the drug caused bleeding around her nose. The girl who found her in the loo thought she was dying.”

“I see. And where is Lucy now?”

“In the infirmary. We have to send her down. At least until the New Year. You realize that, of course.”

“Of course.” But she wasn’t saying out for good. There was still hope. “But after Christmas?”

“You’ll have to show us that she was treated. And that she’s–uh, how do they say- clean. Perhaps one of those drug management programs in Harley Street. Although I will warn you the source is her boyfriend. He’ll find her if she’s in London. He’s very persistent.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Well, man-friend, actually. Didn’t you know about David Lowenby? She said you approved.”

“David Lowenby is Lord Gaynor’s heir and twenty-five years old. He’s almost ten years older than Lucy. She couldn’t have been seeing him.”

“I’m afraid she has. She told us she had your permission,” Ms. Myrtin repeated.

“And you believed that?” Nicholas didn’t even attempt to control his outrage.

“Well,” her tone of detached poise seemed to slip momentarily, “I did think of ringing you up. But she was so emphatic. Good family. All that.”

He sighed. “Well, the harm’s done. But if I put her in Harley Street, Lowenby will find her with more cocaine. You are right. I’ll have to think about what to do.”

“There are home programs, I think. Nurses you can hire. Maybe one of the Harley Street clinics can give you some information. But we do have to send her away today. And you appear to be out of the country.”

“New York is not the ends of the earth, Mrs. Myrtin. I can telephone my staff. I’ll send an estate car for her as soon as you ring off. I would imagine my driver can be there within the hour.”

“That would be greatly appreciated, Your Grace.”

After Nicholas hung up, he sat for a long minute watching the New York sky line; he felt empty and sad and defeated. She had promised no more drinking. She would study to get into Oxford. She would find some meaning and purpose for her life. Not just parties and shopping. But all her promises had meant nothing. He glanced at his watch: 4:30 here, so 9:30 in London. He could have Lucy at Burnham Square before midnight.

He picked up the phone once more, this time punching the intercom button.

“Marie La Breaux, here, Your Grace.” She sounded so eager. For what, he wondered.

“Please get my butler on the phone and tell him to send a car to fetch my ward from school. At once.”

“Yes, Your Grace. I’m sorry the news was bad.”

But he wasn’t inclined to tell her anything, so he ignored her condolences. First rule of survival in the tabloid fishbowl of aristocratic life. Never give anyone information about yourself. “And get my London solicitor on the line. Lord Thomas. My personal assistant will give you the numbers.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” She sounded more distant now. She had understood he was not going to let his guard down with her.

Kerry Thomas, his chief friend from Eaton, would know what to do. Restraining orders–whatever it took to keep the press out of Lucy’s screw-up. Maybe he could recommend a treatment program. A scholarship boy from a poor London family, Kerry was resourceful. And now rich.

As he sat waiting for Kerry’s call, he wondered if he should fly back to London that night or follow his original plan to return in the morning. His pilot was used to turning around on a dime if Nicholas demanded it, but sticking to his original itinerary looked very attractive. He didn’t feel ready to face Lucy and her problems any sooner than tomorrow night. If then. He could stay at the Ritz for a couple of days and avoid his townhouse at Burnham Square for at least forty-eight hours. Cowardly, but tempting.

Then, too, it was Ami’s last night in New York before she flew to Paris to begin a new movie. She expected him to take her to dinner at Per Se, with dancing afterwards at Provacateur. The thought of all that throbbing music punctuated by green strobes gave him a headache in advance. In addition to being very egocentric, American twenty-something actresses loved night life. And were completely convinced that dukes did, too, despite his sincere explanations to the contrary.

Well, even if blonde American actresses had dukes pegged correctly, and they all liked to boogie until dawn, he didn’t. Maybe it was because he had never felt much like a duke to begin with. Maybe it was because he hadn’t been intended to be one, either. Arthur had been real duke material. He could picture his older half-brother at Provacateur until the wee hours. He didn’t deserve a lifetime subbing for Arthur.

Hours under strobe lights, sandwiched between gyrating, sweating bodies was just the sort of thing Deborah would have loved and would have insisted that he do with her. But even the most boring things had been worth doing – just to be close to her. All at once, he could see another pair of blue eyes. Not deep violet like Taylor’s, but pale as spring rain, cool, and appraising. Deborah’s eyes. Deborah’s voice. “I can’t live locked away in that decaying old house in Kent. Don’t be ridiculous. There’s everything to do in London and nothing at the Abbey except watching it crumble to bits stone by stone. You can’t seriously be thinking of living there.” He could hear her voice as clearly as if more than a decade had not gone by since the last time she had spoken. And he could picture her graceful body and the way she would shake her golden, shoulder-length hair to make a point.

The memory was too sharp and too clear, and it hurt too much. He brought himself back to the dilemma of Lucy. He would leave New York in the morning as planned. But he’d lie to Ami and cancel the evening. She’d be furious, but she’d get over it. And if she didn’t, there were a zillion more just like her waiting to attach themselves to him. He badly wanted his evening alone at the Plaza with his bottle of scotch. No, that wasn’t what he wanted at all. He wanted to take Taylor Collins to dinner at Per Se, drown in her violet eyes, and learn everything about her, including which places on her tiny exquisite body she liked to be touched. But that was out of the question. He hadn’t expected her to be beautiful and sexy, but he had to force himself to stay on track. He had made a promise to Deborah and to Diana. He couldn’t be so distracted that he gave up his quest for the truth.

He would telephone Steve Riddely now and arrange for him to come round early in the morning to look at Lucy and advise him about treatment programs when he returned. Steve’s father had been his own father’s doctor, and he knew he could trust him not to tell anyone why Lucy had been sent down.
As for himself, he was a coward. Tomorrow or even the next day would be time enough to deal with Lucy.

* * *

The next morning, his Lear Jet was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m. As he sat on the tarmac, waiting in the queue of airplanes for clearance to taxi and takeoff, Nicholas Carey reflected upon his success the prior evening. Ami had been easily put off with a promise to fly her to London the following week. Apparently she was willing to risk the ire of her director to be with him. Not a good development. But the bottle of Balvenie Cask 191 had been superb. He had almost obliterated the shock of meeting Taylor Collins with its joys.

But he was sober now, and she was very much on his mind. He had to find a way to see her again. Not only to find Diana’s tape, but to learn more about her. How to do it without being obvious? Ah, the sale of the house. She was the lead lawyer on the file for the buyer. This would be easy. Way too easy. He picked up his cell and dialed his personal assistant.

“Myles?”

“Your Grace.”

“I want you to call Suzanne Kelly, the woman at Miss Reilly’s who is overseeing their purchase of the Abbey. Tell her there may be a problem with conveying a clear title to the school; and their attorney, Taylor Collins, must come to England and personally examine the documents to determine whether the Trust can actually sell the house.”

“Will do, Your Grace.”

“And another thing. The land conveyance records are at the Abbey library in the family papers section. Keep them in the library but hide them where they’ll be very difficult to find.”

“Yes, Your Grace. Anything else?”

“Only one. Book a suite for me at the Ritz for the next three days. I need some time and space away from Lucy while I think about what to do with her.”

“Done, Your Grace.”

The jet gathered speed for take off. Nicholas watched New York begin to drop away behind him. If Taylor knew about Diana’s tape, her life was in danger.

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The “it girls” all arrived as princesses this Halloween. They made the trick or treat scene at our front door in ankle-length pastel blue and pink satin skirts, frothed with sheer tulle ruffles at the waist and hem. Bodices sported sequins and glitter. I doubt there was a Versace, Chanel, or Marc Jacobs in the lot, but each one was thrilled with her red carpet look for the evening. (It was Halloween. I should say orange carpet.)

Observing them as I handed out Halloween candy reminded me that I had had a secret desire to be a princess when I was their age. Just as small boys announced their intent to be firemen or policemen, small girls are prone to favor the princess line of work. The only trouble was, I couldn’t quite figure out what princesses did. Sitting on a throne all day waiting for a prince to show up sounded like the height of boredom. So did swirling around a ballroom at all hours in an evening dress and diamonds. And I wasn’t particularly thrilled about eating a poisoned apple or pricking my finger and sleeping for a hundred years. Just regular sleeping overnight was pretty boring, in my view. So even though I was taken with the princess uniform – evening dress, glass slipper, and tiara – the job that went with it didn’t sound as attractive as I’d first thought.

Then I went to school and began to read history. The princess gig began to look less and less attractive. For example, Henry VIII had no trouble dispatching unwanted princesses to nunneries and scaffolds. A little later, in France, the guillotine did the job of eliminating the surplus princess population. Moving into modern times, a Russian firing squad did away with a whole family of princesses in Ekaterinburg in July 1918, along with an Emperor, an Empress, and a Tsarevich. And then, to prove it still isn’t safe to be a princess, Diana, Princess of Wales was smashed up in a car “accident” in 1997.

Conclusion: “pretend princessing” has its upside: a swirly satin skirt for the evening and all the chocolate you can stuff into a plastic pumpkin on Halloween. But the real thing isn’t safe. You don’t want to wind up as another princess statistic. Just say NO to Prince Charming when he hacks through the hedge after a hundred years.

Regulation Princess Gear

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PROLOGUE

Mid-April 2010, Paris

In the gray spring rain, he stood in the Place d’Alma staring down at the tunnel where she had vanished from his life on the last night of August 1997. He came here whenever he was in Paris. He counted the pillars until he reached number thirteen, the one that had taken her life. Tears formed behind his eyes, as they always did in this place. But he refused to let them overflow. Instead, he took a long breath of fresh rain mixed with the exhaust of cars speeding through the tunnel.

When the big black Mercedes had entered its skid that horrible night, his last living link to Deborah had been taken from him. Diana and Deborah, West Heath girls, friends forever. Deborah had been dead since 1994, but he had lost her long before she had become his wife just two years after Diana had married the Prince of Wales in 1981. How many nights had he spent talking to Diana about his marriage, about her marriage, about his guilt over Deborah, and about the impossibility of being in love? Too many to count. He ached to tell her now how empty his life had become without either of them.

He stared down the long, gray tunnel, wondering as always, what she had felt as she had slipped away from everyone who loved her. Had she struggled against it, as Deborah had? Or had her torn and broken heart quietly accepted its fate? No, he doubted that. She’d have fought to stay with her boys. Diana hadn’t gone into death quietly. That January, she’d had a warning of what was coming. She’d recorded a video tape naming her assassins and had given it to someone in America for safekeeping. But she would never tell him who it was. Too dangerous, she always insisted. If you had it, they’d come after you, too. Leave it alone, Nicholas. The tape is safer out of England.

His phone abruptly interrupted with a text message from his assistant. He was late for a meeting of the Burnham Trust at the Trust’s Paris headquarters, and everyone was waiting. Well, they could wait. All day and all night if he wanted. He was the Eighteenth Duke of Burnham and the second richest man in England after the Duke of Westminster, and he’d be late if he decided to be. He hadn’t wanted to be a duke, but having been forced into the job, he was going to enjoy every possible perk.

As soon as the news of Diana’s death had reached him, he’d vowed to find her tape and make it public. No luck for the last thirteen years, but his latest operative had just come up with a stellar lead at last. It was so stellar that not only was he pretty sure he was going to find the tape, he was also going to have the opportunity to unload the decaying family seat in Kent and exact his well-deserved revenge upon his father, the Seventeenth Duke.

Hever Castle as the Model for fictional Burnham Abbey

Tunnel, Place d”Alma, Paris

Diana’s Funeral

West Heath School for Girls

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In the end, I drifted up the road from Richmond to another, smaller firm in Washington, D.C. where my creative bent found a home. Not long after I arrived at New Firm, the Most Important Partner came into my office one day to congratulate me on a memo I had written for him that the Florida Legislature had then adopted at a statute for the benefit of one of the firm’s clients. He was a very happy Most Important Partner. The client was a Very Happy Important Big Bucks Client. And the firm sure could bill for that one! Redeemed at last.

But finding a home as a lawyer wasn’t as fulfilling as I had thought it would be. It was all still paper and stale conference rooms and working trips on air planes. And business suits, starched shirts, and floppy bows. So I struck out for California (on an airplane, not in a covered wagon) and motherhood.

By 1991, I had three children, ages five, three, and newborn. I had hired a college girl as afternoon help three days a week because I just could not keep up with the demands of the mother job, which was a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week affair. I had no family to give me a break. Babysitters didn’t want three kids or a newborn. And the kids’ dad had parked us in a ritzy part of town where moms had Hispanic nannies. (And went back to Work. To avoid the tough job of Mother, I was convinced.) So no one needed a Mothers’ Day Out Program. (Except me, apparently.)

Mothering, I soon discovered, was an endlessly creative job. My artistic self smocked tiny dresses for my daughter, rompers for the boys. I marched clowns and balloons, cupcakes, and teddy bears across their tummies. I looped ribbon into “frou frous” and sewed them onto my daughter’s dresses and hats. I made tiny linen and velvet suits and vests for the boys. I made doll wardrobes and Halloween costumes. (Think my daughter as Pooh and my first son as Piglet when I was pregnant with Number Three.) I made matching velveteen mother-daughter-son outfits for Christmas. And I used a gallon milk jug and fake fur to create a dead wringer for a Coldstream Guards hat. (For my daughter, not the two boys.)

Of course, this activity was not a California Mother Thing at all. California Mothers (the ones without nannies) wore yoga pants and stuffed their children into knit rompers from Mervyns and Gymboree. My activities were so unusual that I had to smuggle a “pleater,” the device consisting of rows of tiny needles that prepares fabric for smocking, back from Tennessee in my suitcase. I ordered smocking patterns and laces and tiny French hand sewing needles from Georgia and Florida and Virginia and Texas.

And naturally I didn’t send my California children to school in these artworks that only a Southern Mother could love. No, as soon as my daughter could pull the OshKoshs off the hangers and put them on, one leg at a time, the dresses hung in the closet quietly waiting for Sunday, like the Good Girls they were.

But, of course, Sunday came. And again, I behaved as a Southern Mother would. CHURCH. Being Episcopalian, we had no duty (Thank, God) to proselytize the California Mothers and their offspring. I could quietly dress my little ones in their smocked and French handsewn best and shuffle us all off to Sunday School (which, true to Southern Mother Form I taught) and CHURCH. (Where I provided stickers and crayons and paper and tiny coloring books to keep the small troops quiet through the boring (to them and sometimes to me, true confessions) service. One interesting Sunday, my small daughter pointed out we were almost the only people there under fifty. Everyone else was at BRUNCH in their yoga pants and knit rompers, California Style.

But I was a Southern Mother. I didn’t know any better.

Being creative as a mother wasn’t just about their clothes. No, it was far deeper and more fun and more substantive than that. Southerners love stories and are born storytellers. I told stories about the South and about their grandfather the FBI agent and their great-great-grandfather the Civil War solider (for the Union!). I read and read and read and read. We loved Thomas the Tank Engine (we called him “Thomas Tanken”), Madeline, Good Night Moon, the Runaway Bunny, Winnie the Pooh, any alphabet book ever written, and all forms of Nursery Rhymes. We watched Sesame Street, talked about “Bee Bo,” “Oscar the Grouch,” “Cookie Monster” and “Count One Count.” (My daughter’s name for him which I thought much better than the original.)

We went to Disney moves, although my daughter wisely decided she did not want to be a Disney princess like her California counterparts, who would ditch their knit rompers for princess gowns, tiaras, and scepters to wear to the park. My daughter, on the other hand, put on her Coldstream Guards costume for outings and marched beside her little brothers’ stroller.

We ate fish sticks and tater tots for supper with plenty of ketchup. We had pillow fights and said prayers at bedtime. (Always the Lord’s Prayer because Now I Lay Me had terrified me as a child because it talked about dying.) We waded in the Pacific on days that never seemed to end because of the stifling heat. (The kids’ dad, who worked in air conditioned comfort, said we didn’t need to be cool.) And we promised every time that we wouldn’t go in the water in our clothes. But we always did. In short, the four of us laughed and created and played and had fun, Southern Mother style, in the foreign country of California. We made few friends, although we tried. But we had each other.

Somewhat skimpy ribbon frou frou on dress

Bee Bo!

Thomas Tanken!

A Smocked dress

Her costume looked like this!

 

A pleater.

 

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