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This has not been the week that I thought it would be.  First, I thought that my new puppy, Summer Moon, would stop harassing her much older brother, Rhythm, after I followed Caesar Milan’s sage guidelines for introducing a new puppy to an older dog.  Wrong.  Summer has yet to learn that (1) Rhythm is Head Dog and (2) she’s a Golden Retriever Puppy, not a baby Dragon, (3) and Caesar is supposedly RIGHT in all things DOG.  And just to prove her contempt for TRAINING, she swiped a burrito off the kitchen counter tonight and ate half of it before being discovered.  Sigh!

Second, I was unwittingly drawn into a conflict with the company that services my lap pool.  About two weeks ago, it began to bubble like a cauldron.  Getting into the spirit of Halloween, I thought.  But since a pool is not a cauldron, I called the pool service to ask them to come take a look.  That request degenerated into a demand that I (1) tell them what is wrong with the pool and (2) (well, since I didn’t know what was wrong) take pictures of the bubbles.  I told them I would be thrilled to pay them $75 to come diagnose it since (1) they are supposed to know what’s wrong, and (2) I was working on a brief for the California Supreme Court and I didn’t have time to take pictures of bubbles.  Eventually, the pool tech appeared, mumbled something about the auto-flow, and promised to have yet another tech who actually fixes things come to make the repair.  But a week went by, and no fixer pool tech ever appeared.  I thought of calling the office, but after my last conversation with the receptionist, I figured I’d just wait for the saner pool tech to reappear and summon the fixer pool tech.

But when the saner pool tech did reappear, I learned that psycho-receptionist was working to have him fired.  Apparently, that’s why she never sent the fixer pool tech.  She wanted to be able to say that the sane one had dropped the ball.  Which he did not do.  In the end, I had to call the owner of the company and tell him I wouldn’t be using his pool service anymore.  The saner tech had done a good job, but the psycho in the office was not a force I wanted to go on reckoning with.  I didn’t want my pool caught in whatever vendetta she had against the saner pool tech.  The owner promised free repair and pool service for a month, but I didn’t want to deal with any more unprofessional behavior from his front office.  I said, thanks, but no thanks, and hired a new pool service.

I felt a little sorry for the owner. He has just bought the business, and every customer is important to him. But apparently he didn’t realize that he took over a front office that doesn’t share his goals.

The lesson for me is that any business is built one customer at a time. That’s why I’m grateful for every new reader who finds one of my legal thrillers and decides to give it a try.

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I was sitting at the vet’s office this morning, waiting for Summer Moon’s appointment for her second puppy shot.  She’s been home since September 11, and Rhythm and I have been adjusting to being a two-retriever household again.

The vet’s office has glass doors on all the exam rooms; and across the waiting room, I could see a woman bending over a dog, lying on the exam table.  She was obviously waiting for the vet to come in.  But more than that, the angle of her body and the way she held her dog, told me that she was pouring out all the love and comfort she had on a seriously ill pet. My heart ached.  That was me, back in May, holding Melody, my twelve-year-old Golden Retriever, and telling the Universe not to take her.  Please, please, please.  Not my Melody.  Not now. Not yet.  Not ever.  Please.

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Melody

Well, I lost that round.  Obviously.  And, as I sat watching the woman on the other side of the glass and sending her all my love and prayers, I also thanked the Universe for starting me on another journey with a new, beloved pet.

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Summer Moon

But then it hit me.  Hard, and then harder.   Love is still who we are, really.  Fundamentally.  At our core.  We love each other.  We love our pets. We love the small moments that make life wonderful and magical.  A sunny day.  The first hint of autumn.  A vermillion leaf on the sidewalk.  A rainy day and a cup of hot tea with honey.   The smile of a husband or a wife or a child.  We love on in the face of loss.  We love unconditionally.  We are champions at love.

As I sat in the vet’s waiting room, I realized that I was looking at love through the glass door where the woman stood over the table, holding her dog.  There are terrible people in the world who do terrible things.  We’ve seen that yet again this week.  But the black souls among us cannot change the true meaning of US, which is love.

I didn’t see the lady and her dog when we came out of the exam room after Summer’s checkup. But I hope the vet sent her home with good news. I was grateful for the moment when I’d seen her behind the glass and realized that love is truly the driving force inside us.   Love, I told myself as I left with the exuberant new life the Universe has entrusted to me.  Love.  Focus, focus, focus.

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Dark Moon - FINAL - 1600x2400

Preorder for release on March 9 at http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Legal-Thriller-Deborah-Hawkins-ebook/dp/B01BTR8Q44/

CHAPTER ONE

First Weekend of August 2013, Friday Night, La Jolla

She was sitting at the bar, staring at the full moon over the glass-smooth, night-black Pacific. Her back was toward him, but Jim Mitchell could see her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Her dark hair was very short like a child’s pixie cut, and she was all eyes. They were the saddest brown eyes he had ever seen as they gazed through the window at the blank ocean.

Judging by her long, elegant legs and graceful posture, he guessed she was a model or a dancer. But no, he told himself. Models and dancers don’t hang out at La Jolla’s exclusive Trend Bar in conservative black couture suits and impossibly expensive white silk blouses. She was obviously a business woman. A retired model, he decided, who now ran her own modeling agency. He was glad he’d worn his business casual tan chinos and thrown his navy sport coat over his white oxford shirt. She didn’t look as if sloppy appealed to her.

She was lost in thought, and she didn’t turn when he slid onto the seat beside her. He wondered what such a beautiful woman was doing alone on a bar stool at nine p.m. on a Friday night, and he wondered how many of the losers several stools away had tried to gain the place he now occupied. And he wondered how long she would let him hold it.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Help yourself.” Her eyes riveted on his, still sad but now guarded. He noticed a long scar snaking across her left cheek. He guessed it must have ended her career in front of the camera. She watched him glance down at her left hand.

“If I were married, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Me, either.” The bartender shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for his order. “Martini, two olives. And may I get something for you? Your glass is just about empty.”

“Another one of my usual.”

Satisfied, the bartender scurried away to earn his tip.

“If he knows your usual, you must come here often.”

“Not an original pickup line. Besides, you had me at ‘mind if I sit down.’ My office is just down the street. I like to come by on Friday night to wind down.”

“But happy hour is long over.”

“I don’t do happy hour. Too crowded.”

“Me, either.”

“Is your office just down the street, too?”

“No. I work out of my home in Pacific Beach.”

“Then why aren’t you in a bar in Pacific Beach?”

“Too loud. Too noisy. And I’m too old.”

He saw the first glint of amusement in her dark eyes. “You don’t look too old.”

“I’m forty-two. That’s too old for twenty-something coeds.”

She laughed, a deep honest laugh that he liked. “I know plenty of men your age who wouldn’t agree with that.”

“They have their preferences. I have mine. If I feel like a drink on Friday night, I drive up here. What about you? You could be down in PB with the party crowd.”

Her eyes became serious, but her tone remained light. “Too old, too.”

The bartender appeared with their drinks, and he noticed her “usual” was red wine.

“To Friday night! I’m Jim Mitchell, by the way.” He held up his glass.

“Sarah Knight.” And she lightly touched his glass with hers.

Afterward he said, “I’m not believing the ‘too old’ stuff about you.”

“Thanks, but it’s true. I’m four years ahead of you.”

“You look ten years behind me.”

She smiled. “I’ve finally reached the point where that’s an advantage.When I first started out as an attorney, no one took me seriously.”

“You’re an attorney?”

“Don’t sound so surprised. Lots of women are these days.”

“No, no. I didn’t mean that. I took you for a former model, now head of her own agency.”

Sarah threw back her head and laughed. “Now that’s a first. Thank you, I think. Ever heard of Craig, Lewis, and Weller?”

“Sure. They’re big time rivals of my old man’s stomping grounds, Cravath, Swain, and Moore.”

“Well, I went with Craig, Lewis out of law school– ”

“Which was Harvard, I bet.”

“Wrong, Yale. And I became a partner in their white-collar crime section eleven years ago.”

“A woman who looks like a model and who does white-collar crime. This has got to be a movie. I would never have guessed.”

She smiled. “I think looking like a kid gave me an advantage in front of juries, particularly with the female jurors.”

“So what brought you to San Diego?”

“I got tired of New York winters.”

“I can relate to that.”

“If your dad was a Cravath partner, you obviously grew up in New York.”

“Well, not in the city. We had the regulation big house in the Connecticut burbs.”

“And you are Jim, Junior, and your father wanted you to follow in his footsteps.”

“Now, I think you’re psychic. James Chapman Mitchell, III. He sent me to Andover because it was his prep school, and he sent me to Brown because it was his college, but I rebelled and went Georgetown because it wasn’t Harvard, his law school.”

“And did you go to work for Cravath?”

“For one miserable year. And then I joined the FBI.”

“It’s difficult to see that as an act of rebellion.”

“As far as my father was concerned, it was.”

“Why’d you pick the FBI?”

“I wanted to put the bad guys away. I thought it would give some meaning to my life.”

“And did it?”

“Too much meaning as it turns out. I got very caught up in my work. Finding a lead in a cold case was like an addiction. But my partner, who was single, had no trouble leaving work at six o’clock to hang out with my wife, who was tired of sleeping alone.Five years ago, Gail handed me the divorce papers and put Josh’s ring on her finger instead of mine.”

“Sounds tough.” Her eyes were unreadable again.

“The toughest part is being away from my son, Cody. He’s thirteen, and I only get a few weeks with him every summer. He’s just gone back to Baltimore where his mother lives. What about you? Ex-husbands? Children?”

“No time. Remember I made partner at a Wall Street firm at thirty-five. I couldn’t date my clients, and I don’t like office romances. That left the dry cleaning delivery boy and the kid who brought Chinese takeout when I got home before midnight. And I don’t do younger men.”

“Darn. And I was just getting ready to proposition you.”

“An ex-FBI agent propositioning a criminal defense attorney? In what universe?”

“This one. I’m a private investigator now. I had to leave the Bureau after Gail married Josh. I saw and heard too much, and I couldn’t take it. I’m still in love with Gail, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I noticed.”

“I moved out here to get a fresh start. I literally closed my eyes and stuck a pin in the map. And San Diego it was. Here’s my card. I’m really good. You never know when you might need an outstanding gumshoe.”

She took the card in her long, graceful elegantly manicured fingers and studied it for a moment. She seemed to be thinking something over. Finally she said, “Actually, I do need someone.”

“I can’t believe my luck.”

“You might not think that when I tell you about the case.”

“Try me.”

“Do you know who Alexa Reed is?”

“Sure. The daughter-in-law of United States Supreme Court Justice Coleman Reed. She was arrested on June 3 for the murder of her husband, Michael, who was a partner at Warrick, Thompson, and Hayes, and a psychologist, Ronald Brigman. She and Michael were locked in a bitter custody battle for their two children. Brigman seems to have been on Michael’s side. The papers say Alexa was losing custody even though she had given up her career at Warrick, Thompson to be a stay-at-home mom. She snapped and killed Brigman and her ex.”

“I was appointed to represent Alexa today.”

“Wow! That’s going to be a tough one.”

“You have no idea. There’s a lot more, but I can’t talk about it here in public.”

“Of course not.”

“Are you in?”

“Definitely. Hey, I know a great little restaurant where we can talk. Tomorrow night at seven.”

“Ok. And where would that would be?”

“My place. Here’s the address.”

* * *

First Weekend of August 2013 – Saturday Night, Pacific Beach

Her second thoughts about Jim Mitchell began the moment she walked out of Trend, and they continued as she rang the bell at his Pacific Beach bungalow the following night. The house stood out from its beige stucco neighbors in a fresh coat of olive green paint with bright red begonias smiling from the flowerbeds. Not only did he seem strong and wise, seasoned in the ways of the world and his own man, he also appeared to have an artistic streak. She liked him; but, at the same time, she questioned her decision to hire him. This was a new experience for her. She had advanced in the competitive world of Craig, Lewis because she was smart and because she had excellent judgment. She rarely had any reason to think twice once she’d made a decision.

But Jim presented a number of challenges beginning with his dark hair, decisively dimpled chin, and firm, square-jawed good looks. He was six feet, two hundred pounds of well-honed muscle that any woman would have found attractive, and she never dated or slept with anyone she worked with. It was a rule set in stone. And even though Jim’s background meant he knew his way around the tough world of criminal defense, he had the kindest brown eyes she had ever seen. Their empathy tempted her to open up about herself in a way she would never have considered with anyone else. But never looking back was another implacable rule. Finally, his honesty about his responsibility for the loss of his marriage and his love for his former wife surprisingly tugged at her heart, an organ that was nearly impossible to touch after years spent turning herself into one of the toughest lawyers on Wall Street. So Sarah considered telling Jim Mitchell the deal was off as soon as they had settled down to dinner on his charming patio in the remnants of the soft summer evening scented with ocean breeze and night-blooming jasmine.

But she hesitated. He was not the average private detective. Even his dress that night was not average California casual. No slouchy knit shirts and faded jeans. Instead, he wore an I-mean-business blue oxford cloth shirt, sleeves rolled back to the elbows, and impeccable tan linen slacks. Everything about him broadcast confidence and professionalism. If she searched the entire West Coast for an investigator to work on behalf of Alexa Reed, she couldn’t do better than Jim. And loyalty to her client was, according to the cannons of legal ethics, her top priority.

“Where did you learn to cook like this?” She had just tasted the lamb chops in a delicate mustard cream sauce with tiny peas and braised leeks.

“You were expecting steaks from the butane grill.” His eyes teased her.

“Most definitely. You do not look like a sous chef.”

He grinned. “Thank you, I think. My mother came from old money. Her father was an investment banker and a Cravath client. She insisted on having a professional chef. I liked hanging out in the kitchens and learning about cooking. Drove my old man nuts because he was afraid I’d go to culinary school.”

“You’d have been very successful.”

“Doubtless. But in the end, I wanted to catch the bad guys more.” He smiled. “My cooking skills came in handy when I was living on a government salary and couldn’t afford five-star restaurants.”

“And now you can?”

“In theory. My father died three years ago and left me, his only child, his fortune along with my mother’s money. In trust, of course. But the monthly payments have made me financially independent. It’s unlikely I’ll ever need to touch the capital.”

“So why keep working? And on the side of the bad guys?”

“I keep working because I love doing investigations. Every one is a new story, with a new plot, and new characters. And the clients aren’t ‘bad guys.’ They’re innocent people I’m keeping out of prison. I’m still on the side of justice. Tell me about Alexa Reed.”

Sarah sighed and traced patterns on the base of her wine glass with one finger.“In the interests of full disclosure, I should let you know I didn’t want this case.”

“How’d you get it, then?”

“When I left Craig, Lewis and set up shop out here alone, I brought a few clients with me who are based in Los Angeles. One was accused of masterminding a Ponzi scheme, two others were indicted for insider trading, and the fourth was on the hook for racketeering.”

“Isn’t defending clients under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act a speciality of yours?”

She felt herself stiffen and hoped he didn’t notice. “I’ve done a few RICO cases, that’s true.”

“But you won one of the most influential and toughest cases of all time, the Joey Menendez case.”

Sarah’s mouth went dry at the name, and she gulped a sip of wine to make her tongue work. “How’d you know about Menendez?”

“It’s famous throughout law enforcement. You persuaded a jury to acquit the head of the Menendez drug cartel of six counts of murder for hire and twenty counts of extortion. No one ever thought that would happen, including the U.S. Attorney who opposed you. What’s wrong? You look upset.”

“No. Of course not.” But she gripped the base of the wine glass to keep her hands from shaking. He was violating one of her iconoclastic rules: don’t look back. She needed to change the subject quickly. “Anyway, I didn’t want to defend Alexa Reed.”

“So then how’d you become counsel of record?”

“In a word: blackmail. Last month I settled all but one of the four cases I started with. I’ve picked up one or two new ones as I’ve gone along, but they are all out of L.A. I haven’t developed any business in San Diego. So I put my name on the list of attorneys willing to accept trial court appointments for indigent defendants. Yesterday morning, Hal Remington, who heads the appointments panel, called and insisted I come to his office at ten a.m.”

“He couldn’t offer you the case on the phone?”

“Apparently not.” Her hands had stopped shaking, and she paused to fortify herself with a sip of wine.

“So what happened?”

“I found his office in the basement of the old Justice Building on the third try. They’ve hidden it pretty well. Remington turned out to be a scruffy version of Icabod Crane, slouched behind a desk so covered in paper, I doubt he’s ever filed anything in his entire career. He told me he was appointing me on Alexa Reed’s case, and I said no.”

Jim leaned over and poured more Australian shiraz into her class as he asked,“And then?”

“And then he said if I didn’t take the case, I’d never work in this town. He’d personally guarantee it. I didn’t know whether to believe him or laugh in his face.”

“I hope you believed him.”

“What do you mean?”

“People have their own way here. Money and influence talk.”

“But surely they follow the state bar’s ethical rules just like everyone else?”

“Some do. Some don’t. Have you ever heard of Patrick Frega?”

She shook her head.

“He was a San Diego attorney. Back in 1992, he was caught by us feds bribing two very willing superior court judges. They all three got disbarred and sentenced to federal prison. What did you tell Remington after he threatened to blackball you?”

“I told him I couldn’t take the Reed case because I’m not death-qualified in California. Alexa is facing the death penalty because it was a double murder.”

“And then what?”

“Remington said my death qualification in New York was enough, and I’d better take the case. Then he leaned over his desk and said, ‘For a woman who graduated number three in her class at Yale, you’re kind of dense. You’re getting this case because you aren’t qualified, and you’ll lose it because that’s exactly what Coleman Reed wants. He wants the woman who killed his son to die by lethal injection as quickly as possible. You and twelve citizens of this city are going to oblige him. You were hand picked because you look qualified, but you aren’t.”

“He actually said that?”

“I wish I’d been wearing a wire. I asked him what made him think I’d lose; after all, I did graduate number three, and I’m a quick study.”

“And?”

“And he said, ‘Yeah, you were editor of the law review at Yale. Big f’ing deal. That means nothing in this town. I’m It when it comes to handing out defense work. You want to survive professionally? Better not win Alexa Reed’s case.’

“When I reminded him that was unethical, he laughed and said, ‘Then go tell the state bar. You’ll never prove a word out of my mouth. There’s only me and you in this room, and I’ve been appointing lawyers for twenty years. Everyone knows me, but you’re some New York hot shot who doesn’t belong here. It’s my word against yours, and mine will win. Why don’t you go back where you belong?”

“Wow. So you took the case?”

“He made me angry. I could see if I didn’t take it, she’d never get an attorney who’d give her a fair defense.”

“Who represented her at the preliminary hearing?”

“Trevor Martin. I picked up her file from his office yesterday, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I read his withdrawal motion. He claims his mother has inoperable brain cancer, but I think he just doesn’t want anything to do with Alexa Reed.”

Jim reached over to refill her glass one more time, but she put her hand over it. “No, thanks. I’m driving.”

“You can stay here. I have a guest room.”

She looked through the open french doors into his living room, full of an eclectic mix of old and new furniture, antiques, and Ikea pieces. Maple and mahogany and a few painted chairs and chests here and there. Cozy and comfortable. The kind of room you’d be tempted to put your feet up in and snuggle into a soft throw on the sofa. Jim was probably like that, too. Safe and comforting. She reminded herself she didn’t get close to men like Jim. She had one-night stands with married men, and men she’d never see again. But men who were capable of relationships were dangerous to the self-contained, tightly controlled world she had created.

Her dark eyes locked onto his mellow, softer ones. “No, thanks. And let’s get one rule very clear: I never sleep with anyone I work with.”

“I wasn’t inviting you into my room. There really are two.” He grinned, and the tension broke. “Now, tell me what we’re up against.”

“June 2 was a Sunday night. Meggie, who’s six and Sam, who’s five, were with their father at his house on Mount Soledad in La Jolla. Alexa was alone in her rented place in Pacific Beach. Ronald Brigman, who lived about ten minutes away from Michael, had a surveillance camera recording traffic at his front door. The video footage shows Alexa arriving alone at nine p.m. but doesn’t show her leaving. Brigman was killed around eleven, and Michael was shot about twenty minutes later. Around eleven- fifteen, Meggie’s cell phone called Alexa’s. Alexa’s phone pinged off a cell tower that shows she was close to Ronald Brigman’s when Meggie called. Within ten minutes of the call from Meggie’s phone, Alexa’s cell was dialing 911 from Michael’s house. She told 911 she’d arrived to check on the children and had found him dead. The Glock .9 millimeter used in both murders was registered to her and was found next to Michael’s body. There were two DNA profiles on the gun: hers and Michael’s. Ballistics show five bullets in Brigman, and four in Michael, all from that Glock. That’s all I know so far. I’m meeting with Martin at ten on Monday morning.”

“Do you want me there?”

“No. I don’t expect him to be a witness in her case, and he’ll open up to me better if we’re alone. But I’m going to the jail to see Alexa on Tuesday afternoon. I’ll need you then. Two o’clock”

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Dark Moon - FINAL - 1600x2400

 

Now available for Pre-Order on Amazon with the introductory price of $0.99 – Dark Moon, A Legal Thriller. – Release Date, March 9, 

Legendary criminal defense attorney, Sarah Knight, has spent all of her forty-six years hiding the unspeakable secrets of her past. Now, newly arrived in San Diego from New York, she is appointed to represent Alexa Reed, a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk and the daughter-in-law of Supreme Court Justice Coleman Reed. Alexa is arrested for the murders of her ex-husband, attorney Michael Reed, and La Jolla psychologist, Ronald Brigman. During bitter divorce proceedings, Brigman has declared Alexa’s reports of Michael’s domestic abuse false, has diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder, and has given Meggie and Sam, ages six and five, to their abusive father. Alexa’s gun was the murder weapon and her cell phone places her at the scene of the murders. Sarah is warned that doing anything more than the minimum for her client will be professional suicide. Coleman Reed wants Alexa sentenced to death without delay. But Sarah and her investigator, ex-FBI agent Jim Mitchell, refuse to be intimidated even after attempts on Sarah and Alexa’s lives. They discover Michael Reed’s taste for high-priced call girls and his entanglement in an extensive pattern of criminal financial dealings. But when Coleman manipulates the trial judge to exclude Sarah’s star witness on the eve of trial, she must risk discovery of her own terrible secret to save Alexa’s life.

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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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Even before the name of the new little princess was announced, I, like many others, wondered if she would be called after her grandmother, Diana. Diana was thrust onto the world stage at age nineteen, a bit gawky, a bit naive, but utterly charming and sincere. By age twenty-three, she was the mother of two children, one a future king. By the time she died in Paris, at age thirty-six, she had grown into a beautiful, compassionate woman, anxious to be a healing and unifying influence in the world.

After Diana died, I found I missed her although we had never met. While she was living through her disastrous marriage and divorce in the glare of world wide publicity, I was living through my own marriage and divorce nightmare on a smaller, but nevertheless, public scale. On the days when I had to wait to check-out at the grocery story, I used to read the tabloid headlines written by Prince Charles’ supporters, accusing Diana of mental illness and instability; and I would comfort myself with the thought that at least no reporters were sitting in the courtroom to hear the man I’d married say exactly the same things about me. Although it was a public courtroom and anyone who walked in could have heard how, by having three children whom I loved more than life itself, I had maliciously morphed from an academic over-achiever who graduated Number Two in her law school class into a dangerous, crazy, lying freeloader. I felt a bond with Diana, although I was unenviably poor and she was enviably rich, because I realized that access to all the money in the world could never make up for the pain of having the father of your children heap lies and disrespect on you in a public forum.

When Diana died, I felt as if I’d lost a friend. And as the years passed and Charles and his publicists pushed Diana and her memory farther and farther into the background to replace her with Camilla Parker-Bowles, I wondered how many people remained who, like me, thought of Diana, not as a clothes horse or as a Royal Highness, but as a beautiful, loving woman, unfairly used and demeaned by a powerful and wealthy family.

My first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess has many themes, but one of the most prominent is the power of an aristocratic family to control its members. Nicholas Carey, the heredity duke, who is the hero of Dance for A Dead Princess, was forced to return from America when he was only sixteen to assume the position of heir to the dukedom, although given his choice he would have gladly remained in New York and studied to become a concert pianist like his mother. Diana was also affected by the power of her aristocratic family at a very young age when her father wrested custody of his children from their mother, leaving Diana and young Charles to be raised by nannies at Althorpe while grieving their mother’s loss.

Another central theme is the toll an unhappy marriage takes on the individuals involved. Having been unhappy in childhood, marriage for both Nicholas and Diana represented the chance to form happy unions of their own. For them, marriage was a chance to love and be loved rather than to be used as pawns on their aristocratic families’ chessboards. But Nicholas and Diana’s hopes were dashed yet again. Nicholas’ wife, Deborah and Diana’s husband, Charles, turned out to be powerfully in love, but not with their spouses. For Nicholas and for Diana, having lost the chance at a happy childhood, the loss of the opportunity to have a happy marriage was a second and even more powerful blow.

Some readers interpret Diana’s presence in Dance for a Dead Princess as an attempt to make believers out of the conspiracy theory of Diana’s death or as a crass attempt to sell books because her name is in them. But neither was ever my intention. I brought Diana into the book to keep her memory alive and to remind the world of the tragedy of her life. She was a beautiful, loving woman who was denied the thing she most longed for: the chance to create a loving family for herself, her husband, and her children. At one point in Dance, Nicholas observes how unfair it was for Diana to be called unstable and mentally ill all because she wanted what every wife wants, to have her husband to herself.

The haunting tragedy of Diana’s life was what I hoped every reader would take away from Dance. In the Prologue, the reader encounters Nicholas in Paris where he is grieving the loss of his beloved friend and the mutual support and companionship they offered each other in their isolated, unhappy lives. Nicholas stares down at the Place d’Alama Tunnel, thirteen years after that fateful August night, deeply longing for one more chance to talk to Diana. “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?” And he wonders how his friend felt as death approached. “ . . . What had she felt as she slipped away from everyone who loved her? Had she struggled against it, as Deborah had? Or had her torn and broken heart quietly accepted her fate? No, he doubted that. She’d have fought to stay with her boys.”

Whether or not there was a historical conspiracy to assassinate Diana is not the point of Dance. The role of the conspiracy in the plot is to give Nicholas an opportunity to express his unbearable grief over the loss of both Diana and his wife. Aching from all that loss in his life, Nicholas vows to expose Diana’s assassins, not as an act of vengeance, but as means of expressing his soul crushing sadness. And ironically, through this one, last powerful expression of grief, Nicholas meets Taylor Collins, the one woman who has the power to give him what he has always longed for, but has never had.

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