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BEGUINE

CHAPTER SEVEN

December, 2007

The band finished at midnight. Standing by the bar, one final glass of champagne in hand, she watched the musicians pack up. Stan kept his back to her and flirted with the singers as he put away his trumpet and his flugel horn. He knew she was watching him, and he was deliberately ignoring her. She’d learned that routine of his through all those nights at Jazz By the Bay. He used it to test his power over people.

And that was her cue to get the hell out of there. When Carrie died, Stan’s power died, too. The Honorable Karen M. Morgan could care less whether Stan Benedict spoke to her. Karen turned and hurried toward the lobby where she knew Howard was waiting, probably irritated that she had lingered after the music stopped.

“Where have you been?” Irritated. She’d been right.

“Oh, I was just finishing my champagne.”

“You haven’t had too much to drive, I hope. I’m tired. I wasn’t planning on driving home.”

“No problem.” And Karen told the truth. Too much to drink would have brought all her raw emotions to the surface for Warrick, Thompson to see. And emotion was the last thing Warrick, Thompson wanted to see. Karen led the way to the awning where the valet was delivering car after car to waiting couples.

“Damn,” Howard snarled. “I really don’t want to stand in this line. I’ll go get it.”

“Fine.” Typically aggressive Howard, she thought as his back vanished into the dark parking lot. He never let grass grow under his feet, and he always propelled himself to the head of the line whenever humanly possible.

She felt light pressure on her bare back behind her left shoulder. She hadn’t put her evening coat on because Howard had been in a hurry to get outside. For a moment, she thought someone had deliberately touched her, but as the throng of car-seekers continued to mill around her, she decided she had been wrong.

But the touch came again, this time more insistent than before. Karen turned and found herself looking straight into Stan’s eyes. He was only a foot away, pressed close by the crush of bodies. How very like him, she thought, to let her think that he wasn’t going to speak to her.

“I called you a couple of weeks ago.”

Karen wet her lips nervously. “You asked for Carrie. I’m not Carrie anymore.” Her voice broke as emotion threatened to overwhelm her.

Stan nodded. “I guessed that was what you meant. And I guessed that you didn’t want to talk to me. I understand.”

Haven’t I wanted to talk to you every minute for twelve years Karen wanted to shriek. Yet don’t I also know that any peace I’ve won will be lost if I do. But she couldn’t shriek because shrieking would bring men with straightjackets.

Instead she summoned her professional tone. “You’re looking well.” But he wasn’t. Up close, the lines around his mouth and eyes were deeply etched. His life, since the last time she had seen him, had not been easy.

“As are you.”

A car horn sounded sharply, and Karen knew it was Howard even before she turned to find him standing by the BMW, gesturing impatiently.

Stan’s eyes followed hers. “Your date?”

“No,” Karen gave him a tight little smile. “My husband, Howard.”

“Ah.” She thought she saw a faint trace of disappointment in his eyes. But later, she would tell herself it had only been her imagination.

“I’d better go.” Yet just like all those nights after the shows at Jazz By the Bay, she didn’t want to. He was still wearing his red sequined jacket and sweating from his exertions on stage. His familiar scent mesmerized her.

 The car horn sounded again, and the rate of Howard’s waving increased. “Nice to see you,” she said and, with an effort as great as any she had ever made in her life, turned her back on him and started toward Howard.

Behind her, she heard Stan say, “Nice to see you, too, Carrie Moon.”

* * *

“Who was that?” Howard growled when she reached the car. He threw her the keys and got in on the passenger’s side.

“Oh, someone I knew years ago.”

“One of the musicians?”

“Yeah.” Karen swept the car through the parking lot and gunned it onto Orange Avenue. She made a U-turn and headed for the Coronado Bridge.

“Someone you knew at Julliard? Gee, that was a long time ago.”

Karen didn’t bother to remind him she had never actually attended Julliard. She had told Howard as little as possible about her past because it meant nothing to him.

They drove in silence for a while, the car’s well-tuned purr the only sound.

“Nice party,” she finally said as she moved onto the 163-North ramp.

“Yeah, ok. I thought last year’s at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club was better. Food wasn’t great tonight. By the way, I’ve booked an early flight to Philly in the morning. We’re in the most crucial phase of the trial starting Monday.”

Karen wasn’t the least surprised that he had been in San Diego less than twenty-four hours.

“How is it going?” She honestly didn’t care, but she was supposed to ask.

“I’ve managed to shred the testimony of all their experts. But the big gun’s coming on Monday. That’s why I need to get back and prepare.”

“Sure.” Karen swung the car expertly onto their exit at Pomerado Road.

“What time are you leaving?”

“The limo is coming at seven. Don’t get up, though. No need.”

So true, Karen thought. No need for a wife who has not seen her husband for two weeks to say goodbye. Or even to ask him to stay longer than twenty-four hours.

“Oh, by the way, I thought we could go to New York for Christmas. Stay at the Plaza and see some shows. I doubt the trial will be over by then. But it would be a nice break for both of us. I had my secretary book a flight for you. How about it?”

I would just love another Christmas in a big, impersonal hotel, eating Christmas dinner with strangers in a five-star dining room, Karen thought. Aloud she said, “Terrific. I’ll look forward to it.”

* * *

Stan watched her car until it turned out of the parking lot, and the tail lights vanished into the night. He fought back the lump in his throat. What had he expected? Not all that cool, remote detachment. She had always been so warm and open and wanting with him. From the first moment he’d seen her, alone in the second row at Harry’s place, starring up at him onstage, he had known she was in love with him.

She was still gorgeous. Deep-green eyes that hypnotized him. Lithe, lean body. She could have been a dancer. He missed her long hair, but it was still that lush dark red that caught the light with golden fire. And her mouth, those full lips that opened immediately and willingly when he kissed her. Always wanting him.

Suddenly a long, white arm, heavy with Chanel, wrapped across his neck and a woman’s lips brushed against his ear. “Come back inside, baby. One more drink with Cat? Pl-l-lease?”

He pulled away. The twenty-four-year old singer eyed him with pouty disappointment. He hated himself. Terri was waiting at home. But he knew he had been coming on to Cat all night. Not because he liked her plastic, Barbie doll body, but because he’d hoped to arouse Carrie’s jealousy. Yet she’d been as cold as stone.

“Let go of it, ” he told himself. “You’ve lost her, and you deserved to lose her. Here you are dying to have her, yet still treating her badly after all these years.”

She was right to get married again and forget him, even if her husband looked like the biggest prick on earth. Carrie’s not happy, he thought, as he let Cat lead him back to the bar. And neither are you, he admitted to himself.

When he got home, Terri would read him the riot act because she’d guess that he’d been with Cat. She was twenty-four, too. And a singer. And furious that she hadn’t been called for this gig. Their two-year-old affair was running out of gas. Stan wished she would just leave and get it over with.

Cat pulled him into a booth in the bar and wrapped her legs around him under the table. It was clear what she wanted. Maybe he’d just go home with her, and make Terri so mad she’d finally leave. All of them left him eventually. All of them except Carrie. She had promised to stay, and she had stayed. Until that last day.

They ordered drinks, and while they waited, Cat pulled his head down into a long, sloppy kiss. “We can get a room upstairs,” she whispered when she finished. But he shook his head; he wasn’t interested. The only thing he wanted at that moment was for Carrie Moon to love him again.

The Hotel Del Coronado

The Hotel Del Coronado

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