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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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PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER FOUR

December, 2007

He was playing it now. The singers moved away from center stage to leave room for Stan to solo. He made the longing melody so rich and deep that almost everyone stopped dancing to listen. Four hundred people hanging on every note.

He could still do that to an audience, Karen mused, as she watched him soar through the haunting melody, eyes closed, deep in the world he occupied when he played.

Twelve years had changed his face and thickened his abs but had not touched the way he mesmerized with his horn.

* * *

October, 1994

And that is how she had left Jazz By the Bay that first night, mesmerized and longing to return. When Alan showed up at her office around ten next morning, she was quick to give him an inconclusive report that would require her to go back more than once.

“Too soon to tell what kind of profit he’s making.” But with less than half of twenty tables filled at mid-week, Karen already knew Harry Rich was having a tough time being in the black each month.

“So how long before you’ll know?”

“Give me at least a couple of weekends. If he’s packed on Friday and Saturday nights, he’s in the clear.” Pray God that was true, Karen thought.

Alan shrugged. “Ok. Sounds reasonable. Is Hartfield on schedule?”

“Of course. Secretarial got the final draft done last night, and I’m going to messenger it to the printer’s at noon. It’ll be out the door to the SEC in the morning.”

“Good. So Waterfront Development didn’t slow you down too much?” He grinned, and Karen knew he was playing his I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong game. He wanted her to admit she could maintain her own practice and his, too.

“Not too much, but I’ve still got a lot to catch up on.”

“But you’ve got time for lunch today, right? David and I wanted to thank you for working on the Waterfront deal.”

Karen’s heart sank. Whereas other associates would have killed to go on lunches with the name partners, she would much rather have a sandwich at her desk. She dearly hated sitting at Rainwater’s listening to Alan Warrick and David Thompson tell endless war stories about the early days of their firm while her pasted smile made the corners of her mouth hurt. And it would be particularly hard to listen to them today when her mind was completely occupied with replaying Stan’s performance of “I Can’t Get Started” and wondering if he would repeat it for her that night.

But as of March she was up for partner. And even if she hadn’t been, she could not have refused the joint request from the firm’s letterhead. Still, the thought of being hours behind when she got back to her desk made her heart sink. What if she couldn’t make it to Jazz By the Bay that night?

* * *

But she did arrive by ten o’clock. She held her breath as she paid the attendant at the door and stepped into the club’s darkness. Stan was on stage with the brunette singer from the previous night. The poster out front identified her as Kristin Rich, wife of Harry, the owner. Harry himself, a fortyish African-American, whom Karen recognized from the same poster, was at the piano. A man about Harry’s age was on drum set. Stan was in the process of adjusting the horn in preparation to play.
Karen slipped into her table from the previous night, relieved that over half of the tables were full. She felt a hard stab of jealousy when she realized the Table of Three had grown to Four, and the gowns were even lower cut than the night before. She wished she had changed out of her work suit before coming over.

And then Karen forgot everything except the warm, deep golden sound of Stan’s trumpet, playing “My Funny Valentine.” He went through song after song, some alone, some with the singer. Every melody tore open the sealed places in Karen’s heart and let in a flood of overwhelming feelings she couldn’t name.

When Stan played, he often closed his eyes, concentrating on every detail of his performance. But at other times he kept them open and let them dart over the audience, making contact with some listeners and ignoring others. He was very practiced at gaining the attention of those he chose to engage and appeared to realize the disappointment he inflicted on the ones he ignored. That night, she noted with satisfaction, he made little eye contact with the Table of Four.

Not long after she sat down, he broke into “Watermelon Man” with Harry on the piano. As he hit every impossibly high note, he looked right at Karen. He seemed to be saying, this is for you. Her hands began to tremble with excitement. She could hardly wait for a chance to talk to him.

He came into the audience at the break, scotch in hand, as he had the night before. He concentrated on the couples tables first, and Karen grew impatient for him to come to her. But she was happy that he studiously avoided the Table of Four.

Finally, he was standing next to her, eyes twinkling.

“You came back.”

“I did.” She smiled, trying to keep her voice steady.

“Then I must have done something right last night.”

“Except for getting my name wrong.”

“But I got it right. Kay, the banker!” His face lit up as he teased her.

“No, Karen Moon, the lawyer.”

He jingled the ice cubes in his empty glass as he considered what she had said. She felt as if he were trying to make up his mind about her. Did her profession mean he would immediately lose interest? As she waited uneasily for his response, the gold chain jangling against his watch reminded her how much Alan Warrick hated men in jewelry.

“What kind of lawyer?” He finally asked.

“Securities and Exchange Commission. Financial filings. I worked for a firm in New York for five years right out of law school where I learned the basics. Then five years ago, Alan Warrick hired me here.”

“Form 10-K’s and 10-Q’s?” he suggested.

“Right. How did you know?”

“Oh, I follow the stock market. I have a few investments. Any hot tips?”

“Afraid not.”

He grinned. “Well, I’d better get back on stage.”

The lights went down, and he began the first bars of “I Can’t Get Started,” making eye contact with her as he set his embouchure and sounded the first note. This time he did the vocals, too; and she sat entranced as he played – just pure, golden horn.

The music ended too quickly at a quarter past midnight. The club emptied rapidly, except for the Table of Four who rushed to the stage while Stan packed up his instrument.

Regretfully, Karen headed for the exit, knowing she had to be at work early. She was already counting the minutes until she could return next evening.

But just as she reached the door that led to the lobby, Stan called out, “Wait, Karen! Can I walk you to your car?”

She turned, her heart slamming in her chest. The Table of Four studied her with envy.

“Sorry, ladies,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure Kay the banker makes it home safely.”

Each one gave Stan a peck on the cheek and headed for the exit. They all looked Karen up and down as if to say, we have no idea what he sees in you.

Stan picked up his trumpet bag and hurried toward her. “Where’s your car?”

“In the lot outside.” She wished she had parked farther away.

“So how was it tonight?” he asked as they stepped into the crisp October air.

“Fantastic. Are you this good every night of the week?”

He smiled. “I try to be. Hey, I guessed this was yours.” He took the key from her and opened the door.

“Why did you think this one was mine?”

“Conservative but not quite. Like you.”

“I’m not conservative,” she protested.

“Oh, no? You work in the top law firm in town and you aren’t conservative?”

“If I were, would I be standing here with you at one a.m.?”

He laughed. “Probably not.”

She slipped behind the wheel and closed the door, rolling down the window quickly. “Thanks for tonight.”

“I’m glad you liked it.” He leaned on the door as she started the engine, “But here is the big question:  are you coming back tomorrow night?”

“Absolutely.”

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PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER THREE

December 2007
As the waiters rolled back the doors to reveal the dance floor, the eight-piece band broke into “Let’s Get This Party Started.” Karen would have cringed at the cliche with any other group, but she barely noticed the song. Her eyes were riveted on the man in the red sequined jacket with the trumpet, standing just behind the two, statuesque blonde singers in plunging green velvet gowns. Over the course of twelve years she had often tried to imagine his face, wondering how much he had changed. And occasionally she had seen men who somewhat resembled him and had incorporated their features into her mental picture. But she hadn’t gotten it true to life. And now she had the chance, at last, to see what he had become.

Middle age had thickened his formerly wiry five eleven, but not a great deal. His hair was still wavy and dark, but noticeably receding, leaving a broad forehead exposed. He had put on weight in his face which gave him a rounder, more open appearance than the sharper features of his youth.

But his eyes, dark and mischievous, were exactly the same. She watched them dart from curvaceous singer to curvaceous singer and felt the old familiar stab of envy as she wondered which one he was sleeping with. Her jealousy broke the dam that had held back her feelings. As she stood watching him again, after twelve years, she couldn’t stop the memories.

* * *

October, 1994

When Karen Moon graduated from Harvard Law in 1984, she went to work on Wall Street for the securities powerhouse, Jennings, Cooper, and Duran. For five years she tried to learn to love securities law; but by June of 1989, she was willing to admit, only to herself, that it was exquisitely boring. So when a head hunter called with the news that Warrick, Thompson in San Diego had an opening for a rising mid-to-senior-level associate in the securities field, Karen decided a change of venue might spark her interest in filling in Securities and Exchange Commission forms.

Alan Warrick, a former securities litigator, interviewed Karen. During their conversation, Karen realized Alan knew litigation but not the regulatory side of securities law. Her job would be to do the substantive legal work to make him look good, so the firm would attract clients. In 1989, the local San Diego corporations were going to New York for their securities needs. Alan wanted to change that.

During that same interview, Alan decided that this thin, serious, auburn-haired woman with eyes the color of a stormy green sea and whose resume said she was thirty but who looked twenty, was the one he wanted for the job. She knew her stuff, and he could tell she was meticulous in her attention to detail. And she wasn’t married, so she had nothing to keep her from concentrating on her work for him. To win her over, Alan make it clear that the firm would highly prize an attorney who oversaw public stock offerings for large corporations and who shepherded their routine filings through the Securities and Exchange Commission. An associate attorney who knew how to fill in all the blank lines with all the right financial data on SEC forms and who got all the pictures in the right places in the annual reports would become a partner and earn a huge annual income.

So for the first year at Warrick, Thompson, Karen had tackled her work with renewed vigor, if not interest. She was the lone securities expert in the firm, unlike Jennings, Cooper, where securities expertise had lined the walls and carpeted the floors. Being “The One” all the other attorneys came to with SEC questions was fun. For a while.

But financial data has no heart and soul. Ten mind-numbing years of manipulating numbers for corporations of all sizes and persuasions took their toll. By 1994, her fifth year in San Diego, she realized she was as blank and empty inside as the documents she spent her days producing.

Then one Monday morning in March 1994, on the day that the handful of associates who had dared to take a few days off for Easter returned, rested and tanned, but apprehensive that all their files had been reassigned, Alan came into her office to announce that her partnership decision would be made in September of the following year. Karen, of course, had taken no time off for the holiday.

Just keep on, keep on, he advised; and she’d be a certainty for partner in September 1995. After all, she thought, as the aura of Alan’s smugness followed his retreating back out of her office, who are they going to replace me with? Although she now had two junior associates who helped in her practice, neither of them had the expertise to handle her clients. And neither had her dedication to work. Both had made the highly unprofessional mistake of absenting themselves over the Easter weekend.

Still, from day one, when she’d sized up Alan as a litigator and not a securities specialist, she had understood he was tough and expected to be pleased. Even if she knew more about securities law, Alan and David Thompson were the name partners. Cross them, and you were out.

So on that March Monday in 1994 Karen focused on making Alan happy. This was relatively easy to do because she was already used to working long hours, generating as much revenue from clients as humanly possible – or even as inhumanly impossible. She had learned in the early days of her career an associate in a big law firm that life was like was a prisoner-death-march. If you became ill, took a vacation, or fell in love, the firm eliminated you right where you fell, brought in your replacement, and moved on.

* * *

Then one clear Wednesday night in mid-October 1994, pleasing Alan Warrick became much, much tougher to do. Around eight thirty p.m., she looked up from the Hartfield Corporation’s 10-Q and saw Alan standing in her doorway.

“Great job on Waterfront Development’s closing today.”

“Thanks.” That was a matter Karen had truly hated. As a securities specialist, she did not often oversee corporate buyouts. But because she was being groomed for partner, to prove her “versatility,” Alan had dumped the Waterfront deal on her plate.

“Anyone else would be out celebrating,” Alan observed as he plopped into one of the chairs in front of her desk.

“Another time. I have to get Hartfield into the overnight word processing pool before I leave. I’m behind on reviewing my 10-Q’s because of the Waterfront deal.”

Alan heard the irritation in her voice. “Look, Karen, I apologize for pulling you off your regular clients, but Waterfront Development is huge. They are going to be redeveloping the entire area by San Diego Bay in the next ten years. David and I wanted them to be comfortable with you. They are going to be selling a lot of securities to finance their construction. We wanted them to love you.”

“And do they?”

“Looks like it. In fact, I’ve got a special request for you to take a look at a property for them.”

“A property? Alan, this is going too far. I have nothing to do with real estate. Let them fall in love with someone from that section.”

“No. That’s not what we need.”

Karen sighed. She was tired, and the Hartfield numbers were beginning to swim in front of her eyes. She hated being unable to finish a project before going home. “So what exactly do you need?”

“We want you to check out a place at Seaport Village, Jazz By the Bay. It’s a restaurant and jazz club that was part of the properties Waterfront picked up in the deal you closed for them today. The owner, Harry Rich, is half-way through a ten-year lease. Waterfront wants him out, so it can begin construction on a new set of shops and restaurants at the Village.”

“So start eviction proceedings.”

“It’s not that simple. As far as we know, Harry’s not in breach of his lease. Pays his rent on time, all that stuff.”

“Then wait five years.”

“Too expensive. No, look, here’s the lease.” Alan held up a file folder. “It has a provision for early termination if Rich hasn’t shown a profit for six of the last twelve months.”

“Ask to see his books.”

“But first, we want to know what kind of traffic the club generates. We don’t want to piss him off if he’s making money.”

“So you want me to put down this very important 10-Q that has to go out in two days to drink wine at a jazz club tonight? And I assume the time is billable?”

“Very billable.”

“And you’re coming, too?”

“Absolutely not. My wife hasn’t seen me in weeks – since we started the Waterfront deal. Besides, you at least know something about music. I can’t stand the stuff.”

Karen stared at Alan. “You’ve never mentioned my undergraduate major in the entire five years I’ve been here. You never even asked me about it in my interview.”

“Yeah, but now you know I read your resume. Flute, music degree. Boston University. You were on your way to Julliard. Then you wised up and went to law school, instead. Good thing, or you’d be starving like Harry and his buddies at that club. Do it for me, Karen. It might even be fun. You could stand a night or two away from the office.”

“As long as it’s billable. I’m up for partner, remember?”

“I never forget. Look, jazz clubs don’t close early. You’ve got plenty of time to wrap up Hartfield, get it into the pool, and make it to Seaport Village. Besides, I bet the crowd – if there is one – shows up late.”

“But it’s Wednesday night, Alan. Who parties on Wednesday night?”

“Beats me. Go find out for both of us. See you later. Good luck.”

* * *

Mumbling under her breath, she fixed up the Hartfield numbers and took the final draft to the overnight secretarial pool, then headed for her convertible VW Rabbit in the basement parking garage. She had promised herself a small BMW as soon as the partnership decision was made. The money to pay for it was waiting in her brokerage account. But buying it too soon might look cocky to Alan and David.

Well, hearing some jazz would be more fun than heading back to her condo in Del Mar, eating Haagen Daz out of a carton for supper, and then staring at rerun movies on TV until it was time to kill her boredom with a glass of wine and sleep.

She parked and wandered through the Village’s maze of tiny white fairy lights, until she found the little club, tucked into a corner with a stellar view of the harbor. Prime real estate, she thought, as she handed her cover to the bouncer at the door. He couldn’t believe she asked for a receipt, but she fully intended to bill the $10.00 to Waterfront Development. And that was the last fully rational thought Karen Moon had for some time.

She heard him playing before she saw him. Stan Benedict’s trumpet was pure gold in the medium range, had the depths of a human voice in the low range, and cut through her soul like diamond on diamond when he soared above the staff. She grabbed the receipt from the astounded bouncer and hurried inside to see who could be making these unexpected miracles of sound on an ordinary Wednesday night in San Diego, California.

It was a small club, only about twenty tables, with most of them empty on a mid-week night. But the attention to detail lavished on the decor gave it the elegant feel of a upscale forties night-club. Every table was covered in crisp white linen and topped with a candle glowing in ruby glass, next to a spray of red and white roses. The stage was small but professionally lit. The aroma of irresistible cooking wafted from the kitchen.

Karen was so fascinated by the music she forgot her role as corporate spy. Instead of taking a table in the back, she hurried to one close enough to the stage to see every detail, but far enough away to be engulfed in his incredible sound.

He was in the middle of his first set. His dark eyes darted over the audience from time to time, and occasionally rested on her, probably because she was new. Or maybe it was her business getup. The remainder of the audience, in everything from casual to full evening dress, seemed to be regulars. There were four couples, varying in age from twenties to forties, and one table of three women, mid-twenties to early thirties, obviously well known as fans because he grinned or winked from time to time when they clapped for a particularly high note or difficult passage. Each one wore a skin tight cocktail dress revealing plenty of cleavage.

Karen couldn’t take her eyes off him. Which conservatory had taught him to play like that? He was meticulous as he settled the horn to his lips, gripping it precisely with his left hand and running the long fingers of his right expertly across the valves. He was in charge of the sound, and it was overwhelming. In one shocking instant, the notes sent her world from black and white to color. At that moment, she couldn’t have even spelled Waterfront Development Corporation.

After the first set, he came into the audience, a glass of scotch in his left hand, and exchanged a few words with the various couples, who offered song requests. Karen busied herself ordering a red zin so she wouldn’t let her eyes linger over his conversation with the three women. She heard lots of laughter; and he glanced her way once and found her watching him. Embarrassed, she took a quick sip of wine and fixed her eyes on San Diego Bay, visible through the window behind the stage.

As if he knew he had her at a disadvantage and anxious to follow up, he left the women and sauntered over to her table.

“Hi, I’m Stan. You’re new, tonight.”

“Karen.” She stuck out her hand and then hated herself as he eyed it with amusement and gave it a light shake. Too many years among lawyers, she thought and gritted her teeth. “You play – ” She was so caught up in the sincerity of her feelings she didn’t care that she sounded tongue tied. “Incredibly.”

He grinned, and her heart turned over. She didn’t want to be one of the string of conquests like the poor women at the other table, but he did something to her that she could not describe.

“Not incredibly. But thanks.”

“No, I meant it. Where did you learn to make that sound? To play so effortlessly in the octaves off the charts?”

He shrugged. “Here and there.” The laughter in his eyes deepened. To her great satisfaction, he was flirting with her. “How do you know which octave I’m playing in? Or about trumpet players. You don’t look like a musician. You look like a banker.”

All at once Karen was miserably self-conscious in her mannish blue suit and starched blouse. She blurted out, “I’m an attorney. But I studied music – once.”

“Where?” His laughing eyes were skeptical.

“Boston University.”

His face became serious, and he backed away imperceptibly. She hadn’t thought her college background would intimidate him. Surely he had studied somewhere even more prestigious, given the way he played. Why should he be threatened by someone who filled in SEC forms all day? She bit her lip and wished she could begin her conversation over with him. At that moment, the only thing she wanted in the entire world was for Stan Benedict to like her.

But he was all cool, professional reserve now. The twinkle in his eyes had been extinguished. “Thanks for coming in, Kay. Come back again.”

“Karen.”

“Karen,” he repeated absently as he turned toward the stage.

She sat at her table, filled with despair, clutching her wine glass. Obviously he would not even remember her an hour from now.

He reached the stage where a stunning, raven-haired woman in her late twenties or early thirties in a tight, dark blue clingy silk dress joined him along with a drummer and an alto sax player. Stan leaned over and kissed the woman on the cheek, and Carrie felt a sharp, unexpected stab of envy. Was she his wife? He hadn’t acted like a married man at the Table of Three.

Stan started to put the horn to his lips, going through the now familiar routine of setting his mouth carefully in position before he took his first breath. But just before he completed his preparations, he put the horn down, catching the other musicians by surprise. They all looked at him quizzically.

He gave them his twenty-watt grin, walked over to the edge of the stage, and looked straight at Karen.

Her heart began to slam in her chest, and her hands trembled. She clutched the glass to keep them still.

Stan smiled and called out, “What’s your favorite tune?”

“‘I Can’t Get Started.'” She hoped her voice had sounded calm and normal.

He stepped back to his position on stage and said to the others, “Second set, first number. ‘I Can’t Get Started.’ For Kay, the banker.”

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