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CHAPTER TWENTY

January, 1995

That night, Carrie went to the club with a light heart. She had signed off on the Harper deal. Alan was ecstatic and had forgotten the prospectus disaster of the morning.

Publically she had set February twenty-third as the date for the Harper sale; privately she had set March first for her resignation from the firm.
Stan was playing especially well that night, and Lara was nowhere in sight. They went home after the show and made love in the soft glow of the winking yellow light.

Afterward, Carrie cuddled next to him and said, “I reached a very important decision today.”

He gave her a tired, half-smile in the dark. “Did you? How about telling me in the morning. I’ve been up since five a.m.”

“I know. But something really important happened today. I need to tell you.”

He sighed. “Ok. But don’t blame me if I fall asleep in the middle.”
She knew he was tired, but she had hoped for more interest. She considered waiting until morning, but he would probably sleep in, which meant she would have to go to work and wouldn’t be alone with him again until this time tomorrow night.

She began by telling him about the numbers mixup in the prospectus, but halfway through he interrupted. “Look, I get you made a big mistake because your mind hasn’t been on your work lately. You can skip the details of who said what and why it matters. It probably happened because you aren’t getting enough rest, either. You don’t have to come down to the club every night of the week.”

A knot formed in Carrie’s stomach. First he didn’t really want to hear what she had to say. Now he was suggesting she give up the part of the day that she lived for. She tried to keep her voice calm, but she knew the rising tide of emotion inside her made her tone sharp. “That’s not what I meant! I want to be at the club as much as I can. I don’t have enough time to be with you as it is.”

Stan rolled over to face her in the dark. “So you’re complaining I don’t spend enough time with you?”

“No, oh no.” She hadn’t foreseen the discussion going so terribly wrong. “I wasn’t being critical of you.”

“Well, I hope not!” he muttered and turned his back to her.

Despair griped her like a rip tide. She tried again, “Would you just hear me out?”

He sighed and replied without changing position, “Do we really have to do this tonight? I’m tired. Whatever I’m not doing that you want me to do, I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

“I wasn’t going to ask you to do anything.”

Irritated, he rolled over and faced her again. “Are you sure about that? Weren’t you going to ask me to spend more time with you?”

Carrie was taken aback by his anger. And she hadn’t expected him to guess at least part of the purpose of her plan. “Well, I suppose in a way I was going to ask that. But the thing is, I wasn’t going to ask you to change what you’re doing.”

“Then how do I find any more time to be with you?” he demanded as if the whole idea was completely unreasonable.

“Because we’ll have more time, in general, together. I’m going to resign from the firm on March first.”

Stan sat up and turned on the bedside light. He rubbed his eyes as if everything about their conversation was a colossal trial. “I’m sorry, Carrie. I can’t deal with anything like this tonight. I’m exhausted. I’ll go sleep on the couch.”

“No! Don’t do that!” she reached out to keep him from leaving. “I won’t say anything more about it tonight.”

Placated, he switched off the light and lay down again with his back toward her. Carrie turned her own back to him and let the tears fall slowly and silently into her pillow. She had hoped he would feel the same joy in her decision that she had. Instead, he didn’t seem to care or understand what was driving her to change her life. Finally, exhausted by the day and her emotions, she fell asleep.

She woke with a start two hours later. The beside clock said three a.m. Stan’s side of the bed was empty. From the living room, she could hear the hum of the television.

Alarmed, she got up, pulled on her robe, and went to investigate. He was sitting in his usual corner of the sofa, a glass of wine in his hand and a half empty bottle at his feet.

He looked up when she came in and frowned. “Go back to bed.”

“Can’t you sleep? I thought you were tired.”

“I am. But I started thinking about what you said, and I couldn’t drop off.”

“You mean my quitting Warrick, Thompson upsets you?” She had never expected that response from him.

“Absolutely. You’re giving up ten years of success in your career just to follow me around all day. Do you know how that makes me feel?”

“How?” She was so surprised she could barely speak.

“Horrible. Trapped. Responsible.”

“Responsible to whom?”

“To you!” he snarled.

Carrie felt the world slowly dissolving around her. “But I thought we loved each other. I thought we wanted to be responsible to each other.”

Stan shook his head impatiently. “I can’t say what I feel right now except trapped.”

“But, Stan, I want to quit. I hate what I do. It’s boring and mindless and soulless.”

“It pays the bills. Rather well,” he snapped.

“True. But money isn’t the most important part of life.”

“See if you think that when you start going short every month!”

Carrie paused and tried to size up the situation. Finally she observed, “That sounds like resentment.”

“Oh, that’s a good one! Now I resent you because you make three times what I do, and you want to throw it away to spend all day in bed with me!”

“Wouldn’t you like that? I mean, wouldn’t you like to spend days together, not just in bed, but walking by the bay, having lunch in the cafes, shopping together?”

“There won’t be time if you quit you’re job. We’ll both be waiting tables day and night to make up for the money we won’t have.”

Carrie stared at him. “But I’m going back to music. I’m going to play again.”

“Oh, great. And you think Harry’s going to give you a gig at the club.”
“He’s offered. More than once.”

“Well, even if he does, you’ll find what Harry pays isn’t nearly enough. Want to live like that?”

“I – I ” Carrie stared at the bottle at this feet. “No, I don’t want to live like that. But I don’t want to live like this either.”

“And that means?”

“Walled up alive in the firm, wondering what you’re doing all day and who you’re doing it with.”

“Is this about me and Lara?”

“Yes – at least in part. I mean, it’s about you and anyone you have time for when I would so much rather be with you.”

Stan’s voice took on a low, nasty, insinuating tone. “You just don’t get it, do you? You think you can keep me from seeing Lara if you quit your job and ride herd on me all day?”

“I – no.” But hadn’t she unconsciously meant to do exactly that? The truth of what he was saying spread over her sickeningly.

“Do what you want!” Stan exploded, getting up from the sofa and heading toward the hall where a coat tree held his jacket. “Just don’t expect me to be your willing prisoner!”

Carrie ran toward him and grabbed his sleeve as he opened the front door. “Wait, Stan! Don’t go out now. It’s dark, and it’s cold, and it’s late. Please just come to bed. I’m sorry. I thought this would be good news. I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought you’d want to spend more time with me, too. Please, don’t go!”

But he had already slammed the door behind him.

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q.  Deborah is also the author of the award-winning novel, Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

January, 2008

Judge Karen Morgan flew back to San Diego alone on January 3, 2008. Her husband Howard and Meg Atkins took a flight to Philadelphia. As Karen watched them walk toward their gate, her thoughts were on her answering machine and whether, by some miracle, it contained a message from Stan.

* * *

January, 1995

January of 1995 had begun with Alan Warrick’s delight over a public offering for another new client, Harper Biotech. Alan hovered in Karen’s office day after day, obsessed with every detail.

“Huntfield Harper is a friend of the Burnett family. He heard about their deal and decided not to take his business to New York. Harper isn’t like Burnett. His company has been public for ten years. They’ve done a lot of stock offerings. This is a stock split. They’ll expect the best from us.”

“And they’ll get it, Alan. Don’t worry.” First rule of law firm life, never let them know you’re afraid, Karen Moon thought as she smiled at Alan. But she was worried about this file because her mind was on Stan and Lara Beaumont.

He had begun the round of morning television appearances that Harry had finagled through his contacts at the local TV stations. Although he hated getting up early, Stan loved the publicity.

On those early January mornings, she risked getting to work late in order to see him. Some days, she was lucky enough to hear him and still reach the office before Alan missed her. On other days, Stan was the last to perform; and she arrived to find Alan pacing her threshold like an angry bull about to charge.

“What’s going on? This is the third time this week you haven’t shown up until nine thirty.”

“Nothing is going on, Alan,” she lied. She was becoming an expert at deceit. “I was here past mid-night. I needed some sleep.”

A half-truth because she hadn’t been continuously at her desk. She had dashed to the club for the last set at eleven and then returned to the office to check the documents out of overnight secretarial at midnight. She had been in bed with Stan by one.

Defeated, Alan slunk away. But he hated to lose. He’d be back for round two, Karen reflected as she stared at the piles of paper on her desk.

Lack of concentration was her biggest problem. Ever since Stan had told her the truth about his relationship with Lara on New Year’s Eve, she had been tormented by worries that they spent the days together while she was at the office. Lara kept showing up at the club in the evenings; and, despite knowing how much Carrie didn’t want him to, Stan always invited her on stage for at least one number.

As Carrie sat at her table during their performances, her smile pasted on, she heard whispering around her. Some people thought they were a married couple, and they did have the air of people who’d been together for a long time.

“Don’t tell me how to run my life or my career!” Stan shouted when she brought the subject up late one night in mid-January. They had just come home after the last show, but Stan was restless and full of adrenalin and not ready to sleep.

Carrie, on the other hand, was exhausted. She had to be in the office by eight the next morning. “I just don’t like the way she upstages you.”

“She doesn’t upstage me! What would you know about that anyway? You’re a lawyer not a performer. You don’t even know what the term means.”

The barb was meant to go deep, and it did. Stan saw her tears but ignored them.

“You’re better off without her,” Carrie insisted. “She’s only a mediocre vocalist at best.”

“She’s a performer. You’re not.”

He had wanted to hurt her, and he had. Carrie went into the bedroom, undressed, and got into bed. Even though Stan was just on the other side of the wall, he seemed as remote as the stars.

* * *

January, 1995

Stan left for his gig on Early San Diego at six a.m. Carrie walked him sleepily to the door of the loft, kissed him goodbye, and went into the kitchen and made coffee. She was too impatient to wait for the pot to brew, so she grabbed the first drips with her mug and gulped them down. Her head ached; and she still felt hollow inside, the way she had felt after their quarrel last night.

As she sipped the hot, black liquid, her eyes roved over the living room and rested on the familiar objects Stan used so much that they seemed a part of him. The piano occupied the corner under the window. Trumpets and mouthpieces were carefully arranged on the cheap metal table near by. The stereo equipment and cherished album collection sat on particle board shelves on the back wall.

His soul was visible in the instruments and the recordings he loved. Stan Benedict wore no mask. She could see into his soul simply by looking around the room.

She walked over and ran her finger tips over the piano, the trumpets, and the stereo, absorbing the aura of Stan that lingered in each. The living room clock said seven. She didn’t want to miss his performance. She walked over to the television and flipped on Early San Diego. She wished he would be one of the first up so that she could make it to the office before Alan came in at nine.

But luck was not on her side that morning in more ways than one. Not only was Stan slotted for eight thirty; but when he finally appeared, he had Lara Beaumont at his side, radiant in white sequins.

* * *

The club was full that night. Stan’s roving eye delighted not only the usual Table of Four but a New Table of Women in evening dresses on the front row. He played the first set almost exclusively for them.
Carrie knew what it meant. He was daring her to pick a quarrel over Lara. She hadn’t mentioned it in their brief telephone call that afternoon, merely telling him he sounded great. He rarely telephoned Carrie at work, and she felt certain he had called so she would complain about Lara. But she failed to mention her, so Stan raised the subject.

“I’m glad you liked my playing. What did you think of Lara’s tune?”
“You know what I think about her. We don’t agree, so there’s no point in talking about it.”

“If that’s what you want.” He sounded disappointed.

“It is what I want. I’ll see you at the club tonight.”

And she had hung up, certain Stan had called to renew the previous’ nights emotional split.

Carrie went on stage at the break to head off any thought Stan might have had of sitting at the New Table of Women while he drank his scotch. She didn’t want him to succeed at creating another quarrel after the show.

Typical of Stan in his provocative phase, he didn’t join her right away. He kept his back to her endlessly emptying his spit valve and arranging and rearranging his flugel horn for the next set. While she waited, Harry came up beside her. His uncomplicated smile was a welcome relief.

“How’s the show tonight?”

“Terrific. Your ad campaign is paying off. The place has been full all week.”

Harry grinned. “Yeah, I know.” But his face clouded as he asked, “Have you been watching Stan on those TV spots?”

“Sure.”

“And what did you think?”

“That he’s better performing without Lara.”

Harry nodded. “He has to accommodate her lack of ability.”

“Funny you should say that. I told him the same thing last night at home after the show.”

“What did Stan say?”

Carrie told him about the fight.

“I wish she’d go back to one of her cruise ships.” Harry said. “Don’t give up on him, Carrie Moon. He needs you.”

But as Harry walked away, she sighed under her breath, “I wonder.”

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

New Year’s Eve, 2007

On New Year’s, Terri was in another snit because he was working a Vegas gig at the Bellagio with Epic that she hadn’t been asked to join. She didn’t want him traveling without her and with Cat. Hypocritically, he accused her of being unreasonable. But he knew very well Cat would try to lure him into her bed. And, of course, so did Terri.

Honestly, before the night he’d seen Carrie, he’d have gone with Cat in a heartbeat. At forty-eight, his years of being hit on by twenty-something slut singers were numbered. But since that night at the Del, he had wanted only Carrie Moon in his arms.

And that longing made his hellish life with Terri an even greater hell. As their sex life declined to the vanishing point, she lectured him with Dr. Philisms about saving relationships. He wondered when, if ever, she would figure out he had no intention of saving theirs.

He had thought the fight over the Vegas gig would finally see her exit. But he began to realize she was terrified of being alone. First, she demanded he make Marilyn put her on the gig or she would be his ex-girlfriend. But when he ignored her ultimatum because he couldn’t influence Marilyn’s choice of singers and because, in this case, he didn’t want to, Terri backed down.

But she remained determined to get something she wanted. So next she insisted he take her to Vegas with him. Money was tight, as usual. He had no intention of packing a New Year’s on the Strip onto his overburdened credit card. But when Terri figured that out, she just slapped down her own plastic and went anyway.

Now as he watched her sleep off a bottle of champagne in their petite suit at the MGM Grand, he reflected upon how much he hated New Years’ Eve. But even more than he hated New Year’s, he hated himself for the way he’d treated Carrie that night. Women set great store by the details. Call backs. First kisses. Giving up old girlfriends.

* * *

New Year’s Eve 1994

The club emptied rapidly after midnight. He felt uneasy in the car on their way back to the loft. He wondered if she’d guessed he had intended to kiss Lara but had chickened out at the last minute. Her eyes had gone deep, serious green, the way they did when she was holding something inside.

But by this time, he knew she would go to great lengths to avoid conflict with him. Whatever her private worry about Lara, he was pretty sure she didn’t want to talk about it that night. He could force the issue, but he was tired and half-regretting what he’d done.

They went back to the loft and made love. Exhausted, he fell asleep almost immediately, but too much champagne interfered with deep sleep. At two thirty he slipped out of bed, poured himself a strong scotch, and sat on the couch, counting the rhythm of the yellow winks from the neon sign outside.

Carrie loved him in a way that no one ever had, not even Deanna. He wanted to be wanted that way. She filled up the place inside his soul that had always been empty except for those few years with Deanna. All his life, he’d been knocking on closed doors, asking indifferent people to love him. And now, this amazing woman did.

But, and as he sipped the scotch, he reflected upon this enormous “but.” The money she earned made him uncomfortable. He was just a two-bit jazz player in a San Diego nightclub. He could never equal her income. He had been smoldering ever since he had watched her plunk down that credit card at the fancy bed and breakfast.

No, he had begun to tell himself after they came back from that trip. Their lives were just too different. And he could never return her consuming passion. He couldn’t give up Lara and his memories of Deanna.

“Stan? What’s wrong?” She crossed the room to him, but he held up his hands as if to keep her from coming any nearer.

“Nothing. Go back to bed. I just woke up and couldn’t sleep any more. I decided I needed some time to think.”

“About what?” She sat down on the sofa, but not as close as she normally did. He could tell she felt his need to stay in the space he had reserved for himself.

He shook his head wearily. “Lots of things. Things I don’t want to talk about right now.”

Her eyes became deep green, and he knew she was focused and upset. She studied his face in the dark for a long time before she asked, “So I guess Lara Beaumont is one of the things you’re thinking about?”

“What if she is?”

“I wish she weren’t.”

“She’s been a part of my life since Deanna. Ten years. I told you. We get together. We break up. I start seeing someone else, and Lara reappears. I think things over and get back with Lara.”

“So that’s part of what you were doing now? Thinking things over?” He watched her try to keep her hands from shaking.

“Yeah.” He gave her a defiant look, challenging her to tell him he had no right to reject her.

But Carrie just gazed back, her amazing eyes quiet and sad. Finally, she asked, “And what did you decide?”

“That it felt wrong not to kiss Lara tonight. We’ve had a lot of New Year’s together.”

“If it felt wrong, then why didn’t you do it?”

“I knew I’d hurt you in front of Harry and Kristin. Harry doesn’t like Lara. He likes you.”

“But I thought – “

“What did you think?”

She was struggling to hold back tears. Her voice was husky with the effort. “I thought you preferred me. That you kissed me because I’m your girl.”

Stan stared at the yellow light, winking like the heartbeat of the night. He felt a mixture of remorse and intoxication. Her hands were visibly trembling.

“Right now, it doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels as if Lara should be here.”

“I – I see.” She stared at the yellow light, too, as if so it embodied the pain he was inflicting upon her soul.

After a bit she said, “But you and Lara obviously don’t stay together, even when you leave someone else for her.”

“That’s true,” he agreed. He was concentrating on the light the way he concentrated when he played. His body was present, but his mind was far away.

Carrie moved closer to him, but he drew back into his corner of the sofa.

“Why can’t I be near you right now? I love you.”

He gave her a long, skeptical look. “You don’t even know me.”

The sting in his words brought more tears that she managed to keep in check. “I think I do know you, Stan. And even if I don’t know everything about you right this minute, I want to learn the rest.”

Her eyes met his as she spoke, but he looked away quickly toward the light outside as if even that much contact was too intimate at that moment. She leaned over and reached for his hand. “Please don’t do this to us, now. This has been the best, most important relationship of my life. You don’t belong with Lara. You belong with me. I can’t explain this kind of love, so I won’t try. But I know it exists because it’s burning inside me like a fire that won’t go out.”

He looked at her fingers over his, and slowly withdrew his hand. At the same moment, he felt her heart split and wondered why he couldn’t stop what he was doing to her.

She leaned toward him slightly and tried again. “Stan, what was that night at Sambuco’s all about if Lara is the one you really want?”

“I don’t know. Right now I don’t know anything.”

He watched her get up and go back to the cold bed alone. A few minutes later, he heard her crying. The yellow neon winked outside the window, a steady accompaniment to her quiet sobs. To escape the sound of her grief, he considered going to Lara’s where he knew he’d be welcomed with sizzling sex until dawn. But that, he told himself, was just the trouble. It would only be sex. Whereas with Carrie, lovemaking was passion that pierced the armor imprisoning his soul.

Suddenly, he hated himself for what he’d done that night. He went into the bedroom and took her into his arms. “I’m sorry,” he whispered against her hair. “I’m so very, very sorry, Carrie Moon.”

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

December 25, 2007

On Christmas afternoon, at around two thirty, Karen pretended to believe Howard’s claim that he had left some important documents at the office. As soon as he had departed, no doubt to deliver the same diamond bracelet to Meg Atkins he had handed to her over brunch, she hailed her own cab and headed to Julliard at Lincoln Center. The day was overcast and cold, and the stars and musical notes that adorned the gigantic Christmas tree in Milstein Plaza had already been lit.

Karen walked around the Plaza pausing successively at the long white Julliard building, at Avery Fisher Hall, and at the Metropolitan Opera House. She wandered back to Julliard and stood in front, taking in every detail. “I could have been here,” she thought. “I should have been here.”

She found a place to sit. Even if it was cold and dreary, she wanted to be where music was learned and performed on this day when she felt as if she were the most alone person on earth.

* * *

November-December, 1994

He had come to her. As warm November lazed, day by day, under the autumn California sun toward mild December, Carrie marveled at the miracle of his presence in her world. At the office, she lost focus as she tried to read the dry documents that were her professional life.

At night, after hearing his last set at the club, they would talk and make love in his loft so late that she would sleep through the alarm. She would wake to the heavenly smell of eggs and bacon and the realization he would be hurt if she didn’t stay for breakfast although she was already hours late for work; and she knew Alan was waiting impatiently in front of her empty office.

She avoided what was staring her in the face: the natural rhythm of his life was far different from hers. He worked when she slept and slept when she worked. When he pulled her back into bed on weekdays for more lovemaking, she was painfully aware of putting her career in jeopardy. But she took the risk. Her need for Stan ran like fire in her veins. Her entire waking day was consumed by measuring the minutes they were apart.

Karen looked around Milstein Plaza in the gray December afternoon light and thought of how, in those early days with Stan, she had struggled to find time to practice flute. Being with him had awakened the music of her soul, and she longed to play for hours on end the way she once had.

But time squeezed her dry. She struggled to keep up her billable hours and be with Stan as much as possible. Every night, she counted the minutes until she could leave the office and slip into her usual place at the club. She knew he was waiting for her. She had to be there. She wanted to be there. She couldn’t let him down. And so, playing her own music, once again slipped down the priority list in her life. After all, he was the real musician. By her decision, she had made herself the amateur. Being close to Stan would simply have to be enough to fulfill her own creative needs. She didn’t have time for more.

They had spent their first Christmas tucked away in a cozy blue and white suite at Aynsley House, an exquisite bed and breakfast in an old Victorian gingerbread in Napa. Karen had wanted to give Stan a memorable Christmas gift that would take them out of their ordinary routines. They arrived on Christmas Eve to find two iced champagne flutes next to a huge four poster where rose petals had been scattered in a heart on the blue and white comforter. For those four days, she and Stan had dressed only when they went to the dining room for dinner. The rest of the time they made love – in the four poster, in the gigantic oval Jacuzzi tub, or in front of the fire. Stan’s craving for her seemed insatiable. On Christmas morning, he gave her a small gold trumpet on a fine gold chain.

At the time, Carrie Moon had seen nothing amiss in those four days, and she had wanted them to go on forever. But twelve years later, Karen Morgan at Milstein Plaza, eyes fixed on Julliard, knew the warning sign she had missed. A cloud had crossed Stan’s face on Christmas Eve at check-in at Ansley House when she had pulled out her American Express card to cover the bill.

* * *

A week later, on New Year’s Eve the club was full, not only with couples, but with an array of gorgeous women in gold, silver, and black sequined gowns. One group in particular that Carrie dubbed the Table of Eight waved and smiled and blew kisses to Stan all night long. And as the evening wore on, he never took his eyes off them. He seemed to be playing just for them.

Harry had reserved her usual spot close to the stage, and when Kristin wasn’t singing, she joined Carrie. As the second set began, Kristin leaned over and whispered, “Is everything ok with you two?”

“I thought so when we left home,” she whispered back. She wished Kristin hadn’t said anything, so that she could have gone on pretending Stan’s attention to the other women was just her imagination. He was an entertainer, she reassured herself; he was merely playing to his audience.

But something worse than flirtation appeared at eleven thirty. Carrie felt the cool rush of air as the back door opened, and she turned to see Lara Beaumont in body-hugging cobalt blue, one-shouldered satin. Stan’s eyes riveted on her face. She smiled and waived slightly as she looked around for a table. The only empty spot was at Carrie’s, so she slid into that seat, whispering, “I hope you don’t mind. Stan said to come by if I finished early at the Hyatt.”

Stan said to come by. The words hit Carrie’s heart like five lead bullets. He’d been talking to Lara. When? Not while she’d been at the loft; but she was at work a good part of every day.

Lara had just barely sat down when Stan summoned her to the stage to sing with him. Carrie saw Harry frown slightly at Kristin, who shrugged in return.

For the next half hour, she worked to keep a pretend smile on her face, masking her disappointment as Stan and Lara worked their way through “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Memories,” “I Can’t Get Started,” and “New York, New York.” Carrie watched the approach of midnight uneasily. Lara was all over Stan. If he gave her the first kiss of the New Year, Carrie knew her heart would break.

As the giant clock Harry had placed on stage began to chime midnight, he began “Auld Lang Syne” at the piano. Stan played along, while Kristin and Lara sang. The entire audience joined in. Carrie held her breath when the song ended. Kristin leaned over the piano to kiss Harry; and predictably, Lara reached for Stan. But he turned away, his eyes on Carrie in the audience.

She was so relieved she couldn’t stand up for a few seconds. Stan left the stage and came down to give her a kiss. “Happy New Year,” he smiled. Behind him, she could see Lara’s deeply disappointed face.

“Happy New Year,” she said and added one more kiss of her own.

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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BEGUINE

CHAPTER ELEVEN

November 1994

“Damn!” Alan Warrick stormed into her office at three o’clock on Tuesday.
Karen looked up from the piles of Burnet IPO documents unperturbed.

What’s wrong?”

“Look at this! Just look at this!” He thrust a stack of papers into her hand.

She glanced down and realized they were Harry’s books. “Where did you get these?”

“His accountant had them messengered over in response to the letter I sent last week. Son of bitch, the guy is meeting the damn lease terms. He’s showing a profit. What the hell are we going to do now?”

Still deadly calm, Karen said, “There’s nothing we can do. We’re not responsible for making these facts. Our job is just to report them to Waterfront Development.”

“Like hell it is!” Alan stormed at her. “We’re Warrick, Thompson, not some guy with his solo shingle out front. We’re the ones who get the client what he wants.”

“Within the bounds of the law,” Karen observed.

“Yes, damn it, yes. Ok.” Alan took the documents back and stared at them for a few moments. Then he thrust them at Karen again. “Look, can’t you find anything wrong with these? You’re the accountant. I’m just a trial lawyer.”

If you only knew what I did to them in the first place, she thought. But she maintained her poker face. She pretended to study Harry’s books for a few minutes. Then she said, “Sorry, Alan. Nothing wrong here. He just has a little investment income that takes him through the low months. And that’s held in the name of the club. You won’t get to first base trying to evict him using these.”

(more…)

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BEGUINE

CHAPTER TEN

November, 1994
“Why were you looking at Harry’s books tonight?”

Even when Stan’s voice was angry, it stirred her heart. Karen closed her eyes for a moment as she stood by her car in the parking lot. After finishing in Harry’s office, she had listened to the last set from the back of the club where she thought Stan wouldn’t notice. She had hurried out while he was packing up his instrument, never dreaming he would follow her.

She took a deep breath and turned to face him in the dim light. “He had a problem he wanted me to look at.”

“Some sort of problem that has to do with your firm, right?”

Karen’s blood ran cold. “What makes you say that?”

“I saw a letter on his desk, and the letterhead said ‘Warrick, Thompson.'”

Her mind raced through ideas of what to tell him. But truth was the easiest way out. She gave him the same explanation she had given Harry about her involvement with Waterfront Development.

He moved nearer as she spoke and set his instrument bag on the ground. He was so close she fantasized about being in his arms and kissing him, even as she told the cold, impersonal story of her mandate to close Jazz By the Bay.

When she finished, Stan stared at her without saying anything for a long time. Then he demanded, “Why’d you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Risk your career to save Harry’s place.” He moved a step closer as he spoke, and she could smell his familiar warmth. It made her think of sleeping in his bed last Saturday night and of wanting him so much it still hurt. His voice became cold. “If you did it for me, you shouldn’t have. I didn’t call you last week for a reason.”

His hostility penetrated her heart even more deeply than the silence of her phone had done day after day, but she was determined to maintain her dignity. “I know that. I did it for Harry and Kristin. And for me. If the club isn’t open, I can’t come to hear you.”

“You can’t get involved with me, Carrie Moon.”

“Why?” The word surged up from the depths of her aching heart.

“You’ll just get hurt.”

“And what if I’m already hurt?”

“It would be a much worse hurt if you got involved with me.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

His tone was as final as a death knell, and it kindled her anger. “You don’t know anything! You’re trying to hurt me enough to make me go away.”

“No, I’ve already told you the truth for your own good. I’m not going to let myself love anyone because I can’t take losing anyone else I care about. Love doesn’t work out for me.”

“Then you might as well be dead.”

“Maybe. But I know what I can and cannot risk. And I can’t risk getting close to you. I know that’s what you want, Carrie Moon. And you’re wasting your time.”

“Am I?” Karen suddenly stepped toward him, shaking her hair out of its workday confinement and letting it hang loose in a red-gold cloud around her shoulders. She turned her face up to his, inviting him to kiss her.
He wanted her. Of that much she was sure. His eyes locked onto hers, and his chest rose and fell with the effort he was making to control himself. She moved another step closer and could feel his warm breath on her face. She tilted her chin up just a little more, encouraging him to lean down to her.

To Karen that moment seemed to last for an eternity. The larger world had collapsed and only she and Stan were left as they stood bathed in the soft gold of the street lamps, surrounded by the nothing of the black night. She felt the cool breeze from the bay on her hot skin as she waited for his kiss. She wanted to freeze her life forever at this moment of potential, where no disappointment yet existed.

But Stan drew back. “No. I won’t kiss you.” He picked up his trumpet bag and turned away, heading for his car without looking back. Karen watched him get in, start the engine, and gun it out of the parking lot. So much for her hopes of spending the night with him. Maybe it was some comfort that he wasn’t sleeping with anyone else that night. But not much.

She got into her own car and drove slowly home. She undressed and crawled into her cold bed, replaying over and over the moment when the two of them had been facing each other, and there had still been time for him to decide to kiss her. She lay awake until dawn, listening to the ocean, longing for the kiss that had not come and remembering what it had felt like to sleep in Stan’s bed.

 

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CHAPTER NINE

December, 2007

“Stop,” Judge Karen Morgan told herself as she turned away from the french doors, went back to her study, and picked up the trial brief she had thrown aside earlier. “Don’t think about the past. Don’t think about Stan.”
But the temptation was too strong. As soon as she sat down at her desk, the words on the page began to swim in front of her eyes until she closed them. In the darkness, she relived the first Saturday of November 1994.

* * *

November, 1994

It was six o’clock, and she was supposed to be meeting Harry at the club at six thirty. But she was still trapped in her office. The Burnett accountants wouldn’t stop calling with new numbers for the IPO.

Her head ached with the effort to keep their changes straight. By seven-thirty, she could take no more of their relentless nervousness over the upcoming deal. She left for the club, hoping Harry would understand why she was so late.

“It’s ok,” he said, when she arrived. “I’ve got the books in my office. I’ll send some supper. I’m on stage at eight, but I’ll be in at the first break, and you can tell me how it looks.”

Karen took a deep breath as she sat down at Harry’s desk and opened his ledgers. She was crossing a Rubicon that could forever bar her from partnership at Warrick, Thompson. If anyone found out what she was about to do, she would be reduced to hanging out her shingle as a solo in some seedy executive office suite.

Harry had sent her filet mignon. She was starving after nothing but stale vending machine sandwiches all day, and the food was heaven. As she went through Harry’s numbers, month by month, she could hear Stan performing. Even at this distance, his high, clear sound penetrated her soul. If I just didn’t love him, she thought. If I could walk away, heart intact. But I can’t.

He played “I Can’t Get Started,” and she wondered if Harry had told him she was in the office. She hoped not. The fewer people who knew, the better. She cursed herself for not swearing Harry to secrecy.

He appeared at the break, around nine thirty. “How was dinner?”

“Terrific. The club always has good food.”

“It’s a draw for the music. People come to eat and find they like jazz. How does it look?”

“I’m not finished yet.”

But Harry read her face. “You see a problem.”

“I’m trying not to. But of the last ten months, you’re in the black in only four.”

He sighed and sank into the folding chair in front of his desk. He was sweating from the stage lights. He wiped his forehead with his hands, then sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.

It felt like a deathbed vigil. Karen’s stomach tightened, and she wished she hadn’t eaten. “I’m not completely finished looking over last month. It was a pretty good one. And you are so close to showing a profit in August and September that maybe your attorney could argue those months should count, too.”

“I can’t afford an attorney, honey,” Harry said, quietly. His expressionless eyes were fixed on the floor. Then he looked at her. “Unless you’d do it for me.”

Karen felt like a trapped animal. She stared at the pictures of Harry and Kristin in performance on the wall, trying to think of what to say. “I would if I could, but I – I can’t.”

She saw the moment the light went on in Harry’s eyes. “You can’t because you work for them, don’t you?”

She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. When she opened them, Harry was still staring at her.

“You came to spy on us? To see what the crowds were like? Why didn’t you just shut us down after the first week?”

The tears in his eyes made her hate her job and Waterfront Development with all her heart.

“Because I don’t want to,” she managed to say. “Before you jump to a lot of conclusions, would you let me explain?”

“I guess it’s fair to hear you out.”

“I’m up for partner at my firm this year.”

“The one on the letterhead?”

“Yeah. And Alan Warrick – the one who signed the letter – is my boss. Alan brought me here to San Diego, and my work has made a lot of money for the firm. He wants them to make me a partner.”

“What if they don’t?”

“Then I’d be expected to leave. It’s like losing your job if they don’t make you a partner.”

“So a lot rides on this year for you?”

“My whole future. Just like you and keeping the club open.”

Harry nodded. “Go on.”

“Well, Alan wants the firm’s clients to like me and to get to know me. So he involved me in the Waterfront Development deal. They bought this land from your old landlord.”

“Ok.”

“After the deal was done, Alan announced Waterfront has big plans to redo all of this. And they want some of the existing tenants out.”

“Meaning me.”

“Meaning you,” Karen agreed. “So he instructed me to come down and scope out your audiences and tell him you weren’t meeting the lease term because that is what he wanted to hear.”

“Why didn’t you tell him that?

Karen smiled. The second set had begun, and Stan’s version of “My Funny Valentine” filled the club. Now Karen’s eyes spilled over. Harry’s face softened. She said, “That’s why.”

“You fell in love with him.”

“I did. That first night. And now if I can’t come to see and hear him, I’m not sure how I can go on.”

“That means more to you than making partner.”

“A lot more.”

Harry smiled and leaned over to put his hand over hers as it rested on the books. “You’re a good girl, Carrie Moon. And Stan Benedict ought to love you, if he has any sense at all.”

“But I don’t think he does, Harry.”

“Love you or have any sense?”

“Both.” Karen managed a smile as she wiped her eyes. “Look, I have to tell you the rest of the story.”

“Ok.” He withdrew his hand and leaned back in the spindly folding chair. “Shoot.”

“I honestly couldn’t tell what your profit margins were from observation. Some nights you have standing room only. Other nights, I can see you don’t break even. But I was pulling for you to make the lease term. So I told Alan he had to review your books before ordering you out. I hoped maybe there’d be something in here that would save the club.”

“Do you think there might be?”

“Give me another hour. I studied accounting as well as music. Both are all about numbers. Let me see if I can’t find some way to move things around. Delete some expenses or something.”

“Is that legal?”

Karen gave him an ironic laugh. “Harry, me even being in this room right now and saying what I just said is so illegal that a little more isn’t going to matter. Accounting is creative sometimes like music. You stretch a tempo; you change a key. Let me think about it a little longer.” And pray for a solution.

At that moment, the door burst open, and Stan appeared. He stared at Karen, obviously surprised to find her in Harry’s office. “What are you doing here?”

“I asked her to take a look at something for me. Nothing important to you.”
Harry treated Stan like a son who needed protecting, even though he was only about ten years older.

“You’re up next. We need you on stage.”

“No problem. Karen and I are finished here. I’m going to send you a glass of wine.” Harry took Stan by the arm and walked him toward the door. She wanted Stan to look back, but he hurried away with Harry, his mind focused on his upcoming performance.

Although wine and accounting were not good partners, she drank the zin
anyway, as she went over Harry’s numbers. He managed to stay in business despite not turning a profit, month after month. There had to be an answer.

At ten thirty, Harry came back.

“Any ideas?” he asked as soon as he shut the door.

“Yes. One.”

“Which is?”

“Look here,” Karen pointed to the income column. “Every month you show $2,000 in investment income that you put into the business. That’s the way you get by in the months you are in the red. And that money is enough to put you in the black for all ten months of this year.”

Harry’s face brightened. “So they can’t jerk my lease?”

“It depends. Where does that $2,000 come from?”

“My auntie back in Atlanta died the year that I opened the club. She left me a pretty nice lump sum. I invested it, so that I could draw on the income to keep this place afloat during the early years. The lump sum has never been touched, thank God. But I’ve been used the income to keep the club going.”

“Whose name is the fund in?” Karen felt her heart constrict when she asked. So much depended on the answer.

“I actually hold it in the name of the club. My accountant told me to do it that way.”

“Your accountant is an angel, Harry. Waterfront can’t touch you. You just need to have that income shown on these books on this line, here in business investment income.” Karen’s heart was so light she felt as if she could get up and dance on Harry’s desk.

“Is that all?”

“That’s all. Just tell him to do that, copy these, and mail them to Alan Warrick.”

“And what happens then?”

“Then Waterfront will probably offer you a lot of money to buy out your lease.”

“What if I don’t want to sell? I like this place by the water.”
“Then they are going to have to recognize Jazz By the Bay as the centerpiece of whatever they plan to do.”

Harry’s face lit up. He pulled Karen to her feet and hugged her. When he let her go, he said, “No one will ever know about any of this. Not even Kristin.”

“I’m relieved you understand. Stan can’t know, either.”

“Of course not. Do you think I’ll ever be called to that fancy firm of yours?”

“It’s not mine, yet, Harry. Not until I make partner. But, yes, it’s possible they’ll want you to come down if they make an offer to buy you out.”

“Then I’ll be sure they never guess I know you.”

“Thanks, Harry. My career is in your hands.”

“It’s mutual, Carrie Moon. It’s mutual. Now, on Monday night I want you in here at eight sharp with that flute of yours. No excuses.”

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