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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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