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The Grosvenor Hotel, London

The Grosvenor Hotel, London

Last week, I explained why I was drawn to use Diana, Princess of Wales as a fictional character in my first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess. Although I am ten years older than Diana, my life paralleled hers in certain ways in the early and mid-eighties. I had three children, just a little younger than Diana’s boys; and like Diana, I was enduring the heartbreak of a disastrous marriage and acrimonious public divorce during those years. As Diana had to learn to tread lightly through the legal thicket that surrounded her in order to keep her children, so I, too, had to learn how to thread the narrow path through the court proceedings that would allow me to raise my beloved children. For me, and I am sure for her, those were terrifying and desperate times.

Like Diana, I longed for a comforting male presence in my life, someone to take the sting out of being reviled in public by the father of my children. But that proved as impossible in my life as it did in Diana’s. The men who came into the princess’ life eventually departed, tired of the glare of the media and ever-present lens of the paparazzi. In my own case, no man was willing to risk more than ten years of constantly being threatened with character assassination in a courtroom at the blink of an ex-husband’s disgruntled eye. I could understand, of course. I wouldn’t have chosen to live that way, either. If I’d had a choice.

In Nicholas Carey I created for Diana the kind of male friend I had longed for. Attractive, intelligent, witty, and always on her side. Although Taylor Collins initially sees Nicholas as an arrogant womanizer, on the morning that Taylor has been dumped yet again by her former fiancé, Chris Hunter, she suddenly sees the Nicholas Carey that was Diana’s steadfast friend in every heartbreak. My favorite scene in Dance is the morning after Taylor has spent the night crying over Chris’ engagement. Nicholas shows up early and uninvited at her hotel to comfort her.

From Chapter Ten of Dance For A Dead Princess:

She awoke at nine thirty the next morning to a hangover and someone knocking on the door of her suite. Painfully she got out of bed, tied on her robe, and headed through her sitting room. When she opened it, Nicholas Carey was standing in the hall in his power overcoat with two cups of coffee in paper cups with lids and a brown bag.

“I thought you might need these.”

Without a word she stepped aside, and he entered. He walked over and put the food and drinks on the coffee table. Then he took off his overcoat and laid it over the ottoman. He was dressed for the office in a gray suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie.

“Come sit down and have some coffee. I guessed you were a nonfat latte fan. And the muffins are blueberry. Everyone likes those. I know it was a rough night, and you look like it.”

“My head is pounding.”

“Coffee, then. Drink up.”

Taylor felt as detached as if she were still dreaming. Something horrible had happened yesterday. Oh, yes. Chris. And Allison. A New Year’s Eve wedding. Her eyes suddenly teared up.

Nicholas held out a white handkerchief bearing the ducal arms. “Thought you might need this, too.”

Get a grip, she told herself, as she wiped her eyes. No more crying. Especially not in front of Nicholas Carey. She took the paper cup he offered and sat down on the sofa. The coffee was rich and strong. He was right. She needed it.

He opened the bag and offered her a gigantic muffin on a paper napkin. “You need some food, too.”

But she waived it away. “Can’t.”

“Just a few bites. My guess is you didn’t eat much for supper last night.”
“How did you know?”

He sat down next to her and sipped from the other cup. “I’ve had a lot of practice with The Morning After. The women in my life, particularly Diana, had a knack for getting their hearts broken. I’m the steady shoulder to cry on. Come on. You aren’t going to feel better unless you eat a little something.”

Taylor broke off a piece of muffin and nibbled at it as she sipped coffee. “Thank you. For the call last night and for coming this morning.”

“As I said, recognizing a woman about to be hurt is my speciality.”

“But aren’t you guilty of that, too?”

“I’d like to think I’m not. But I do have a substantial string of ex’s. I can honestly say they all saw the breakups coming because they were always over the same thing.”

“And that was?”

“Marriage. A woman gets restless after a couple of years if she doesn’t get an engagement ring. And I’ve no intention of ever getting married again. I gather whatever happened last night took you by surprise?”

The coffee was beginning to bring Taylor into focus. “It did.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She sighed. “No. But I guess talking about it makes it go away sooner. And I want this to go away.”

* * *

In Chapter Ten, I gave Nicholas  the opportunity to demonstrate he’s the perfect friend with lots of experience in comforting beautiful women with broken hearts. And he is disarmingly honest about his own breakups. For Taylor, as devastated as she is over losing Chris, her Morning After with Nicholas is the turning point in their relationship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

December 24, 2007

At six p.m. on Christmas Eve, Karen Morgan once more stared at the bare, dark trees in Central Park as she waited in her empty suite at the Plaza for Howard to arrive. He had telephoned that he was on his way from the office, and he had reservations at seven at La Vache, a trendy French bistro ten blocks away. What was Stan doing that night, she wondered.

Knocking interrupted her thoughts. Why couldn’t Howard carry a key? He was such a baby: dependent on her, his secretary, his paralegal, and his junior associate. He was fully functional only in a court room.
To her surprise a messenger was standing at the door. He handed her a package that held two, blue Tiffany’s boxes and smiled. “Mr. Morgan wanted these delivered.”

“Thanks.” Karen took the package and sat down on the sofa in the living room. She pulled out identical boxes and stared at them for a moment. Howard never bought her more than one gift. She was too puzzled to wait for tomorrow. She’d act surprised when she opened them. Carefully she pulled the silver ribbon off of each one and looked inside. Identical diamond bracelets. Clearly one was meant for her, the other for someone else. But whom?

Probably Meg Atkins, the highly attractive blonde, twenty-eight-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears junior associate who was part of Howard’s litigation team. Apparently Meg didn’t mind spending Christmas helping Howard prepare for trial. Howard had mentioned that he had asked her and her husband to come to New York over Christmas because he needed Meg’s help. Karen wracked her brain to remember what the husband looked like. She’d seen him standing next to Meg at the Christmas party. He was about his wife’s age, an earnest, owlish tax attorney who worked in Warrick, Thompson’s pension planning section. Odds were he’d never know what the senior partner had given his wife for Christmas.

Karen had vague knowledge of Howard’s various affairs over the years, but this was the first hard evidence she had come across. She could confront him, but it would be pointless. He would deny it and claim the bracelet was to reward Meg’s hard work on the case. Even if she pointed out that it was professionally inappropriate, Howard would ignore her. He did what he wanted to do; he always had. What she wanted was inevitably irrelevant.

Besides, Karen thought as she wrapped the two boxes up again and put them back in the larger box they had come in, her feelings for Howard, if they had ever existed, had been extinct for years. The most horrible part of this discovery was not that Howard was sleeping with another woman. The horrible part was knowing down to the depths of her soul she didn’t care.

* * *

December 24, 2007

Stan lay in bed at two thirty a.m., wide awake. Terri had dropped off the minute her head hit the pillow. Thank God. He had been in no mood for sex that night.

They had played a Christmas party at the Hotel Del with Epic. Terri had looked daggers at Cat all night, and done everything possible to upstage her. In the process, she’d upstaged Marilyn, too. Bad move, he reflected. It was Marilyn’s band. At forty-five, she was highly sensitive to being shoved out of the spotlight by the twenty-somethings. Cat was smart enough to understand the politics and stay away from Marilyn’s toes. But Terri was determined to make her mark to impress Stan. She might not ever work Epic again.

He really hoped so. Marilyn had been so pissed she’d taken him aside during the first break to heap well-deserved blame on his head. Terri was his live-in. Why was he leading Cat on? Make up his mind, so the band drama would go away. Marilyn hated band drama.

Stan got up without waking Terri, who’d had too many pink martinis during the breaks. He went into the living room and slumped on the sofa. He looked around. The house was his, free and clear. He’d won it in Vegas on a lucky streak a few years back. He’d never expected to have a place of his own. He smiled because at last he actually had a home no one could kick him out of.

He knew he should tell Terri it was over. He looked at the sad, spare little Christmas tree slumped in the corner with a few presents underneath. Tomorrow wouldn’t be a good day for the news. But there was a deeper reason why he didn’t just tell her to pack and go.

When he’d met Terri, he’d become tired of the endless flow of women through the revolving door of his life. One night stands had gotten dull. The women on the chat lines predictably swooned over his profession and made conquest far too easy. He liked Terri’s spunk and determination to make it as a singer, and her complete oblivion to how cheap she actually was. He’d sworn he’d make it work even though he didn’t love her. Maybe even start a family. Well, no, not that. But he’d promised himself to stay with her, so he wouldn’t be alone.

He had never really been alone since he’d discovered how to charm women in his early twenties. And after he was widowed, they lined up to comfort him, each one determined to be “the one” to make him forget Deanna. But now he was sick of the compromise that Terri and all his relationships represented. He’d seen the real thing just a week ago. Tonight’s gig had been torture. Every time he’d looked into the crowd, he’d pictured Carrie’s face as she gazed up at him during the Warrick, Thompson party. And he’d have given twenty years of his life to see her in the crowd that night on Christmas Eve at the Del. What was she doing? He couldn’t imagine she’d been making love with that prick of a husband who likely couldn’t do it anymore anyway. Not wild, passionate Carrie Moon. She would never go to bed with a robot. Where did she live? He tried to imagine her house. She’d had a charming little condo in Del Mar back in their day. What had she created for herself and the prick? And then a thought so chilling swept through Stan, that he got up and went to the kitchen and poured himself a stiff scotch straight up. Children. He hadn’t asked if she and the robot had any. The thought split his heart in two.

How he hated Lara. No, it wasn’t her fault. He hated himself. He’d used Lara the way he was using Cat now. He knew his pattern, but he was powerless to stop himself. He couldn’t give in to love and lose control. If only he could, he’d have spent the last twelve years with Carrie.

* * *

November 1994

The phone woke him at ten a.m. on Sunday. Lara wanted to take him to brunch at Croce’s. She’d sung there the week before and had been paid with, among other things, a gift certificate.

He told himself seeing Lara would put Carrie out of his mind. But it didn’t. She seemed so plastic and artificial and cheap in her tank top and thigh high skirt, as she rubbed her legs against him under the table at every opportunity.

He managed to ditch her after the meal, pleading the need to practice. He walked by the bay for a while, but the ache in his heart didn’t ease. He tried practicing. That usually took his mind off of everything. But it didn’t. He kept seeing Carrie’s face looking up at him in the darkness of the club.

By three, he wondered if she were at work. He looked up Warrick, Thompson in the phone book and walked to the Emerald Shaprey Center, whose six hexagonal glass towers loomed over him and West Broadway, like an army of transparent Titans. The elevators in the marble lobby were guarded by a man in uniform who told him that Warrick, Thompson was on the twenty-sixth, twenty-fifth, and twenty-fourth floors. But off-limits until Monday morning.

Awed and intimidated by the corporate grandeur that separated his life from hers, he wandered back to his loft feeling tired and defeated. He’d screwed it up. He didn’t realize how much he’d miss her. And he didn’t know how to unscrew it.

When he pulled out the keys to his front door, the scrap of paper with her phone number fell out. It was worth a try.

She answered on the third ring. His heart was in his throat. “Carrie, it’s Stan. I thought you’d be at the office.”

“I was earlier in the day.” Voice flat. She wasn’t going to make it easy.

“Look, I’m sorry for the other night. It was a rotten thing to do. I miss you at the club. Harry misses you, too. Could we get together and talk?”

Silence. He struggled to keep his breathing even and the anxiety out of his voice.

“You mean now?”

“Well, it’s my only night off. If you’re not working, I mean.”

He could picture her eyes in thoughtful mode. Were they gray or green or that haunting mixture of color that defied a label?

“I’m at home. I’m tired. I’ve worked all weekend. If you want to come by, we could go for coffee.”
“You’re in Del Mar, right?”

“Yes.”

“Let me buy you dinner. I used to play a lot at Sambuco’s back in the day. The food’s good. We’ll get a bottle of wine and talk.”

“Ok.”

“Around six?”

“Sure.”

* * *

The condos were typical, coastal narrow stucco two-story buildings, directly on the ocean. Expensive, he thought. Hers was painted white, and he found her end unit without any difficulty. He followed the path from the parking lot to her front door but paused just outside. The haunting lilt of a flute playing Brazilian samba stopped him in his tracks. At first he thought it was a recording. But suddenly the tune shifted from throbbing syncopation to a passage from Mozart and the Magic Flute, and he realized she was the source. She was experimenting, he realized. And she was a damned good musician. Better than he had ever guessed.

He wanted to go on listening, but eavesdropping felt wrong. He rang the bell.

When she opened the door, she took his breath away. He had never seen her in anything but a suit or a cocktail dress. She was barefoot, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt and holding the flute in her long fingers. No makeup, and all that magnificent red hair loose around her shoulders. She looked about nineteen. This was Carrie Moon, the musician. The lawyer had disappeared. The change was so dramatic he could not speak for about thirty seconds.

“You sound amazing.”

“Thanks.”

“I didn’t think you still played.”

“I just started again.” She stepped aside, to let him in, then led the way down the white-tiled entry way to her living room. He noticed the music stand facing the ocean, which would have been visible in daylight through the sliding glass doors that dominated the room. He took in the comfortable, white sofa and matching chairs. Soft, black mohair throws cuddled beside red and black cushions, inviting him to sit and nestle among them. The walls were covered with abstract oils with slashes of orange, yellow, blue and green. Although the room exuded money and taste, it was also charming and inviting. But she, of course, spent little time there he reminded himself.

“What’s that?” he pointed to the page of thick notes on the music stand.

“The first movement of the Prokofiev flute sonata.”

“Play some of it for me?”

She hesitated.

“I’ve played for you,” he reminded her.

She put the flute to her lips and took a long breath. The haunting opening melody filled the room.
He watched her face as she played. She was happy the way she was at the club. And when they’d made love. The sharp sting of Lara and why he was here hit him. He wished for the hundredth time he hadn’t been so insensitive.

“You shouldn’t have given up music as a career,” he said when she finished.

She smiled but did not look at him as her long fingers twisted the silver joints apart, swabbed them out, and put them back one by one in the leather case. “Maybe not. But I did.” The profound sadness in her voice touched him. She went on, “You can want something too much.”

“You told me that on one of the nights when we walked by the bay.”

Her stormy green eyes suddenly met his. “Or someone.” She closed the flute case with a sharp click.
“Let’s go to dinner,” he said.

* * *

He reached across the red-checked table cloth, in the candle light flickering against the red brick walls of Sambuco’s and took her hand.

“I’m sorry.”

“You’ve already said that.” The wine was taking the edge off her anger and distrust. Her eyes were beginning to sparkle again. Stan hoped he hadn’t blown it forever.

“Will you come back to the club?”

“That depends. Tell me about her.”

“Who?”

“Lara.”

“Didn’t Harry explain?”

“In your own words. Who is she? Why is she important to you?”

So she was going to make this hard. Well, he deserved that.

“I met Lara and Deanna in Las Vegas. They were show girls at Caesar’s Palace. I played their gig that night. They were roommates.”

“And when Deanna died?”

“Harry told you. Lara and I have been an item, off and on. We end up in horrible fights.”

“Over what?”

“Deanna. Lara claims I don’t love her, that I just use her to avoid admitting that Deanna is really gone.”

“And do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Love Lara?”

Stan studied their hands twined together. Then he looked back at Carrie and the auburn glow of her hair in the pale yellow light.

“I thought I did. Until –”

She waited for him to finish. When he didn’t, she repeated, “Until?”

“I looked down that night at Harry’s and saw you looking up at me from the second row.”

She smiled, her entire face alight.

“Come back to the club?” he repeated. “Play with us?”

A shadow crossed her smile. “I don’t know about playing. I’m not a professional any more. I don’t have time to practice enough.”

“You sounded fine to me.”

“Endurance. I can’t play for hours the way I used to.”

“You could still sit in on some tunes.”

She smiled. “We’ll see.”

He rubbed his thumb along their entwined fingers. “Carrie, there’s another reason I want you to come back.”

Her green eyes met his. “Why, then?”

He sighed deeply, and studied their joined hands before meeting her steady gaze.

“I play better since you’ve come. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because you actually know what I’m doing. If it’s good, you know. And if it sucks, well, you know that, too.”

“What about Lara?”

“She’ll be back on a cruise ship in a month. She’s never here long. Look, you said you saved the club so that you could hear me play. What was the good of that if you don’t come back?”

“You have a point.”

* * *

He walked her to the door, wishing she would ask him in.

But she opened it with her key and smiled from the threshold. “Thanks for tonight.”

“Sure. And, again, I’m sorry.”

“Understood. You can stop saying that now.”

“Tomorrow night, then? At Harry’s?”

“If I can get away.” She smiled and began to close the door.

Disappointed, he turned away and walked up the path toward the parking lot and his car. Wanting her close to him throbbed in his veins. He could smell her hair and taste her lips.

He opened his car door but stopped and stared at her building. He heard the rush of the ocean onshore and smelled the fresh, night sea breeze. And he remembered how it felt to hold her.

He closed the car and locked it. His heart pounding, he retraced his steps and knocked.

When she opened the door, he swept her into his arms. Her mouth opened hungrily under his, and she hugged him hard to her. Then, without a word, she smiled, kissed his open mouth, long and lingeringly, and led him down the hall to her bedroom.

* * *

He slept intermittently. He lost count of the times they made love. He felt like a man rescued from death. He had never thought anyone could love with the fire and intensity that burned inside of her. He was afraid it would consume him and yet afraid that it would not. He wanted to be one with her in a way he had never experienced with anyone else. If she consumed him or he consumed her, he could never lose her. He slept and woke to her fire over and over until dawn.

The alarm went off at six a.m. He struggled awake at the unaccustomed hour.

She wrapped him in her long, soft arms and whispered in his ear. “You don’t have to get up. Unfortunately, I do.” She kissed him, long and deeply; and he wanted her with that throbbing desire that blotted out all rational thought.

But she rolled away, and seconds later he heard the shower start in the adjoining bath. He dozed and wished she didn’t have to go to work.

A little later, she bent over the bed, now dressed in one of her usual conservative black suits. Carrie was gone, and now she was Karen the lawyer again. But she gave him another one of those bone-deep kisses and caressed his cheek.

“Sleep, sweetheart. There’s no rush for you to leave.”

He pulled her down to him in one long, last, glorious kiss. “Tonight at Harry’s. Ok?”

“Of course.”

The front door clicked behind her. He sank deeply into the sheets that smelled of her and sex. After a while he drifted off in the soft dark of early morning.

When he woke, the sun was streaming hard bars of light through the blinds. He opened his eyes and saw the time, ten a.m. He got up slowly, showered, and dressed, savoring the creams and lotions and soaps that attested to her feminine presence. She had left a note in the kitchen that coffee was ready to be brewed in the pot. He made a cup and sat on her patio, savoring the deep rich hazelnut and watching the changeling Pacific, first blue then green in the morning sun. He missed her. He never allowed himself to miss anyone. And he missed her, down to his soul. But a warning bell was already going off within him: their lives were so different. She was locked in those massive glass towers downtown while he was alone here by the sea.

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 ONE
Mid-November, 2010, New York

Conference rooms are all the same. As are airports. On a cold, wet, mid-November afternoon, His Grace, the Eighteenth Duke of Burnham, decided that those who thought running the Burnham Trust was a glamorous job should go from London to Paris to Brussels to New York seeing only conference rooms and airports. He was now trapped in one of the beastly things on the twenty-eighth floor of the Manhattan offices of Craig, Lewis, and Weller, studying the deepening early twilight through the sheets of glass that formed the walls. His mood was as black as the coming night. This was the last leg of his autumn trip to ascertain the status of Trust assets in several countries. And two weeks of nonstop polished mahogany tables, crystal water decanters, dense financial statements delivered by earnest twenty-somethings, and masses of sandwiches on large silver trays had been a mind-numbing combination. He longed to go back to his suite at the Plaza, draw a hot bath, and order a bottle of Balvenie Cask 191.

But a quiet evening in was highly unlikely with Ami Hendria in town. Twenty-eight-year old blonde bombshell actresses were not fans of a low key evening by the fire. Still, he would be the first to admit that one reason he kept Ami around was to avoid having the world find out who Nicholas Carey truly was: a middle-aged homebody, longing for some solitude and a nightcap. On the other hand, the female segment of the populace would have refused to believe his real persona if he had posted it on a billboard in Times Square because, as a widowed duke, every woman he encountered believed he was swinging Prince Charming. And he was anything but that.

Oh, he was bored if his mind wandered to scotch and the possibility of eluding Ami’s grasp that evening. To bring himself back to the present, he looked down the nine-foot glossy mahogany conference table and counted the populace. Three lawyers from Beville, Platt, and Fisher on one side, all local counsel for the Burnham Trust. And two on the other side from Craig, Lewis, and Weller for Miss Reilly’s Female Finishing Academy. Why did it take five lawyers to sell a house to a girl’s school? And why weren’t any of them the one he wanted to see? His operative had named Taylor Collins, a partner in the Craig, Lewis real estate section, as was the one likely to know where Diana’s tape was. He’d told Hollis Craig he wouldn’t sell the Abbey to his daughter Tracy’s school unless Taylor was on the deal. Yet, he’d been trapped in this conference room for more than an hour, with no sign of her.

The tape was so sensitive, Nicholas knew he couldn’t approach Taylor Collins directly about it. But he was more than happy to offer Burnham Abbey, the ancestral home of the Careys, on the sacrificial altar of subterfuge. The place had long been an albatross around his neck that he was determined to remove. He smiled happily at his picture of his father, the Seventeenth Duke, turning in his grave in the chapel about now as the lawyers blathered on blissfully and incomprehensibly about the terms of the deal.

For as many of his forty-nine years as he could remember, he had detested lawyers of every ilk. The American big firm types were particularly irksome because they all looked, sounded, and dressed exactly alike. Dark suits, starched white shirts with monograms on the cuff, and subdued silk ties. And the women lawyers. Oh, he didn’t even want to think about their sexless, baggy black outfits. Was being neutered worth all that money they reportedly made? He knew Taylor was thirty-nine, but he bet she looked at least forty-five and was twenty pounds overweight. And probably chain smoked and had a face like a bulldog. He didn’t look forward to dealing with her.

Well, here was his chance to find out. The massive, dark mahogany door to the conference room opened, and another female suit stepped inside. Except this one was so, so different from the others. And not at all the woman he had expected to see.

“Sorry to be late. I had a call from the Cuniff trustee that I had to take.” She was speaking to Hollis Craig, but a pair of eyes the color of spring violets were fixed on him. Very like Diana’s eyes, but deeper.

“My partner, Taylor Collins, Your Grace. She’s going to be in charge of the file for Miss Reilly’s as we agreed.”

His heart was racing so fast, he had difficulty speaking, so he merely nodded in response. At thirty-nine, she looked ten years younger. He guessed the form-hugging black wool suit on her tiny five foot two frame was Chanel. She barely weighed a hundred pounds. Her jacket allowed a demure ruffle to spill over its dark edge, highlighting the single strand of perfect pearls circling her creamy throat. Her dark hair was pulled back into the usual professional woman’s knot, revealing more perfect pearl drops in her exquisite little ears. He wondered what she looked like when her hair was wild and free. Her face was impassively professional, yet he sensed much more lay beneath the surface. Physically he was drawn to her so strongly that he wondered what color La Perla’s she was wearing, but he longed for more than sex. He desperately craved the impossible: time alone and the chance to know who she was beneath the lawyer facade.

The conference room doors opened once more and another black-suited woman with hair also tightly wound roused Nicholas from his fantasies. She wasn’t as expensively dressed, and he recognized her immediately as the telephone receptionist who sat at the throne-like desk opposite the elevators. Her task was to greet everyone who arrived at the twenty-eighth floor.

“Your Grace?”

Why did all professional woman have to slick their hair into those ridiculous knots? Did it make them seem more serious? More competent?

“Your Grace, ” she repeated. She was young, early twenties. There was that look in her eyes that said, maybe I will be his Cinderella. Even a woman in a business suit longs to be a princess. Or at least a duchess. Although he doubted Taylor Collins would be interested.

“Yes, Miss –?”

” La Breaux. Marie La Breaux.”

“Well, yes, Miss La Breaux? What is it?”

“A call for you.”

” I’ll take it later. After we’ve wrapped up in here.”

“I’m afraid it’s the headmistress from your ward’s school.”

“Oh, God. Very well.” Nicholas got up and went into the adjoining conference room, this one dominated by a long glass table, sterile enough for surgery, surrounded by empty high-backed chairs. It looked like a board meeting of ghosts, and for a moment Nicholas saw the empty room as a metaphor for his own life. The people he had loved the most were all ghosts: his mother, Deborah, Diana, Annabel.

“Hello?”

“Helen Myrtin, Your Grace, from Miss Whitcomb’s School.” Her thin, nasal vowels sliced through the silence and reminded Nicholas that in person she appeared as intimidating as she sounded. Thirty-five. Always dressed in suits so crisp they looked like military uniforms. “I’m afraid there’s been a bit of difficulty with Lucy. Again.”

Nicholas had hoped she wouldn’t refer to the past, but in fairness, she had a right to sound exasperated. It had taken a hefty chunk of Trust cash, tastefully donated to the school’s general fund, to keep Lucy there the last time. “Tell me about the problem, Mrs. Myrtin.”

A very human sigh surprised him. “I’m so sorry, Your Grace. I hate giving bad news.”

“If she’s drinking again–”

“I wish that were the only problem. Unfortunately, Lucy has begun to experiment with drugs. She had too much to drink, threw up in the loo, and passed out. One of the other girls found her and called Matron who called Dr. Briggs. When he looked her over he found signs of cocaine use. And later we located some of the drug among her things.”

Nicholas gripped the phone and willed her to stop speaking. The alcohol had started last year. It had been tough to deal with a fifteen-year-old with a taste for scotch. Maybe he should have seen the other coming. But he had put his head in the sand. “Are you very sure that she was actually using the stuff–not just trying to sell it?” Both were bad, but using was worse. It would be much harder to stop that.

“Perfectly sure.” The headmistress’ voice tightened in response to his denial. Give me any window, any hole to escape this he prayed. Don’t make me deal with another failure where Lucy is concerned. I know it’s my fault. But it hurts too much. Far too much. Still, fate had already done its work. There was no going back. “Dr. Briggs says the drug caused bleeding around her nose. The girl who found her in the loo thought she was dying.”

“I see. And where is Lucy now?”

“In the infirmary. We have to send her down. At least until the New Year. You realize that, of course.”

“Of course.” But she wasn’t saying out for good. There was still hope. “But after Christmas?”

“You’ll have to show us that she was treated. And that she’s–uh, how do they say- clean. Perhaps one of those drug management programs in Harley Street. Although I will warn you the source is her boyfriend. He’ll find her if she’s in London. He’s very persistent.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Well, man-friend, actually. Didn’t you know about David Lowenby? She said you approved.”

“David Lowenby is Lord Gaynor’s heir and twenty-five years old. He’s almost ten years older than Lucy. She couldn’t have been seeing him.”

“I’m afraid she has. She told us she had your permission,” Ms. Myrtin repeated.

“And you believed that?” Nicholas didn’t even attempt to control his outrage.

“Well,” her tone of detached poise seemed to slip momentarily, “I did think of ringing you up. But she was so emphatic. Good family. All that.”

He sighed. “Well, the harm’s done. But if I put her in Harley Street, Lowenby will find her with more cocaine. You are right. I’ll have to think about what to do.”

“There are home programs, I think. Nurses you can hire. Maybe one of the Harley Street clinics can give you some information. But we do have to send her away today. And you appear to be out of the country.”

“New York is not the ends of the earth, Mrs. Myrtin. I can telephone my staff. I’ll send an estate car for her as soon as you ring off. I would imagine my driver can be there within the hour.”

“That would be greatly appreciated, Your Grace.”

After Nicholas hung up, he sat for a long minute watching the New York sky line; he felt empty and sad and defeated. She had promised no more drinking. She would study to get into Oxford. She would find some meaning and purpose for her life. Not just parties and shopping. But all her promises had meant nothing. He glanced at his watch: 4:30 here, so 9:30 in London. He could have Lucy at Burnham Square before midnight.

He picked up the phone once more, this time punching the intercom button.

“Marie La Breaux, here, Your Grace.” She sounded so eager. For what, he wondered.

“Please get my butler on the phone and tell him to send a car to fetch my ward from school. At once.”

“Yes, Your Grace. I’m sorry the news was bad.”

But he wasn’t inclined to tell her anything, so he ignored her condolences. First rule of survival in the tabloid fishbowl of aristocratic life. Never give anyone information about yourself. “And get my London solicitor on the line. Lord Thomas. My personal assistant will give you the numbers.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” She sounded more distant now. She had understood he was not going to let his guard down with her.

Kerry Thomas, his chief friend from Eaton, would know what to do. Restraining orders–whatever it took to keep the press out of Lucy’s screw-up. Maybe he could recommend a treatment program. A scholarship boy from a poor London family, Kerry was resourceful. And now rich.

As he sat waiting for Kerry’s call, he wondered if he should fly back to London that night or follow his original plan to return in the morning. His pilot was used to turning around on a dime if Nicholas demanded it, but sticking to his original itinerary looked very attractive. He didn’t feel ready to face Lucy and her problems any sooner than tomorrow night. If then. He could stay at the Ritz for a couple of days and avoid his townhouse at Burnham Square for at least forty-eight hours. Cowardly, but tempting.

Then, too, it was Ami’s last night in New York before she flew to Paris to begin a new movie. She expected him to take her to dinner at Per Se, with dancing afterwards at Provacateur. The thought of all that throbbing music punctuated by green strobes gave him a headache in advance. In addition to being very egocentric, American twenty-something actresses loved night life. And were completely convinced that dukes did, too, despite his sincere explanations to the contrary.

Well, even if blonde American actresses had dukes pegged correctly, and they all liked to boogie until dawn, he didn’t. Maybe it was because he had never felt much like a duke to begin with. Maybe it was because he hadn’t been intended to be one, either. Arthur had been real duke material. He could picture his older half-brother at Provacateur until the wee hours. He didn’t deserve a lifetime subbing for Arthur.

Hours under strobe lights, sandwiched between gyrating, sweating bodies was just the sort of thing Deborah would have loved and would have insisted that he do with her. But even the most boring things had been worth doing – just to be close to her. All at once, he could see another pair of blue eyes. Not deep violet like Taylor’s, but pale as spring rain, cool, and appraising. Deborah’s eyes. Deborah’s voice. “I can’t live locked away in that decaying old house in Kent. Don’t be ridiculous. There’s everything to do in London and nothing at the Abbey except watching it crumble to bits stone by stone. You can’t seriously be thinking of living there.” He could hear her voice as clearly as if more than a decade had not gone by since the last time she had spoken. And he could picture her graceful body and the way she would shake her golden, shoulder-length hair to make a point.

The memory was too sharp and too clear, and it hurt too much. He brought himself back to the dilemma of Lucy. He would leave New York in the morning as planned. But he’d lie to Ami and cancel the evening. She’d be furious, but she’d get over it. And if she didn’t, there were a zillion more just like her waiting to attach themselves to him. He badly wanted his evening alone at the Plaza with his bottle of scotch. No, that wasn’t what he wanted at all. He wanted to take Taylor Collins to dinner at Per Se, drown in her violet eyes, and learn everything about her, including which places on her tiny exquisite body she liked to be touched. But that was out of the question. He hadn’t expected her to be beautiful and sexy, but he had to force himself to stay on track. He had made a promise to Deborah and to Diana. He couldn’t be so distracted that he gave up his quest for the truth.

He would telephone Steve Riddely now and arrange for him to come round early in the morning to look at Lucy and advise him about treatment programs when he returned. Steve’s father had been his own father’s doctor, and he knew he could trust him not to tell anyone why Lucy had been sent down.
As for himself, he was a coward. Tomorrow or even the next day would be time enough to deal with Lucy.

* * *

The next morning, his Lear Jet was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m. As he sat on the tarmac, waiting in the queue of airplanes for clearance to taxi and takeoff, Nicholas Carey reflected upon his success the prior evening. Ami had been easily put off with a promise to fly her to London the following week. Apparently she was willing to risk the ire of her director to be with him. Not a good development. But the bottle of Balvenie Cask 191 had been superb. He had almost obliterated the shock of meeting Taylor Collins with its joys.

But he was sober now, and she was very much on his mind. He had to find a way to see her again. Not only to find Diana’s tape, but to learn more about her. How to do it without being obvious? Ah, the sale of the house. She was the lead lawyer on the file for the buyer. This would be easy. Way too easy. He picked up his cell and dialed his personal assistant.

“Myles?”

“Your Grace.”

“I want you to call Suzanne Kelly, the woman at Miss Reilly’s who is overseeing their purchase of the Abbey. Tell her there may be a problem with conveying a clear title to the school; and their attorney, Taylor Collins, must come to England and personally examine the documents to determine whether the Trust can actually sell the house.”

“Will do, Your Grace.”

“And another thing. The land conveyance records are at the Abbey library in the family papers section. Keep them in the library but hide them where they’ll be very difficult to find.”

“Yes, Your Grace. Anything else?”

“Only one. Book a suite for me at the Ritz for the next three days. I need some time and space away from Lucy while I think about what to do with her.”

“Done, Your Grace.”

The jet gathered speed for take off. Nicholas watched New York begin to drop away behind him. If Taylor knew about Diana’s tape, her life was in danger.

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