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BEGUINE

CHAPTER SEVEN

December, 2007

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

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

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

“Oh, I was just finishing my champagne.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I called you a couple of weeks ago.”

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

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

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

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

“As are you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

“Oh, someone I knew years ago.”

“One of the musicians?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What time are you leaving?”

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hotel Del Coronado

The Hotel Del Coronado

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BEGUINE

CHAPTER SIX

December, 2007

She had freed herself from Howard, who was deep in conversation with the head of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, and had wandered over to the bar for a glass of champagne. She had thought Stan would come to see her after the first set, but he didn’t. As the musicians’ break stretched to half an hour and a rising tide of disappointment began to seep into her heart, she reminded herself she had never been able to predict him.

The band was on stage again. He was deep in conversation with the two singers, his back to her, and his arms around their shoulders. They were laughing and flirting, and Karen felt as if he meant for her to see that he could still attract twenty-somethings at age forty-eight. But they don’t love you, she said softly to herself. And I – No, some things were better left in the past. And thinking about Stan, even being in the same room with him, was playing with fire. She couldn’t forget that Carrie was dead, and better for Karen Morgan that she stayed that way.

Karen put down the champagne glass and went back to stand dutifully by Howard, who was now engaged with Alan Warrick in a discussion of the litigation section’s place as the top revenue generator for the firm for the fourth year in a row. Alan gave her his minimal smile and his ususal when-are-you-going-to-get-off-that-bench-and-come-back- to-us-question. Karen took some satisfaction because he meant it. She had been the top grossing partner in corporate when she left. The cut in income had driven Howard crazy.

The music began again, and Stan was out front with an aggressive solo in “Black Magic Woman.” The singers never took their eyes off him, and she wondered which one he was sleeping with.

* * *

October, 1994

Karen went home to her condominium on the night of her conversation by the water with Stan, and tossed and turned in her cold bed until dawn. She was miserably jealous of Deanna, whom he had loved so much; and she was deeply hurt that he had warned her away. Before the sun rose, she admitted she was already in love with him.

At five a.m., she got out of bed and opened the closet. She reached to the top shelf, took down her flute and opened the case. Within a few seconds, the soft strains of the first movement of the Ibert Flute Concerto soothed her. Her fingers were clumsy and her mouth and tongue stiff, but she continued to play until her muscles were exhausted. Then she sat in the soft light of early dawn, holding the instrument while tears rolled down her cheeks.

On Sunday, she wandered the beach and considered whether she should return to Jazz By the Bay on Monday night. She honestly wasn’t sure how well Harry was doing financially. Some nights, the club was full; on others, she knew he didn’t break even. She needed to go back for another week or two to get a fair impression. She just didn’t have enough information to tell Alan Warrick on Monday that the place was ripe for picking by Waterfront Development. Although more than likely it was.

As she walked by the windy, bottle green Pacific that Sunday, she pictured Stan on stage with Harry and Kristin. All of their lives depended on the club. If Waterfront Development turned them out, where would they go?

That wasn’t her problem, she reminded herself. In the world of Warrick, Thompson, a lawyer never considered the consequences of a client’s wishes. A Warrick, Thompson lawyer only accomplished what the client wanted. It was her partnership year. She knew better than to go soft on Stan and Harry Rich. She could cut the knot and walk away from this. The part of her that had let go of music thirteen years ago told her to heed Stan’s warning and not look back.

But she knew she couldn’t. On Monday night, around the usual eight p.m., she changed in the Warrick, Thompson ladies’ room and headed for the club. She was so nervous when she entered that her hands were sweating.

Stan was on stage with Harry and Kristin. They had just finished a number, and Stan made eye contact with her immediately. He nodded to Harry, and they broke into “I Can’t Get Started.” Relief washed over her and a surge of happiness. She hurried to her usual spot and ordered a red wine.

But at the break, Stan merely gave her a friendly nod as he worked the tables, pausing longer than usual at the Table of Four. She left at midnight before the set was finished and hurried back to the office to check the documents that had come out of the overnight secretarial pool.

For the remainder of the week, it was exactly the same. She arrived. Stan acknowledged her by playing her tune and then studiously ignored any personal contact at the break. By Friday morning, when Alan Warrick, who had been out of town all week, arrived in her office, she was ready to scream with frustration and disappointment.

“So Waterfront wants the scoop on Harry Rich.”

“How was New York?” she stalled.

“Cold. Hey, did you get bored and not go back? What gives with their financials do you think?”

I wish I had been bored, she thought. “No, I’ve been going, and they might be in pretty good shape. I need this weekend to tell.”

Alan stared at her, incredulous. “You can’t mean it. A place like that doesn’t break even!”

She shrugged. “Some do. When I was in college, I used to play at one in Boston that was quite profitable.”

“Oh, well, then.” Uncharacteristically, Alan conceded defeat to a higher level of knowledge. Karen noted his unusual deference with satisfaction. “Look, give me an answer by Monday, ok? Waterfront is in a hurry to find a reason to get him out of there.”

“I’ll let you know on Monday,” she agreed.

“Hey, you look sort of down,” Alan said. “I’ve got news that will cheer you up.”

“Such as?”

“Burnett Biotech is going public, and we’re doing their Initial Public Offering.” He put a thick file on her desk. “We’re meeting with their representatives at three this afternoon.”

An IPO for a major client in her partnership year should have made Karen ecstatic. The money the deal would make for the firm would impress the partners, and they would have even more incentive to make her a partner. Instead, she felt trapped and miserable.

Her stomach sat in a tight knot for the rest of the day. She had Friday and Saturday night at Jazz By the Bay, and that was all. She tried to imagine a world in which she could no longer see Stan. And began to cry. She had to regain tight control over herself for the meeting with the Burnett executives that afternoon.

By six that Friday night, she had the Burnett documents ready for a first round in
the secretarial pool. But the Burnett accountants called at five after six and kept calling back until ten p.m. She tried to tell them they had weeks to get their numbers together, but they were nervous about their first public offering.

At eleven p.m., tired and disappointed, she went home to bed. Maybe a night off from Jazz by the Bay was what she needed. Maybe she wouldn’t go back on Saturday, and on Monday she’d just tell Alan to close them down.

On Saturday morning, she arrived at the office at seven thirty and tried to keep herself from thinking about Stan as she buried herself in the Burnett stock deal. But to no avail. By ten p.m., when she finally left the day’s documents in overnight secretarial, she headed for the club.

Her heart turned over when she walked in. It was Halloween weekend, and all of single San Diego was there. Every table was taken. And the Table of Four had become the Table of Six in very sexy costumes: three belly dancers, one Marie Antoinette with nearly exposed breasts, a leggy black cat in fishnets, and a Playboy Bunny. She looked down at her weekend work uniform of jeans, a tailored white silk shirt, and a tan fine-wale corduroy blazer and wondered if she should stay. But then, by some miracle, the group at her preferred table on the second row got up, and she hurried to her favorite seat before anyone else could take it.
As she gave the waitress her usual red zin order, she felt Stan’s eyes on her. He shared the stage with Harry at the piano, Kristin, and an alto sax player. He leaned over and whispered in Kristin’s ear and then turned to face the audience. Karen watched him set the mouthpiece in his careful, methodic way, his eyes fixed on her. and then “I Can’t Get Started” filled the nightclub.

For over an hour her heart soared as she listened. She watched his eyes rove over the audience, lingering often on the scantily clad Table of Six.

When the band broke at eleven thirty, he didn’t come into the audience. Karen’s heart sank as the next set began without any chance to speak to him. He had meant it: he didn’t intend to let her into his life. She downed the last of her wine and considered going back to the office. But alcohol and the Burnett accounting data wouldn’t be a good mix. She was already feeling the buzz. Besides she wanted to hear Stan play even if he was ignoring her. She ordered another glass of red zin. And then another.

The show ended at twelve-thirty. The club was still full of people, and they took their time leaving. Karen lingered at the back of the throng, so she could watch Stan on stage, putting away his instrument. She tried not to think this might be her last night to see him.

He kept his back to her as he emptied the valves and put his mouthpiece in its special pouch. “I’m hungry,” he said, his back still to her. “Want to get some dinner?”

By this time, other than a couple locking lips in the back, she was the sole person left.

“Are you talking to me?” The straw of her earlier despair suddenly spun into golden joy.

He turned, grinning mischievously.

“Well, I’m not talking to them.” Karen’s heart was beating so fast she thought he must be able to hear it even at that distance. His sudden shift from cold to warm was unsettling; but because he was opening to her again, she didn’t care.

At that moment, Harry walked onto the stage. “Hey, Stan. Great night. The cook wants to know if you want a steak before she closes up.”

He nodded. “And my friend Kay will have the same.” He gave her another impish smile as Harry headed for the kitchen.

Stan ignored the steps and jumped off the stage. He slid his hand under her elbow and guided her to an empty table. Harry came back with a glass of scotch for him and another red wine for Karen, then disappeared into the kitchen again.

Stan took a long drink and said, “Great costume.”

“Thanks.”

“What are you supposed to be exactly?”

“Weekend lawyer.”

“Looks kind of uptight to me. Why weren’t you here last night?”

“I had to work.” Karen’s heart smiled.

“All night?”

“A lot of it. I’m doing an Initial Public Offering for a client I can’t name until the deal goes public.”

Stan laughed. “So cloak and dagger. Well, if the stock’s any good when it comes out, maybe I’ll buy some.”

“I can’t give you any advice on that, otherwise you’d be guilty of insider trading.”

“Too bad.” He smiled. His eyes held hers. “I’m glad you’re here tonight.”

She tingled at the warmth in his voice. “Great show,” was all she could manage.

His dark eyes studied her face in the club’s low light. “I played it for you.”

She felt herself blush and hoped he didn’t notice. “Thanks.”

Stan kept his eyes on her, and her blush deepened as she met his gaze. “I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.

Harry appeared with plates of steak and steaming baked potatoes. The smell of grilled meat made her mouth water.

They ate in silence for a few minutes. Then Stan said, “You’re putting it away as if you aven’t eaten all day.”

“So are you,” she countered, and he laughed.

“But I’m a starving musician. People in your profession can afford three meals a day.”

“But we haven’t got time to eat them. I had a blueberry muffin from the vending machine when I got to work at seven thirty this morning. Lunch was a stale sandwich from the same machine.”

“Better go easy on the wine, then,” Stan advised as Harry set yet another glass by her plate. “Even this much food isn’t going to help if you’ve had that little to eat all day. Why so much work – and on Saturday?”

“It’s what places like Warrick, Thompson expect of people like me, who aren’t yet partners.”
“And when does that happen?”

“Next September. If everything goes well.”

“By goes well you mean what?”

“Just hits and runs. No errors. I have to make all the clients happy and make lots and lots of money for the firm.”

“And you’ve been doing that for what – five years?”

“Yes. And I have credit for the time I spent in New York. So I’m actually considered a tenth year associate.”

“Ten years since you left music?”

A shadow crossed Karen’s face. “No, thirteen Three years in law school.”

“And you’re not happy.”

“I – I don’t think about that very much.”

“What do you think about?”

She couldn’t tell the truth and say you. “Work, mostly. It expands to fill the time.”

“And you’re not happy,” he repeated. His eyes held hers, and she could tell that no matter what she said, he knew the truth. She felt as if he could look into her soul.

She was too hungry to eat slowly, yet she made every effort to prolong the time with him. He seemed to be lingering over his meal, too.

When they were finished, and Harry had cleared away the plates, Stan said, “Where’s your car?”

“In the lot next door.”

“I’ll walk you to it.”

Even as she smiled and thanked him, Karen’s heart sank. She didn’t want her time with him to end, yet.

The cool night air hit her hard. Her car and Stan’s were the only vehicles in the lot. He reached down and took her hand, and her heart began to race.

“Let me throw my horn in the car, and we’ll go walk by the bay for a little.”

She nodded, too happy to speak.

They started down the path they had taken a week ago, but Stan stopped at the first bench they came to and drew her down beside him. It was two thirty in the morning, and no one else was around.

He pulled her into his arms and held her head against his chest. Karen’s blood raced. This was the only place in the world she belonged. She wished he would kiss her, but he didn’t. As she cuddled against him, her eyes closed. He laid his cheek against her hair.
Stan held her for a long time, but it wasn’t long enough for Karen. Finally he dew away and looked down at her. He smiled as he pushed a stray wisp off her cheek.

She looked up. “You didn’t mean what you said, did you?”

“What did I say?”

“About not getting involved with you.”

“Your bun’s falling down.”

“Fine, let it. You didn’t mean it, did you?”

“You’ve had too much to drink, Carrie Moon.”

“Probably. Empty stomach. All that.” But she liked the dizzy feeling from the wine because she was close to him. She started to put her head against his chest again, but he held her away gently.

“Can’t sleep here, I’m afraid. And you definitely can’t drive home. Come on, I’ll take you back to my place. I have a loft at Fourth and G. Your car will be ok here overnight.”

Ten minutes later, she was leaning against Stan as the elevator in his building creaked to the fourth floor of the converted warehouse. When he opened the door and flicked on the light, she had a quick impression of a big, open room with exposed brick walls, sparsely furnished. She noticed a piano under one window.

He set his horn case on a table next to the front door, one arm still around her, and led her toward the partition that separated the bedroom from the living area.

“In here,” he said. “You can have the bed. I’ll sleep on the sofa.”

“No,” she protested. “Sofa’s fine.”

He laughed, as he removed her corduroy jacket and turned down the bed. “You’re cute when you’re drunk, Carrie Moon. But you’re sleeping right here. Lie down.”

Too sleepy to protest, she obeyed, hoping he wouldn’t make good on his promise to sleep elsewhere.

He leaned down and unzipped her jeans. “You’d don’t want to sleep in these.”

Obediently she let him pull them off. He paused, then, for a moment, as if he knew what else she wanted. His dark eyes held hers, and she reached up and put her arms around his neck.
He disentangled himself gently, kissing the top of her head as he pulled away and drew up the covers. “Not tonight, Carrie Moon.”

He turned out the light and went into the living room. She lay in the half-dark, awash in his strong, deep, masculine scent that permeated the sheets and blankets. She could hear him undressing. A few seconds later, he turned out the light, putting Carrie in total darkness. But only for a moment. Outside, a yellow street light glowed and then another yellow neon light throbbed off and on. As she watched the light come and go, she wondered what would happen if she got up and went to him. She ached to be close to him. But she was also warm and dizzy from the wine. Her limbs were heavy, and her eyelids kept fluttering shut no matter how hard she fought sleep to savor the smell of Stan that surrounded her.
She drifted off but came awake sometime later with a start. The alcohol haze had cleared, and she lay in the dark broken by the blinking yellow light, wondering for a moment where she was. Then she remembered. The clock radio on the beside table said four a.m. She peeled back the covers carefully and put her bare feet on the cold floor.

She tiptoed into the living room and approached the sofa quietly. Even though the room was chilly, Stan had tossed off the blanket that he had pulled over himself. He was sleeping on his back, in his white undershirt and shorts. He looked so vulnerable. Karen wanted to wrap her arms around him and hold him close and comfort him the way he had refused to let her when he had told her about Deanna’s death.

He stirred as she stood watching him and opened his eyes. “What’s wrong? Are you feeling sick?” He half sat up as he spoke.

Karen shook her head.

“Looking for the bathroom? It’s over there.” He pointed to a corner of the loft.

But she shook her head again. “I just woke up and wanted to know if you were here.”

He stood up and ruffled her hair affectionately. “Crazy girl. Where else would I be at four in the morning? Come on. Back to bed with you. We both need more sleep.”

She let him lead her back to the bedroom and tuck her in once more. Part of her thought he would stay, but the rest knew he wouldn’t. He kissed the top of her head and said, “Go back to sleep, Carrie Moon.” Then he turned and walked back into the living room. A minute later she heard the old sofa creak under his weight. Her lids fluttered, and she was asleep.

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PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER FOUR

December, 2007

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

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

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

* * *

October, 1994

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

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

“So how long before you’ll know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You came back.”

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

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

“Except for getting my name wrong.”

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

“No, Karen Moon, the lawyer.”

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

“What kind of lawyer?” He finally asked.

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

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

“Right. How did you know?”

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

“Afraid not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why did you think this one was mine?”

“Conservative but not quite. Like you.”

“I’m not conservative,” she protested.

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

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

He laughed. “Probably not.”

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

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

“Absolutely.”

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PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER THREE

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

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

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

* * *

October, 1994

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And do they?”

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

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

“No. That’s not what we need.”

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

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

“So start eviction proceedings.”

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

“Then wait five years.”

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

“Ask to see his books.”

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

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

“Very billable.”

“And you’re coming, too?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi, I’m Stan. You’re new, tonight.”

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

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

“Not incredibly. But thanks.”

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

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

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

“Where?” His laughing eyes were skeptical.

“Boston University.”

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

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

“Karen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER TWO

December, 2007

In her early days at Warrick, Thompson, Karen had looked forward to the firm’s annual Christmas party. The venue varied. Sometimes oceanside at the Hotel del Coronado. Sometimes inland with exquisite food at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. And sometimes under chains of white fairy lights outdoors on the Prado at Balboa Park. But always with no expense spared. Before her legal career, Karen had no experience with formal parties. Her family’s budget could not cover Christmas dinner at a restaurant, let alone a catered affair for four hundred.

In those first years at the firm, she had shopped the second-hand designer stores to compete with the wives of the big name partners who imported their gowns from Rodeo Drive. Even before she was fully aware of how much appearance mattered in the Warrick, Thompson world, she had instinctively kept her true self hidden and disguised herself to look like those around her. At age thirty, as she stood by the hors d’oeuvres at her first firm Christmas party, white wine in hand, she had laughed privately at the thought of resale Givenchy as camouflage.

Now at forty-eight, she regarded the annual event as a dreary duty. Howard loved it for glad-handing big name clients. But she thoroughly hated wearing a pasted smile from eight to midnight, while watching unhappy people drink themselves into oblivion. And now that she had the money to afford original designer labels – in fact something Howard insisted on to ensure his status in the firm – she no longer found dressing up for the big night could take her mind off the exquisitely boring evening that lay ahead.

On Friday, December 16, she closed her courtroom at four p.m., an hour early, and made it home before I-15 became impassible. She had trained herself in the last two weeks not to look at the answering machine when she came in. She knew the light was not blinking. She had instructed her staff and Howard to leave messages only on her cell so that a winking red light would not tempt her to hope Stan had called again.

Because, of course, he did not. And it had been for the best, she reminded herself as she stripped off the gray suit of judgeship and ran hot water for her shower. Even if her heart still turned over at the sound of his voice after so many years, they had nothing to say to each other.

She stayed in the shower an extra long time. The last thing she wanted was to arrive before Howard. He was flying back for the party but would arrive so late he would go straight to the Hotel Del from the airport. He was still in trial in Philadelphia and had not been home since December 1. She had given his tux to his secretary to FedEx to him the day before.

She took extra time with her hair and makeup. Was there any trace of Carrie in the face of The Honorable Karen M. Morgan? Her auburn hair, which had been long enough to cover her breasts on those wild nights when she and Stan had made love from two a.m. until dawn, was now cut to a tame chin length. She pulled it away from her face with small black clips when she sat on the bench. Loose hair, even chin length, was unprofessional.

She still had Carrie’s round face and big hazel eyes that became green when she wore that color. But these days they were more often gray, influenced by the black robes. She had never looked her age – a disadvantage in the early days of her career when partners had passed her up as too young for important assignments. But Howard now loved having a “trophy wife” his own age who looked ten years younger. She shuddered at the way he’d said it.
She applied her Chanel makeup and studied the effect. Suddenly she wished she had picked the dark green velvet Prada gown at Nordstrom’s. Deep V-neck, long skinny sleeves, and a pencil skirt, slit to the knee. Hardly something the Honorable Karen would wear. But a dress the middle-aged Carrie would have adored. If she had survived.

Karen dug deeper into her cosmetic drawer and found an old emerald eyeshadow. Cover Girl. From the days when she had bought makeup in drug stores. She applied it lovingly to each lid. And then deepened her black liner, smudging it carefully so that it would look soft. She smiled. Her eyes were now the color of the sea on a sunny day. She slipped into her black silk Chanel gown, high neck but plunging V back, three quarter-length sleeves. She added the emerald and diamond earrings she had bought last summer when Howard’s secretary forgot her birthday. She wiggled into black satin evening sandals and picked up her discreet black evening bag. Eight-thirty. Cocktails had begun at eight. Howard shouldn’t arrive until nine.

She resolutely refused to look at the answering machine as she walked through the kitchen, car keys in hand. But just as she opened the door to the garage, she turned abruptly, ran across the room, and switched it off. There. Now she could come back untormented by any hope of a call. Besides, it was Friday night. Stan Benedict was working. Somewhere – she had no idea where – he was on stage, playing trumpet in a way that touched the soul of every woman in the club. One lucky one would go home with him. But not Carrie Moon. She had been home with Stan Benedict. And she was dead. The Honorable Karen M. Morgan turned off the kitchen light and headed for her BMW. Showtime at Warrick, Thompson. Again.

* * *

Everyone had just sat down to dinner in the dark paneled Crown Room when she arrived at the Hotel Del. To her surprise, Howard was already there and seated next to fifty-something Huntfield Harper, CEO of Harper Biotech. Her husband shot her an annoyed, but relieved look as she slid into the seat beside him.

“You’re late!” he hissed in her ear, smiling to mask his displeasure.
“Sorry.” She gave him and her immediate audience a vague smile, unperturbed. “Red zin,” she said to the hovering waiter and turned to engage the third Mrs. Huntfield Harper in mindless conversation. While the twenty-something, dripping in diamonds, chattered about shopping and redecorating her Rancho Santa Fe mansion, Karen tuned out. She had long ago mastered the art of lobbing a pointless question across the net to keep equally pointless social conversation flowing.

When the lobster entree arrived, Mrs. Harper received a warning look from her husband as the waiter poured her fourth glass of champagne. Karen heard the musicians begin their sound check. They were behind the closed folding doors in the middle of the Crown Room where dancing would follow dinner. First the deep reverberations of a bass guitar, then a sax, starting low and running an F scale into the upper octaves, followed by laughter and conversation that she couldn’t make out, followed by electronic buzzes and monotones that indicated they were adjusting the sound equipment. Mrs. Harper paused at that moment, and Karen tossed her another question about interior decoration that restarted her monologue.

The sax wailed a few notes of the blues scale, and then a trumpet began to warm up. Karen felt the first low notes vibrate inside her as if she were the instrument. No, she told herself. Stan’s not in there. A phone call does not mean he’s in San Diego. And even if he were, he’d be playing solo at a jazz club somewhere – probably Croce’s tonight. He wouldn’t be backup in the kind of corporate dance band Warrick, Thompson shelled out big bucks for every year. Stan wasn’t in the next room. But someone who could nail triple high C’s, just the way he could, was in there. The high, pure notes sent her blood racing. At least the music would salvage something of the evening for her.

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CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

She was afraid he’d gone to bed. She’d taken a desperate chance, driving over to his house at midnight just because she wanted to see him. He was wearing gray sweat pants and a white t-shirt and holding an empty glass that she guessed must have held scotch. It was the most casually dressed she had ever seen him. She had done her best to stay away ever since seeing realizing his growing feelings for Alexa, knowing as she did that even if Alexa hadn’t been in the way, nothing would ever be possible for her with him. But, she told herself, Jim had become her anchor in the swirling intrigue that surrounded this case; and she needed to be near him at least for that night to steady herself for what was to come.

“You haven’t been home to change since the hearing.” He was surprised to see her in the same dark purple suit.

“I went to the hospital to give Alexa the news, and then I had several meetings with prospective clients this afternoon. I went to Trend for a drink, and then I realized I needed to talk to you.”

“And I’m sure you haven’t had a thing to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Yes, you are.” He led the way into his dark kitchen, snapped on the light, and pulled out a stool for her at island in the center. Without asking, he took her briefcase and purse and began to unbutton her suit coat. He didn’t care if he was inappropriate. He was sailing on too much scotch, and he’d missed her, and right now nothing mattered more than having her here with him.

“What are you doing?”

“Making sure you don’t dribble brie and mushroom quiche on your very expensive jacket. Chanel?”

“No.”

“Then designer Who?”

“Does it matter?”

“You were the best looking one in the courtroom this morning.”

Sarah gave him the first smile he’d seen that day. “Preston Baldwin is fifty and bald and Judge Tomlinson could use a few laps at the gym. As for the sheriff – ”

“Aren’t you going to make a crack about real men and quiche?”

“No. I’m going to be happy you let me into your house at midnight and are willing to feed me. The suit is Marc Jacobs, by the way.” I’ve had too much to drink, Sarah thought. I shouldn’t have come here. But I’m so happy to see him that it hurts. I only hope I don’t do something stupid.

“Should I pour wine or make coffee?”

“Wine.” Ok, Sarah thought. That was stupid. I’m already over my limit.

He opened a bottle of cabernet and poured two glasses. “Go slowly on this. The quiche will be ready in a few minutes. I had some for supper.” He told himself not to be distracted because she was wearing a lacy black camisole under the discarded jacket.

“So how was Alexa when you gave her the news?”

“Surprised. Happy. Didn’t you go by the hospital tonight?”

“No. I knew you’d been there. And I figured after the Judge reamed out the sheriff, they wouldn’t try anything tonight. Congratulations, by the way. This is an unprecedented victory.”

Sarah’s stomach tightened because she was afraid he was about to mention Menendez. But to her great relief he didn’t. “Probably illegal, as the judge said. But thanks.”

“Killing her in jail is also illegal.”

“Good point.”

“Have you decided how to handle things tomorrow?”

“They are coming to the hospital at 10:30 to fit the ankle monitor.”

“And you’re going to be there to make sure they don’t smear it with poison.”

“Something like that. I want you there, too.”

“Me?”

“Well, you’ve done the lion’s share of looking after her. She trusts you.” Sarah tried to keep her voice steady.

“And you, too. I’m just doing what an investigator does for his boss.”

And it looks like a lot more than that to me. But I’m not going to say it.

“Here, eat up.”

“Thanks.”

He watched her wolf down the quiche. Unlike the inedible stuff she brought home in saran wrap that she picked at, she always ate his food.

“That was fast. I bet you haven’t eaten all day.”

She looked up guiltily from the empty plate. “Do the pretzels at Trend count?”

“Definitely not. Here. One more piece.” He fought down the wave of feelings that washed over him as he sliced another serving of pie and heated it in the microwave. She needed someone to look after her. She needed him.

“Thanks.” Sarah attacked her second helping more slowly, savoring every bit. “It’s wonderful as usual.”

“I still say you need a personal chef.”

She laughed. “Wouldn’t work. My hours are too irregular.”

“There would at least be something in the frig for you to heat up when you finally do get home.”

“It’s a thought. What have you found in Brigman’s bank records?”

“Do you really want to talk about those right now?”

No, Sarah, thought. No, I don’t. I want to put my head on your shoulder and feel your arms around me and feel safe. I never feel safe, but I feel safe with you. “I was hoping for just a preliminary opinion.”

He was disappointed. He didn’t want to talk shop at one a.m. He wanted to hold her and tell her how much she meant to him. “I can give you more than that. I’ve found evidence Michael was, indeed bribing Ronald Brigman. There’s a pattern of transfers into Brigman’s account each month and stupidly Michael used the same account to write support checks to Alexa.”

Sarah’s face brightened. “So we can prove Michael was bribing Brigman?”

“Yes, but it doesn’t help us put together a defense for Alexa because although she and Bob Metcalf suspected something illegal, they didn’t actually know what Michael and Brigman were up to. So the bribes couldn’t have influenced Alexa’s decision to kill them. If she killed them.”

“Have you told Alexa her suspicions were justified?”

“No. I figured that was your job.”

Well, at least they weren’t quite as close as they’d seemed that night. Sarah took some comfort in that. She was suddenly overcome by the desire to go to sleep.

“Hey!” Jim caught her as she was slipping off the stool.

“Sorry. Food. Wine. I’m tired, now. I’d better go home.”

“Well, you can’t drive. And to be honest, neither can I. I’ve killed quite a bit of scotch tonight.”

Because you missed visiting Alexa, she thought. But knew better than to say so. “No, I’ll be fine,” she insisted.

“You will not be fine. Guest room, now.”

“No. I have to go home.” Because something will happen if I stay. And tomorrow at the hospital, when I see you with Alexa, my heart break all over again.

Jim sighed. “Then I’ll call a cab for you.”

Within ten minutes, he bundled her into the bright yellow taxi and then stood in the drive like a love-sick school boy watching it vanish into the dark.

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Yesterday I encountered two Christmas trees at the mall. Now, I realize Christmas trees before T-day is fraught with controversy. There have been a number of posts on Facebook this week denouncing the presence of Christmas trees before turkeys. I certainly respect those sentiments. I used to feel that way – until I realized I was in love with Christmas trees because they are works of magic in my small, solid earthbound world. For me, if someone wants to turn on the lights and hang the tiny glass balls and stars early, I’m the girl who’s ready to sign on for the fantasy! I want as much magic as I can get for as long as I can get it. And Christmas trees are magic!

My fascination covers the ornaments too. I like to walk through the displays and admire the miniature sleighs and Santas, the adorable Rudolphs, the fairy princesses, and the baby pandas and polar bears. I particularly love the glass ornaments: the silver and gold stars, the moons, and the icy snowflakes. One of my favorite haunts is Anthropologie where I scope out the tiny dolls and woodland creatures I intend to scoop up at the after-Christmas sales. (Since everything at Anthro goes ON SALE eventually, it is against my sacred pocket book principles to pay full price. Especially Anthro’s full
price.) Over the years, I have acquired some gems this way. For example, I have the knitting-doll ornament. (I knit.) I have the “shop local” doll ornament. (I shop, locally and otherwise.) I have the wooly lion. (Ok, I’m a person not a lion, but I’m a Leo person.)

So yesterday, as I bopped along on a mundane errand, on an otherwise mundane Monday, I came , unexpectedly, to this:

Christmas Tree!!

The Christmas Tree!

This gigantic tree soared into the California deep blue November sky, shining with copper, gold, and silver ornaments. The sheer size of it took my breath away. Dwarfed by its grandeur, I stopped to bask in its Christmasy magic – silently apologizing to the turkeys and pilgrims who are waiting to assume the spotlight next Thursday. But I just couldn’t resist flying into the blue sky on that trail of glorious Christmas.

Inspired, I went in search of more fantasy and found these ornaments waiting at Anthro. I will definitely be back when they are ON SALE.

The Ornaments at Anthro

The Ornaments at Antrho

Anthro Cool Bunny

Antrho Cool Bunny

The Other Anthro Cool Bunny

The Other Antrho Cool Bunny

But then, as I hurried along, I came to this little tiny little frosted tree, trapped in a glass jar at Sears. Oh, it wants OUT, I realized at once. It wants out, so its magic can let it grow to be as big as the magic of the tree outside.

Help, let me out!

Help, let me out!

As I stood looking at the little tree, I imagined screwing off the jar’s lid and setting it down in the center of the Sears’s store. What if freeing it and all its Christmas magic would let it grow and grow until it broke through the roof and became as big as its counterpart outside? It reminded me of those tiny little sponge capsules you can drop into the bath. In the warm water, they slowly break through their plastic prisons to become sponge dinosaurs and circus animals and racing cars. What if my little tree had magic inside that would let it reach its full potential as soon as someone freed it from its glass? What if it could emerge, fantastic, shiny, and free, to soar above the mundane? In short, what if I let it’s magic out?

My errand done, and work waiting, I headed off to my beloved chili-red Mini Cooper with black bonnet stripes and the world’s greatest vanity plate. (Another blog to be). But as I went, I realized, we are that little tree. We are all trying to break free of the glass jar and to grow into our magical selves so we can shine our unique magic into the world.

Merry Early Christmas! And Here’s to the Escape of Everyone’s Magical Self!

The Magic!

The Magic!

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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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