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CHAPTER TWENTY

January, 1995

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Horrible. Trapped. Responsible.”

“Responsible to whom?”

“To you!” he snarled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And that means?”

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

“Is this about me and Lara?”

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

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

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

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

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

But he had already slammed the door behind him.

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

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

January, 1995

The Harper Biotech deal hit a sudden snag during the end of January. The accountants decided the company’s assets had been overvalued and ordered a new look at all their holdings to see if the proposed stock split would survive Securities and Exchange Commission scrutiny. Karen cooled her heels in her office for a week, waiting impatiently for them to agree on their final numbers.

But as she sat by her telephone day after day, she wasn’t holding her breath for the call from the Harper accounting department. Instead, she was thinking non-stop about Stan. Where was he? What was he doing? Who was he with?

She knew his habits well enough during the evening and the first hours of dawn, but she had little idea what he did with himself while she was at work. Pictures of Stan with Lara Beaumont began to torment her. Did they sleep together? Eat in the small cafes around 4th and G? Walk by the bay? The thought of Lara doing everything she wanted to be doing with Stan herself was pure torment.

The Harper executives got their numbers together and demanded almost non-stop meetings in the last days of January. Karen sat through seemingly endless discussions about asset values, the corporate pension plan, and executive compensation. She tried to focus as the suits argued with each other, but her mind was on Stan.

Alan came into her office, white-faced the morning after the most heated Harper exchange yet. They wanted an absolute guarantee from Karen that the numbers they had put together would support the stock deal. She knew she had to give an opinion; but her thoughts had been elsewhere during the debate, so she put them off to everyone’s great displeasure.

“What’s going on?” Alan demanded as he closed her office door, always a bad sign. He threw a proof of the stock prospectus on her desk. It landed with an ominous thud.

I’m not going to talk about Stan and my private life, she told herself as she prepared for the confrontation. She expected Alan to berate her for her evasion the day before. She picked up the prospectus and immediately felt her face go as white as Alan’s. “Oh, no!”

“Exactly! The asset and debt numbers are transposed. According to this, Harper is ready for bankruptcy, not a stock deal. How in the hell did you let this happen, Karen?”

By obsessing over Stan and Lara Beaumont. Keep your composure, she reminded herself. Stan is not the only one trained as a performer. Even if it’s bad, make it look good. “It happened because there have been too many changes coming at me too fast.” Not a bad lie, she reflected. “These haven’t gone out to anyone.”

“No one from Harper has seen them?”

“No.” She said a silent prayer of thanks as she spoke. The Harper people hadn’t been happy when the proofs weren’t handed to them yesterday. She was weak with relief that she had obeyed her instincts against Harper’s displeasure.

Alan became visibly calmer. “Then let’s round these up and destroy them and get the correct ones in the client’s hands as fast as we can.”

“Not a problem.” She just wanted Alan out of her office, so she could drop her professional mask and let herself feel the terror and relief sitting side by side in her heart.

He opened the door but turned before he left. “Are you going to give them an opinion today? Can this deal go forward? If you don’t give them an answer, they’re going to pull out and take this back to their usual securities counsel in New York. Make up your mind, Karen.”

As soon as the door closed, she folded her arms on her desk and put her head down. She wanted to cry, but she might be discovered. She had come within a tenth of an inch of ruining not only her chance for partnership, but her career. If Harper had seen those transposed numbers, she would never have lived it down.

I have to get myself together. I have to make some decisions. I don’t have enough time to spend with Stan. I don’t even know what he does all day, and it’s driving me crazy. And I hate this job. I hate this place and this firm, and Alan Warrick’s smug, self-righteous face. I’m only a money-making machine to him.

Her thoughts raced like a runaway freight train. She stared out of her glass walls at the city and the bay below and waited until her emotions began to clear.

She wanted to jump up and run straight back to the loft and into Stan’s arms. If he was even there at ten a.m. He’d played another early morning gig on a different television station also with Lara, and she imagined them now lingering over brunch. Whenever she objected to those after-gig rendevous, Stan reminded her indignantly of Lara’s connection to Deanna.

An aircraft carrier was moving slowly across the bay, accompanied by its helicopter escort. Karen watched its stately progress as she considered what to do.

Lately Stan had taken to sitting up alone, sometimes after they made love, sometimes as soon as he got back from the club. He would sit with a bottle of wine in front of the pointless blue glow of the muted television.

I need to spend more time with him, she thought. He’s alone too much. And seeing him on stage at night and for a few hours between midnight and dawn isn’t enough to know what’s really going on. We need more time together. Lots more time.

Something had to change in her life, she decided as she saw the big ship round the bend by Point Loma, break free of the chopper escort, and move into the open ocean. I have to break free, too. Something has to go. Stan or Warrick Thompson. The choice was easy.

The decision sent a wave of pure joy through Karen. She turned back to the Harper deal on her desk, her mind now focused on the legal issues in front of her. I’ll see this through, and then I’ll tell Alan I’m leaving.

And what will you do, then? A voice in her head spoke up.

Karen smiled. Music. I’ll go back to music. I’ll take Harry up on his offer to play at the club. I’ll work as hard at something I love as I do at this stuff that I dearly hate. Stan won’t be able to say I’m not a performer. And he’ll look at me on stage the way he looks at Lara Beaumont.

Karen summoned her secretary. “Tell Alan we can meet with the Harper executives this afternoon to give them the green light on this deal. And make sure every one of those faulty prospectuses is in the shredder within thirty minutes.”

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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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 ONE
December, 2007

“Stan Benedict calling for Carrie Moon.”

Even after twelve years, his rich, baritone sent her heart racing. He still had a smile in his voice. On all the nights when she couldn’t sleep because she was thinking of him, she had tried to remember exactly the way he had just, an instant ago, pronounced her name, Carrie Moon.

But, no, she reminded herself quickly. Carrie Moon had been dead for twelve years.

“No one by that name lives here!” she blurted into the receiver and threw it down before she could lose her nerve. As much as she had dreamed of the day when she would hear from Stan again, she knew she couldn’t let him into the well ordered life of The Honorable Karen M. Morgan, Judge of the Superior Court of San Diego County.

“What’s wrong?” Her husband Howard appeared in the doorway of her study, his face contorted with frustration. “I need quiet to finish these depositions.”

“Sorry. It was nothing.” She tried to steady her hands as she adjusted the sentencing memoranda she had been reading in preparation for the sentencing of two convicted murderers the following day. But she was unsuccessful.

“Your hands are shaking. Was that some sort of threat? Should I call the police?”

Because she presided over criminal as well as civil trials, Howard resolutely believed that one day someone she had sentenced to prison would escape and murder them in their beds. He hated her job. He had wanted her to stay at Warrick, Thompson, and Hayes, San Diego’s biggest law firm, where they had both been partners. But after more than twenty mind-numbing years of ensuring the right accounting data of multinational corporations went on the right lines of Securities and Exchange Commission financial disclosure documents, she had chosen to accept the judgeship two years ago.

At six one, with one hundred and eighty pounds of well-honed muscle, Howard was not someone to be taken lightly. She was certain his stature enhanced his reputation as an unbeatable trial attorney.

At that moment he looked like an angry grizzly bear, roused from the comfort and isolation of his own fully equipped home office. When had the handsome man she married become this jowelly, gray-haired, fifty-year old? Where was the distinguished Howard Morgan, who had spoken to her in the elevator ten years ago on his first day at Warrick, Thompson? In 1997, a year after she became a partner at age 38, the firm had lured him from Elliot, Fitzgerald in New York to shake up their sleepy, backwater litigation section. From his first day in charge, the litigation lawyers at Warrick, Thompson were on call twenty-four/seven. They went to every initial client meeting with a fully prepared litigation plan and cost analysis. After five years of Howard, the Los Angeles firms that had been trying to take over the San Diego market, closed their branch offices and went home.

“No, you don’t need to call the police.” She regained more and more of her composure with each passing second. Her voice now carried its usual cool, unflappable judicial tone. “It was just a wrong number.”

“Good. I don’t have time for crises right now. I have to read three major depositions tonight.” He turned abruptly and went down the hall. She would not see him again for at least a week. He would study depositions until the wee hours, sleep on the sofa in his office, and be out the door to catch his flight to Philadelphia by six a.m. After ten years of marriage, she knew all his routines by heart.

She took a long breath and stared at the phone. All she had to do was hit *69, and Stan’s voice would be there again. And she could tell him the truth. Except she had already told him the truth. Carrie Moon did not live there. Carrie Moon no longer existed.

  * * *
She was in her office in her chambers by seven the next morning, an hour before her secretary, her court clerk, or her bailiff arrived. She had not slept, so there had been no point in staying in bed past five thirty when the first faint light of the December dawn filtered through her blinds. She actually had come downstairs in time to see Howard heading out, suitcase in hand. He regarded her with mild surprise.

“You didn’t have to get up to say goodbye.”

“I couldn’t sleep anymore. Have a good trip.”

He nodded and without a backward glance hurried out to the waiting limo.

No kisses, but she hadn’t expected or particularly wanted one. In the early days of their relationship Howard’s attention had been exciting. He had appeared in the doorway of her office at six in the evening and had taken her for a drink or for dinner before returning to his own office to work until the wee hours. Single, successful, and rich, he had been highly sought after. His attention had turned her head. He had asked her to marry him after three months of dating. She wasn’t in love when she said yes; but she had thought mistakenly, he was in love with her. On their third anniversary – by the time they were using a king-sized bed, so that they could maintain the appearance of sleeping in the same room without touching – she had asked him why he’d pursued her so relentlessly in the beginning. Unspoken were the words, since you obviously care so little about me now.

“I needed a wife. So everyone would leave me alone. It takes time away from work to fend off women and well-meaning friends who want to fix you up. You were terrific wife material for someone like me: a partner at the firm, discreet, undemanding. And you’ve turned out to be everything I thought you’d be, Karen. You’ve been great for my career. And I hope I’ve been the same for yours.” He had stretched across the mammoth bed and patted her shoulder before he rolled over and went to sleep.

The Honorable Karen M. Morgan sat down at her desk, wondering if she dared make herself a cup of coffee. When she became a judge, she quickly learned that everyone waited on her because of the dignity of her position. Her court secretary and clerk would be miffed if they showed up and found the pot brewing. She eyed her empty cup longingly but decided against rocking anyone’s boat that morning. She considered the sentencing memoranda and probation reports on her desk and wondered if she would learn anything else about Pablo Rodriguez and Vincenzo Lopez if she read them again. She already knew they were twenty-one and twenty-two. Gang members since the age of twelve. They had killed three bystanders in a drive-by shooting against a rival gang eighteen months ago. One victim had been a four-year-old child. Each defendant was up for 125 years-to-life. Pablo was the sole support of a widowed mother and a ten-year-old sister. There would be tears this morning.

The probation report and sentencing memoranda remained untouched. She would learn nothing more about these men whom she would soon sentence to a living death just as she would she never learn any more about Howard’s twisted logic which had produced their living death of a marriage. His coldness would have mattered if she had had a heart herself. But hers had been dead for twelve years.

Yet maybe a spark still lived inside her somewhere. After she had heard the limo drive off that morning, she had rushed to the phone and dialed * and 6 before she put it down without completing the 9. She had stared at the receiver longingly, wishing she had not told Stan the truth last night. Then she probably would be seeing him today. The thought of being near him created such a surge of joy that she couldn’t catch her breath for a moment. She had felt nothing like this for twelve years.

Howard would never know if she saw Stan. He was going to be gone for the entire week. And even if he found out, he would not care as long as no one else knew. In the world of Warrick, Thompson, no one frowned on having affairs; they frowned only on knowing they had occurred. One never made one’s personal or professional mistakes public.

She had stared at the phone and wondered how long * 69 worked to ring back the incoming call. But where would a ringing phone have found Stan at this hour except in bed with some woman half his age? For he, too, had turned forty-eight this year. He had been thirty-six on that last day.

She closed her eyes, summoning her memory of his smiling voice and her first sight of him on stage with his trumpet at Jazz By the Bay. Five feet eleven, dark, slightly wavy hair that he grew to collar length, slender build but well-developed chest, the result of years of relentlessly increasing his lung capacity. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he was drop-dead attractive thanks to the warmth in his smile and the twinkle in his dark eyes. His exuberant personality made him a born flirt. She’d watched him solo that night on “I Can’t Get Started” and, while her heart raced, she had realized most of the other female hearts in the room were pounding just as hard.

“Judge Morgan, you’re sitting in the dark!” Isabel Martinez, her secretary, flipped on the overhead lights as she entered the office.

Karen hadn’t noticed. The glow of the desk lamp that she left on around the clock had been sufficient for her musings. Mesmerized, she watched Isabel place a small artificial tree on the corner of her desk.

“What’s that for?”

“Christmas, Your Honor. Haven’t you noticed it’s December 1?”

Karen reached over and pulled yesterday’s page off her calendar. “Why, so it is.” She rubbed her eyes, sandy from lack of sleep.

“You need coffee,” Isabel said wisely. “I’ll put the pot on.”

Karen watched her small, overweight figure waddle over to the coffee pot and take charge. Isabel was only a year older than she was, yet looked ten years her senior. She had been married since the age of 18 and was a grandmother three times over. Karen wondered if she loved her husband but dared not ask.

In the law firm, secretaries and paralegals talked about their personal lives to the women attorneys. But as soon as she was on the bench that stopped. She could not be called Karen any longer. She had to be Your Honor or Judge Morgan. When she put her robe on each morning, she felt as if she disappeared under its weight. A figure that looked like her took the bench day after day and barked orders in the courtroom, while her soul hovered in some unknown place, waiting for the robe to come off so that it could return to her body.

“Here.” Isabel handed her a steaming mug just as Jim Scott, her court clerk, and Bob McGee, her bailiff came in. Eight o’clock. They met each morning to receive her orders for the day, but on this day she had none.
Fortunately Bob took the lead. “I’ve scoped out the hallway. Lots of press waiting to report the sentencing. And lots of victims’ families, too.”

“Tell the press they have to stay outside.” Panic hit Karen. Stan might see her on TV and realize she had lied to him last night. She remembered how he used to watch the morning news as he lay in bed, not rushed to go anywhere because his work day never started before eight p.m. What if he saw her and came down to the courthouse?

“With all due respect, Judge Morgan, the last time we tried to close the proceedings, we spent two mornings in litigation with those hotshot Los Angeles First Amendment lawyers that Channel 21 keeps on retainer,” Bob reminded her.

One of Howard’s few failures was his inability to capture Chanel 21’s First Amendment business. “Good point,” she conceded. “Let them in, but make sure they are set up by nine. I don’t want any delays today.”

* * *

At six fifteen that night, she sat on I-15, her silver BMW stalled like a ship dead in the water. She stared blankly at the parking lot that the freeway inevitably became after five o’clock. She recalled the impassive faces of Rodriguez and Lopez as she had sentenced them that morning. As she inched forward to her exit, she realized to her horror that she was as emotionally detached as they had been. She couldn’t shed any more tears about anything or for any reason – not like the mothers, sobbing their hearts out as their sons were led away. What if she could feel again? Even pain would be better than this continual numbness. But no, she reminded herself, blinding emotional pain had left her unable to feel. She had hurt until she could not hurt anymore. Not feeling was better than hurting that much ever gain. Stan had to stay out of her life.

But within ten minutes, she found she was wrong. She parked in
the garage of their six thousand square-foot-home with the view of the eastern mountains. This house was one of the few disagreements she had won with Howard. He had wanted to live in upscale La Jolla by the sea. But she had grown up in Asheville, North Carolina; and she missed mountains and forests. Her suburban Scripps Ranch home, among the eucalyptus trees, was in one of the few San Diego neighborhoods with anything green overhead. And she could see the mountains every morning from her bedroom window.

She hurried into the silent kitchen. She raced toward the phone, almost breathless at the sight of the red light on the answering machine, winking steadily like a monitor tracking her heartbeat. She pushed the message button and held her breath. Isabel’s soft monotone reminded her to bring ornaments for the barren little tree. The light stopped blinking as if her heart had stopped beating. She hit the erase button and burst into the tears she had no idea she could shed. She stood alone in her empty kitchen in her empty house in her empty life and sobbed for Stan Benedict – and for Carrie Moon.

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It must have been the last winter storm of the season that came overnight. It seems odd to say “winter storm,” since in San Diego “winter storms” do not have freezing temperatures and snow, the hallmarks of real winter. But even though it was 61 degrees when I went outside with the first of the retrievers at seven o’clock on Saturday morning, it felt colder than that. I put on my jacket before accompanying retriever two on her first potty break of the day.

We walked to Hendrix Pond after retriever breakfast. (Mine comes later with a foamy hot latte that I make myself in a bone china cup with pastel flowers that is the sine qua non for reading my emails.) Everything was shiny wet under gray clouds that carried the potential for new rain. The eucalyptus trees tossed restlessly overhead in the wild winds, and the world smelled of rain and the fruity, but faintly astringent, aroma of eucalyptus. Excitement was in the air; but I had no idea why.

The pond was a sheet of greeny-brown glass, with few green-headed mallards and navy-winged females swimming among the reeds. The three white heron that had been there yesterday were nowhere to be seen. (It has been ages since all three were present; a good sign, I think when all return together. I found a white feather once that one of them left behind, and tucked it into a flower pot by my front door as a symbol of magic and good luck.) Most of the ducks were tucked securely into various sheltered nooks around the pond, some with their heads under their wings. No one had come to feed them as people often do of a morning. The retrievers and I had the wild, windy, cold, wintry world of the pond to ourselves.

We followed our usual trail around the perimeter, the retrievers investigating every new smell that overnight wind and rain had created. I waited patiently while they exhausted every sniff of whatever blade of grass or smooth bit of rock caught their canine fancy. I gazed out at the ducks and listened to the creaking eucalyptus overhead and wished I had awakened in the night to hear the wind and rain. There is nothing more cozy than waking in the wee hours to hear the world being tossed to bits by winter winds accompanied by the staccato beat of rain on the roof while retrievers snore contentedly close by. I love to snuggle deeper into my warm bed and my heap of feather pillows and say a prayer of thanks for my roof, my bed, my dogs, and for being cozy and dry.

The retrievers and I walked out of the shadows just as the morning sun broke through the heavy clouds. I felt the warmth of a normal April morning on my back for a few minutes; and now my jacket, which had been so welcome a minute ago, was uncomfortably hot. In this new unwelcome heat, the world seemed to go fuzzy the way a scene does when you turn the focus ring of a camera too far the wrong way. In an instant, I remembered what hot summer walks are like, with the heat of the sun on my back, and the retrievers, in their fluffy blonde coats, anxious to return to the dark cool of the condo. But, as quickly as the heat of April emerged, it vanished behind the gray morning storm clouds sailing across the rain-washed sky. Now the focus ring had been turned in the opposite direction, and it seemed as if the world had gone from fuzzy into sharp focus in the crisp air.

Some people love summer. Maybe because I grew up in the excessive heat of Southern summers, that season has never been my favorite. In a few days, it will become summer-hot here. Nineties are predicted where we live by Tuesday. So this morning’s chance to bid farewell to the cozy focus that winter-damp air brings to life under the tossing eucalyptus was welcome. Winter, I will miss you.

The Pond - Our Daily Destination

The Pond – Our Daily Destination

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CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Sarah hurried to her car parked in the drive and got in. She sat behind the wheel and took a few long breaths to calm herself before she started the engine and backed out. She shouldn’t have gone to Jim’s last night. It had only made seeing him with Alexa today that much more difficult.

She decided not to drive through the heart of Pacific Beach because even on a Wednesday night at seven o’clock, the partyers would be taking over the streets. Her nerves were like frayed electrical wires, snapping and arcing, and she was not in the mood to worry about hitting jaywalking drunks.

She navigated her way back to Felspar Street which led on to Mount Soledad Road. She decided it would easier to drive over the mountain and through downtown La Jolla to go home. As she swung up the mountain’s long steep grade, she considered stopping at Trend for a drink. The bar offered half-priced appetizers on Wednesday night, and it was a big draw for businessmen in the office buildings near by. Maybe she’d pick up someone to spend the night with, and maybe he’d be interesting enough to take her mind off Jim cooking supper in Alexa’s kitchen.

But that was the trouble with Trend. She couldn’t go in now without wishing Jim were there, too. The bar had always been one of her favorite spots for picking up the men who rotated quickly through her life. She hated to think her interest in Jim had ruined that forever.

She reached the top of the mountain and began her descent. The BMW purred happily along the sharp bends and twists on the downward slope. She steered into the curves and let herself admit the truth: she wanted off this case. The emotions it conjured up in her slammed her to the ground, day after day. It brought back the dark days of Joey Menendez, a place of horror that she never wanted to revisit.

She was now on the steepest part of the descent. Her feet reached for the clutch and the brake to slow the big car into the hairpin turn. The brake depressed, but her speed didn’t change. Automatically she pumped the brake. Craig, Lewis had required its high-profile criminal lawyers to learn advanced driving techniques. She felt confident even in the emergency.

But the brakes remained unresponsive. She still had the clutch engaged, so she pulled the stick back to third gear. But nothing happened. Suddenly she was covered in cold sweat without time to think. The brakes and her clutch were gone, and she was hurtling toward a hairpin turn at sixty miles an hour. She frantically pumped the brakes and tried to steer away from the stone wall directly in her path. At the last minute, the car somehow made it around the turn without flipping over. Another lay just ahead.

She continued to hold the wheel as she reached for her last hope, the emergency brake. But, it too, was gone. The car continued to pick up speed, and she braced herself for the coming turn. And then nothing.

* * *
Jim Mitchell left Alexa’s around 10:00 that evening. The long day of waiting and wondering if Alexa would really get to go home had left him exhausted. The tension of not having anything to use for her defense was wearing him down, inch by inch. He needed to find that nanny.

He hurried home, downed a fast tumbler of scotch, and fell into bed at 10:30. When his phone went off at 1 a.m., he opened his eyes long enough to see the call wasn’t from Alexa. He didn’t recognize the number, so he pushed the dismiss button and went back to sleep. But the phone shrilled again, determined not to let him rest.

“Hello.”

“This is Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. Someone whom we believe is a friend or relative was in a car crash tonight. The police found your name among her things. She’s here in the hospital. Sarah Knight.”

Panic seized him. How badly was she hurt?

* * *

She was sitting on the side of her bed, trying to sign something with her left hand. She had a white gauze bandage wrapped around her forehead and her right arm was in a sling. She looked angry and annoyed.

“What are you doing here?”

“Making sure you’re ok.”

“How’d you find out I was here?”

“The hospital called. My name was the only one they could find in the car. Apparently you don’t carry the names of your next-of-kin on you.”

“That’s because I don’t have any.”

“Well, I’m filling in tonight. Get back in bed. What are you trying to do?”

“I’m signing myself out and going home.”

At that moment the door whooshed open, and Jim remembered all the recent nights with Alexa in the hospital. He’d had enough of them, but he knew Sarah should stay put.

“I’m Tom Barrett,” the forty-something, square-jawed, salt and pepper haired doctor in the white coat strode in with a smile and an out-stretched hand. No wedding ring, Jim noticed, and the kind of George Clooney face women find irresistible.

“You must be Mr. Knight?”

“No, a professional colleague.”

Was that a spark of relief in the good doctor’s eyes? Jim didn’t want to think about it.

“Well, Sarah here has had quite a blow to the head. She’s lucky to be alive at all. Very lucky. She’s sprained her right arm; but more importantly, she’s got a mild concussion and shouldn’t go home tonight. Maybe you can get her to see reason.”

Tom Barrett turned to Sarah, who was frowning at his handsome face. “Put that down and let me take a look at you.”

“I’m fine.”

“You are not fine. Any nausea or dizziness? Double vision? How’s that headache?” He proceeded to shine a light in her eyes, in the face of her silence. He smiled, “You aren’t going to tell me, are you?”

“I’m going home.”

“You are not going home. You can’t drive.”

“I’ll call a cab. I’m going home.”

Tom Barrett sighed and turned to Jim. “See if you can talk some sense into her.”

Jim sat down on the chair beside her bed as the door closed behind the doctor.

“Hand me the paperwork.”

“Not, yet. Tell me what happened.”

“The car hit a wall going over Mount Soledad on my way home.”

“Were you drinking?”

“No, I’d just left Alexa’s.”

“So why did the car go out of control?”

“Don’t know. The BMW people took it to the shop. Ask them.”

“I will. But you know what happened. Tell me.”

“Hand me the papers.”

“Not until you tell me.”

“Ok, ok. The brakes failed.”

“And you have a manual transmission. Why didn’t you down shift?”

“I did.”

“So no clutch, either?”

“Right.”

“Someone just tried to kill you.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“And now you want to sign yourself out of the hospital and go home in the middle of the night?”

“Don’t argue with me. Hand me those papers.”

Jim studied her wiry determined form, swallowed by the white tent of the hospital gown. He watched her try to scribble with her left hand.

“Come to my place instead. I’d rather know you were in my guest room.”

“Nope. Going home.”

“So there’s nothing I can say to change your mind?”

“Nothing.”

“Okay. Then I’ll drive you.”

* * *

She was fading, Jim noticed, as they turned into her drive. Her fierceness was no match for the medications Dr. Barrett had given her. He wondered if she’d fall deeply enough asleep to let him take her home with him. She had not been able to get her clothes on alone, so the hospital had let him wrap a blanket over the cavernous hospital gown.

She seemed to read his mind about taking her back to his place. Her eyes popped open. “Don’t even think about not letting me go inside.”

“You just seemed to have passed out here in the car.”

With a mighty effort, she heaved open the passenger side door with her left hand.

“Wait. Let me. Where’s you key?”

“In my purse.”

“Come on, then. Lean on me. If you don’t, you’re going to fall and send yourself right back to Dr. Barrett.”

She gave him a small, mischievous drunken smile. “I think he’d like to have me back.”

“He definitely would like to have you back. He knows you need to be in the hospital.”

“No, he liked me. I could tell. He liked me.”

“You’re on a lot of medication right now.”

“Doesn’t mean I don’t know when an attractive man likes me.”

“Okay, okay. He liked you. Why don’t you let me take you straight back to the hospital then?”

“Because I’m tired, and I want to sleep in my own bed. He’ll call me tomorrow. He has to find out how I am.”

Jim suppressed his annoyance and helped her make her way up the walk in the chilly October morning dark. He realized the drugs were talking and exposing the lonely, vulnerable side of her life, something she kept expertly hidden.

She leaned on him while he turned the key in the lock. He stepped into the hall, drew her inside, and closed the door behind them. She smelled of antiseptic and her usual gardenia perfume. He put his arms around her and thought of a bird’s small bones as she sagged against him.

“Come on, then, let’s get you into bed.” He reached out and flipped the switch for the hall light.

“Oh, my God!” Sarah lurched toward the living room, which had been turned upside down. Lamps lay smashed on the floor. The end tables had been overturned. Someone had used a knife to rip open all the sofa cushions and scatter down everywhere.

Jim tried to grab her before she got beyond arm’s reach but was not successful. She stopped in the doorway, and Jim saw her legs sag as she grabbed the door frame.

He hurried to put his arms around her before she could fall.

“Turn on the light,” she commanded.

“No, don’t look.”

“I want to see.”

Reluctantly Jim reached out and switched on the overhead recessed lighting.

She shook her head in disbelief. He saw tears in her eyes. But his training immediately made him pull her close.

“We have to get out of here,” he whispered close to her ear.

“No.”

“Sh-h-h. We don’t’ know who did this. And we don’t know who might still be here.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but he picked her up and hurried out to the car. He didn’t have time to go back and clear the scene, and it would be dangerous to do that alone, anyway.

He bundled her into the car, and backed out of the drive quickly, still afraid someone might yet be in the house. Shock on top of the medications had silenced Sarah. She slumped against the passenger’s door and closed her eyes.

Jim’s mind raced through the possibilities of who could be responsible. Had the same person who’d cut her brakes been the one who’d gone through her house? And what about Alexa? He’d left her ready to sleep. Had they gone after her, too?

He drove through the dark, deserted streets wondering if he should swing by Alexa’s. But it was 2:30 in the morning, and she’d been instructed to call if anything seemed amiss. Right now getting Sarah to rest had to be his top priority.

He pulled into his garage, closed the roll-up door behind him, and got out of the car. Fatigue and fear had finally done gotten the best of her. He carried her into his guest room, pulled back the sheets and tucked her in. She smiled in her sleep but never woke up.

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

Jim was back at six, rested and clean shaven in fresh jeans and a white knit shirt. He pulled the vacant chair next to Sarah’s and sat down. She was immediately aware of the masculine energy he brought into the room. She wanted to put her head on his shoulder and feel his arm around her. This wasn’t good. She couldn’t have these thoughts. She had to stay focused on Alexa.

“Any change?”

She told him about Father Bennett’s observation.

“But nothing since?”

“No. And I gather the nurse wasn’t especially impressed when Father Bennett told her Alexa had opened her eyes.”

“That’s right.”

“You need to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“I said, ‘you need to eat.’ This case is taking its toll on you.”

“Ok. I’ll run down to the cafeteria for a little bit.”

“Or you could go home and get some rest.”

“No. I want to be here if there’s any change.”

* * *

For the entire evening, they sat side by side next to Alexa’s bed while the machines hummed and pumped and kept her alive. The stray wicked thought came back, slightly altered from the morning: what if she and Jim could sit side by side in companionable silence every evening, like an old married couple. No, no. Never that. Never. Be quiet, she told her brain. You know the rules. She forced herself to concentrate on the work she had brought. But by eleven o’clock, she was too tired to do any more.

Jim, too, had put down his files. “You’ve been here all day. You should go home.”

“I keep thinking she’ll open her eyes again.”

The door swooshed and a new nurse appeared with her stethoscope draped around her neck and a blood pressure cuff in her hand. She appeared to be in her late twenties, very attractive with large dark eyes and long blonde hair that was confined to a surprisingly flattering on-duty pony tail. She caught Jim’s attention as she crossed the room to check Alexa’s vital signs. Sarah willed herself not to be jealous.

“Any change?” Jim asked.

“Her pulse is weaker. I’m going to call the doctor on duty.”

Suddenly Sarah’s heart began to race as if she could make up Alexa’s deficit with her own. She tried to rein in any show of emotion in front of Jim, but she had believed all afternoon Alexa was going to turn the corner because she’d opened her eyes for Father Bennett. She didn’t want to give up her shred of hope.

The door swooshed more abruptly than before. The attractive nurse had returned with a harried looking doctor who waved Sarah and Jim out of the room.

“Sorry. You’ll have to leave.”

They stood in the hall under the deputy’s suspicious gaze, waiting for news. Ten minutes felt like ten hours.

Sarah leaned against the wall and closed her eyes to keep from showing tears. She felt Jim watching her.

“It’s ok to feel something,” he said.

She shook her head. “No, it’s not. I never get involved emotionally with a case.”

“You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be involved in this one.”

“The thing is, I can’t decide if it would be better if she lived or died. Her children need her, but we’ve got almost nothing to work with for a defense.”

“That’s what they said about the Menendez case.”

“This isn’t the same thing!” She knew she was speaking too sharply, but she didn’t want to talk or even think about Joey Menendez ever again.

Before Jim could say anything else, the doctor came out of Alexa’s room, rattling off instructions to the pretty nurse who eyed Jim sideways as she listened. Sarah read his name badge for the first time. Dr. S. McCord. He was in his early forties, she guessed. Dark hair, a few streaks of gray. She bet Dr. S. McCord had two preteens at home and a Mrs. S. McCord who grocery shopped in tennis skirts and ran his house to perfection.

He finally noticed them standing in the corridor. “Are you her family?”

“Her legal team. We don’t think she has any family,” Jim said. “How is she?”

“We’re going to lighten up on the sedatives to see if her blood pressure will come up. But honestly, I’m not optimistic. The nurses say you’ve been here around the clock since Friday night.”

“We have evidence the jail gave her a drug she was allergic to on purpose and then waited to summon help, hoping she’d die.”

Despite the dramatic accusations, the doctor remained unphased. “Well, no one is going to do anything to her here. You should go home and get some sleep. You both look exhausted.”

But Sarah shook her head. “No. I’m responsible for her. I can’t leave. She opened her eyes around lunch time. She might do that again tonight.”

“It’s not likely. Coma patients often open their eyes for a few seconds at odd times. It’s not a sign she’s going to come out of it or that she hasn’t suffered brain damage.”

“But you don’t know that.”

“True. At this moment, I’m just trying to keep her from crashing. If you both insist on staying, why not take turns sleeping? There’s a chair that converts into a make-shift cot in the Family Waiting Room.”

* * *

In the wee hours, Sarah sat with Alexa, watching an IV drip into her arm. The pretty nurse returned often with the blood pressure cuff. She always gave Sarah a reassuring smile as she went about her business, but never said a word. Her name tag said, “D. Murphy.” D for Diana or for Dorothy or for Deirdre because Murphy was Irish? Odd how irrelevant details could calm your mind in moments of crisis.

Sarah sat beside the bed and held one dry, lifeless hand. “Stay for Meggie and Sam,” she whispered over and over, like a mantra, through the dark hours. “Stay for Meggie and Sam.”

She eyed the rosary often and was tempted to take it back and try to remember some prayers. Our Father. That was part of the rosary prayers, wasn’t it? Our Father who Art in Heaven. No, stop. She knew better. There was no such thing as Our Father and no such place as Heaven. If there was a God, she’d wouldn’t be sitting by a dying woman, charged with murder, wishing she could allow herself to fall in love with the man who slept down the hall. Jim Mitchell had come into her life on the same day Fate had planted Alexa Reed in her world. If Alexa disappeared, she could send Jim on his way, too. In fact, if Alexa disappeared, she absolutely had to send him packing. His references to Menendez made her way too nervous. No one could ever, ever know the truth about that case. Sarah looked down at the plug for the ventilator once more and wondered if she could convince everyone she’d simply tripped over it.

But fatigue had settled into her bones like drying cement. She sat in her chair and held Alexa’s hand and chanted her mantra, until Jim came to relieve her at 4 a.m. He tapped her lightly on the shoulder and smiled as he slid into the chair beside hers.

“I’m here. Go set some sleep.”

And she was so delirious with grief and so relieved to see him that she kissed him lightly on the cheek. Later, as she lay on the fold-out chair that smelled like Jim, too exhausted to think, she would try to decide if he had really kissed the scar on her own cheek in return. Of if she was so tired she was hallucinating.

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