Magic of the Heart, page 1
Financial executive Susan Hettinger and wild, impulsive rock star MJ Carson couldn’t be more different if they tried—but opposites attract in ways neither can resist.
Rock star Maggie “MJ” Carson has heard a thousand I-Love-You’s. People always want something for nothing from her, and she long ago decided it was better to use than be used. On a plane trip from hell, she’s seated next to an attractive woman and turns on her irresistible charm, expecting the usual weak-kneed compliance.
But Susan doesn’t know who her sexy fellow traveler is and loses all interest once she finds out. The heat between them is instant, yet Susan can think of countless reasons to ignore the spark of attraction. She knows she should walk away, but when Maggie ends up stranded without her wallet and ID, she offers to help.
Completely incompatible, they still can’t resist the magic that draws them together. Can they find a place between the glare of the media spotlight and the legacy of past betrayals where trust can grow and love might have a chance?
Magic of the Heart
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Magic of the Heart
© 2010 By C.J. Harte. All Rights Reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60282-437-9
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First Edition: January 2010
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Editors: Cindy Cresap and Stacia Seaman
Production Design: Stacia Seaman
Cover Design By Sheri (GraphicArtist2020@hotmail.com)
By the Author
Dreams of Bali
Magic of the Heart
This book would not be in print if not for the vision, determination, and encouragement of Len Barot and Bold Strokes Books. Len made Bold Strokes a home for lots of wonderful writers. I’m fortunate to be included in that group. Cindy Cresap survived being my editor and still has hair. Thank you for your patience. My beta readers provided me immeasurable guidance in shaping the story. Thank you to Bett and Carla, Pam S, Pam F, Sandy, Glenda, Joan, and Gis.
I need to thank the wonderful members of the Rainbow Writer’s group who read, reread, and reread various versions and helped to make the story a better one. Their critiques and insights were invaluable.
Finally, I want to thank Giselle for encouraging my writing, being such a great friend, and putting up with my Maggie.
To Maggie, who inspired my writing.
Thank you for being in my life and sharing your short life with me.
Maggie stared out the window at the gazebo. Sun and shadows danced across the empty structure. It was another sunny California day in early November. She pulled her arms around herself as if to keep the emptiness from growing any larger. She imagined what it would feel like to sit out there holding hands with a lover. “Not likely. Not anytime soon,” she whispered. The only way to fight that feeling was to push those thoughts away. She stared at the gazebo and restored the feeling of calm. “It’s not fucking fair.”
“What’s not fair, M.J.?” The quiet solitude was broken by Maya Browning, her personal assistant, who came in carrying a bunch of notes.
“Life. Nothing.” Maggie kept her personal and professional lives very separate. “What’s up?” Business problems were easier to solve and didn’t usually require much commitment.
Maya looked at her feet. Maggie could feel the mood changing and she slid on her business persona as easily as she put on her shoes. “What’s going on?”
Maya finally looked up, took a deep breath, and spoke. “We need to redo some of the tracks on the new CD.”
She felt the calm slipping away and there was little she could do to stop it. “What the fuck do you mean we need to redo?”
“Look, M.J., we’ve been trying to fix it.”
“Trying doesn’t cut it. Only results. What the hell happened?” She was M.J. Carson, the superstar. She knew how to charm, how to entertain, how to get whatever or whomever she wanted. These were skills she used to survive and advance her career. Being charming was a second skin she could slip on easily. Today, however, wasn’t one of those times. “Shit, Maya, these tracks were supposed to be done two months ago, before we begin the damn tour.” She paced around her home office. “I’m supposed to leave tonight. When the hell is this supposed to get done?”
“Look, M.J., the music will be done in time. Don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry?” Maggie stared at her, not believing what she was hearing. “Who the fuck should worry? It’s only my name and voice.”
Maya spoke calmly. “We can have it done by the end of the month and to the distributor before Christmas. I promise.”
Maggie shook her head. This was so damn typical. “When I was sixteen and playing anywhere I could get a gig, I expected things to get screwed up. Once the band became a success, I hired people to make sure that never happened so I could concentrate on writing and performing music. Not managing it. Damn it, Maya, that’s your job. You’ve worked for me for five years and here I am, after nearly twenty years in the business, and things are fucked up. Do I have to do everything?” She shook her head. I definitely need a break. “You knew this album needed to be getting big play before the tour. You knew what a tight deadline we’re working on. You knew how hard I’ve worked to get these songs written and the music put together. You knew how difficult it was to round everyone up to get the recording done in the first place. You knew I wanted to spend the next three weeks with the kids. Why the hell am I just finding out it hasn’t been finished?”
Maya looked at her notes. “When we originally listened to the master, there were some rough places. The sound engineer wasn’t sure what caused it but thought he could fix it.” She looked up. “He called me this morning and said there was no way to fix it. It’s only a small portion of a couple of tracks. No big deal. It’ll be done on time.”
Maggie walked over to the window overlooking the sun-dappled gazebo. She could barely resurrect any of the threads of peace she felt earlier. Another fucking sunny day, she thought. She turned to face Maya. “No big deal? No fucking big deal! Have you forgotten who will put in the long hours recording in some damn cramped studio? Are you the one paying for the redo? Are you going to listen to the gripes from the band when we call them in? Again.” Maggie didn’t wait for an answer. “Don’t you dare tell me not to worry. Call Karl and tell him to get the same mixers from the last CD. Fly them out if we have to. I don’t want anyone else and I don’t care how much. Understand?”
Maya nodded. “I’ll make sure it’s done.”
Maggie wanted to scream or throw something. She felt like a cat about to pounce. She repeated her warning. “Do you understand?”
Maya nodded. “I understand.”
“Go on. Get out. I need to finish packing.” Before Maya had a chance to exit, Maggie stopped her. “Oh, by the way, are you sure all the arrangements have been made for this trip? I don’t want any hassles for the next three weeks. And no media!”
“Thanks, Maya. I don’t know how I’d manage without you.”
“Yeah, sure. Have a great trip.” Maya left quickly.
Finally alone, Maggie sat in front of the window and stared out at the garden. The office faced the eastern edge of her estate and provided a languorous, peaceful view of the large natural-wood gazebo nestled among the shade trees. The solitude and beauty of the structure was the deciding factor when they purchased the place seven years ago, and the reason this room had become her office. The gazebo stood as a silent sentinel, a symbol of the peace and quiet she rarely experienced in her own life.
She sighed. “Another fucking sunny day.”
Susan Hettinger quickly slid into her seat in first class, allowing other passengers to board the plane. She wondered what had happened to her life. There was a time when she was first starting out that she had felt more in control. Lately she seemed to be spending more time on planes, less time with her family, and she had zero personal life. She leaned her head against the seat and watched as an attractive woman with two children took the remaining seats in her row, with the daughter sitting next to her.
Shortly after take-off, the girl asked, “Are you going to Disney World too?”
For the first time that day, Susan smiled. “Not anytime soon, I’m afraid. I live in Orlando.”
“My mom is taking us on a vacation. Do you have a little girl?”
Susan thought about her own daughter and how little time she had spent with her recently. “I do. Her name is Cady and she is four years old. How old are you?” Note to self: I need to spend more time with Cady.
“I’m Beth and I’m seven. That’s my brother D.J. over there. He’s three. And that’s my mom.” She pointed to the woman and little boy. “I’m the oldest.”
The flight attendant interrupted their conversation, offering something to drink and getting dinner orders.
I can’t believe the office wasn’t able to get a direct flight. She sipped her diet soda and hoped she could stay awake.
She leaned her seat back and let her mind drift. When was the last time she had relaxed, really relaxed? She went back more than six years to a time when she was a rising star accountant at a major accounting firm. She’d shared her ideas with colleagues who recognized her creativity and organization. That was before Ed Turner offered her the job as his chief financial officer in his venture company in the entertainment industry. Sometimes she felt her life had been in a steady decline ever since.
When she first started the job, Susan loved to say, “I work in the entertainment industry.” Suddenly she was much more interesting. People quizzed her incessantly about whom she knew and what gossip she’d heard. When she finally explained that she was the financial manager for a creative projects agency, people quickly lost interest—unless they were trying to plead for more money for their projects or they were caught doing something shady. Then their language was much less pleasant. These creative people all too often liked to use their creativity with other people’s money, and it was her job to keep track of every cent spent.
The overhead announcement interrupted her thoughts. She tightened her seat belt and reminded herself that she was a working single parent who managed a team of professionals handling over $100 million in projects a year. Since no one except the producers and backers cared about what she did, she no longer tried to explain her job to strangers, or her family, and no longer felt the need to impress anyone. She just introduced herself as an accountant and avoided the tedious questioning. And it kept her life routine…and boring.
As she stared at the magazine she’d bought in the airport, she admitted that she would barely recognize who was number one on the Billboard charts or who starred in the top-flight movies. At times she thought she should pay more attention to who was on the A-list, especially when Ed was ranting about some deal with some star. At least she could pretend to know what they were talking about. How had her life become so boring? So repetitive. Well, Susan, that’s the way you wanted your life. It’s probably going to take something big to change it.
The sound of children’s laughter interrupted her thoughts. Beth was holding on to a game board. D.J. could barely reach across the aisle. By the time he finally moved his piece on the board, someone walked down the aisle and he had to struggle to keep his seat. His last effort landed him on the floor and caused his sister to giggle.
Smiling, Susan asked, “Would you two like to get a little closer?”
“I’m sorry if my children are bothering you.”
When the mother spoke, Susan heard the tingling notes of a warm springtime melody. Just a hint of amusement and a measure of promise. Susan turned to face the speaker. Sitting across the aisle was an attractive brunette near her own age. Susan was impressed by the gentle way the woman dealt with the disgruntled child. It was when the woman looked up and smiled that Susan felt a rush of unexpected heat.
“They’re not a problem,” Susan said. “I think he just wants to play.” Seeing the disappointed look on D.J.’s face, Susan said, “Look, why don’t we trade seats for a while? It would be a lot more fun if they could play the game.”
“Are you sure? That’s very generous of you.”
Once they were settled next to each other, the mother said, “My name is Margaret Carson-Baxter, but my friends call me Maggie.”
Susan accepted the outstretched hand. Maggie’s hand was surprisingly large and strong. Susan found her concentration slipping as her blood warmed turning into liquid honey. She stared up into beautiful, laughing eyes. Suddenly she was having trouble remembering anything, much less what was being said. She stumbled over her own name. “Susan, uh, Susan, uh, Hettinger.” She chastised herself for this sudden inability to start a conversation. I must be tired.
Maggie didn’t seem to notice any awkwardness. “I usually get nonstop flights,” she said, “but this was the only flight leaving when I wanted to leave. The next flight wasn’t until ten. I wouldn’t mind, but my kids would probably sleep part of the way and then be wound up once we landed.” Maggie smiled. “Two kids going at a hundred twenty miles per hour at five in the morning is not healthy for mom or kids.”
Susan laughed and thought of her own daughter’s antics. “My office did the same thing, scheduling me on this flight. This time I wanted to be home before I was doing the same thing.” Susan found herself relaxing. “Your children are beautiful, like their mother.” She sat back abruptly. “Oh, my God, I can’t believe I said that.”
Maggie laughed and touched Susan’s arm. “Thank you. That’s the nicest compliment I’ve had in a long time. I think my children are beautiful, but it’s always nice to hear it from others.”
“I…I…” Susan tried to find some appropriate response that would keep her foot out of her mouth. “I guess most parents think that. I love when my coworkers say something nice about my daughter. Of course, families are often a topic of conversation at work.” God, Susan, how lame is that? You never join office conversations unless it deals with business.
Maggie couldn’t remember talking about children with any of her co-workers. Maya was a lesbian. Her other two assistants weren’t married. Karl was married, but she didn’t know whether or not he had kids. That fact surprised her. “I guess so.” Maggie didn’t want to do any further exploration of that topic. “I think I need to go to the restroom.”
Susan watched Maggie walk down the aisle. She was tall and solid with a walk that was both confident and easy. Everything spoke of reserve and control. Still, there was something compelling about her. When Maggie returned, Susan felt herself falling back into the easy conversation.
“Where are you headed to?” Maggie asked.
“I live in Orlando. Your daughter mentioned that you folks are heading to Disney. Guess we’ll be on the same flight all the way.
“That was another reason for wanting to get into Orlando early. The kids have been absolutely wild since I told them we were going.” Maggie’s tone became softer when she spoke about her children. “This is a combination of business and pleasure. I haven’t had a vacation with the kids in a long time. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve had a real vacation in the last two years.”
“I try to set aside special time for my daughter.” Susan, that was a really smart thing to say. “What I mean is that I make sure I take the weekend off when I have to be away during the week. They grow so fast, and I don’t want to miss any part of her life.”
“Derek and I feel the same way.”
“Derek?” Susan wasn’t sure she was ready for the answer.
“My husband. He’s a professional football player and has a game this weekend. He won’t be able to join us until right before Christmas.”
Maggie mentioned his name and Susan nodded. “Oh, Derek Baxter.” While Susan was sure her father would have recognized the name, she did not follow the sport. Or, for that matter, any sport. For once she wished she had.
“I’m heading home,” Susan said. “I’ve been in California all week on business.” Realizing she had put herself in a corner, she dreaded the next question.
“What do you do?”
Susan groaned and gave her well-rehearsed answer. “I’m the accounting director for a business in Orlando. What do you do?” Maggie’s eyes hadn’t glazed over, but Susan didn’t want to give her the chance to say, “How nice.”