Read an Excerpt
"NICE JOB, CAVENAUGH." Derrick's senior partner slapped him on the shoulder as they left the high-rise conference room behind.
"Thanks, Spencer," Derrick replied with the expected hint of nonchalance. "We'll have the merger portfolio ready for Reynolds-Allied to sign by the end of the month."
It felt good to be in control of something. Anything.
Contract law wasn't as sexy as the professional football career he and his old man had envisioned for Derrick's life. But being on top of his game during high-stakes negotiations was its own kind of rush.
The boardroom was the only place he wasn't failing on a daily basis, since returning to San Francisco a year ago. Where hisGod, he hated the wordpotential wasn't being wasted.
"you're coming to the alumni mixer at the Western-Langston game in a couple of weeks, right?, Spencer Hastings's questions were rarely just questions. Derrick was being summoned. And Hastings had a stranglehold on the junior partner promotion Derrick was banking his family's future on. "you'll make everyone's night by showing up."
"I" Derrick's legacy as the alumni football star from San Francisco's Western High had secured him a spot at the firm of Hastings Chase Whitney. But he was a chronic no-show at as many local social events as he could avoid. Especially the sports-related ones, where there was little business to be done, and too much of what he was supposed to have become slapping him in the face. Like the Western alumni gathering, scheduled for Western's annual grudge match against Langston High School, this year to be played at Langston's stadium across the baythe suburb where Derrick now lived with his girls. "I'll have to find a sitter for Leslie and Savannah."
"Nonsense." Hastings gave his shoulder a firmer slap as the elevator rushed them to the ground floor.
"Bring the kids along."
Derrick tried to picture his twelve-year-old and nine-year-old, resentful already of the time his job stole from them, listening to Daddy relive glory days with a bunch of people they didn't know. In under half an hour, he'd have a Powerpuff-Girl-sized mutiny on his hands.
Dad, we wanna go. Now!
"I'll see what I can do." He flashed his golden-boy grin to smooth things along. "My oldest is working on a science project, and"
His BlackBerry chirped.
He sifted through his overflowing briefcase as they emerged through revolving doors onto the bustling sidewalk.
"Mr. Cavenaugh, this is Detective Oaks with the Langston PD. I'm at the Stop Right on the corner of Elm and Matteson. There's been an incident with your daughter, Leslie, and I'm afraid the owner intends to press charges."
Derrick pasted on a calm expression, while his insides churned up the take-out sushi he'd gulped down for lunch. Hastings kept his gaze politely focused on the shuffle of business people streaming by. But as the cop summed up Leslie's latest contribution to Derrick's plunge into single-parent insanity, Derrick kept his panic to himself. He was getting good at it.
His oldest had apparently skipped classes again. And now she had her sights firmly set on adding a petty larceny conviction to her middle school resume.
TWO PART-TIME JOBS."
One aging bed-and-breakfast by the bay."
A cop and a preteen thief standing between Bailey Greenwood and the end of her Stop Right shift."
Cost to Bailey's insomnia-challenged grip on reality?
Priceless. "Mr. Drayton, I need to get going," she said. "I've already given the officer my statement, and"
"Not until the girl's father arrives," grumped the convenience store owner who'd insisted that she cover the afternoon shift, because he'd been unavailable when Sally Traver called in sick. But wave the petty theft of a seven-dollar box of condoms before the cheapskate, and Drayton had beaten the police to the store. "I want the officer to have all the information he needs to put that little hoodlum behind bars."
The hoodlum in question was currently slumped in the cracked plastic chair in Drayton's office, cowering in a jailbait ensemble Bailey suspected had been purchased somewhere like Bloomingdale's, rather than the latest mall-rat hangout. The kid had attitude to spare, but she seemed more desperate for attention than becoming a hoodlum-in-training.
"She's got the money to pay for what she took." The girl had flashed an impressive wad of cash in a snotty attempt to keep Bailey from calling the cops.
"Why not let her square things, then leave her parents to deal with the rest?"
And let me get to Margo's Bistro before I lose the new job that might spring me from this dump, if I can get enough hours there.
"The money's not the point," the man actually had the nerve to say, when bottom line was his native language. "If I let one of these miscreants off, they'll be all over this place, taking me for everything I'm worth."
As if there was a gang of upper-middle-class hell-raisers looking to supplement their allowances by pilfering from the resident Scrooge!
Larry Drayton stocked the cheapest inventory he could get away with selling, trading on his prime location as the only convenience store on the main drag that led from their affluent bedroom community to the interstate linking them to the Golden Gate. He was downright rude to customers, inflexible on principle with his hourly employees and did a nimble tightrope dance around the regulations of his trade that would bite him in the butt one day.
Bailey had checked the expiry date on the Trojan condoms she'd reclaimed from the kid. If their under-aged klepto was planning a party, Bailey had done her and the girl's parents a favor. Evidently, it had been ten years since Scrooge last stocked prophylactics.
"I'm going to grab my things," she murmured. Scott Fletcher had wandered in a few minutes agoa half hour late for his shift. She was free to go, as soon as Daddy showed.
What kind of parent took an hour and a half to get himself to the scene of his child's crime?
When Bailey entered the office, the pop-princess wanna-be rearranged her worried features into a scowl. The kid's attempt at tough came off lonely and scared, the combination weakening Bailey's determination to not get involved.
She didn't have time for involved. But neither did this blond angel's parents, evidently.
"You know" she slipped into Scrooge's chair
"if your guy can't spring for the rubbers, you might want to consider trading up."
The girlLeslie, Bailey had heard her say to the cop when she'd recited her dad's cell number looked shocked, a split second before she rebounded with a sneer.
"Like there's just one guy."
"Well, if you're going to tag-team it," Bailey smart-assed back, " I'd suggest you shoplift at the Wal-Mart. Prehistoric condoms are a bad deal, even when they're free."
The kid's forehead scrunched in confusion, morphing her toughness into the kind of adorable she shouldn't be in such a hurry to outgrow. Bailey plucked the discarded condoms from the desk and tossed them over. The girl snatched the box one-handed.
Hopefully, her mind was just as quick. "Condoms have expiration dates for a reason," Bailey explained. "They tend to break after they've been sitting for too long."
More scrunching, then an image of what breaking meant must have flashed through the girl's mind. Cheeks reddening, she glanced down at the pre-Y2K date on the box, then slapped the condoms to the desk.
"Oh" Looking younger by the second, she clenched her hands in her lap. "I"
"Leslie Marie Cavenaugh!" a masculine voice boomed from the doorway.
The kid's face drained of color, turning mutinous at the same time. Crossing her arms, she sank farther into the acid-green chair.
Bailey barely noticed.
Daddy was six-four and then some, with the kind of broad shoulders and trim waist that did dangerous things to a woman's fantasies. His pricey suit screamed money and privilege, but the hands braced on his hips looked as tough as ever, and his nose had been broken more than once.
Bailey had seen the first break from the sidelines. he'd thrown the winning touchdown pass at Western's 1995 state championship game, and the opposing defensive end had taken exception.
Just looking at him brought the past flooding back. "Derrick Cavenaugh."
It took a few seconds to realize she'd said his name out loud. Several seconds more to register that he hadn't recognized her in return.
And why on earth should he?
Western High's "Most Likely to Succeed" blinked down at her, a washed-up valedictorian, without a flicker of recognition for the woman who'd worshiped him from afar, when she hadn't been much older than his daughter.