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"Corey! Good Lord, are you crazy?"
Alan Drooker was running across the lawn of his Greenspring Valley home, reaching for the monkey.
"This isn't a football! It's Jocko!" He worked feverishly to free the small animal's limbs. "If Scott ever saw you kick him, he'd go insane!"
Corey was instantly contrite. "Gee, Alan, I'm sorry." His voice was sincere enough; it was the dancing light in his eyes that gave him away.
Alan, who was checking the monkey over to make sure it was no worse for wear, paused to glare at him. "I'm dead serious. This monkey is valuable. It's Scott's prize possession. We had to drive forty minutes back to a restaurant once when he left it in the john there. Another time, all hell broke loose when its eye fell off. And this is the second Jocko. The first melted down in the dryer. Julie made a frantic call to me at work, and I had to go to four stores to find one that looked the same."
Corey did feel guilty then. "Hey, it was just lying there under the tree. I didn't know it meant so much."
"You don't know five-year-old kids," Alan muttered, but his alarm had passed and there was a certain wryness in his voice. "This one's a toughie. Wants everything his way or no way at all."
"Sounds familiar," Corey observed, falling into step with Alan as they started toward the house.
"Seems to me we both had that problem too."
"Yeah. Except one of us outgrew it."
"You didn't really. You're still that way where work's concerned. It's just here at home that you play second fiddle. I guess having a wife and two kids does that to a man."
Alan looked his share of mischievous with the monkey dangling from his hand. "You can say that again."
"Do you miss the old days?"
Corey and Alan had known each other since college. They'd met as freshmen, had roomed together as sophomores, juniors and seniors. Similar in height, build and good looks, they'd shared a passion for fun, and the old days had certainly been that.
"Sometimes," Alan admitted. "But you give up one thing to gain another. I wanted a wife and kids. It was time."
The blur of a tousle-haired child wearing a T-shirt and shorts sped toward them. "Jocko!"
Alan held out the monkey to his son, who'd no sooner grabbed it when Corey grabbed the boy and hoisted him up, draping him like a towel around his neck. "Gotcha," he growled, delighting in the child's happy squeals.
"Alan!" This time it was Julie, Alan's wife, calling from the open sliding glass doors that led to the living room. "Corinne's here!"
"Corinne?" Corey asked.
"Work. It'll only take a minute." Alan quickened his step. "Wanna keep an eye on Scott?"
Playfully tightening his arms, Corey tipped his head to look into the little boy's face. "He's not going anywhere."
But Scott was. "I want Doritos," he demanded, squirming. "Mommy promised."
Corey swung him down and bent over him without fully releasing his hold. "I thought your mom was busy with Jennifer."
He shook his little head. "Jenny's sleeping. She always does that."
"She's only two. You slept a lot when you were only two."
"I did not," Scott said. His legs were already working, miming the run he'd effect the minute he was free.
"Sure you did. All little kids sleep a lot."
"Not me," he said, then wiggled so vigorously that he'd snaked free before Corey knew what had happened.
In that instant, watching the boy dash full speed toward the house, Corey fully believed him. Of the twenty-four hours Corey had been at the Drookers', Scott hadn't been still for more than six, and then only when exhaustion had taken its toll. He was a bundle of energy, demanding but fun.
Corey could almost understand why Alan had settled down, if settling down was what one would call the three-ring circus that was the Drookers' home. Maybe he'd settle down himself one day - one day way, way, way down the road. Content with that decision, he sauntered in the direction Alan had gone.
"Everything's here," Corinne Fremont said, resting a slim hand on the large manila envelope she'd placed on the desk in Alan's den. "I finished the last of the tables this morning."
Alan was leaning against the desk, his arms crossed over his chest, his mouth drawn into a straight line. "Today's Sunday. Tell me you spent all day Saturday doing the analysis."
She lifted one shoulder in a sheepish shrug. "I spent all day Saturday doing the analysis."
He suspected she'd spent more than the day; allnighters weren't rare in their line of work, particularly when a client wanted the finished report yesterday. "You didn't have to do that, Cori. You have a right to your own life once in a while."
"I know, but it was my fault the packet wasn't ready on Friday, and we have to make the presentation tomorrow."
"It wasn't your fault. It was Jonathan Alter's fault."
"Jonathan was my responsibility. I should have been on top of him. I guess I assumed that he knew.... Well, he's the computer expert and he came with good recommendations...."
"He came with the recommendation of my brother-in-law, who happens to be Jonathan's third cousin. If anyone's at fault for hiring the kid, it's me."
"He was Phi Beta Kappa at Amherst."
Alan snickered. "For what it's worth. Book learning is one thing, practical application another. A computer is only as good as its programmer, and if he doesn't know what to feed it, we're in trouble. I can't afford to have people like that aboard. I'll have to sit him down -"
"Don't fire him," Corinne pleaded softly. "It was his first mistake."
Excerpted from Cardinal Rules by Barbara Delinsky Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 19, 2009
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