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Just Like a Man
By Bevarly, Elizabeth
Avon BooksISBN: 0060509473
"I guess you're all wondering why I called you here today."
The minute the words were out of her mouth, Hannah Frost regretted them. She was the overworked, overextended, overdressed, but egregiously underpaid -- not that she was bitter or anything -- director of a tony private school in Indianapolis, not a fez-wearing, hookah-puffing nightclub owner in a Howard Hawks film noire. In place of exotic Moroccan attire, she sported a classic -- meaning she'd owned it for more than a decade -- dove-gray Ralph Lauren suit and crisp white silk blouse, her only accessory discreet pearl earrings. And a fez would have wreaked havoc on the fawn-colored hair she'd cinched into a flawless French twist that morning.
She did, after all, have a position as an overworked, overextended, overdressed, but egregiously underpaid -- not that she was bitter or anything -- director of a tony private school in Indianapolis to uphold. Not to mention scores of trophy wife/mothers to compete with. And the mothers -- Hannah hesitated to call them moms -- of the Emerson Academy were fashionistas out the wazoo. To put it in less-than-academic terms. To put it in even less academic terms, Sidney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart would have had their sartorial butts kicked by those women.
Despite the lack of fez and film noire, however, Hannah was surrounded by the usual suspects. At least, that was whatshe was thinking as she surveyed the trio of characters seated on the other side of her desk. One of those people, in fact, was a too-usual suspect: Alex Sawyer, the Emerson Academy's newest pupil, who had arrived in their midst only a month before, at the start of the new school year.
His permanent record -- yes, in fact, those did exist, in spite of urban legends to the contrary -- indicated that his transfer had come about because he hadn't been a "good fit" at his last school. And any educator worth her salt knew that not a good fit was teacher code for major troublemaker. Especially since Alex's last school had been one that prided itself on accommodating even the most challenging students.
Interestingly, though, Alex had quickly proven himself to be Emerson's brightest pupil, too, remarkably gifted in both math and language arts. Even though he had just started fourth grade, he was reading at a high school level and doing algebra fairly effortlessly. Unfortunately, in addition to being a remarkably gifted student, Alex Sawyer was also a remarkably gifted pain in the butt.
All of nine years old he was, with a mop of unruly brown curls and hazel eyes that could break the heart of a lesser tony private school director. A faint smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose completed the picture of what could have been a lovable, precocious movie moppet. But Alex Sawyer wasn't a movie moppet, Hannah knew. No, Alex Sawyer was the prince of darkness.
Oh, his conduct was acceptable enough. In fact, there were times when Hannah thought the boy was a little too well behaved. He was never late to class, he always had his homework finished neatly and on time, and he voiced all the requisite niceties like please and thank you and Wow, is that a new look for you? It's fabulous!
But the kid was a liar, no two ways about it -- which, now that she thought about it, sort of negated that nicety about the fabulous new look thing -- and since coming to Emerson, the boy hadn't made a single remark that could be reasonably believed. If he commented one day that the sky was blue, then, by golly, Hannah wanted to call the National Weather Service to find out what was wrong with the atmospheric conditions overhead.
A handful of Alex's prevarications had gone too far, though, something that had led him to Hannah's office on more than one occasion. For example, his mother, he had told his new acquaintances at Emerson the week he arrived, had mysteriously disappeared five years ago after being force-fed an untraceable toxin bioengineered by an arcane band of rogue spies in some Eastern European country that Hannah was fairly certain didn't exist. In any event, she'd never heard of Badguyistan. Not to mention that, according to Alex's records, his mother and father had divorced five years ago on the very mundane grounds of irreconcilable differences, with his father being awarded full custody. So that was a definite clue that maybe, just maybe, Alex was making up that stuff about the rogue spies.
The father, it went without saying, was currently number two on the list of usual suspects seated across from Hannah, even though the man was anything but usual. This was his first visit to her office, even though she'd tried to see him several times before now. But Michael Sawyer seemed to go out of town a lot for his job, something that -- just a shot in the dark -- might be contributing to his son's incessant need to invent outlandish tales. Alex obviously craved a more stable family environment. Because he had also told his class-mates that he used to have twin sisters, who had, alas, been kidnapped and sold into bondage by an arcane band of rogue slave traders in yet another country that Hannah was pretty confident didn't exist -- Outer Villainopolis. According to Alex's records, however, he was -- and had always been -- an only child. Besides, there was also no mention in those records of him having lived anywhere other than Indiana for the past five years, and before that, he'd been a resident of Maryland, where he was born. And the last time Hannah had checked, indentured servitude hadn't been a major source of income for Indiana or Maryland ... Continues...
Excerpted from Just Like a Man by Bevarly, Elizabeth Excerpted by permission.
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