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CARTER MATTHEWS screamed into the park–
ing lot, road gravel spitting a wake behind him as he slid his red Lexus into a front space. The ads had said the car could go zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. They had lied.
Carter's new toy could go zero to a hundred, making the Lexus worth every penny.
He slid out of the car, feeling a twinge of guilt that he'd blown off most of the workday to take the car out for a spin. Pearl, his assistant, had given him her famous evil eye as he'd darted out the door this morning, barely five minutes after striding through it. What Pearl didn't understand was that TweedleDee Toys was undoubtedly better off when Carter wasn't running the ship.
"Mr. Matthews! I'm glad I found you!" He spun around. Mike, TweedleDee's design intern, scrambled across the parking lot, trying to hold a bulky paper bag against his chest with one hand while keeping his glasses on his nose with the other. "I…well, we, had this brainstorm today and the guys wanted me to rush over to you." He thrust the bag at Carter, then caught his breath. "Meet Cemetery Kitty. We think it's going to revolutionize the stuffed animal industry."
"Cemetery Kitty? As in another stuffed animal?" Carter tried to work some enthusiasm into his voice. This week, he'd given his toy designers a single task—to come up with something to wow the buyers at this fall's Toy Convention. he'd expected a water blasting outdoor gun, a snazzy remote control car, anything but one more faux fur pet.
"Are you going to look at it now?" Mike's entire body went frenetic with anticipation. He clasped and unclasped his hands, nodding at the bag. "You, ah,haven't been in the office all that much, so I thought I'd track you down. If you like it, we can rush right into production."
The stuffed toy would undoubtedly be one more in a string of failures, but he didn't voice his reservations, not while he was still riding the high of driving his new car. He had no desire to ruin that by inserting the failing toy business into the mix.
"It's been a long day. I'll look at it later. But thanks." He gave Mike a wave, then headed into his building.
The intern who had enthusiastically cleaned out the office supplies cupboard and colorcoded the Post–it notes, remained undaunted and caught up with Carter. "Mr. Matthews?"
Carter turned around, at the same time tapping the car's locking remote, waiting for the answering beep. "Yeah, Mike?"
"Uh, the guys are kinda concerned," Mike said, clearly here as the sacrificial lamb for the employees. "You're not at work a whole lot and well, with your uncle Harry gone and all, we, ah, kind of wanted some direction."
Carter glanced at the Lexus. About the only thing he had experience directing was a fast car. And a few fast women. Every time he tried to manage the toy company, all he'd done was manage it further underground.
So he'd abandoned it today, just as he had last Wednesday to play golf, and the Tuesday before that for a rousing tennis match with his brother. Lately he'd been out of the office more than in. Considering Carter's managerial abilities, it was a good thing all around if he stayed away.
And yet, he couldn't bring himself to hire a manager. To admit failure.
Again. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mike," Carter said, because he didn't have an answer to the whole direction thing. Hell, even Carter didn't know which direction to head.
Mike hesitated a second longer, then pushed his glasses up his nose and said goodbye. He crossed the lot, shoulders hunched, steps heavy and measured and looked back, two, three times, then slipped into his battered tenyear–old green truck and left.
Carter let out a sigh, climbed the stairs to his apartment, let himself in, dropped his keys in the crystal dish by the door, then opened the bag.
Inside was a cat. Life–size, gray and white striped fur, looking reasonably realistic. Certainly not the blockbuster he'd been expecting, given Mike's raving.
But pretty much par for the course at TweedleDee Toys.
He flicked the on/off switch. The furry thing rolled over, thrust its four paws into the air and let out a plaintive belching squeak. The cat shivered twice and went still.
"Just what a toy company needs," Carter muttered. "A cat that plays dead."
He tossed the play animal into a chair and crossed to his tidy, stainless steel kitchen. After this, he needed a stiff drink, a pretty woman and a long vacation, preferably on some desert island.
But his liquor cabinet was empty, his apartment devoid of anything female since Cecilia had walked out in a huff last Tuesday and his vocabulary had been missing the words "extended vacation" since he'd taken over the top spot at TweedleDee Toys.
A mistake of epic proportions. He had no idea what his uncle Harry had been thinking when he'd written his will and left Carter in charge of a toy company. If anything, his twin brother Cade would have been a more logical choice. Cade, the organized one, the one who could take on a project and see it through to the finish line. he'd done that at their father's law firm and now, after leaving there, was working with his wife, Melanie, building her Cuppa Life coffee shop franchise throughout the Midwest.
Unlike Carter, whose greatest accomplishment in life had been running Uncle Harry's company into the ground.
Not to mention, disappointing his father. In his nearly forty years of life, Carter had managed to do only one thing well—perfect the art of being a disappointment.
He glanced around the apartment he'd moved into last month, to be closer to TweedleDee Toys and to escape the constant disapproval of his father back in Indianapolis. The space was neat, tidy and perfect–and totally devoid of personality. It didn't welcome or invite him in at the end of the day. The apartment simply existed, like something out of a catalog.
The Pier 1 furniture, the pale beige walls, all chosen by a decorator because Carter hadn't had the time or inclination. A weekly maid service polished the glass coffee table and set it at a right angle with the lines in the area rug.
Every space he'd ever lived in had been like this. Cold, impersonal and cared for by someone else. Just as he had been most of his life. he'd never settled down, never found his calling, and hadn't wanted to until the reading of Uncle Harry's will.
Six months ago, Uncle Harry's boat, The Jokester, had been found drifting at sea somewhere in the Atlantic. The Coast Guard had searched, then finally declared him dead two months ago, an announcement that seemed to make Carter's father, Jonathon, Harry's only brother, even more withdrawn and colder than usual.
At the reading of the will, Carter had looked around at his family—Cade and his father—and realized each of them had a purpose. Cade had Melanie, the franchise. Jonathon had the law practice. They seemed to be holding a card that Carter had never seen.
And then, when the stunning news that Uncle Harry had left TweedleDee Toys to Carter came out, the crazy thought that Carter could be something had popped up. The attorney had handed over the ownership of TweedleDee Toys and Carter's father had let out a snort of derision. "You'll be filing bankruptcy in a month. That place was a mess when my brother ran it and it's undoubtedly only gotten worse in his absence."
A thousand times before his father had predicted Carter's failure—with pinpoint accuracy. For some reason, though, that day the comment had gotten Carter's dander up. "Never," Carter said to his father. "I can turn that company around."
His father had laughed, then shook his head. "Face it, Carter. You're not made of CEO material."
The only thing that had kept Carter from throwing in the towel in the last two months was the knowledge that he would once again prove his father right. And if there was one thing Carter was tired of doing, it was that.
Their father was a perfectionist. Every detail of his life was organized and filed, structured and meticulous. He expected nothing less of his sons. Cade, who had followed him into the family law practice, had measured up to that impossible standard while Carter had continually fell at least a mile short.
Carter shrugged off the thoughts, then crossed to the kitchen and opened the fridge, found a few sips of red wine left in a bottle shoved behind the expired carton of milk and poured the alcohol into a glass. "Cheers," he said, hoisting the drink toward the stiff furball in his armchair. "I think you've got the better end of the deal, my petrified friend."
He had just tipped the glass into his mouth when someone started banging at his door. Nosy Mrs. Beedleman and her binoculars, he was sure, had seen him and Cemetery Kitty through her courtyard window. And, as Mrs. Beedleman was wont to do, had assumed the worst about him and called the authorities.