Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 14

“Why him?”

“Because I talked to him last night and he was antagonistic.”

Mason sat up straighter. “Why were you talking to him?”

Oh, crappy doodles. I couldn’t tell him about Bruce Wayne. “I took Muffy on a walk and his friends were sitting on his car drinking beer.”

“Rose, if you feel unsafe in your neighborhood, you need to call the police.”

“Yeah,” I snorted. “Officer Ernie will come running to protect me.”

“He’ll do his job.”

I didn’t want to discuss the loyalty or lack thereof of the Henryetta Police Department.

“Did you at least call the police to file a report?”

“No. We both know what little good that would have done.”

Mason sighed and leaned forward. “If you really feel that unsafe with the Henryetta police, perhaps you should consider moving out of the city limits. To the sheriff’s jurisdiction. Maybe you’d feel more protected.”

“And leave my house?” But the truth was that it was really Violet’s house. We’d both grown up in it, but Momma had left it to Vi in her will. I paid Violet rent to live there. Maybe moving really was a good idea. “I’d never considered it.”

“There are some condos close to here, just outside the city limit but in Fenton County. Your commute wouldn’t be much longer. Maybe ten minutes.”

But I wasn’t sure if I could live in some cookie-cutter condo like Violet’s house. I liked older houses with character. Not that it mattered. Momma’s house was Violet’s and all my available cash was tied up in the business. I couldn’t afford to buy a new house even if I wanted to. Unless I decided to sell the farm. One more reason to strongly consider it.

“You’re probably right about the vandalism being the work of some teens. It doesn’t seem likely that Crocker would break out of jail then swing by your house to smash pumpkins on your front porch when half the law enforcement officers in Arkansas are hot on his tail. But humor me and file a report, okay? Especially since we know Thomas has ties to them.”

“Okay.”

“Until Crocker’s caught, you should lay low.”

I grimaced. “That might be difficult. The Gardner Sisters Nursery is part of a press conference today and I have to be there.”

“What press conference?”

“The small business administration is giving us a grant. It’s big enough for us to expand our business onto the empty lot next to the nursery.”

“Rose, that’s wonderful.”

“Yeah, well…it comes with strings. They contacted her on Monday and said they were giving us the check as part of a campaign stop.”

Realization drained the blood from his face. “Joe?”

I nodded with a sigh. “Yeah.”

“Did you agree?”

“I did, but only because it could make a huge difference to our long-term goals. I can suffer through this for the good of the business.”

“Why’s he coming to Henryetta? This isn’t even his district.”

“His father has ties to the Arkansas SBA. Joe is including it as part of his platform. They’re highlighting successful small businesses.”

“So Violet takes care of the press conference and you get the check.”

I shook my head. “No. They said we both have to be there.”

Mason cursed under his breath, then reached across the table and took my hand again. “Sometimes the money is tempting, but the cost associated with it is too much. I urge you to give this more consideration.”

My blood turned cold. “You think I shouldn’t do it.”

“No, Rose. Only you can decide what you should or shouldn’t do. I’m just asking you not to be blinded by all the zeros on a check.”

I nodded. He was right.

“On the other hand, it could be empowering for you to see Joe again and let him know you’re doing okay without him, that you’re moving on. But don’t feel like you have to do that, either. You don’t have to prove anything to him…or me. If you decide to do it, do it to prove it to yourself.”

“How’d you get so smart?’

He winked. “Let’s just say I’ve made plenty of mistakes of my own.”

I took a sip of my coffee and studied Mason’s face. Something was different—in a good way—only I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Mason’s eyebrows lifted in derision. “You do know that this has Joe’s father’s stink all over it?”

“I know. I just can’t figure out why he’d want us together.”

Mason leaned his elbow on the table. “Why does J.R. Simmons do anything? To get Joe out of trouble or keep him in line. The question is how could this situation take care of either one of those things?”

I closed my eyes. Mason was right. Joe was being punished somehow and I was just a pawn for his father to use in his game of manipulation.

“What time’s the press conference?”

My stomach knotted. “One.”

“And when is Joe getting there?”

“I don’t know. Violet said to be there around noon.”

“I’d like to come.” He hesitated. “If that’s okay with you.”

“Oh, Mason. I’d love for you to be there.” I was amazed at how true my statement was. I worried how I’d react when I saw Joe, and I couldn’t count on Violet to be supportive. Mason had proven in the past that I could always count on him. “But I thought you had court.”

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