Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 22

His speech seemed to calm her down. She put her hands on her hips and looked at the floor, nodding. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”

“Thank you.” He put his hands on her arms and squatted to meet her gaze. “I promise you, I would never do anything to hurt your business. I care about Rose and I see how happy it makes her. I want it to succeed, but as her friend—and yours—I can’t stand back and watch you be taken advantage of.”

She chewed on the inside of her lip for a moment. “Okay.”

He dropped his hold, becoming more official again. “And when that document shows up—and I’m certain it will—I want to look it over to make sure it’s legally binding.”

“How can you be so sure they’ll do it?” I asked.

Mason’s face hardened. “Because J.R. Simmons is desperate to put you and Joe together. Desperate enough to offer you several hundred thousand dollars to make it happen.”

“Oh.”

Violet was indignant again. “No, we’re getting that money because I applied for this grant.”

“And how long ago did you apply? A month?”

She scowled. “Three weeks.”

“And when was the last time you heard of the government working that quickly?”

Her scowl deepened.

Mason’s face softened as he searched Violet’s eyes. “Trust me.”

She took a deep breath then released it. “Okay.”

Several minutes later, one of Thelma’s associates appeared in the doorway of the back room. “Do you have a fax machine?”

Violet’s eyes widened. “Yeah.” And she rattled off the number.

The document arrived several minutes later and Thelma tapped her foot impatiently while Mason read it over. When he was done, he turned to Violet and me. “This says that you will both be present for the press conference and that the money will be deposited into your account by noon tomorrow. There are no other stipulations or requirements. It also asks you to agree to let them use whatever footage they get for promotion or any other way they see fit. While I admit the wording of the last part concerns me a bit, I think you’ll be fine.”

Violet already had a pen in her hand. “Where do we sign?”

When I signed it, I wasn’t surprised to see J.R. Simmons’s own signature next to ours. “How did they send it so quickly?” I whispered to Mason after I handed Thelma the document.

“Because I suspect he already had it prepared.”

“We need to hustle, people,” Thelma shouted, clapping her hands together. “We’re officially behind schedule.”

The small business group had brought two cameramen and while waiting for the document, they set up the lighting for the interview. They put a microphone on Violet and filmed her walking around the shop straightening the pots and gift items we sold. After a few takes of that, they had her stand by the register and asked her questions about opening the nursery. Another cameraman asked me to go outside so he could get some shots of me with the plants we had lining the sidewalk.

I was thankful the camera crew didn’t seem interested in talking to me, only filming me watering the flowers and talking to a pretend customer. Mason stood off to the side, watching in silence. While they followed me around for the next fifteen minutes, three news vans drove up and parked on the street. The crews emerged and they began setting up for the press conference. Someone had set up a rope barrier between the sidewalk and the parking lot. The crowd on the other side of the rope had swelled even more.

The cameraman turned to see where my attention had gone. “Ms. Gardner, we need you to pretend the people on the street aren’t there.”

Easier said than done. I knew Joe would arrive at any moment, and I felt like I was going to be sick. I took a deep breath. I had agreed to do this. It would all be over soon.

When they finished filming, Joe still hadn’t arrived even though it was well past one. I’d noticed Jonah in the crowd earlier and since the camera crew was done with me, I waved him over. He pushed his way through the gathered mass of people and I couldn’t help but think how different this was from the first time I met him at the grand opening of the nursery. That time, he’d arrived with an entourage and his own camera crew. I had to say I liked this new Reverend Jonah much better.

Someone called out, “Reverend Jonah!”

Jonah’s television smile switched on and he turned to wave. He may have changed, but his on-screen persona had endured the transformation. I had to admit he was a great showman.

When he reached me, I grabbed his arm and pulled him around the side of the building. “Did you have a chance to talk to Scooter?”

He leaned his head closer to mine and lowered his voice. “I did, but I didn’t get much information.”

I glanced at Mason, who stood at the edge of the parking lot, looking official. He seemed to be scanning the crowd for something. His gaze landed on mine and his mouth tipped into a sexy smile. My stomach fluttered and my skin heated despite the chilly wind. Flustered, I returned my attention to Jonah, trying to concentrate on the task at hand. “What did he say?”

“Scooter has been out at Weston’s Garage quite a bit over the last week. He says there was lots of activity and he knew something big was about to go down but claims not to know what. He saw Bruce Wayne there on Friday and over the weekend.”

My heart sunk. “It sounds like they were helping Daniel Crocker break out of jail, but I just can’t believe Bruce Wayne would be a part of that.”

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