Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 25

“I can assure you, Mr. Blund, there has been no wrongdoing, so there can be no conflict of interest.”

“What about the fact that she hires a known felon? Doesn’t that present an issue?”

I cringed, but Mason kept his resolve. “Mr. Decker has served his time and reports regularly to his parole officer. Ms. Gardner has offered him employment when most people in this town would not. Ms. Gardner believes that everyone deserves a second chance and I commend her efforts.”

“Rose, is it true that you and Jonah Pruitt are dating? Was that why his mother tried to kill you? Because she didn’t approve?”

My mouth dropped open.

Mason cleared his throat. “Rose’s personal relationships are not up for public discussion.” He turned his head toward Joe and flashed a good-ole-boy grin. “I thought we were here to quiz Joe, not my clients.”

Joe tried to take control. “Mr. Deveraux is right.” He spread his hands open. “I’ve got six more days until the election. What else do you have for me?”

“Joe,” a TV reporter shouted. “You’ve based a good portion of your fight against crime on your bust of alleged murderer and drug dealer Daniel Crocker. Do you think his escape will hurt your campaign?”

Joe’s face froze. “What?”

“Surely you’re aware of his escape.”

His eyes widened and he gave a slight shake of his head. “Uh…”

“Daniel Crocker escaped from the Fenton County Jail last night, starting the biggest manhunt in the state of Arkansas in the last twenty years. I’m surprised that someone with a campaign against crime wouldn’t be aware of that.”

Joe shot a glare at Hilary and then turned back toward the crowd. “I’ve been traveling all morning and have been away from the news. My people neglected to inform me.”

“Rose,” a woman shouted. “Aren’t you worried about Daniel Crocker being on the loose after you helped get him arrested?”

I glanced up at Mason and he nodded. I turned back to the crowd. “I’ve been told that the state police have that matter under control.”

“Joe,” someone called out. “Is this a sign of how well you’ll be kept apprised if you’re elected?”

“No,” Joe’s eyes narrowed. “I can assure you that I will be addressing my staff’s huge error in judgment.” He looked at his watch. “Now if you’ll excuse me, we’re out of time. Thanks for coming today!” He waved to the crowd and disappeared into the nursery.

I stepped back while reporters shouted my name. Mason moved in front of me and grabbed my arm, leading me through the door.

I stood just inside it, shock hitting me like a freight train. “What just happened?” I whispered.

He leaned into my ear, keeping his gaze on Joe and Hilary as they disappeared into the back room. “I don’t know, but I think we know who was behind part of it.”

I didn’t want to believe it. “Doesn’t that seem a little paranoid?”

“We’re talking about a man who probably forked out several hundred thousand of his own money to set this up. When you look at it that way, it doesn’t seem so paranoid.” He pulled me into the corner as a camera crew followed Violet making her way through the shop. “But what does surprise me is that Joe of all people didn’t know about Crocker’s escape. He’s already four points behind in the polls. That lack of information is bound to hurt him even more.”

A man in a suit emerged from the back room and searched the shop until his eyes landed on me. He walked over, studying me before he grinned. “Rose? I’m Teddy Bowman, Joe’s campaign manager. Joe’s in the back and would like to meet with you.”

“Uh…I…”

“It’s not part of the conditions, Rose,” Mason whispered into my ear. “You don’t have to see him.”

The thought of seeing Joe filled my heart with equal amounts of joy and dread. Did I want to talk to him? I wasn’t so sure after the way he’d treated me. I glanced up at Mason. “I need to do this. If I don’t, I think I’ll always regret it.”

His eyes searched mine and I struggled to lay name to the emotion I saw there. I knew he didn’t want me to go, but Mason would never make demands of me. It made me appreciate him all the more. I threw my arms around his neck. “Will you wait for me? Then we’ll go to Magnolia and spend the rest of the afternoon together. A date.”

A smile quivered on his lips. “You know that I’ll wait as long as you need me to.”

I kissed his cheek and released him, smoothing my skirt. I followed Teddy through the shop, past the camera crew that was now filming Violet talking to a customer. As we neared the back room, I could hear Joe shouting.

I pushed the door to the back room open and stood in the threshold for a moment before shutting the door behind me. Joe was yelling and pointing his finger at two college-aged kids, whose faces were red from Joe’s verbal berating.

Muffy was still sitting in her dog bed, hunkered down, but when she saw me she hopped up and ran over, jumping and begging for me to pick her up. She’d been subjected to more confrontation in one afternoon than she’d probably seen in her entire life. I had no idea what was about to happen, but I didn’t want her to be traumatized any more than she already had been. I bent down and whispered in her ear, “Go find Violet, Muffy.”

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