Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 80

“You know that Joe’s father forced him to run for the senate, but I didn’t tell you how.”

“I always presumed his father had used his past against him.”

Now that we were standing still, the wind cut through my wet clothes, making me shudder.

Mason tugged my blanket more closely around me. “You can tell me while we walk.”

I shook my head and grabbed his hands. “No, I need to look at you when I say this.”

Worry pinched his mouth. “It sounds serious.”

I took a breath. “Joe’s father blackmailed him, but he did it by using me. And Violet and Mike.”

“What does that mean?”

“He fabricated evidence that Mike had bribed county officials to get contracts and permits for his business.”

His jaw clenched. “What else?”

“He had photos of Violet coming out of a motel with Brody MacIntosh.”

“The mayor?”

I nodded.

“What did he have on you?”

I inhaled and released a long breath. “He planted evidence that made it look like I hired Daniel Crocker to murder Momma. He told Joe that he would make sure I was arrested.”

Mason pulled his hands from mine. “So Joe had to break up with you and run for the senate to prevent his dad from releasing the information to the public?”

“No, he had to run, but his parents relented and said he could still marry me as long as I met their conditions.” Now didn’t seem like the time to discuss this, but it was too late to turn back. “I would have needed to dress and act a certain way. To disown Bruce Wayne and Jonah and probably Neely Kate. And all the while, I’d know that if I didn’t do everything they said, they’d release the information. They’d release it anyway if Joe didn’t agree to run.”

“And you couldn’t do it, right? But you told me that Joe broke up with you.”

I shut my eyes for a long moment before opening them again. “He asked me to agree and then ended it when he realized I couldn’t do it.”

Mason watched me. “If the information was fabricated, it never would have held up in court.” His voice rose. “Hell, I’m the assistant DA, Rose. I’d have to file the charges, and you know I wouldn’t do it.” His eyes widened. “Which means he must have found something true.” He paused and his voice softened. “Violet is having an affair with Brody.”

I didn’t answer.

“Okay.” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “So neither one of you wanted to break up? You were blackmailed into it?” I heard the pain in his voice.

“Mason.”

He turned back to look at me, anger in his eyes. “I deserve an answer, Rose.”

“Yes, you do.” I reached for his hands and held onto him. “You’re right. Neither one of us wanted to break up. But after I started talking to Jonah, I realized something… Joe wasn’t strong enough to stand up to his parents and fight for me. I don’t doubt that his father would have carried through on his threats, but Joe was the one who got himself into the situation in the first place. And then there’s the fact that he always goes back to Hilary. Even after everything she’s done. That’s why I agreed to talk to him in the nursery. I knew he was engaged to Hilary, and when I saw them together, I knew they were sleeping together. I told Joe that I could forgive a lot of things, but I couldn’t forgive him for that. Not after what had happened to Savannah, and not after my vision.”

“What vision?”

“When I was in the hospital last month, I had a vision of Joe. I saw him winning an election, but he was married to Hilary and she was pregnant.”

He didn’t say anything.

“When we were at the nursery, he told me that he wanted me back. I said no, Mason.”

He still didn’t say anything and fear raced through my blood.

“Mason, I want to be with you. You have to believe that.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about all of this?”

“I told you. I was scared of how you’d react.”

His anger rose. “What on earth did you think I’d do? Get mad at you? Shout?”

“No, but Joe’s family has already done enough damage to yours. I didn’t want you to get involved.” My voice broke. “I didn’t want your career to be hurt any more than it already has with Savannah.”

His face softened. “Rose.”

“I know what Joe’s father is capable of doing, Mason. And I knew that you wouldn’t let him get away with any of it. Joe’s father got you transferred to Fenton County. He got me out of jail when you and Joe couldn’t. I can’t even imagine what he’d do to you if you tried to fight him.”

“Rose, that’s my job.”

“I couldn’t risk it, Mason. You mean too much to me.”

He reached around me and pulled me to his chest. “Do you realize that this is what Joe’s visit to your nursery was all about? His father was dangling you in front of Joe to remind him of why he needs to behave.” Mason paused and inhaled deeply. “Rose, as long as J.R. Simmons sits on this information, you’re forever in limbo, just waiting for Joe to step out of line. You can’t live like that. I can’t live with that.”

“I know, but I don’t know what to do.” I looked up into his face. “I’m scared for you if you try to intervene.”

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