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She didn’t mean it. But people had levers to be pulled in certain circumstances and her end goal was to have her mother safe until she figured this Ripkin thing out.

At least she knew the woman was safe here.

“I am, too,” her mother said sadly.

Chapter 31

Striding into the Canterbury Inn’s lobby, Tom felt the floorboards under the deep red carpeting bend beneath his weight, the adjustment causing creaks to rise up from his feet. Everything was brass-chandelier, old-school New England, lithographs of American revolutionaries on the walls, grandfather clocks in the corners, simple moldings on the low ceiling.

He half expected a lobster in colonial dress to be behind the front desk.

Wrong. It was a brunette in a uniform.

As she looked up at him, he gave her a wave and pointed in the direction of the dining room. She nodded and went back to whatever she was doing.

Probably refreshing her memory on the Boston Tea Party. Paul Revere. Faneuil Hall.

None of which was in New Brunswick, all of which the city had commandeered as part of its tourist trade, like a little brother mugging his older sibling’s stuff.

The dining room was red and navy blue, all patriotic, the tables set far apart, the place more than three-quarters full of the white-hair-and-dental-implant set. Autumn always brought the leaf peepers, busloads of over-seventies riding the highways through the colorful season so they could return home with Vermont maple syrup, fake ivory carvings from Maine, and miniature laminated maps of the Freedom Trail from Massachusetts.

“May I help you?” the hostess asked from behind her stand.

“I’m here to meet—”

“There you are!” Graham Perry came out of nowhere like a gremlin. “We’re in a private room.”

In any other circumstances, Tom would have been pissed that he had to deal with the guy. But he would have taken anyone as a chaperone for this, including Mr. Hi-how’re-ya.

“I’m not staying long,” Tom said by way of a greeting. “And why the hell are we meeting in a private room. I thought campaigns like to save money.”

“We’re building a coalition.”

“And you can’t do this at a Howard Johnson’s?”

“They don’t exist anymore. And no, we can’t.”

Perry opened a door, and yup, it was another boardroom setup, but this time Tom was looking at a whole bunch of aftermath, the seats turned away from the table, bound reports half-cocked in some places, mint wrappers and half-empty Snapple and Poland Spring bottles next to glasses with melting ice in them. A portable screen and projector were in place, and a laser point that had been left on was beaming across at the side wall, a red eye.

“She must have gone to the bathroom. Hold on.”

Perry shuffled out and Tom felt like following the trend. Instead, he sauntered over and checked out one of the reports.

“Warehouse District Repurposing Proposal” was the title, and he smiled. Flipping through the pages, he saw Ripkin Development’s name all over the place.

“Thanks for coming to see me.”

Tom looked up at Mayor Mahoney. Navy blue dress tonight, same figure, same hair, same scent. God, he wished he weren’t attracted to her.

“Warehouse wharf development, huh.” He tossed the report on the table. “Big plans. Expensive plans—what were you saying about firefighters and teachers?”

“We need business development in this city.”

“I thought we weren’t allowed to talk about your father.”

She almost caught the frown before it hit her face. Almost. Her problem was that he’d seen it so many times, that expression that reflected the internal thought: Wow, you really are the asshole people say you are.

“It’s not about my father.”

“So is it about Charles Ripkin? I saw his name all over that.”

“He’s a potential major investor.”

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