The Long Game Page 1

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CHAPTER 1

“Tess, has anyone ever told you that you’re an absolute vision when you’re plotting something?” Asher Rhodes shot a lazy grin in my direction.

I ignored Asher and kept my gaze fixed on the street in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. A man named Charles Bancroft had a reservation at the Roosevelt’s five-star restaurant for lunch—pricey, considering Mr. Bancroft had recently convinced a judge that his child support and alimony payments should be kept to a minimum.

“Asking for a friend,” Asher clarified. Then he nudged his best friend. “Henry, my good man, tell Tess she’s pretty as a picture when she’s preparing to unleash her wrath on the delightfully unsuspecting father of one of our classmates.”

“Kendrick?” Henry Marquette said.

“Yes?” I replied without taking my eyes away from the street.

“You are utterly terrifying when you are plotting something.”

A dark car pulled up to the curb. I smiled. “Thank you,” I told Henry. Then I turned to Asher. “Get Vivvie on the phone,” I instructed. “Tell her we’re a go.”

Vivvie and her aunt had lived at the Roosevelt Hotel for almost a month until they’d found a DC apartment. That was plenty of time for friendly-to-a-fault Vivvie Bharani to have endeared herself to the staff.

Convenient, that, I thought as I watched Charles Bancroft climb out of the backseat of his luxury sedan. Asher relayed my message to Vivvie, then put the phone on speaker.

“The eagle has landed,” Vivvie said from the other end. “The bird is in the bush.”

Few things in life gave Vivvie and Asher as much joy as talking in code. I didn’t bother translating. One of the bellhops wheeled a cart of luggage out in front of Bancroft’s car. Bancroft disappeared into the restaurant, but his driver wasn’t going anywhere.

That was my cue.

I took a step forward. Henry caught my elbow. “No bloodshed,” he said. “No blackmail. No obstruction of justice.”

“You drive a hard bargain,” I told him, stepping away from his grasp. “What are your thoughts on extortion?” Without waiting for an answer, I headed for Bancroft’s car.

Henry and Asher followed on my heels.

“The cat is dancing in the catnip,” Asher reported back to Vivvie. “Grumpy lion is grumpy.”

“Did you just refer to me as a grumpy lion?” Henry asked Asher.

“Absolutely not,” Asher promised. Then he took the phone off speaker and lowered his voice. “Suspicious lion is suspicious,” he stage-whispered to Vivvie.

With one last glance back at Henry and Asher, I approached Bancroft’s car and knocked on the window. The driver rolled it down.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I’m a friend of Jeremy’s,” I said. “I’d like to talk.”

Jeremy Bancroft was a senior at the Hardwicke School, due to graduate in the spring. Or at least he had been due to graduate from Hardwicke in the spring until his father stopped payment on his tuition. From what I’d gathered, Mr. Bancroft’s sole focus was making his ex-wife suffer for daring to divorce him, and he had no qualms whatsoever about using his own children to do it.

I had no qualms about lying in wait in the man’s car. An hour later, I was rewarded.

“I’m telling you right now,” Bancroft said, shifting his phone from one ear to the other as he situated himself in the backseat of the car, “they’ll be signed on with the firm by the end of business day tomorrow. Guaranteed.”

The car pulled away from the curb. I sat silently in the front passenger seat until we’d merged into traffic. Then I turned around.

“What the . . .” Bancroft hung up the phone and started barking out orders to his driver. “Mick, pull over.”

“Mick had to step out,” I told Jeremy’s father. “Right about now, he’s probably wondering where you and your car are.”

In reality, Bancroft’s driver had agreed to take a very conveniently timed bathroom break. He was, as it turned out, fonder of his boss’s son than of his boss.

“I don’t know who you are,” Bancroft gritted out, “or what you want—”

“I’d like for you to stop using your children as pawns in whatever sick game you have going on with your ex-wife,” I said. “But I’ll settle for a rather large transfer of funds.”

Bancroft stared at me in disbelief. “Who put you up to this?”

“A better question might be what I’m going to do if you don’t transfer those funds.”

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