It rang once. Twice.
“Stop,” Bancroft said.
I hit the button to end the call just as someone picked up. I held out the paperwork Henry had asked his family attorney to draw up. “In an ideal world,” I said, “you’d amend the divorce settlement you made with your ex-wife.”
A muscle in Bancroft’s jaw ticked. He’d take his chances weathering damaging rumors before he’d give his ex anything she wanted.
“However,” I continued, “I thought you might prefer making an anonymous donation to your children’s school.”
I held out the papers again. Bancroft took them. Reading them, he frowned. “A scholarship fund?”
“Donors can put whatever stipulations they would like on a donation. Your stipulations are very specific.”
Jeremy and his little sister would be the recipients of scholar-ships that would pay their Hardwicke tuition through graduation.
“I only have two children.” Bancroft looked up from the pages and glowered at me. “Why am I funding three scholarships?”
I offered him a tight-lipped smile. “Price of doing business.” A vein in Bancroft’s forehead throbbed. “And if I tear up these papers, call the police, and have you arrested for stealing my car?” I shrugged. “Technically,” I said, “I didn’t steal your car.”
The car slowed to a stop at the curb of the Roosevelt, having circled the block. In the driver’s seat, Henry turned around. “Technically,” he said, “I did.”
“Henry Marquette,” I clarified for the man in the back-seat. “His mother is Pamela Abellard.” My smile took on a cat-eating-canary glint. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the Abellards your firm’s biggest client?”
Bancroft’s grip tightened over his phone, his knuckles turn-ing white.
“We both know you’re not making that call,” I said. I nodded toward the paperwork in his hands.
The man’s eyes went back to Henry’s.
“Normally,” Henry told him conversationally, “when someone asks me to commit grand theft auto, my answer is a firm no. But I have a sister.” Henry’s expression was perfectly polite, but his mint-green eyes flashed, striking against his dark brown skin. “My little sister,” Henry continued, “is your daughter’s age. Nine years old.”
Bancroft signed the papers. He made a call and authorized the transfer of funds.
As I exited the car, I glanced over at Henry. “Should I call Asher and tell him we won’t be needing that getaway distraction?”
Before Henry could reply, pop music reverberated off the building. Asher jogged into the middle of a large crowd and struck a dramatic pose.
“You say ‘distraction,’” Henry deadpanned, “Asher hears ‘flash mob.’”
Five seconds later, Vivvie danced wildly past and gave me a questioning look. I nodded.
“The possum has fallen on the nun!” Vivvie called to Asher. Asher didn’t miss a beat of choreography. He shimmied and punched a fist into the air. “Long live the possum!”
I had exactly three hours to recover from my confrontation with Jeremy Bancroft’s father before I found myself facing off against a very different opponent.
“What do you know about the War of the Roses?” My pater-nal grandfather closed his fingers around a black knight and then used it to remove my rook from the chessboard.
No mercy. No hesitation.
Wars of the Roses,” I said, countering his move. “Plural.” The edges of the old man’s lips quirked upward. He inclined his head slightly—both an acknowledgment of my point and a command to continue.
“Bunch of guys in the fifteenth century fighting for the throne of England.”
I kept my summary short and to the point. As in chess, every move in a conversation with William Keyes came with consequences, either immediate or down the line. He was grooming me as his heir, attempting to mold me in his own image. If I gave an inch, he’d take a mile, and I had no desire to be either molded or groomed.
Especially by a man who may or may not have conspired to assassinate the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
“The Wars of the Roses were a series of lethal confrontations and political maneuverings between the house of Lancaster and the house of York,” Keyes corrected, sliding his bishop across the board as he lectured. “Political unrest tends to be unkind to weak and strategically impotent kings.”
His gaze settled on the chessboard—on my king—but I knew he was thinking about another ruler and another throne.
Weekly Sunday night dinners at the Keyes mansion had cemented my understanding of my paternal grandfather as a man with many allies and many enemies. More often than not, he considered President Nolan the latter. Every bump in the road for the Nolan administration was taken as incontrovertible evidence that Peter Nolan had never been the right man for the job.
I picked up my bishop and plunked it back down. “Check.” “Bloodthirsty girl,” Keyes commented. “You get that from your mother. Patience,” he continued, eyeing the board, “is a Keyes trait.”
This was the way it was with him, drawing lines between the Kendrick blood in me and the Keyes.
“Did you know that the term kingmaker was first used to refer to the role the Earl of Warwick played in the struggle between Lancaster and York?” My grandfather resumed his lecture, but I knew his eyes missed nothing—not the effect that hearing Ivy referred to as my mother still had on me, not the positions of the pieces on the board. “During the Wars of the Roses, Warwick deposed not one but two kings.”
Kingmaker was what people called William Keyes. He wielded tremendous power and influence behind the scenes in the American political game.
“Warwick wasn’t just wealthy and powerful,” Keyes continued. “He was strategic.”
Power. Politics. Game theory. This was what passed for casual conversation in this house. William Keyes had two sons. One of them was dead; the other was estranged. I was his only grand-child. In his eyes, that meant his legacy rested on me.
“I’d like to see you showing a bit more initiative about becoming a part of the Hardwicke community, Tess.”
From the Wars of the Roses to high school extracurriculars in two seconds flat.
“I’m not really much of a joiner,” I said. That was an understatement.
“The debate club, a sport or two,” William Keyes continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. “It’s high time you started making your mark.”
The prestigious Hardwicke School was a microcosm of Washington. The mark I’d made there, up to and including what I’d done for Jeremy Bancroft a few hours earlier, wasn’t the kind you could put on a résumé—or the kind my newfound grand father would have approved of.
“The queen,” Keyes told me, returning his attention to our game, “is the most dangerous piece on the board.” His index finger trailed the edge of the black queen for a moment, before moving it forward. “Check.”
He was boxing me in.
I could see, already, how this was going to end. “You’ll have checkmate in three moves.”
The old man’s lips parted in a dangerous smile. “Will I?” He’d gone into this game fully expecting to win it, just like he fully expected me to yield to his decrees about Hardwicke. “Luckily for me,” I told him, my fingers closing around my own queen, “I’ll have checkmate in two.”
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