In this week's sample from Death By A Dark Horse, Thea meets Frederick Parsons, the murder victim's father -- a man rumored to have ties to organized crime. He has arrived on Thea's doorstep and requested a chat with her. How can she refuse?
Up close, Valerie's father was not as old as I first thought. He had classic, handsome features, and oozed elegance. But a steel-like formality about him made it clear he was not a man to cuddle up to. I tried to picture him bouncing his little blond girl on his knee. Nope, not this man.
"Won't you sit down?" I asked.
"I don't want to take much of your time," he said, disregarding my invitation. "I came to talk to you about my daughter."
He looked squarely at me. His gaze flicked to the bruises on my face, then back to my eyes.
"I understand it was your horse in the pasture at her house."
"Yes," I said, and swallowed. Blackie seemed to be everyone's favorite topic of conversation lately.
"I also understand I was mistaken in believing my daughter's death was an accident involving your horse." The muscles in his face were so tense his lips barely moved when he spoke.
"How did your horse come to be in that pasture?"
"Someone took him from Copper Creek Saturday evening."
"Someone? Was it my daughter?"
His expression didn't change and neither did the tone of his voice, but I felt a rush of compassion for him. He was grieving and worried about the kind of person his daughter actually was.
"Mr. Parsons, no one knows who was driving Valerie's rig. No one saw the driver. It could have been her, but quite honestly, that doesn't make sense to me." In half a heartbeat I'd announced my abandonment of the "Valerie-is-a-crook" stance -- again. Who could blame me? Maybe I'd believe it myself on one of these go-rounds.
"Nor does it make sense to me, Miss Campbell." The floor creaked as he walked across the hardwood of my entryway and into my living room. He looked around as if browsing in a gift shop. The photographs on the bookcase caught his eye and he strolled over to have a closer look. One picture was of Juliet. The other was of me on Blackie with Uncle Henry. Mr. Parsons picked up the one of Blackie and studied it, then did the same with Juliet's picture. "Your sister?"
"Yes." My face went cold, and my scalp seemed to shrink. I wanted to grab the photograph out of his hands. But before I made a move he returned it to its place on the bookshelf.
"Should you have any knowledge to share with me I would like to encourage you to do so. It would be prudent."
I locked eyes with him and set my jaw. "I'm afraid I'm as baffled as you, Mr. Parsons. More, perhaps."
"I intend to find out who killed my daughter and set her up to look like a common thief."
He held my gaze long enough for me to understand he considered me part of the equation. I did a quick reevaluation of my sympathy for him and discarded it.
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