Beau could hardly believe it. His father was sixty years old! The girl sitting across from him in a booth at the Pleasant Hill Café looked like a teenager. A very pregnant teenager.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Missy,” Beau Reese said. “You don’t have to worry about anything from now on. I’ll make sure everything is taken care of from here on out.”
“He bought me presents,” the girl said, dabbing a Kleenex against the tears in her blue eyes. “He told me how pretty I was, how much he liked being with me. I thought he loved me.”
Fat chance of that, Beau thought. His dad had never loved anyone but himself. True, his father, a former Texas state senator, was still a handsome man, one who stayed in shape and looked twenty years younger. Didn’t make the situation any better.
“How old are you, Missy?”
At least she was over the age of consent. That was something, not much.
Beau shoved a hand through his wavy black hair and took a steadying breath. He thought of the DNA test folded up and tucked into the pocket of his shirt. He had always wanted a baby brother or sister. Now at the age of thirty five, he was finally going to have one.
Beau felt a surge of protectiveness toward the young woman carrying his father’s child.
He looked over to where she sat hunched over next to her mother on the opposite side of the pink vinyl booth. “Everybody makes mistakes, Missy. You picked the wrong guy, that’s all. Doesn’t mean you won’t have a great kid.”
For the first time since he’d arrived, Missy managed a tentative smile. “Thank you for saying that.”
Beau returned the smile. “I’m going to have a baby sister. I promise she won’t have to worry about a thing from the day she’s born into this world.” Hell, he was worth more than half a billion dollars. He would see the child had everything she ever wanted.
When Missy’s lips trembled, her mother scooted out of the booth. “I think she’s had enough for today. This is all very hard on her and I don’t want her getting overly tired.” Josie reached for her daughter’s hand. “Let’s go home, honey. You’ll feel better after a nap.”
Beau got up, too, leaned over and brushed a kiss on Missy’s cheek. “You both have my number. If you need anything, call me. Okay?”
Missy swallowed. “Okay.”
“Thank you, Beau,” Josie said. “I should have called you sooner. I should have known you’d help us.”
“I’ll have my assistant send you a check right away. You’ll have money to take care of expenses and buy the things you need. After that, I’ll have a draft sent to Missy every month.”
Josie’s eyes teared up. “I didn’t know how I was going to manage the bills all by myself. Thank you again, Beau.”
He just nodded. “Keep me up to date on her condition.”
“I will,” Josie said.
Beau watched the women head for the door, the bell ringing as Josie shoved it open and she and Missy walked out of the café.
Leaving money on the table for his coffee, he followed the women out the door, his temper slowing climbing toward the boiling point, as it had been after he’d first received Josie’s call.
His father should be the one handling Missy’s pregnancy. He’d had months to step up and do the right thing. Beau figured he never would.
As he crossed the sidewalk and opened the door of his dark blue Ferrari, his temper cranked up another notch. By the time the car was roaring along the road to his father’s house, his fury was simmering, bubbling just below the surface.
Unconsciously his foot pressed harder on the gas, urging the car down the two-lane road at well over eighty miles an hour. With too many tickets in Howler County already, he forced himself to slow down.
Making the turn into Country Club Estates, he jammed on the brakes and the car slid to a stop in front of the house. The white, two-story home he’d been raised in oozed Southern charm, the row of columns out front mimicking an old-style plantation.
Climbing out of the Ferrari, one of his favorite vehicles, he pounded up the front steps and crossed the porch. The housekeeper had Mondays and Tuesdays off so he used his key to let himself into the entry.
On this chilly, end-of-January day, the ceiling fans, usually rotating throughout the five-thousand square-foot residence, hadn’t been turned on, leaving the interior strangely silent, the air oddly dense. The ticking of the ornate grandfather clock in the living room seemed louder than it usually did.
“Dad! It’s Beau! Where are you?” When he didn’t get an answer, he strode down the hall toward the study. He had phoned his father on the way over. Though he’d done his best to keep the anger out of his voice, he wasn’t sure he had succeeded. Maybe his father had left to avoid him.
“Dad!” Still no answer. Beau continued down the hall, his footsteps echoing in the quiet. As he reached the study, he noticed the door standing slightly ajar. Steeling himself for the confrontation ahead, he clamped down on his temper, rapped firmly, then shoved the door open.
His father wasn’t sitting at the big rosewood desk or in his favorite overstuffed chair next to the fireplace. Beau started to turn away when an odd gurgling sound sent the hairs up on the back of his neck.
“Dad!” At the opposite end of the desk, Beau spotted a prone figure lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. “Dad!” His father’s eyes were closed, his face as gray as ash. The handle of a letter opener protruded from the middle of his chest.
Beau raced to his father’s side. “Dad!” Blood oozed from the wound in his chest and streamed onto the hardwood floor. He had to stop the bleeding and he had to do it now!
He hesitated, praying he wouldn’t make it worse, then with no other option, grabbed the handle of the letter opener, jerked it out, gripped the front of his dad’s white shirt and ripped it open.
“Oh, my God! What are you–”
Beau glanced up. “Call 9-1-1! Hurry, he’s been stabbed! Hurry!”
The woman, a shapely brunette named Cassidy Jones, his father’s recently hired personal assistant, didn’t pause, just pulled her cell out of her pocket and hurriedly punched in the number. He heard her rattle off the address, give the dispatcher the name of the victim and said he had been stabbed.
Beau’s hand shook as he checked for a pulse, found none. The wound was catastrophic, a stab wound straight to the heart. No way could his father survive it.
Cassidy ended the call, ran over and knelt on the floor beside him.
“Here, use this to seal the hole.” She seemed amazingly in control as she handed him a credit card then ran to the wet bar and grabbed a towel, folded it into a pad, rushed back and handed it over. Beau pressed the towel over the credit card on top of the hole, all the while knowing his father was already dead or within moments of dying.
He checked again for a pulse. Shook his head, feeling an unexpected rush of grief. “His heart isn’t beating. Whoever stabbed him knew exactly where to bury the blade.” And compressions would only make it worse.
Cassidy reached down to check for herself, pressing her fingers in exactly the right spot on the side of his father’s neck. She had to know it was hopeless, just as he did, must have known Stewart Reese was dead.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Beau studied his father’s face. Pain had turned his usually handsome features haggard and slack, nothing like the athletic older man who kept himself so fit and trim.
Sorrow slid through him, making his chest clamp down. Or maybe it was sadness for the kind of man his father was, the kind who had wound up the victim of a killer.
“Just hold on,” Cassidy said to him. “The ambulance should be here any minute.”
His mind went blank until the sound of a siren sliced into his conscious. Cassidy hurried off to let the EMTs into the house and a few moments later they appeared in the study.
“You need to give us some room, Mr. Reese,” one of them said gently, a skinny kid who looked like he knew what he was doing.
Beau backed away and Cassidy followed. He felt her eyes on him, assessing him with speculation–or was it suspicion?
It didn’t take long for the EMTs to have his father loaded onto a gurney and rolling down the hall, back outside to the ambulance. Beau strode along behind them, Cassidy trailing in his wake.
It occurred to him that she could be the killer. But somehow the timing seemed wrong and her reaction seemed genuine. The thought slid away.
As he climbed into the ambulance and sat down beside his dad, he flicked a last glance at the house. If Cassidy Jones hadn’t done it, who had? Had the killer still been inside when Beau arrived? How had he escaped? What was his motive?
The ambulance roared down the road, sirens wailing, blowing through intersections, weaving in and out between cars, careening around corners. All the way to the hospital Beau held his father’s hand. It was the closest he had ever felt to his dad.
The ambulance turned again and Pleasant Hill Memorial loomed ahead. The vehicle slammed to a stop in front of the emergency entrance and the back doors banged open.
After what seemed an eternity but was only a very few minutes, Beau’s father, Stewart Beaumont Reese, was pronounced Dead On Arrival.
Beau’s throat closed up. There were times as a boy he had wished his father dead, but that had been years ago.
Now his dad was gone and Beau wanted answers. He vowed whatever it took, for no matter how long, he wouldn’t stop until he found the man who had murdered his father.