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It's time to get a new life.
Shona Tremaine tapped the brake and turned into the curving, tree-lined drive that led to her father's mansion. For now, it was home to her, but a break was coming soon.
She needed to distance herself from the cutting edge of Dad's politics as a state senator in Jefferson City, Missouri. That edge was serrated, and she had allowed it to slice right down the middle of her marriage — and everything else in her life.
Two weeks ago had been the final straw, and her showdown with her father in the Capitol Building had been loud and public. How could she have let that happen? She knew better, but she'd been so furious with Dad for breaking a promise to his constituents that for once she couldn't help herself.
When she and Geoff separated last year, it had made sense to her to move into her old bedroom suite in Dad's massive home. She spent a lot of time in his office in that house, working on his behalf. So now, she was not only grieving the loss of her marriage, but also her home, as well as the increasingly unethical choices Dad had been making lately — of which she saw too much from her front-row seat here at the mansion.
As her father's top aide/personal assistant, Shona topped the senator's short list of confidants, for Kemper MacDonald trusted few people in this town — or even in the whole state of Missouri.
Instead of pulling into the five-car garage in back of the mansion, she parked her white Cadillac Escalade beneath the willow trees in the front drive. She and Dad were to be guests this evening at a dinner hosted by the Citizens for a Drug Free Missouri.
Other guests were members of the Drug Task Force, including State Representative Paul Forester, one of Dad's dearest friends, an old hunting buddy. Paul — who had dropped out of medical school thirty years ago — had a son who had been in a medical residency program with Shona's younger sister Karah Lee. For a while, the two fathers had hoped there might be a romance between their children. It never happened. But to Shona, the Foresters would always be like family.
Also attending was another of Dad's old friends, State Representative Linda Plinkett. Shona suspected her father had been fraternizing with Linda quite often in the past months, until very recently.
Missouri politics was a tight, if often uneasy, community.
Tonight would be interesting, Shona mused, since Dad and Linda had barely spoken to one another in the past two weeks. They'd even been avoiding eye contact when in the same room. In fact, Shona had noticed this sudden coolness soon after her own fight with Dad.
Very curious, indeed.
As Shona stepped from her SUV into the cooling air this Friday evening, mature oaks, maples and majestic broadleaf pines whispered to her on the breeze. May had always been one of her favorite months, and this one promised to be particularly fine. She wished she had time to appreciate it properly.
She ascended the wide steps to the verandah, unable to resist a glance toward the state capitol building to the west, its white dome turning pink-and-gold in the glow of the setting sun. Below, the Missouri River meandered with lazy abandon in its journey toward the Mississippi.
She'd always loved this city. For many years she had loved her job, working with her father and her husband to serve the residents of Missouri.
As time passed, however, she and Geoff had both realized that Dad was losing the ideals with which he had begun his career. His professional ethics had gone the way of his personal morals.
Why should she have been surprised?
Last year was the lowest point, when Geoff gave Dad a letter of resignation and asked Shona to do the same. She'd felt forced to choose between her husband and her father. And she'd made the wrong choice.
Geoff was strong and confident, needing help from no one. Dad, on the other hand, had always needed her. She'd felt that if anyone could keep her father on solid ethical ground, it would be her.
How wrong could a woman be?
Lately, more and more, she'd been experiencing the sting of loss. Could her relationship with Geoff be rectified before the divorce was final? She had been the one to file in the first place. She'd left Geoff, spurred by her anger at his defection and his ultimatum that she do the same.
Geoff had landed on his feet after resigning as Dad's top aide. With his background and degree in communications, he was now a reporter and anchor for the six-o'clock news on Jefferson City's Channel 6.
Shona seldom missed the news these days, and yet she found it painful to watch. It just made her miss her husband more, and realize her loss more sharply.
Tonight, after the dinner, she would have a talk with Dad about her need to be independent from him. She would officially resign and offer to help him find her replacement, but after that, who knew?
She hated to leave politics altogether, though that was essentially what she would be doing. Dad was the one who had mentored her, grooming her to run for his Senate office when he made his bid for the governorship.
She only knew she needed out before the compromises she made at Dad's behest destroyed the final foundations of her character. Since the fight, she and Dad had barely communicated unless it was about work. Dad didn't seem angry with her, just very preoccupied.
She pressed her electronic key into the plate at the side of the front door and waited for the sequence of numbers to be translated into the main computer that controlled security. The door slid open and she entered, glancing at her watch. There would barely be time to shower, change and slide into the new creation of burgundy silk she had purchased last week for this dinner.
First, she would find Dad and remind him of what he was to wear tonight — the understated dark gray Armani suit, with a fit that hinted at the power behind the facade. Whenever he was in public, he wanted to dress the part, although he had little fashion sense, much like Karah Lee, his younger daughter.
Halfway across the formal dining room en route to the kitchen, Shona spotted something on the floor. It looked as if someone had spilled some of the dark red paint that a crew had been using for a touch-up job on the garage.
She winced at the thought of her father's reaction when he saw it. Kemper MacDonald had never had a lot of patience with mistakes or messes.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, had Friday afternoons off, so Shona didn't call out. She pushed through the swinging doors into the kitchen to get a paper towel to clean the mess.
Her father was probably upstairs in his suite, showering.
She dabbed at the spot. It came up easily. It was obviously fresh. Examining the paper towel more closely, she felt a twinge of unease. She sniffed it. Not paint. Not catsup. Was that a coppery scent?
Don't panic. It's your imagination. Dad has always teased you about your vivid imagination. She tossed the paper towel in the trash as she rushed through the kitchen, suddenly noticing another splotch of red by the back door.
Following one droplet after another, she turned left into Dad's home office. In the dim light of the setting sun, she saw a human form — a man — splayed on the floor, faceup, between a corner of the desk and the French windows. A stain of blood fanned out from beneath his head.
Shona's breath stopped. "Dad!" She rushed to him and fell to her knees at his side. "Dad?"
Blood streaked down his face, running from his nose, pooling in his thick, silvery hair. His eyes came open as if with great effort, and he tried to speak. Blood speckled his teeth.
Shona forced herself not to cry out. "Dad, hold on. I'll call for help." She reached for the cordless desk phone. It wasn't in its cradle. Dad must have tried to call for help and dropped it somewhere. She pulled her cell phone from her purse and punched in 911.
"Shot " her father murmured, his voice a hushed croak.
"What do you mean? Did someone shoot you?" He grimaced, more blood dribbling down his chin.
"Get away from Geoff ."
The dispatcher came on the line, and Shona asked for an ambulance. "My father is badly injured. He says he's been shot." As the dispatcher asked for more information, Dad grabbed her by the arm. His sleeve slid back, and she saw a hideous bruise on his forearm, black and swollen. Shot? He looked as if he'd been beaten.
"Hang on, Dad. Help's coming."
"You need your little one get away " His eyes glazed over and his face fell slack.
"No. Dad, stay with me!"
More blood trickled down his face from his nose. His head fell sideways, and she saw a huge bruise on the side of his face. His whole body was hemorrhaging.
She felt for a pulse at his carotid artery. His heart was still beating, and his warm breath touched her face when she leaned close.
"Please," she said to the dispatcher over the telephone. "My father is in bad shape. Tell them to hurry."
As the voice reassured her that help would be there soon, Shona wanted to scream. Soon might be too late.