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The black velvet sky was studded with diamond stars, a cloudless Texas night, warm and languid. But there was a crackle of excitement in the air as the eyes of the crowd lining the banks of Paseo del Rio focused on the river parade.
A man stood in the crowd, but he was not a part of the festive throng. Tall, whipcord-lean, he stood aloof, expressing an aura of detachment. The cold, chiselled lines of the handsome face belonged to a man who rarely smiled, who had found no reason to smile for a long time.
Thick light-brown hair fell with careless attraction over his forehead, the slight waves streaked with burnished gold from long hours in the sun. The teak-dark tan of his complexion emphasised the impression that the face had been carved from wood, dispassionate and indifferent, without a soul. His eyes seemed to hesitate between green and blue, but there was always a frosty tint to their colour.
A gaily decorated barge floated under the stone footbridge, its bright lights blazing for the benefit of the crowd gathered along the river's bend at Arenson River Theatre. A murmur of appreciation rippled through the spectators. The young girl standing in front of the man glanced quickly at him, her blue eyes feverish with excitement.
"Look at that one, Daddy," she breathed in awe. "Isn't it beautiful?"
"Yes." There was a suggestion of an impatient sigh in his clipped agreement, but the girl's attention had returned to the parade.
His gaze flickered uninterestedly over the float and back to the child in front of him, a single, long brown braid nearly touching the waistband of her dress. How old was Missy? Colter Langston wondered idly, then silently cursed thathe couldn't remember if his own daughter was ten or eleven.
He snapped a gold lighter to his cigarette, the brief flame throwing his arrogant features into sharp relief, inhaled deeply, then cupped the burning tip in his hand. What was he doing here? His eyes swept the crowd in contempt. People stood elbow to elbow, craning their necks for a glimpse of the floats when they could have remained at home and had an unobstructed view of the parade on their television sets.
"Observing the Fiesta is not participating." Unbidden Flo Donaldsen's statement came to him.
Yes, it was his aunt who was to blame for his presence in the crowd, his aunt and the prickles of conscience over the years of his neglect of Missy. Not neglect, Colter corrected silently. His daughter had never wanted for anything. She had beautiful clothes, plenty of food, a home. He had never sent her off to any boarding school. She had lived under the same roof with him since the day she had entered this world. What more could the child want from him? he thought impatiently.
This shy, quiet withdrawn child with her thin, sensitive face was his daughter. Yet Colter Langston felt no surge of emotion at the knowledge. He cared for her--as much as he could, but there was no bursting warmth of pride to fill the emptiness within him. With his usual cynicism, he decided that parenthood was vastly overrated.