Deadly Fires

By: Margaret Daley

Strong Women, Extraordinary Situations Series Book Nine


Chapter One





Alexia Richards sat in a chair behind a desk she was using temporarily, wishing she could wipe away the last couple of hours. But she couldn’t. Tension lassoed her and wouldn’t let go. Her chance to prove herself to her father was disappearing faster than a wisp of smoke in a brisk wind. Before she called the company’s insurance agent, she closed her eyes and drew in deep breaths.

Maybe her dad wouldn’t hear about the incident. The family ranch was three hours away in central Montana.

The blare of the phone ringing jerked her straight up in the chair. She looked at the caller ID number and couldn’t believe how fast the word spread that Bulldog, a top rated, two-thousand-pound rodeo bull, had escaped from his pen and terrified a young family, holding them hostage in their car.

She picked up the receiver.

“What have you done, Alex? First, money went missing from petty cash at the last venue and now this!” Her father’s outburst quelled her hello.

She could picture her dad pacing, his face red with anger at her for letting him down—yet again. “I did nothing. Someone let Bulldog out of his pen.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know. The police—”

“What have they done to find the person who stole from us? Nothing!”

No doubt his blood pressure was off the charts. Where was Mom? She was supposed to keep him away from the family business while recovering. “Dad, calm down. I’m taking care of this. Remember you just had a massive heart attack and—”

“I’m calling the Knight Investigation Agency.”

At the mention of the agency, she sucked in a deep breath and held it.

“If anyone can get to the bottom of this, Michael can.”

Relief flooded her. Michael. She could deal with him but not Cole. For a brief moment, she imagined her ex-husband the last time she’d seen him in his U.S. Army uniform leaving the courtroom, their divorce finalized. She’d heard rumors he was back in Montana and working for Michael after being honorably discharged from the army, but she didn’t know for sure.

Before her thoughts fixed on why they had divorced, her father continued, “Expect a visit from Michael. Better yet, I think you two should meet here at the ranch house. I need to sit in on the meeting.”

Left unsaid—so I can make sure the incidents are stopped for good. “Dad, Mom made you promise not to work for at least six weeks. It’s only been two weeks since you came home from the hospital. Besides, the Crescent City Rodeo’s tomorrow. I need to be here.” Not on the road driving for hours. She could never make it to the Flying Red Ranch and back in time for the performance at the Crescent City’s Founders’ Day Celebration.

He harrumphed. “You’d better give me a detailed report in person right after.”

“I’ll keep you—”

“I’ll have Michael come see you tomorrow morning. Then he can come see me. Bye.”

The phone went dead, leaving her holding the receiver to her ear for a few extra seconds as she tried to assimilate being rolled over by a bulldozer. Why was she working for the Red Richards Rodeo Company?

Because I wanted to be the son my dad never had. Because family is important to me. But lately, nothing she did satisfied him. It was never enough. Even with his health issues, he was breathing down her neck and questioning every move she made. She would meet with Michael, but no way would she be informing her father in person. She had a show to oversee tomorrow.

When the phone rang a second time, the sound startled Alexia again, and she quickly answered the call, hoping it was the police with good news. “Red Richards Rodeo Company. How can I help you?”

“Alexia, this is Michael Knight. I got a call from Red about a problem you’re having in Crescent City with your show. He started to explain when your mother interrupted the call and told me to talk with you about it.”

She smiled. Her mother was the only one who could handle her dad. Mom had been the one who pushed to have her fill in for her dad while he was recuperating. “We had three shows in the past six days. In the third town, someone must have broken into the office we were using the night of our performance. The next morning, when I went to pack up the office, the money in the petty cash box was gone. Thankfully, only a couple of hundred dollars.” She went on to explain about the incident with Bulldog. “Mr. Davis, the father of the family trapped in the car, was understanding. I’ve invited them to be our guests at the show. His young son is thrilled he gets to be part of the opening event.”

“It sounds like you handled it diplomatically. Any damage?”

“Bulldog left a couple of dents in their car.”

“I know that bull’s reputation. You’re lucky it wasn’t worse.”

“His reputation is what draws the crowds to our shows. These two events may not be connected. They were in two different towns, four hours away from each other.”

A long pause ensued before Michael asked, “When are you leaving Crescent City?”

“Thursday. We have one more venue to go before we return to the ranch.”