BY: SARALYN RICHARD
Detective Oliver Parrott returns from his honeymoon to find a spiffed-up office and a spanking new case—the theft of valuable paintings from a renowned Brandywine artist’s studio. Soon theft leads to murder, and Parrott learns there is more to the artist’s palette than just globs of paint.
“In the Brandywine Valley, a delicate balance exists between the very wealthy and those who serve them, but the murder of a famous artist threatens this tenuous equilibrium. In her second outing featuring Detective Oliver Parrott, Saralyn Richard offers readers a compelling story of worlds in collision. A Palette For Love and Murder probes more than the mysteries of the art world and the motives for murder. Satisfied readers will discover that it also delicately plumbs the depths of love and the human heart. Another winner for Richard.” —William Kent Krueger, author of This Tender Land
“Smart, stylish and sexy, this art world caper delights with its verve and wit. The character studies are wonderful, and Oliver and Tonya Parrott are an irresistible pair.” —Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of A Deadly Divide
“Richard’s complex characters and intelligent story line make A Palette for Love and Murder a surefire hit. Beautifully written and masterfully plotted, this mystery will satisfy readers on multiple levels. I devoured it in two sittings!” —Jill Orr, Silver Falchion award-nominated author of the Riley Ellison mysteries
“Delightful! Saralyn Richard weaves a deeply twisty mystery around vibrant characters that will leave readers looking forward to more.” —LynDee Walker, Agatha Award-nominated author of Front Page Fatality
“A Palette For Love and Murder is more than just an investigation of an art theft or even a homicide. Detective Parrott faces the complexities of class and the challenge of marriage, all while chasing a killer.” —Elena Hartwell Taylor, author of the Eddie Shoes Mystery Series
Marriage had turned out to be more. More than taking vows and sipping champagne. More than a romantic cruise to exotic islands. More than sleeping in the warmth of a lover’s embrace. Tonight, Detective Oliver Parrott had another two A.M. wake-up call, but not the kind from the West Brandywine Police Station. His first thought had been of the stolen paintings he was investigating, but the punch in the kidney had come from Parrott’s own true love.
“No-o-oh, oh, no,” Tonya yelled, as she thrashed about in the bed next to him.
Parrott jumped out of bed and twisted around, grabbing Tonya by both wrists. “Wake up, Baby. It’s just a dream. You’re right here with me. Nothing’s wrong.”
Tonya’s eyes fluttered open and closed, as she struggled against her husband’s strong, tall frame. She was breathing hard.
Still holding her wrists, he murmured, “C’mon now. C’mon, Tonya.”
After what seemed like an hour to Parrott, Tonya woke up and stopped resisting his efforts to calm her down. When she realized what she had done, she threw her hands over her face and doubled over at the waist. “Sorry, sorry. I don’t want to have these dreams, Ollie. They just won’t go away.” Tears streamed down her face and neck.
Parrott thought to turn on the lamp, but decided the reflected beam from the streetlight, piercing through the curtain, was enough. He scooted to sit up against the headboard. “Come sit up here with me,” he said, patting the sheet between them. “Let’s see if we can make them go away.”
Tonya shoved down the covers that were wound around her legs. Her white silk teddy was spotted with patches of sweat. She climbed into her husband’s embrace and dropped her head on his bare shoulder.
“Now,” Parrott said, snuggling into his wife’s hair and smelling jasmine. “Maybe it will help if you tell me exactly what it is that has you yelling in your sleep.” Every time he’d asked before, Tonya had dissembled. She hated talking about her experiences in Afghanistan, period.
“You know I can’t, Ollie. Even thinking about it scares me. Putting it into words seems excruciating.” More tears overflowed the banks of her eyelids, and she wiped them away with quick brushes of the back of her hand.
“Yes, I know,” Parrott said, “but maybe if you could say the words, finally, these night terrors would go away. That’s what I remember from that psych class I took junior year.” He remembered times as a cop when he’d used a similar strategy to help witnesses articulate horrible memories. “It lets the boogeyman out from under the bed.”
The corners of Tonya’s mouth twitched, but failed to make it to smile. She was shivering, though the room was warm. “I—I don’t know if I can, but I’ll try.” She pulled the sheet and blanket up around them both, and Parrott pressed her to him, knowing whatever he did would be inadequate.
A few minutes passed in silence, and finally Tonya glanced at the alarm clock, which said two-seventeen. She took a deep breath, and then the words began tumbling out. “Some very bad things happened when I was in Afghanistan, Ollie.” Her fingers drew a pattern onto his chest. “Some things I could never tell you about.”
Parrott’s eyebrows rose a half inch, though this was not a revelation. “Whenever we Skyped, you said things were fine.”
“I know. That was me not wanting you to worry, and, you know, all our missions were top secret. There was always the chance that our Skypes weren’t private. And, anyway, I thought if I didn’t talk about the bad things, I could make them disappear. I know now that was foolish.”
“Because now you are dreaming about them? Is that what you’re saying?”
Tonya nodded. “Something happened last September when we were on a mission. It changed the way I felt about everything. I witnessed something terrible, and I keep dreaming about it, over and over.”
Parrot’s mouth went dry. “What is it?”
“There were six of us in a helicopter, and I was co-pilot. Five guys and me. We landed about a mile from where a terror cell was supposed to be. It was pitch black. We moved as quickly and quietly as we could, and we surrounded the place. It was little more than a hut pushed up against the side of a mountain. It was supposed to be a peaceful grab—surprise the target, cuff him, and take him back for ‘treatment.’
It all went surprisingly well. No screaming, no fuss, the target looked scared, but resigned to being caught. The problem, though, happened before we took him away.” Tonya’s hand reached for Parrott’s, and she squeezed.
“What happened, Baby?”
“The guy had a family. Wife and daughters. Two pretty young girls, maybe twelve and thirteen. Curled up on mats on the ground, two peas in a pod. They were just lying there—” A sob flew from Tonya’s lips like a speeding train from a tunnel, loud and long.
Parrott pressed his wife’s body into his own, trying to suppress a shudder of his own.
“—I c-can’t…I just can’t say any more. It’s—it’s too horrible.” She pulled her knees into her chest and clutched tightly.
Parrott groaned, as he felt the millimeter of progress slipping away. He wrapped his arms around the human sphere that was his troubled wife, and held tight, all thoughts of sleep having vanished.
Tonya shook with emotion, her sobs finally quieting into soft hiccups.
Parrott patted his wife like a baby. His baritone voice murmured soothing syllables. When he found some words, he said, “Listen, Tonya. Whatever happened, you didn’t cause it. And you can’t solve it. You just need to let it go.”
Tonya stared at her husband, as if he had spoken in a foreign language. “I thought you would understand, Ollie. I see the way you are with your cases. You’re so focused on every detail. You’re a dog with a bone. And you don’t care to talk about them, either.”
“That’s different. Police work is, mostly, confidential. And I’m not losing sleep over my cases, either.”
“That’s not what you said when you were investigating the Phillips case, everyone breathing down your neck and making all kinds of threats. It don’t seem all that different to me.”
“All right. Point taken. I do wish you’d get some help, though. Seems like we have a bit of PTSD going on.”
“I see your detecting skills are working, even at three a.m.” Tonya’s lips parted, showing the space between her front teeth.
In the dark, Parrott could see that Tonya’s expression had lost its terror, and her eyes glowed. Parrott kissed the top of her head, her eyes, and finally her lips. “We’ll get through this together, my love.”
“I know,” she said, returning the kiss and pulling Parrott down on top of her.