Yesterdays lies, p.10
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.10

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  Tory shook her head and deep lines of worry were etched across her brow. “It’s just that—”

  “You just can’t resist the guy.”

  “Anna!”

  “Oh, don’t look so shocked, Tory. In my business it’s best to say the truth straight out. You know that I always liked Trask, but that was before he nearly destroyed my best friend.”

  “I wasn’t destroyed.”

  “Close enough. And now, just when it looks like you’re back on your feet again, he comes waltzing back to Sinclair, stirring up the proverbial hornet’s nest, digging up dead corpses and not giving a damn about who gets hurt, including you and Neva. It tends to make my blood boil a bit.”

  “So you don’t think I should see him.”

  Anna smiled cynically. She stopped to lean against the fence and gaze at the network of paddocks comprising the central core of the Lazy W. “Unfortunately what I think isn’t worth a damn, unless it’s about your livestock. I’m not exactly the best person to give advice about relationships, considering the fact that I’ve been divorced for almost a year myself.” She hit the top rail of the fence with new resolve. “Anyway, you didn’t ask me here to talk about Trask, and I’ve got work to do.”

  “Can’t you stay for a cup of coffee?” Anna was one of Tory’s closest friends; one of the few people in Sinclair who had stood by Tory and her father during Calvin’s trial.

  Anna squinted at the sun and cocked her wrist to check her watch. “I wish I could, but I’m late as it is.” She started walking to her van before turning and facing Tory. Concern darkened her brown eyes. “What’s this I hear about a calf being shot out here?”

  “So that’s going around town, too.”

  Anna nodded and shrugged. “Face it, girl. Right now, with McFadden back in town, you’re big news in Sinclair.”

  “Great,” Tory replied sarcastically.

  “So, what happened with the calf?”

  “I wish I knew. One of Len Ross’s hands saw the hole in the fence and discovered the calf. We don’t know why it was shot or who did it.”

  “Kids, maybe?”

  Tory lifted her shoulders. “Maybe,” she said without conviction. “I called the sheriff and a deputy came out. He was going to see if any of the other ranchers had a similar problem.”

  “I hope not,” Anna said, her dark eyes hardening. “I don’t have much use for people who go around destroying animals.”

  “Neither do I.”

  Anna shook off her worried thoughts and climbed into the van. The window was rolled down and she cast Tory one last smile. “You take care of yourself, okay?”

  “I will.”

  “I’ll be back tomorrow to see how old Governor’s doing.”

  “And maybe then you’ll have time for a cup of coffee.”

  “And serious conversation,” Anna said with mock gravity. “Plan on it.”

  “I will!”

  With a final wave to Tory, Anna put the van in gear and drove out of the parking lot toward the main road.

  * * *

  AN HOUR LATER Tory sat in the center of the porch swing, slowly rocking on the worn slats, letting the warm summer breeze push her hair away from her face and bracing herself for the next few hours in which she would be alone with a man she alternately hated and loved.

  Trask arrived promptly at noon. Fortunately, neither Keith nor Rex were at the house when Trask’s Blazer ground to a halt near the front porch. Though Tory felt a slight twinge of conscience about sneaking around behind her brother’s back, she didn’t let it bother her. The only way to prove her father’s innocence, as well as to satisfy Trask, was to go along with him. And Keith would never agree to work with Trask rather than against him.

  What Tory hadn’t expected or prepared herself for was the way her pulse jumped at the sight of Trask as he climbed out of the Blazer. No amount of mental chastising seemed to have had any effect on the feeling of anticipation racing through her blood when she watched him hop lithely to the ground and walk briskly in her direction. His strides were long and determined and his corduroy pants stretched over the muscles of his thighs and buttocks as he approached. A simple shirt with sleeves rolled over tanned forearms and a Stetson pushed back on his head completed his attire. Nothing to write home about, she thought, but when she gazed into his intense blue eyes she felt trapped and her heart refused to slow its uneven tempo.

  “I thought maybe you would have changed your mind,” Trask said. He mounted the steps and leaned against the rail of the porch, his long legs stretched out before him.

  “Not me, senator. My word is as good as gold,” she replied, but a defensive note had entered her voice; she heard it herself, as did Trask. His thick brows lifted a bit.

  “Is it? Good as gold that is?” He smiled slightly at the sight of her. Her skin was tanned and a slight dusting of freckles bridged her nose. The reckless auburn curls had been restrained in a ponytail, and she was dressed as if ready for a long ride.

  “Always has been.” She rose from the swing and her intelligent eyes searched his face. “If you’re ready—” She motioned to the Blazer.

  “No time like the present, I suppose.” Without further comment, he walked with her to his vehicle, opened the door of the Blazer and helped her climb inside.

  “What happened to Neva’s pickup?” Tory asked just as Trask put the Blazer in gear.

  “I only used it yesterday because this was in the shop.”

  “And Neva let you borrow her truck?”

  “Let’s say I persuaded her. She wasn’t too keen on the idea.”

  “I’ll bet not.” She tapped her fingers on the dash and a tense silence settled between them.

  The road to Devil’s Ridge was little more than twin ruts of red soil separated by dry blades of grass that scraped against the underside of the Blazer. Several times Trask’s vehicle lurched as a wheel hit a pothole or large rock hidden by the sagebrush that was slowly encroaching along the road.

  “I don’t know what you hope to accomplish by coming up here,” Tory finally said, breaking the smothering silence as she looked through the dusty windshield. She was forced to squint against the noonday glare of the sun that pierced through the tall long-needled ponderosa pines.

  “It’s a start. That’s all.” Trask frowned and downshifted as they approached a sharp turn in the road.

  “What do you think you’ll find?” Tory prodded.

  “I don’t know.”

  “But you’re looking for something.”

  “I won’t know what it is until I find it.”

  “There’s no reason to be cryptic, y’know,” she pointed out, disturbed by his lack of communication.

  “I wasn’t trying to be.”

  Tory pursed her lips and folded her arms across her chest as she looked at him. “You just think that you’re going to find some five-year-old clue that will prove your theories.”

  “I hope so.”

  “It won’t happen, senator. The insurance investigators and the police sifted through this place for weeks. And that was right after the indictments...” Her voice drifted off as she thought about those hellish days and nights after her father had been arrested. All the old feelings of love and hate, anger and betrayal began to haunt her anew. Though it was warm within the interior of the Blazer, Tory shivered.

  “It doesn’t hurt to look around,” Trask insisted. He stepped on the throttle and urged the truck up the last half mile to the crest of the hill.

  “So this is where it all started,” Tory whispered, her eyes moving over the wooded land. She hadn’t set step on Devil’s Ridge since the scandal. Parched dry grass, dusty rocks and sagebrush covered the ground beneath the pine trees. The land appeared arid, dryer than it should have for late June.

  “Or where it all ended, depending upon your point of view,” Trask muttered. He parked the truck near a small group of dilapidated buildings, and pulled the key from the ignition. The Blazer rumbled quietly before dying.
“If Jason hadn’t come up here that night five years ago, he might not have been killed.” The words were softly spoken but they cut through Tory’s heart as easily as if they had been thin razors.

  She had been reaching for the handle of the door but stopped. Her hand was poised over the handle and she couldn’t hold back a weary sigh. “I’m sorry about your brother, Trask. You know that. And though I don’t believe for a minute that Dad was responsible for your brother’s death, I want to apologize for anything my father might have done that might have endangered Jason’s life.”

  Trask’s eyes softened. “I know, love,” he said, before clearing his throat and looking away from her as if embarrassed at how easily an endearment was coaxed from his throat. “Come on, let’s look around.”

  Tory stepped out of the Blazer and looked past the few graying buildings with broken windows and rotting timbers. Her gaze wandered past the small group of paddocks that had been used to hold the purebred Quarter Horses as well as their not-so-blue-blooded counterparts. Five years before, this small parcel of land had been the center of a horse swindle and insurance scam so large and intricate that it had become a statewide scandal. Now it was nothing more than a neglected, rather rocky, useless few acres of pine and sagebrush with a remarkable view. In the distance to the east, barely discernible to the naked eye were the outbuildings and main house of the Lazy W. From her viewpoint on the ridge, Tory could make out the gray house, the barn, toolshed and stables. Closer to the mountains she saw the spring-fed lake on the northwestern corner of the Lazy W. The green and gold grassland near the lake was dotted with grazing cattle.

  “Hard to believe, isn’t it?” Trask said.

  Tory jerked her head around and found that he was staring at her. The vibrant intensity of his gaze made her heartbeat quicken. “What?”

  “This.” He gestured to the buildings and paddocks of the ridge with one hand before pushing his hat off his head and wiping an accumulation of sweat off his brow.

  “It gives me the creeps,” she admitted, hugging her arms around her breasts and frowning.

  “Too many ghosts live here?”

  “Something like that.”

  Trask smiled irreverently. His brown hair ruffled in the wind. “I’ll let you in on a secret,” he said with a mysterious glint in his eyes.

  “Oh?”

  “This place gives me the creeps, too.”

  Tory laughed in spite of herself. If nothing else, Trask still knew how to charm her out of her fears. “You’d better be careful, senator,” she teased. “Admitting something like that could ruin your public image.”

  Trask’s smile widened into an affable slightly off-center grin that softened the square angle of his jaw. “I’ve done a lot of things that could ruin my public image.” His gaze slid suggestively down her throat to the swell of her breasts. “And I imagine that I’ll do a few more.”

  Oh, Trask, if only I could trust you, she thought as she caught the seductive glint in his eyes and her pulse continued to throb traitorously. She forced her eyes away from him and back to the ranch.

  “I wish we could just forget all this, you know,” she said, still staring at the cattle moving around the clear blue lake.

  “Maybe we can.”

  “How?”

  “If it turns out to be a prank.”

  “And how will you know?” she asked, turning to face him again.

  He shook his head. “I’ve just got to play it by ear, Tory; try my best and then...”

  “And then, what? If you don’t find anything here today, which you won’t, what will you do? Go to the sheriff?”

  “Maybe.”

  “But?”

  “Maybe I’ll wait and see what happens.”

  That sounded encouraging, but she felt a small stab of disappointment touch her heart. “In Washington?”

  “Probably.”

  She didn’t reply. Though she knew he was studying her reaction, she tried to hide her feelings. That she wanted him to stay in Sinclair was more than foolish, it was downright stupid, she thought angrily. The man had sent her father to jail, for God’s sake. And now that Calvin was dead, Trask was back looking for another innocent victim. As she walked toward the largest of the buildings Tory told herself over and over again that she hated Trask McFadden; that she had only accompanied him up here to get rid of him once and for all, and that she would never think of him again once he had returned to Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, she knew that all of her excuses were lies to herself. She still loved Trask as passionately and as blindly as she had on the bleak night he had left her to chase down, confront and condemn her father.

  “It would help me if I knew what I was looking for,” she said.

  “Anything that you think looks out of place. We can start over here,” he suggested, pointing to the largest of the three buildings. “This was used as the stables.” Digging his boots into the dry ground, her pushed with his shoulder against the door and it creaked open on rusty hinges.

  Tory walked inside the musty structure. Cobwebs hung from the exposed rafters and everything was covered with a thick layer of dust. Shovels, rakes, an ax and pick were pushed into one corner on the dirt floor. Other tools and extra fence posts leaned against the walls. The two windows were covered with dust and the dried carcasses of dead insects, letting only feeble light into the building. Tory’s skin prickled with dread. Something about the abandoned barn didn’t feel right and she had the uneasy sensation that she was trespassing. Maybe Trask was right; all the ghosts of the past seemed to reside on the hilly slopes of the ridge.

  Trask walked over to the corner between the two windows and lifted an old bridle off the wall. The leather reins were stiff in his fingers and the bit had rusted. For the first time since receiving the anonymous letter he considered ignoring it. The brittle leather in his hands seemed to make it clear that all he was doing was bringing back to life a scandal that should remain dead and buried.

  He saw the accusations in Tory’s wide eyes. God, he hadn’t been able to make conversation with her at all; they’d both been too tense and at each other’s throats. Confronting the sins of the past had been harder than he’d imagined; but that was probably because of the woman involved. He couldn’t seem to get Victoria Wilson out of his system, no matter how hard he tried, and though he’d told himself she was trouble, even an adversary, he kept coming back for more.

  In the past five years Trask’s need of her hadn’t diminished, if anything it had become more passionate and persistent than before. Silently calling himself the worst kind of fool, he looked away from Tory’s face and continued his inspection of the barn.

  Once his inspection of the stable area had been accomplished, he surveyed a small shed, which, he surmised, must have been used for feed and supplies. Nothing.

  The last building was little more than a lean-to of two small, dirty rooms. One room had served as observation post; from the single window there was a view of the road and the Lazy W far below. The other slightly larger room was for general use. An old army cot was still folded in the corner. Newspapers, now yellowed, littered the floor, the pipe for the wood stove had broken near the roof line and the few scraps of paper that were still in the building were old wrappers from processed food.

  Tory watched as Trask went over the floor of the cabin inch by inch. She looked in every nook and cranny and found nothing of interest. Finally, tired and feeling as if the entire afternoon had been a total waste of time, she walked outside to the small porch near the single door of the shanty.

  Leaning against one of the rough cedar posts, she stared down the hills, through the pines to the buildings of the Lazy W. Her home. Trask had single-handedly destroyed it once before—was she up here helping do the very same thing all over again? History has a way of repeating itself, she thought to herself and smiled cynically at her own stupidity for still caring about a man who would as soon use her as love her.

  Trask’s boots scraped against the floorbo
ards and he came out to the porch. She didn’t turn around but knew that he was standing directly behind her. The warmth of his breath fanned her hair. For one breathless instant she thought that his strong arms might encircle her waist.

  “So what did you find, senator?” she asked, breaking the tense silence.

  “Nothing,” he replied.

  The “I told you so” she wanted to flaunt in his face died within her. When she turned to face him, Tory noticed that Trask suddenly looked older than his thirty-six years. The brackets near the corners of his mouth had become deep grooves.

  “Go ahead, say it,” he said, as if reading her mind.

  She let out a disgusted breath of air. “I think we’re both too old for those kinds of games, don’t you?”

  He leaned against the building and crossed his arms over his chest. “So the little girl has grown up.”

  “I wasn’t a little girl,” she protested. “I was twenty-two...”

  “Going on fifteen.”

  “That’s not nice, senator.”

  “Face it, Tory,” he said softly. “You’d been to college, sure, and you’d worked on the ranch, but in a lot of ways—” he touched her lightly on the nape of her neck with one long familiar finger, her skin quivered beneath his touch “—you were an innocent.”

  She angled her head up defiantly. “Just because I hadn’t known a lot of men,” she began to argue.

  “That wasn’t it, and you know it,” Trask said, his fingers stopping the teasing motion near her collar. “I was talking about the way you looked up to your father, the fact that you couldn’t make a decision without him, your dependency on him.”

  “I respected my father, if that’s what you mean.”

  “It went much further than that.”

  “Of course it did. I loved him.” She took one step backward and folded her arms over her chest. “Maybe you don’t understand that emotion very well, but I do. Simple no-holds-barred love.”

  “It went beyond simple love. You worshiped him, Tory; put the man on such a high pedestal that he was bound to fall; and when you discovered that he was human, that he did make mistakes, you couldn’t face it. You still can’t.” His blue eyes delved into hers, forcing her to return their intense stare.

 
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