Yesterdays lies, p.11
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.11

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “I don’t want to hear any of this, Trask. Not now.”

  “Not ever. You just can’t face the truth, can you?”

  A quiet anger had begun to invade her mind. It started to throb and pound behind her eyes. “I faced the truth a long time ago, senator,” she said bitterly. “Only the man that I worshiped, the one that I placed on the pedestal and who eventually fell wasn’t my father.”

  Trask’s jaw tightened and his eyes darkened to a smoldering blue. “I did what I had to do, Tory.”

  “And damn the consequences?”

  “And damn the truth.”

  There was a moment of tense silence while Tory glared at him. Even now, despite her anger, she was attracted to him. “I think we’d better go,” she said. “I’m tired of arguing with you and getting nowhere. I promised to bring you up here so you could snoop around and I’ve kept my end of the bargain.”

  “That you have,” he said, rubbing his hands together to shake off some of the dust. “Okay, so we found nothing in the buildings—I’d like to walk around the corral and along the road.”

  “I don’t see why—”

  “Humor me,” he insisted. “Since we’ve already wasted most of the afternoon, I’d like to make sure that I don’t miss anything.” He saw the argument forming in her mind. “This way we won’t have to come back.”

  And I won’t have to make excuses to Keith or Rex, Tory thought. “All right, senator,” she agreed. “You lead, I’ll follow.”

  They spent the next few hours walking the perimeter of the land, studying the soil, the trails through the woods, the fence lines where it was still intact. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to Tory and if Trask found anything of interest, he kept it to himself.

  “I guess Neva was right,” Trask said with a grimace.

  “About what?”

  “A lot of things, I suppose. But she thought coming up here would turn out to be nothing more than a wild-goose chase.”

  “So now you’re willing to concede that your anonymous letter was nothing more than a prank?”

  Trask pushed his hat back on his head and squinted thoughtfully up at the mountains. “I don’t know. Maybe. But I can’t imagine why.”

  “So you’re not going to give it up,” Tory guessed. “The diligent hard-working earnest Senator McFadden won’t give up.”

  “Enough already,” Trask said, chuckling at the sarcasm in Tory’s voice. “Why don’t we forget about the past for a while, what d’ya say?”

  “Hard to do, considering the surroundings.”

  “Come on,” Trask said, his anger having melted at the prospect of spending time alone with Tory now that what he had set out to do was accomplished. “I’ve got a picnic hamper that Neva packed; she’ll kill me if we don’t eat it.”

  “Neva put together the basket?” Tory asked, remembering Keith’s comment to the effect that Neva was in love with Trask.

  “Grudgingly,” he admitted.

  “I’ll bet.”

  “Nicholas and I teamed up on her though.”

  “And she couldn’t resist the charms of the McFadden men.”

  Trask laughed deep in his throat. “Something like that.”

  “This is probably a big mistake.”

  “But you’ll indulge me?”

  “Sure,” she said easily. “Why not?” A million reasons why not, and she ignored all of them. The sun had just set behind the mountains and dusk had begun to shadow the foothills. An evening breeze carrying the heady scent of pine rustled through the trees.

  After taking the cooler and a worn plaid blanket out of the back of the Blazer, Trask walked away from the buildings to a clearing in the trees near the edge of the ridge. From there, he and Tory were able to look down on the fields of the ranch. Cattle dotted the landscape and the lake had darkened to the mysterious purple hue of the sky.

  “Bird’s-eye view,” she remarked, taking a seat near the edge of the blanket and helping Trask remove items from the cooler and arrange them on the blanket.

  Trask sat next to her, leaning his back against a tree and stretching his legs in front of him. “Why did your father buy this piece of land?” he asked, while handing Tory a plate.

  Tory shrugged. “I don’t know. I think he intended to build a cabin for Mother...” Her voice caught when she thought of her parents and the love they had shared. As much to avoid Trask’s probing stare as anything, she began putting food onto her plate. “But that was a long time ago, when they were both young, before Mom was sick.”

  “And he could never force himself to sell it?”

  “No, I suppose not. He and Mom had planned to retire here, where they still could see the ranch and be involved a little when Keith took over.”

  “Keith? What about you?”

  She smiled sadly and pretended interest in her meal. “Oh, you know, senator. I was supposed to get married and have a dozen wonderful grandchildren for them to spoil...” Tory heard the desperation in her voice and cleared her throat before boldly meeting his gaze. “Well, things don’t always turn out the way you plan, do they?”

  Trask’s jaw tightened and his eyes saddened a little. “No, I guess not. Not always.”

  Trask was silent as he leaned against the tree and ate the meal that Neva had prepared. The homebaked bread, fried chicken, fresh melon salad and peach pie were a credit to any woman and Trask wondered why it was that he couldn’t leave Tory alone and take the love that Neva so willingly offered him. Maybe it was because she had been his brother’s wife, or, more honestly, maybe it was because no other woman affected him the way Tory Wilson could with one subtle glance. To distract himself from his uncomfortable thoughts, he reached into the cooler.

  “Damn!”

  “What?”

  Trask frowned as he pulled out a thermos of iced tea. “I told Neva to pack a bottle of wine.”

  Tory looked at the platters of food. “Maybe next time you should pack your own lunch. It looks like she did more than her share, especially considering how she feels about what you’re doing.” After taking the thermos from his hands, she poured them each a glass of tea.

  Trask didn’t seem consoled and ignored his drink.

  “We don’t need the wine,” Tory pointed out. “Maybe Neva knew that it would be best if we kept our wits about us.”

  “Maybe.” Trask eyed Tory speculatively, his gaze centering on the disturbing pout of her lips. “She thinks I’ve given you enough grief as it is.”

  “You have.”

  Trask took off his hat and studied the brim. “You’re not about to let down a bit, are you?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Just that you’re going to keep the old barriers up, all the time.”

  “You’re the one intent on digging up the past; I’m just trying to keep it in perspective.”

  “And have you?”

  Tory’s muscles went tense. She took a swallow of her tea before answering. “I’m trying, Trask. I’m trying damned hard. Everyone I know thinks I’m crazy to go along with your plans, and I’m inclined to believe them. But I thought that if you came up here, poked around, did your duty, so to speak, that you’d drop it and the fires of gossip in Sinclair would die before another scandal engulfed us. I knew that you wouldn’t just let go of the idea that another person was involved in your brother’s death, and I also realized that if I fought you, it would just drag everything out much longer and fuel the gossip fires.”

  He set his food aside and wrapped his arms around his knees while studying the intriguing angles of Tory’s face. “And that’s the only reason you came up here with me?”

  “No.”

  He lifted his thick brows, encouraging her to continue.

  After setting her now empty plate on the top of the basket, she leaned back on her arms and stared at the countryside far below the ridge. “If by the slim chance you did find something, some clue to what had happened, I thought it might prove Dad’s innocence.”

  “Oh,
Tory...” He leaned toward her and touched her cheek. “I know you don’t believe this, but if there were a way to show that Calvin had no part in the Quarter Horse swindle, or Jason’s death, don’t you think I’d be the first to do it?”

  He sounded sincere and his deep blue eyes seemed to look through hers to search for her soul. God, but she wanted to believe him and trust in him again. He had been everything to her and the hand on her cheek was warm and encouraging. It conjured vivid images from a long-ago love. She had trouble finding her voice. The wind rustled restlessly through the branches overhead and Tory couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything but the feel of Trask’s fingers against her skin. “I...I don’t know.” She finished the cold tea and set her glass on the ground.

  “My intention wasn’t to crucify your father, only to tell my side of the story, in order that Jason’s murderers were found out and brought to justice. If Calvin wasn’t guilty, he should have stood up for himself—”

  “But he didn’t; and your testimony sent him to prison.” She swallowed back the hot lump forming in her throat.

  “Would it help you to know that I never, never meant to hurt you?” he asked, lowering his head and tenderly brushing his lips over hers.

  “Trask—” The protest forming in her throat was cut off when his arms wrapped around her and he drew her close, the length of his body pressed urgently to hers.

  “I’ve missed you, Tory,” he admitted, his voice rough with emotions he would rather have denied.

  “And I’ve missed you.”

  “But you still can’t forgive me?”

  She shook her head and for a moment she thought he would release her. He hesitated and stared into her pain-filled eyes. “Oh, hell,” he muttered, once again pulling her close to him and claiming her lips with his.

  His hands were warm against her back and through the fabric of her blouse she felt the heat of his fingers against her skin. Her legs were entwined with his and his hips pressed urgently to hers, pinning her to the ground as one of his hands moved slowly upward and removed the leather throng restraining her hair.

  “God, you’re beautiful,” he whispered against her ear as he twined his fingers in her hair, watching the auburn-tinged curls frame her face in wild disarray. Slumberous green eyes rimmed with dark curling lashes stared up at him longingly. “I want you, Tory,” he said, his breathing ragged, his heart thudding in his chest and the heat in his loins destroying rational thought. “I’ve wanted you for a long time.”

  “I don’t know that wanting is enough, Trask,” she whispered, thinking about the agonizing hours she had spent in the past five years wanting a man she couldn’t have; wishing for a father who was already dead; desiring the life she had once had before fate had so cruelly ripped it from her.

  “Just let me love you, Tory.”

  The words had barely been said when she felt Trask stiffen. He turned to look over his shoulder just as a shot from a rifle cracked through the still mountain air.

  Tory’s blood ran cold with fear and a scream died in her throat. Trask flattened himself over her body, protectively covering her as the shot ricocheted through the trees and echoed down the hillside. Dear God, what was happening? The sound was so close!

  With the speed and agility of an athlete, Trask scrambled to his feet while jerking her arm and pulling her to relative safety behind a large boulder.

  Tory’s heart was hammering erratically as adrenaline pumped through her veins. She pushed her hair out of her eyes and discovered that her hands were shaking. “Oh, God,” she whispered in desperate prayer.

  “Are you okay?” His eyes scanned her face and body.

  Her voice failed her but she managed to nod her head.

  “You’re sure?”

  “Yes!”

  “Who knows we’re here?” Trask demanded, his hushed voice harsh, his eyes darting through the trees.

  “No one—I didn’t tell anyone,” she replied.

  “Well someone sure as hell knows we were here!”

  “But—”

  “Shh!” He clamped his hand over her mouth and raised a finger to his lips as he strained to hear any noise that might indicate the whereabouts of the assailant. Far down the hillside, the sound of hurried footsteps crackled through the brush. Tory’s skin prickled with fear and her eyes widened until she realized that the footsteps were retreating, the sound of snapping branches becoming more distant.

  Trask moved away from the protection of the boulder as if intent on tracking the assailant.

  “Trask! No!” Tory screamed, clutching at his arm. “Leave it alone.”

  He tried to shake her off and turned to face her. “Someone’s taking shots at us and I’m going to find out who.”

  “No wait! He has a rifle, you...you can’t go. You don’t have any way of protecting yourself!”

  “Tory!”

  “Damn it, Trask, I’m scared!” she admitted, holding his gaze as well as his arm. Her lower lip trembled and she had to fight the tears forming in her eyes. “You can’t die, too,” she whispered. “I won’t let you!” He stood frozen to the spot. “I love you, Trask,” Tory admitted. “Please, please, don’t get yourself killed. It’s not worth it. Nothing is!” Tory felt near hysteria as she clutched at his arm.

  Trask stood stock still, Tory’s words restraining him. “You love me?” he repeated.

  “Yes!” Her voice broke. “Oh, God, yes.”

  “But you’ve been denying—”

  “I know, I know. It’s just that I don’t want to love you.”

  “Because of the past.”

  “Yes.”

  “Then we have to find out the truth,” he decided.

  “It’s not worth getting killed.”

  Trask’s eyes followed the sound of the retreating footsteps and the skin whitened over his cheekbones as he squinted into the encroaching night. His one chance at finding the accomplice in Jason’s murder had just slipped through his fingers. When silence once again settled on the ridge, he turned his furious gaze on Tory. His grip on her shoulders, once gentle, was now fierce.

  “Who did you tell that we were here?” he demanded.

  “No one!”

  “But your brother and that foreman, Rex Engels, they knew we would be here this afternoon.”

  Tory shook her head and her green eyes blazed indignantly. She jerked away from his fingers and scooted backward on the ground. “I didn’t tell anyone, Trask. Not even Keith or Rex; they...neither one of them would have approved. As far as I know the only person who knew we were coming here today was Neva!”

  The corners of Trask’s mouth tightened and he glared murderously at Tory. “Someone set us up.”

  “And you think it was me?”

  “Of course not. But it sure as hell wasn’t Neva!”

  “Why not? She didn’t want you coming up here, did she? She doesn’t want you to look into Jason’s death, does she? Why wouldn’t she do something to sabotage you?”

  He walked away a few steps and rubbed the back of his neck. “That just doesn’t make any sense.”

  “Well nothing else does either. The anonymous note, the dead calf and now this—” She raised her hands over her head. “Nothing is making any sense, Trask. Ever since you came back to the Lazy W, there’s been nothing but trouble!”

  “That’s exactly the point, isn’t it?” he said quietly, his mouth compressing into an angry line. “Someone’s trying to scare you; warn you to stay away from me.”

  “If that’s his intention, whoever he is, he’s succeeded! I’m scared right out of my mind,” she admitted while letting her head fall into her palm.

  “What about the rest, Tory? That shot a few minutes ago was a warning to you to stay away from me!” He looked over his shoulder one last time.

  “If that’s what it was—”

  “That’s exactly what it was,” he interjected. “Let’s go, before someone decides to take another potshot at us.”

  “You think that
s what they were trying to do?”

  “I’m certain of it.”

  “But maybe someone saw a rattlesnake, or was hunting.”

  “It’s not deer season.”

  “Maybe rabbits—” She saw the look of disbelief on his face. “Or maybe the guy was a poacher...or someone out for target practice.”

  “It’s nearly dark, Tory. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being the bull’s-eye.”

  From the look on Trask’s rugged features, Tory could tell that he didn’t believe her excuses any more than she did. He walked over to her and placed his hands upon her shoulders, drawing her close, holding her as he started walking back to the Blazer. “I’d like to believe all those pitiful reasons, too,” he admitted.

  “But you can’t.”

  “Nope.” He opened the door of the Blazer for her, helped her inside and climbed into the driver’s seat. “No, Tory,” he said, his voice cold. “Someone’s trying to keep us apart, by scaring us with dead cattle and rifle shots.”

  “And that means there must be some truth to the letter,” she finished for him.

  “Exactly.” He smiled a little remembering Tory’s confession of love, started the Blazer, circled around the parking lot and started driving down the rutted lane back to the Lazy W.

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  “SO WHERE IS everyone?” Trask asked as he parked the truck near the barn.

  “I don’t know,” Tory admitted uneasily. She got out of the Blazer and started walking toward the back of the dark house. The only illumination came from a pale moon and the security lamps surrounding the buildings of the ranch.

  Trask was on Tory’s heels, his footsteps quickening so that he could catch up with her. “What about your brother, where is he?”

  If only I knew. “He and Rex were working on the broken combine this afternoon,” she thought aloud, trying to understand why the ranch was deserted. “They probably went into town for a part, got held up and decided to stay for dinner...”

  “Or he was up on the ridge with a rifle?” Trask suggested.

  Tory turned quickly and couldn’t disguise the flush of anger on her cheeks. “Don’t start in about Keith, okay? He would never do anything that might jeopardize my life.”

 
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