Yesterdays lies, p.12
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.12

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “You’re sure about that?”

  “As sure as I am about anything.” Tory turned toward the house, dashed up the steps to the porch and unlocked the back door. She had trouble keeping her fingers steady as she worked with the lock. What was it Keith had said just yesterday? His words came back to her in chilling clarity.

  “I would have met McFadden with a rifle in my hands...the next time McFadden trespasses, I’ll be ready for him.”

  Tory’s stomach knotted with dread and disgust. Trask had her thoughts so twisted that now she was doubting her own brother; the boy she had helped rear since their mother’s death. Ignoring the hideous doubts crowding her mind, she flipped on the light and walked into the kitchen.

  “What about the foreman?”

  “Rex?”

  “Yeah.”

  Tory almost laughed at the absurdity of Trask’s insinuation. “You’ve got to be kidding! I’ve known Rex since I was a little girl—he’d do anything for the ranch. It’s been his life. Dad hired him when Rex was down and out, when no other rancher in this state would touch him. Besides, neither Rex nor Keith knew where I was this afternoon.”

  Trask leaned against the cupboards, supporting his weight with his hands while Tory made a pot of coffee. Deep furrows etched his brow. “Why wouldn’t anyone hire Rex?”

  “You want to see all of the skeletons in the closet, don’t you?”

  “Only if it helps me understand what’s going on.”

  “Well, forget it. Rex was in trouble once, when he was younger—before I was born. Dad hired him.”

  “What kind of trouble?” Trask persisted.

  Tory frowned as she tried to remember. “I don’t really know. Dad never talked about it. But once, when I was about eleven and I was supposed to be studying, I overheard Dad talking to Rex. It was something to do with Rex’s past. It had to do with his ex-wife, I can’t remember her name, it was something like Marlene or...Marianne, maybe. Something like that. Anyway, there was some sort of trouble between them, talk of him drinking and becoming abusive. She left Rex and no one would hire him.”

  “Except your dad.”

  “Right. And Rex has been with the Lazy W ever since.”

  “Without any trouble.”

  “Right.”

  Trask bit at his lower lip pensively. “I thought he was married.”

  “He is. He married Belinda about seven years ago.”

  “So he’s above suspicion.”

  “Of course he is. He was the one who showed us the dead calf in the first place, remember?” She tapped her fingers on the counter impatiently. “Look, I don’t like the thoughts that are going through your head. You’re more than willing to start pointing fingers at anyone associated with the ranch, but no one here knew where we were going.”

  “We could have been followed,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck and watching her movements.

  She was about to pull some mugs down from the shelf, but hesitated and her slim shoulders slumped. “God, you’re as bad as Keith,” she muttered.

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “Just that the both of you have overactive, extremely fertile imaginations when it comes to each other. If you’d just sit down and try to straighten all of this out like adults instead of going for each other’s throat, we’d all be a lot better off.”

  “I agree.”

  Trask grabbed a chair from the table, placed it on the floor and straddled it. He folded his arms over the back of the chair and rested his chin on his arms as he studied Tory.

  “You agree?” she repeated incredulously.

  “Of course. It just makes sense that if we all work together we can accomplish much more in a shorter space of time.”

  “And then you could finish this business and fly back to Washington,” she thought aloud. Suddenly the future seemed incredibly bleak.

  “Don’t you want me to go?” he asked.

  Swallowing a lump in her throat, she pushed her burnished hair from her face. “It doesn’t really matter what I want,” she whispered. “You’ve got an important job in Washington, people depend on you. There was a time when I would have begged you to stay...”

  “And now?”

  She winced, but decided to put her cards on the table. As the coffee finished perking and filled the room with its warm scent, she leaned one hip against the counter and stared into his deep blue eyes. “And now I think we’re all better off if you go back to the capital, senator. I fell in love with you once and I won’t let it happen again. Ever.”

  “What about what you said on the ridge?” he asked softly.

  “I was scared; nothing more. I didn’t want you to do anything foolish!”

  “Tory—” He stood, but she cut off his next words.

  “I don’t want to hear it, Trask. Here—” She quickly poured them each a cup of coffee and tried to think of a way, any way, to change the course of the conversation. “Take your coffee and we’ll drink it in the den.”

  “You can’t ignore or deny what’s happening between us.”

  “What’s happening is that I’m trying to help you figure out if that note you received is a phony. That’s all.” She turned away from him and walked down the hall, hoping that her hands and voice would remain steady.

  Once in the den she snapped on two lamps and walked over to the window. Where was Keith? She needed him now. Being alone with Trask was more than foolhardy, it was downright dangerous and seductive. She stood in front of the window and sipped her coffee as she looked across the parking lot to the shadowy barns.

  Trask entered the room. She heard rather than saw him and felt the weight of his stare. His eyes never left her as he crossed the room and propped one booted foot on the hearth. “What are you afraid of, Tory?”

  “I already told you, I’m not afraid...just confused. Everything in my life seems upside-down right now.”

  “Because of me?”

  She let out a long sigh. “Yes.”

  “It will be over soon,” he said. “Then your life will be back to normal—if that’s what you want.”

  My life will never be the same again, Trask. “Good. I...I just want all this...nonsense to be over.” She took a long sip of her coffee and set the empty mug on the windowsill. Her fingers had stopped shaking. “It’s late. I think maybe you should leave.”

  “Maybe,” he agreed, cocking a dark brow. “But I think it’s time we settled some things between us.” He reached over and snapped off the lamp on an end table. With only the light from the small brass lamp on the desk, the corners of the room became shadowed, more intimate.

  Bracing herself, she turned and faced him. “Such as?”

  He leaned back against the rocks of the fireplace and all of his muscles seemed to slacken. Defeat darkened his eyes. “Such as the fact that I’ve never gotten over you—”

  “I told you, I don’t want to hear this,” she said, walking away from the window and shaking her head. “The past is over and done—it can’t be changed or repeated. What happened between us is over. You took care of that.”

  “I love you, Tory,” he said slowly, his voice low.

  Tory stopped dead in her tracks. How long had she waited, ached, to hear just those words? “You don’t understand the first thing about love, Trask. You never have.”

  “And you’re always quick to misjudge me.”

  “You can’t expect me to trust you, Trask, not after what happened to my father. It was all because of you.”

  Trask’s face hardened and a muscle in the back of his jaw tightened. “Calvin is dead; I can’t change that.” He pushed away from the fireplace and crossed the room to stand before her. “Don’t you think I wish he were alive? Don’t you realize how many times I’ve punished myself, knowing that he died in prison, primarily because of my testimony?” His troubled eyes searched her face and he reached forward to grip her shoulders. “Damn it, woman, I’d have given my right arm to hear his side of the story—only the
man wouldn’t tell it. It was as if he’d taken this vow of silence as some sort of penance for his crimes!” Trask’s voice was low and threatening. “I’ve been through hell and back because of that trial!”

  The grip on her arms was punishing, the conviction on Trask’s face enough to cut her to the bone. “God, Trask, I wish I could believe you,” she admitted, her voice trembling.

  “But you can’t.”

  “You betrayed me!”

  He gave her a shake. Her hair fell over her eyes. “I told the truth on the witness stand. Nothing less. Nothing more.” His voice was rising with his anger. “And your father didn’t do a damned thing to save himself! Don’t you think I’ve lain awake at night wondering what really happened on the night Jason was killed?” His face contorted with his rage and agony.

  “I...I don’t know...”

  “Damn it, Tory! Believe it or not, I’m human. If you cut me, I bleed.” He released her arms and let out a disgusted breath of air. Blue eyes seared through hers. “And, lady, you’ve cut me to ribbons...”

  She let her face fall into her hands. Her entire body was shaking and the tears she would rather have forced back filled her eyes to spill through her fingers. “God, I wanted to trust you, Trask. I...I spent more than my share of sleepless nights wondering why did you use me? Why did you tell me you loved me? Why was I such a fool to believe all your lies...all your goddamned lies!” She began to sob and she felt the warmth of his arms surround her. “Let go of me,” she pleaded.

  “Never again.” With one hand he snapped off the light on the desk. The room was suddenly shrouded in darkness. Only the pale light from a half-moon spilled through the windows. “Oh, love, I never used you. Never—”

  “No...Trask...” His lips touched her hair, and his arms held her close. The heat of his body seemed to reach through her flesh and melt the ice in her heart. “I...I just loved you too much.”

  “Impossible.”

  “I know it’s stupid,” she conceded, letting the barriers that had held them apart slowly fall, “but I want to trust you again. God, I’ve wanted to be able to talk to you for so long; you don’t know how many times I just wished that you were here, that I could talk to you.”

  “You should have called.”

  “I couldn’t! Don’t you see? You were my whole world once and you destroyed everything I’d ever loved. My father, my career, this ranch, and our love—everything.”

  “All because I told the truth.”

  “Your perception of the truth!”

  “Tory, listen to me, you have to understand one thing: throughout it all I always loved you. I still do.”

  She felt the cold hatred within her begin to thaw and her knees went weak as she leaned against him, felt the strength of his arms, the comfort of his kiss. How many times had she dreamed and fantasized about being in Trask’s arms again? “You love me Trask,” she sniffed, slowly pulling out of his embrace and drying her eyes with her fingers, “when it’s convenient for you. It was convenient for you five years ago when you were trying to help your brother with the horse swindle and it’s convenient now, when you need my help.” She stepped back and held his gaze. “I won’t be used again, you know. Not by you.”

  “I wouldn’t.” His blue eyes were honest; the jut of his jaw firm with conviction. It was impossible not to believe him.

  Tory cleared her throat. “Then what about Neva?”

  “What about her?”

  “Are you staying with her?” she asked, knowing the question was none of her business, but unable to help herself.

  Trask’s skin tightened over his cheekbones and his muscles tensed, but he didn’t look away. “I did the first night. Since then, I’ve opened up the cabin on the Metolius River. It wasn’t ready when I got into Sinclair,” he began to explain and then let out an angry oath. “Hell, Tory, does it matter?” he demanded.

  Her eyes turned cold. “Not really, I guess. I just like to know what or whom I’m up against. With you and that damned anonymous letter of yours, sometimes it’s hard to tell.”

  “I’m not having an affair with my brother’s widow, if that’s what you want to know.”

  “It’s none of my business.”

  “Like hell! Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve said?” When she didn’t respond, he curled a fist and slammed it into the wall near the desk, rattling a picture of an Indian war party. “Hell, woman, I’d be a liar to say that I’ve spent that past five years celibate, but I’m not involved with anyone right now except for you!” Once again his fingers captured her, winding comfortably behind her neck.

  “We’re not involved!”

  With her indignation, his anger dissipated into the intimate corners of the room. Trask’s smile was lazy and confident. “That’s where you’re wrong. We’ve been involved since the first time I laid eyes on you. Where was it? Rafting on the Deschutes River!”

  “That was a long time ago,” she murmured, recalling the wild ride down the white water. Though she had gone with another man, Trask’s eyes hadn’t left her throughout the day. Even then she’d seen the spark of seduction in his incredible blue gaze. Sitting on the raft, his tanned skin tight over lean corded muscles, his wet hair shining brown-gold in the summer sun, he didn’t bother to hide his interest in her. And she fell. Lord, she fell harder than any sane person had a right to fall. She had met him later that night and within two weeks they’d become lovers. The irony of it all was that she had thought she would spend the rest of her life with him. Only it didn’t work out that way.

  “Let’s not talk about the past.”

  He let go of her, holding her only with his eyes. “We have to sort this out.”

  “What’s the point? Nothing will come of it.” She felt the urge to back away but stood her ground. “I’ll admit that I loved you once, but it’s over. It’s been over for a long time.”

  “Liar.” He reached for her, drawing her body close to his. When his lips touched hers, and she tasted him, her resistance fled. Familiar yearnings awoke within the most feminine part of her, causing a bittersweet ache that only he could salve. Instead of pushing him away, she was leaning closer to him, her body reacting to the sensual feel of his hands on her skin, her blood pulsing with need as it rushed through her veins. “You want me,” he whispered against her ear.

  “No...”

  “Let me love you.”

  Desire was heating her blood, thundering in her head, and the touch of his lips on her face and neck only made the throbbing need within her more painful. “I don’t think—” she tried to say, but his lips cut off the rest of her objection.

  She felt the warm invasion of his tongue and returned his kiss without restraint. When his lips moved downward to touch her neck and then slid still lower, she could do nothing but wait in anticipation. His tongue rimmed the hollow of her throat and she was forced to swallow against the want of him.

  Suddenly, Trask released her, and Tory wanted to cry out against the bereft feeling she was left with. She watched as he strode to the den door and locked it, then moved toward her quickly banishing the cold feeling.

  Warm hands outlined her ribs before reaching upward to mold a swollen breast. She felt her nipple tighten against the feel of his fingers and she let out a low moan of desire.

  Slowly he removed her blouse, slipping each button through its hole and letting the fabric part to display her rounded breasts, swollen and bound only by the sheer white lace of her bra. His fingers teased the hardened nipple, and Tory leaned closer to him, the ache within her spreading throughout her body.

  A primal groan escaped from his lips as he lowered himself to his knees and licked first one rose-tipped breast before suckling the other. The lace of the bra became moist and Trask’s warm breath fanned the sheer fabric to send sharp electric currents through Tory’s body. She closed her eyes and was blind to everything but the hunger for him. Her fingers twined in his hair.

  The warmth of his hands pressed against the small
of her back, bringing her closer to him, pressing more of her breast into his mouth. He groaned with the savage urgency of his lust, sucking hungrily from the white mound.

  Scorching feelings of desire once awakened in Tory were impossible to smother. With each touch of his hand, Tory lost ground to the urges of her flesh. With each stroke of his tongue, the ache within her throbbed more painfully. With the heated pressure of his body against hers, she felt the urge to arch against him, demanding more of his sensual touch.

  Five years she had waited for the feel of him, denying her most secret dreams and now the pain of those long empty nights alone was about to be rewarded. The scent of him was strong in her nostrils and the sound of his breathing filled her ears.

  Her fingers curled in his hair as he removed her bra and took her naked breast in his mouth. She cradled his head to her body, holding on to him for dear life, knowing that her love for this man would never be returned and not caring about the consequences. This night, for a few short hours, he was hers—alone.

  She moaned his name when his fingers sought the front opening of her jeans and touched the sensitive skin of her abdomen.

  “Trask, please,” she whispered hoarsely as his tongue traced the delicate swirl of her navel and he pulled her jeans and underwear off her body. Slowly she was pressed to the floor by the weight of his body. The braided carpet felt coarse against her bare skin, but she didn’t care.

  She helped him remove his clothes and her fingers caressed the fluid muscles of his shoulders and chest. His body tensed beneath the tantalizing warmth of her touch.

  Sweat dotted his brow; his restraint was obvious in the coil of his muscles. When Tory reached for the waistband of his pants, his abdominal muscles tightened. With all of the willpower he could muster, he stopped her by taking hold of her wrist and forced her chin upward with his other hand. His eyes searched hers. “I love you, Tory,” he said, his voice rough. “I always have. But I want you to be sure about this...stop me now, if you have to, while it’s still possible.”

 
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