Yesterdays lies, p.14
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.14

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “Yes.”

  “Oh, Trask, why?” Doe-soft eyes beseeched him.

  “It’s important.” He saw the tears of frustration fill her large eyes and he felt the urge to comfort her. “Look, Neva—”

  She sniffed the tears aside and met his gaze. “It’s all right, Trask. I’ll manage. And when Nicholas wonders why all of his friends are pointing fingers at him and whispering behind his back, I’ll tell him.” Using the sleeve of her robe to dry her cheeks, she forced a frail smile. “Do what you have to do, senator. Don’t worry about how it affects a six-year-old boy who worships the ground you walk on.”

  “You’re not making this easy—”

  “Damn it, Trask, I’m not trying to! I’d do anything I could to talk you out of this...madness.”

  Trask’s eyes became incredibly cold. “How far would you go to protect your child?”

  “As far as I had to.”

  “Regardless?”

  “Nicholas’s health, safety and well-being are my first concerns.”

  “And what about your health and safety?”

  Neva smiled cynically. “I can’t wait until you have a child, Trask. Then I’ll ask you the same question.”

  “I just think you should put yourself first occasionally.”

  “Pearls of wisdom, senator. I’ll think about them.”

  Trask paused at the door. “By the way, thanks for the picnic lunch today.”

  “You’re welcome, I guess. Did you bring the cooler in?”

  A picture of the empty cooler, scattered dishes and rumpled blanket filled his mind. In the urgency of the moment after the rifle shot had pierced the air, he had forgotten to retrieve anything. “No, uh, Tory wanted to clean it. I’ll pick it up tomorrow and bring it back.”

  A spark of interest flickered in Neva’s dark eyes. “So the picnic went well?”

  For a reason he didn’t understand, Trask lied to his sister-in-law for the first time in his life. No need to worry her, he thought, but he knew there was more to his evasive answer than he would acknowledge. “It was fine.”

  “And what did you find on Devil’s Ridge?”

  “Absolutely nothing.” Except a potential assassin.

  “But you’re still going to Salem tomorrow,” she said with a sigh. “You just can’t let it drop, can you?”

  “Not this time.”

  “Well go on.” She waved him off with a limp hand. “You’ve got things to do, remember? Just be careful. Linn Benton, whether he’s in prison or not, is still very powerful. He may have been stripped of his judicial robes, but he’s still a wealthy and influential man with more than his share of friends, all of whom haven’t forgotten that your testimony was instrumental in sending him to prison.”

  “Good night, Neva,” Trask said, without waiting for a reply. There was none. He walked out the front door.

  As he stepped off the porch and headed for the Blazer, he heard a noise and turned. Before he could see his assailant, Trask felt the thud of a heavy object strike the back of his head. Blinding lights flashed behind his eyes just as a knee caught him in the stomach and he fell forward onto the dry ground. Before he lost consciousness he heard a male voice that was vaguely familiar.

  “Leave it alone, McFadden,” it warned gruffly. Trask tried to stand, but was rewarded with another sharp kick in the abdomen. “You’re out of your league, senator.”

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  THE FIRST THING Trask remembered were hands, incredibly soft hands, holding his head. A woman’s voice, filled with anguish and fear, was calling to him from a distance and there was pain, a pain so intense it felt as if it was splintering his head into a thousand fragments.

  “Trask... Oh, dear God...” the woman cried out, nearly screaming with terror as she looked down on him. Moonlight caught in her silver hair, but the features of her face were blurred and indistinct. “Trask!”

  His mouth felt cotton-dry and when he tried to speak the voice that he heard didn’t sound like his own. “Neva?” He reached forward and his fingers touched her hair before his hand dropped to the ground. A blinding stab of pain shot through his brain when he tried to lift his head.

  “Oh, God, Trask...are you all right?” Her fingers were exploring the lump on the back of his head and tears gathered in her large eyes. “I was afraid something like this might happen, but I just couldn’t believe...”

  He opened his eyes and tried to focus. It was dark, but the woman’s face was definitely that of his sister-in-law. Propping himself on one elbow, he tried to push his body upright to stand, but the jarring pain in his ribs and abdomen made him suck in his breath and remain on the hard ground.

  “What happened?” Neva demanded, looking at the beaten man with pitying eyes.

  As if she could have prevented what happened, Trask thought dizzily and then discarded his annoying thought. Neva’s head moved quickly from side to side, her eyes darting from one shadowed tree to another as if she half expected to discover the man who had attacked him lurking in the still night.

  “Someone jumped me—” Trask began to explain.

  “I knew it!” Her attention swung back to the injured man. “I knew that something like this would happen!” She let out a breath of despair and her shoulders slumped in resignation. As if finding an answer to an inner struggle, Neva clenched her fist in determination. “I’m going to call the police and then I’ll get an ambulance for you.”

  “Hold on a minute,” Trask ground out, again leveling himself up on one elbow. Sweat had broken out on his forehead and chest and several buttons were missing from his shirt. “I don’t need an ambulance or the police...”

  “You’ve been beaten, for God’s sake!” she shrieked.

  “Neva, get hold of yourself,” he insisted as his groggy mind began to clear. Tory! If anything had happened to her...

  With one hand he reached forward and held on to Neva’s arm. “I’ve got to get into the house—to a phone,” he stated. Disjointed but brutally clear images of Tory and what might have happened to her began to haunt him.

  “You need a doctor.”

  “You’re a nurse. Can’t you just fix me up?”

  She eyed him severely. “No. You need X-rays. And an examination by a doctor. You might have a concussion, maybe cracked ribs and God only knows what else.” Gingerly she touched the deep cut along his jaw where his chin had crashed into the ground.

  “I’ll be fine,” Trask said angrily, mentally cursing himself for not being more careful with Tory’s safety. “Just help me up and get me into the house. Whoever did this to me may have gone after Tory.”

  “Tory?” Neva repeated, freezing.

  “I don’t have time to talk, damn it!” A dozen hideous scenarios with Tory as the unwitting victim filled his mind.

  “Yes, sir,” Neva snapped back at him, offering her body as support as he rose unsteadily. With her arm around his torso to brace him, Neva forced Trask to lean on her as they walked up the steps to the front door. “Before you do anything else, I expect you to tell me exactly what happened.”

  “Later.”

  Once inside the house, she examined his head and offered him an ice pack. “Lucky for you you’ve got a thick skull,” she murmured tenderly. “Now, what else?”

  He motioned to his side. She took off his shirt and frowned at the purple bruise already discoloring his ribs. “Someone doesn’t like you poking around,” she decided.

  “No one likes me poking around,” he said with what was an attempt at a smile. “Not even you.”

  “Maybe you should take this warning seriously,” she suggested.

  “Can’t do it, Neva.”

  “Oh, Trask, why not?”

  “I’ll explain once I make a few calls—”

  “Mom?” Nicholas was standing on the landing of the stairs to the loft. His blue eyes rounded at the disheveled and battered sight of Trask sprawled over the couch in the living room.

  “Nick, I thought you were asleep.” Nev
a’s eyes flickered with fear before darting from Trask to her son and back again. Her gaze silently implored Trask to keep the truth from Nicholas.

  The young boy ignored his mother and his eyes clouded with worry. “What happened, Uncle Trask?”

  “Would you believe a barroom brawl?” Trask asked, forcing a painful grin.

  “Naw.” Nicholas stuck out his lower lip pensively and looked at his mother. “Is that really what happened?”

  Neva shrugged.

  “Sort of,” Trask intervened, sensing Neva’s discomfiture. “We good guys always have to be on the lookout, you know.”

  Nicholas came down the last few steps. The boy’s eyes were round with excitement and hero worship for his uncle. “Mom? Did Uncle Trask get into a fight?”

  “I don’t really know,” Neva said nervously.

  “So where’s the other guy?”

  “He took off,” Trask said, attempting levity. “He’d had enough I guess.”

  “Because you beat him?” Nicholas sat on the edge of the couch.

  Trask had to laugh and the pain in his ribs seared through his body. “Unfortunately the other guy got the better of me.”

  Nicholas frowned petulantly while stepping closer to the couch and surveying his uncle. “But the good guys are always supposed to win.”

  “Only on television,” Trask replied, ruffling the boy’s coarse hair. “Or if they get help from their friends.” Trask’s eyes moved from Nicholas to Neva. She paled slightly and tried to avoid his gaze.

  “Come on, Nick. You can have a piece of pie and a glass of milk. Then you’ve got to go back to bed. Uncle Trask has to make some phone calls.” She placed the telephone on the coffee table and carefully stepped over the cord. “Here, take these,” she said to Trask, offering him aspirin and a glass of water.

  “Thanks.”

  “But I want to stay up.” Nicholas turned pleading eyes on his uncle.

  “You’d better do what your mom says,” Trask suggested.

  “But it’s not fair!”

  “Nothing ever is,” Neva replied softly, thinking of Jason’s early death and the men who were responsible for his murder as she guided Nicholas into the kitchen and waited while he ate his pie.

  When Nicholas had finished eating, over his loud protests, Neva put him back into bed. She watched the boy until his breathing became regular and he fell asleep with one arm tossed around the neck of the puppy Trask had given him for his birthday. Her throat tightened at the sight of her tousle-headed son sleeping so blissfully unaware of any of the suffering or malice in the world. How desperately she wanted to protect him.

  As Nicholas started to snore, Neva could hear Trask talking on the phone in the living room though most of the one-sided conversation was muffled.

  “Damn!” Trask muttered as he slammed the receiver of the telephone back into the cradle. He had tried calling Tory twice, but no one at the Lazy W had bothered to answer the phone. Fortunately his other calls had gotten through. He ran his fingers through his hair and swung his feet over the edge of the couch.

  “This has gone on long enough,” Neva said tightly as she came down the stairs and took a seat in her favorite rocker. “The next time someone attacks you, it might be your life, senator...or maybe someone else’s.” Her voice cracked and her hands worked nervously in her lap. “I think you should call the sheriff. Let Paul Barnett do his job and wash your hands of this accomplice to the conspiracy theory right now.”

  “I already have,” he said slowly as he watched her. For the first time since he had returned to Sinclair, Trask had an inkling of Neva’s true fears and he finally understood her odd behavior.

  With a groan, he stood. Neva started. “You should be lying down—in the guest room.”

  Trask walked over to her and, placing both hands on either arm of the wooden rocker, he imprisoned her in the chair. “Why don’t you tell me what’s really going on, Neva, what you’re really afraid of?” he suggested, his voice cold. “Come on, level with me.” His blue eyes pierced into hers.

  “I’m afraid for you,” she whispered.

  “Not good enough.”

  “And for Nicholas.” She rubbed her chin nervously and tried to avoid his stare. It was impossible as his face was only inches from hers.

  “That’s better.”

  Tears started to pool in her eyes. “The kids at school—”

  “Are not what you’re afraid of, are they? Someone’s been threatening you and Nicholas.”

  “No...oh, God, no,” she cried, desperation and fear contorting her face.

  He placed one hand over hers. “Neva?”

  There was silence, tense unbearable silence. Only the sound of the clock ticking over the mantel disturbed the quiet.

  “Look, it’s obvious that someone got to you and used Nicholas’s safety as part of a threat. I just want a name, Neva.”

  “I don’t know...”

  Trask’s fist coiled over her fingers. “Just one name!”

  “Oh, Trask,” she whispered, closing her eyes and slumping in the chair. “There is no name....” Her voice was shaking and she let her head drop into her hands. “Oh, God, Trask, I’m so scared,” she whispered. He placed his arms around her and she tried in vain to stem the flow of her tears. Instead she began to sob against his shoulder. “I’ve been getting these calls—horrible calls—”

  “From whom?”

  “I don’t know. Some man. He threatened me. Told me that if I didn’t convince you to forget about the horse swapping swindle that...that...he’d take Nicholas from me...hurt him.” She was shaking violently. “I was afraid to tell anyone.”

  White-hot rage raced through Trask’s blood and all of his muscles tensed. “You should have told me,” he ground out, pushing away from the chair.

  “Probably,” she admitted. “For the first time in my life I didn’t know what to do. And the man insisted that I wasn’t to tell you anything, or—” her anguished eyes searched Trask’s bruised face “—or one of us would be hurt. And now look at you...look what he did....”

  “Nothing’s going to happen to Nicholas,” Trask swore.

  “How can you be sure—look what happened to you!”

  Trask’s eyes sparked blue fire. “I’ll see to it that you’re safe. Not only are we going to call Paul Barnett and tell him what’s going on, I’ve got a friend, a private investigator, who’ll put a twenty-four hour watch on you and Nicholas.” He checked his watch. “Paul’s probably already on his way to the Lazy W.” Quickly he punched out the number of the sheriff’s department and got hold of Deputy Woodward, who promised to come directly to Neva’s house.

  “I don’t need to be watched,” Neva stated, gathering her courage as Trask hung up and immediately redialed the phone.

  “Don’t argue with me, Neva,” Trask nearly shouted just as the groggy voice of John Davis answered the phone. Again, Trask told his story and John promised to send a detective to Neva’s home as well as have someone survey the comings and goings at the Lazy W.

  “What are you planning?” Neva asked, once Trask had hung up the phone and was slipping his arms through his shirt.

  “A deputy from the sheriff’s department, a man by the name of Greg Woodward is coming over here tonight.”

  “No.”

  “Just listen to me, damn it. Woodward is going to take your statement and wait until one of John Davis’s men arrives. Then he’s going to meet me and Sheriff Barnett at the Lazy W.”

  “You’re going back to see Tory?”

  Trask’s face hardened and his eyes darkened murderously. “If someone is dead set on discouraging me, I’d be willing to bet that the next person they’ll approach is Tory.”

  Neva’s mouth went dry. “What do you mean?”

  “I mean simply that I’m worried about her. While we were at Devil’s Ridge, someone took a shot at us.”

  “No!” Neva looked half-crazed with fear. Her face went deathly white and she glanced from Trask t
o the loft where Nicholas was sleeping so peacefully and back again. “I can’t believe this is happening. All because of some damned note!”

  “Believe it.”

  “Oh, dear Lord,” she whispered.

  There was a sharp knock at the door and Trask opened it to find Deputy Woodward on the doorstep. After assuring himself that Woodward had contacted the sheriff and was following Barnett’s orders, Trask half ran to the Blazer, shoved the truck into gear and drove toward the Lazy W.

  * * *

  A THUNDEROUS NOISE awakened Tory. She sat bolt upright in bed until her groggy thoughts began to make sense and she realized that someone was pounding urgently at the front door. Probably Keith. He had a habit of losing his key....

  She tossed on a robe and hurried down the stairs. “I’m coming, I’m coming,” she called. “Hold your horses.”

  “Thank God,” she heard a male voice say and grinned when she realized it belonged to Trask.

  Jerking the door open, she felt her smile widen for the man she loved. “Well, Senator McFadden, what brings you back to the Lazy W at this hour?”

  As she stepped onto the front porch, she was swept into Trask’s arms as he crushed her desperately to him. “Thank God, you’re all right,” he whispered against her wet hair. “If I ever lost you again...” His voice caught and the arms around her held on as if he expected her to disappear. “Where were you?” he demanded.

  “When?”

  “About twenty minutes ago.” Still he held her tightly, almost deliberately.

  “I was here.”

  “But I called. No one answered.”

  “I was here,” she repeated. “Maybe you caught me when I was in the shower. I thought I heard the phone ring, but by the time I got to it, no one was there.”

  “Lord, Tory,” he whispered, closing his eyes. “You had me half out of my mind with fear.” He slowly pulled his head back and stared into her eyes. “Where’s Paul Barnett?”

  “The sheriff?” she asked incredulously. “Trask, what’s going on? Do you have any idea what time it is? Why would Paul Barnett be here?”

 
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