Yesterdays lies, p.15
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.15

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “Because I asked him to come. He’s supposed to be here, damn it!”

  “Slow down, will you? You’re talking like a lunatic!”

  The light from the hallway spilled onto the front porch and for the first time she noticed that his clothes were ripped and dirty and there were cuts below his right eye and on his chin. “Wait a minute,” she said, drawing away and gently touching his beard-darkened jaw. “What in God’s name happened to you?”

  Trask’s eyes fell on her face and then looked past her to the interior of the house. It was then she noticed his haggard expression and the fact that he walked with a slight limp. Worry crept into her voice. “Trask? What’s going on?”

  “Are you okay?”

  “Looks like I should be asking you that one,” she observed, concern making her voice rough. “Trask, what happened?”

  “Our friend from the ridge caught up with me.”

  “What?”

  Trask walked into the entry hall and began snapping on lights before he started looking into the corners of the rooms on the ground floor. Once a quick, but complete search of the lower level was accomplished, he started up the stairs and Tory followed him. “I was worried about you,” he finally explained, once all the rooms and closets were searched. “Are you alone?”

  “Yes. You could have asked me, y’know, instead of walking in here and tearing the place apart like some kind of madman.”

  He ignored her sarcasm. “Where’s Keith?”

  “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Sometimes he stays out late—”

  “Son-of-a-bitch!” Trask stalked into the den. All of his muscles became instantly tense.

  “Oh, no, Trask,” Tory whispered, following him into the study and understanding his anger. She tried to ignore the tiny finger of dread slowly creeping up her spine. “You’re not seriously trying to blame Keith for this—” she pointed at the disheveled state of his appearance “—are you?”

  “I was hoping that he had an alibi.”

  Tory’s eyes widened in horror. “You think Keith did this to you?”

  “Maybe.”

  “Oh, Trask, no! You can’t be serious!” she said, her voice shaking as she clamped a hand over her mouth and tried to pull herself together. Reading the anger in his eyes she slowly let her hands fall to her side. “But you’re just guessing aren’t you? I take it you didn’t see who attacked you?”

  “Didn’t have time. It was dark.”

  Tory felt a little sense of relief. This was all a big mistake. Keith wouldn’t rough somebody up, not even Trask McFadden. “Have you seen a doctor?”

  “Neva examined me.”

  “Neva! Good Lord, have you been there, too?” Tory pushed her damp hair out of her eyes.

  “That’s where it happened.”

  Tory’s eyes turned cold. Too much was happening and she couldn’t think straight. “Wait a minute, slow down. Come into the kitchen and tell me exactly what happened and when and where and why.” She started down the hallway, Trask right behind her.

  “Why? That’s the kicker, isn’t it?”

  Tory frowned as she took down two cups and made a pot of tea. Forcing her hands to remain steady, she poured the tea into the cups. “So tell me, what did Neva say?”

  “Other than that I should be more careful?” Tory didn’t crack a smile. “She thinks I’ll live.”

  “Some consolation.” She handed him a cup of tea and tried to force a grin as her eyes slid down his slightly bruised chin to the torn shirt that displayed all too vividly his muscled chest and discolored abdomen. “You look awful.”

  “That’s a cut above the way I feel.”

  “I really think you should go to the emergency room, and get some X-rays.”

  “Later.” He set down his cup and his eyes took her in; the tousled damp hair that hung in springy curls around a fresh face devoid of makeup, the gorgeous green eyes now dark with concern, and the soft heather-colored robe clinched loosely over her small waist. “God, I was worried about you,” he admitted, rubbing his hand over his unshaven jaw.

  “It looks like I should have been the one worrying.”

  He took the cup from her hands and pulled her toward him. Lowering his head, he caught her lips with his and let the fresh feminine scent of her fill his nostrils and flood his senses. “From now on, I’m not letting you out of my sight,” he vowed against her ear before reluctantly releasing her.

  “Is that a promise or a threat?”

  His uneven, incredibly charming grin flashed white against his dark skin. “However you want to take it.”

  “I’ll think about it and let you know what I decide.”

  Trask’s face sobered and his fingers toyed with the lapel of her plush robe. “As much as I find the thought distasteful,” he said with a frown as he kissed her forehead, “I think you should get dressed. I asked Sheriff Barnett to meet us here.”

  “Tonight?”

  “Yeah.” He stepped away from her and patted her firmly on the behind. “Look, I’ll explain everything when Paul gets here, just go put on something—” he lifted his palms upward as he looked at her soft terry robe and the white silk gown that was visible when she walked “—something less erotic.”

  “I’ve never heard of a terry-cloth bathrobe being called erotic.”

  “Only because I’ve never seen you in one before.”

  Tory laughed and shook her head. Against her better judgment she walked upstairs and changed into a pair of cords and a sweater. She was braiding her hair into a single plait as she stood on the landing when she heard the knock at the front door.

  “I’ll get it,” Trask said. He’d positioned himself at the bottom of the stairs and was watching with interest as Tory wrapped the rubber band around the tip of her braid.

  “Suit yourself.”

  His teasing expression turned grim. “And I think you’d better try and track down your brother. There are a few questions he’ll have to answer.” With one last glance upward in her direction Trask opened the door.

  Paul Barnett and Detective Woodward were standing on the front porch. Tory’s fingers curled around the banister as she walked slowly down the stairs and faced all three men.

  “Come in, sheriff...Deputy Woodward.” She inclined her head toward each man and wondered if it was obvious to them how nervous she felt. Not since the trial had she been uncomfortable with the police, but this night, with Trask beaten and Keith missing, she felt a nervous sweat break out between her shoulder blades. “I was going to make a pot of coffee. I’ll bring it into the den.”

  Barnett pursed his lips and nodded his agreement. He was a slightly paunchy man with wire-rimmed glasses, cold eyes and a hard cynical smile. “Anyone else here?”

  “No.”

  “No hands on the ranch?”

  “Not tonight.”

  “What about that kid brother of yours?” the sheriff pressed, his graying bushy eyebrows lifting with each of her negative responses.

  Tory felt herself stiffen. “Keith isn’t home. He’s in town, I think.”

  “But you don’t know?”

  “No. Not for sure.”

  Barnett pressed his thin lips tightly together but didn’t comment. When the three men went into the den, Tory escaped to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. She tried to ignore the fact that her hands as well as her entire body were trembling.

  Where was Keith? Everyone wanted to talk to her brother and she had no idea where he was. It was late, damned late and unlike her brother to be out on a weeknight.

  The grandfather clock in the entry hall chimed one o’clock. The hollow notes added to Tory’s growing paranoia.

  Drumming her fingers on the counter as the coffee perked, she considered using the phone and trying to track down her brother, but discarded the idea. He was twenty-one and able to make his own decisions. Or so she silently prayed.

  The murmur of voices from the den caught her attention and her heart began to pound with dread. Qu
ickly grabbing the glass carafe, four mugs, the sugar bowl and creamer, she set everything onto a woven straw tray and carried it into the den. Trask looked up from his position in her father’s leather recliner and smiled reassuringly.

  “Okay, now let me get this straight,” Barnett was saying, his graying mustache working as he spoke. “You two went up on Devil’s Ridge looking for some sort of clue that might lead you to the fourth man who was supposedly involved in the Quarter Horse swindle. Right?”

  “Right,” Trask replied.

  Tory caught Barnett’s inquisitive stare and nodded curtly to his unspoken question. “However, it could be a three-man conspiracy,” she said. “I still don’t believe that my father was involved.”

  “Be that as it may, Ms Wilson, your father was tried and convicted, so we’ll have to assume that he was in on the swindle,” Barnett said slowly before turning to Trask. “So, you believe the fourth man theory because of this piece of paper.” He held up the anonymous letter, without waiting for a response. “And, you think that because you’ve been poking around looking for some proof to support the fourth man theory, one of the calves from the Lazy W was shot, and someone tried to shoot you as well, this afternoon—”

  “I’m not sure they were shooting at us, maybe just trying to scare us,” Trask interjected.

  “Nevertheless, a shot was fired in your general direction.”

  “Yes.”

  “And when that didn’t work, whoever it was that fired the rifle followed you to Neva McFadden’s place and beat the tar out of you.”

  Trask frowned, nodded his head and rubbed his jaw pensively. “That’s why I think it was a warning. If they had wanted me dead, I would have been. I had to have been an easy target coming out of Neva’s house.”

  “So that’s all of your story?”

  “Except that someone’s been calling Neva and harassing her, making threats against her son,” Deputy Woodward added.

  “What!” Tory’s face drained of color and she almost dropped her coffee. She turned her wide eyes on Trask. “No—”

  Trask’s jaw hardened and his eyes turned as cold as blue ice. “That’s why Neva tried to talk both me and you out of the investigation. She was afraid for Nicholas’s life.”

  “This has gotten completely out of hand,” Tory whispered, leaning against the pine-paneled wall.

  “You should have called me,” Barnett said, leveling his gaze at Trask, “instead of trying to investigate something like this on your own. Could have saved yourself a lot of grief as well as a beating.”

  “I was just trying to keep it quiet.”

  Barnett frowned. “We could have done a better job. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s what my department gets paid to do. As it is, you’ve made one helluva mess of it.”

  Trask’s lips twisted wryly. “Thanks.”

  After asking Tory questions that confirmed Trask’s story about what happened on the ridge, the sheriff and his deputy finished their coffee, grabbed their notes and left.

  “It gets worse by the minute,” Tory confided, once she was alone with Trask.

  “Barnett’s right. I should have gone to the police in the beginning.”

  “And then the police would have flocked back here, the press would have found out about it and the scandal would have been plastered on the front pages of the local papers all over again.”

  “Looks like it’s going to end up that way regardless.”

  “Nothing we can do about it now,” she said with a sigh. Walking toward the recliner Tory searched Trask’s face. His jaw was still strong, jutted in determination, but pain shadowed his blue eyes. The cuts on his face, though shallow, were slightly swollen and raw. “Are you okay? I could take you into Bend to the hospital.”

  “Not now.”

  “But your head—”

  “It’s fine. It’ll wait until morning.”

  “Oh, senator,” she said with a sad smile. “What am I going to do with you?”

  His eyes slid seductively up her body to rest on the worried pout of her lips. “I can think of a dozen things...”

  “Be serious.”

  “I am.”

  “Well, I’m not about to have you risk further injury.” She glanced out the window and back at the clock. Two-fifteen, and still no sign of Keith. “Besides, it’s late.”

  “Are you trying to give me a less than subtle hint?”

  “I’m tired.” She touched his head fondly. “You should be, too.”

  “I’m okay. Go to bed.”

  “And what about you?”

  “I’m staying here.”

  “You can’t—”

  “Watch.” He settled into the recliner and folded his hands over his chest.

  “Trask. Think about it. You can’t stay here. Keith will be home soon.”

  “That’s who I’m waiting for.”

  “Oh, Trask.” The rest of her response was cut off by the sound of an engine roaring up the driveway and the spray of gravel hitting the sides of the barn as the pickup ground to an abrupt halt.

  “About time,” Trask said, pushing himself upward.

  Tory’s heart was beating double time by the time that Keith opened the front door and strode into the den. His young face was set with fierce determination and he scowled at the sight of Trask.

  “What’s he doin’ here?” Keith demanded of Tory, as he cocked an insolent thumb in Trask’s direction.

  “Why don’t you ask me?” Trask cut in.

  Turning, Keith faced Trask for the first time. It was then that he noticed the bruise on Trask’s chin and his rumpled dirty clothing. “What the hell happened to you?”

  “Why don’t you tell me?” Trask hooked his thumbs in the belt loops of his jeans and leaned his shoulders against the fireplace. His intense gaze bored into Keith’s worried face.

  Keith immediately sobered. “What’re you talking about?”

  Trask’s eyes narrowed. “Someone followed Tory and me up to Devil’s Ridge this afternoon. Not only did this guy have a rifle, but he decided to use it by taking a shot at us.”

  “What?” Keith spun and faced his sister. “What’s he talking about? Why would you go up to the ridge with him after what he did to you?” Keith became frantic and began pacing from the den to the hallway and back again. “I knew that McFadden couldn’t wait to bring up all the dirt again!” He glanced over his shoulder at Trask. “What’s he talking about—someone shooting at you? He’s not serious—”

  “Dead serious,” Trask said tonelessly. “Then later, at Neva’s place, someone decided to use the back of my head for batting practice.”

  Keith’s face lost all of its color and his cocky attitude faded with his tan. “You’re not kiddin’ are ya?”

  “Hardly,” Trask said dryly, approaching the younger man in long sure strides. “And that same person has been calling my sister-in-law, threatening her to get me to stop this investigation.” Keith looked as if he wanted to drop through the floor. “I don’t suppose you know anything about that, do you?”

  “I...I don’t know anything.”

  “So where were you tonight?” Trask ground out.

  “Tonight? You think I did it?” Keith seemed genuinely astounded. He looked pleadingly at Tory before stiffening at the sound of Trask’s voice.

  “Where were you?”

  “I’ve been in town.”

  “Until two in the morning?”

  “Yeah. Rex and I went into town, looking for a part for the combine. When we couldn’t get it, I stayed at the Branding Iron for dinner and a few beers. Later I went over to Rex’s place. He and several of the hands had a poker game going.”

  “And someone was with you all night?”

  “For most of it.” Keith’s indignation flashed in his eyes. “Look, McFadden, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not particularly proud of, but what happened to you and Tory today has nothing to do with me.”

  “Why do I have difficulty believing you
?”

  “Because I’ve made no bones about the fact that I hate your guts.” He pointed a condemning finger at Trask. “You nearly single-handedly destroyed everything my dad worked all of his life to achieve; you not only sent him to prison, but you took away all of his respectability by using his daughter and publicly humiliating her.”

  Trask’s face hardened. A muscle worked in the corner of his jaw and his eyes narrowed fractionally. “I’ve made my share of mistakes,” he admitted.

  “Too many, McFadden. Too damned many! And tonight is just one more in the string. I didn’t have anything to do with what happened to you tonight.” He was shaking with rage. “Now I think it’s about time you left.”

  Trask’s eyes glittered with determination. “I’m not going anywhere, Wilson.” He sat down in one of the chairs and propped the heels of his boots on the corner of the coffee table. “As a matter of fact, I intend to spend the rest of the night right here.”

  “Get out!”

  “Not on your life.”

  Keith glared at his sister. “He’s your problem,” he spat out before stomping out of the den and treading heavily up the stairs to his room.

  Tory took a seat on the arm of Trask’s chair. “You were too hard on him, y’know,” she reprimanded, her brow knotted in concern. “He’s not involved in this.”

  “So he claims.”

  “You don’t believe him,” she said with a sigh.

  “I don’t believe anyone—” he looked into her worried eyes and smiled slightly “—except for you.”

  “Not too long ago you didn’t trust me.”

  “Not you, lady; just your motives.”

  “Same thing.”

  Trask took her hand and pressed her fingers to his lips. “Not at all. But sometimes I think you’d lie to protect those closest to you.”

  She shook her head and smiled sadly. “Wrong, senator. Maybe I should have five years ago. Since Dad wouldn’t say what happened, maybe I should have covered for him.” She picked up a crystal paperweight from the desk and ran her fingers over the cut glass. “Maybe then he’d still be alive.”

  “And you’d be the criminal for perjuring yourself.”

  She frowned at her distorted reflection in the glass. “I guess there are no easy answers,” she said, as she placed the paperweight on the corner of the desk. “You really don’t have to stay, you know.”

 
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