Yesterdays lies, p.17
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.17

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “That’s the idea.”

  “He just won’t let up on this, will he?”

  “I doubt it. And now that the sheriff’s department is involved, I would expect that Paul Barnett or one of his deputies will be out later to ask you questions.”

  “Just what I need,” Keith said grimly and then changed the subject. “So how’re you this morning?” He threw a leg over one of the arms of the recliner, leaned back and studied his sister.

  “As well as can be expected after last night.”

  Keith scowled into his cup. The lines of worry deepened around his eyes. “What McFadden said, about you being shot at, was it true?”

  Tory let out a long breath. “Unfortunately, yes.”

  Keith’s eyes clouded as he looked away from his sister. “And you think it has something to do with this anonymous note business, right?”

  “I don’t know,” she admitted, taking off her reading glasses and setting them on the corner of the desk as she stared at her brother. “But it seems to me that it’s more than a coincidence that the minute Trask comes into town, all the trouble begins.”

  “Has it ever occurred to you that Trask may have initiated all this hoopla just to get his name in the papers? You know, remind the voters that he’s a hero.”

  “I don’t think he hired someone to beat him up, if that’s what you mean. And I don’t think that he would let someone terrorize Neva or Nicholas—do you?”

  Keith squirmed uncomfortably. “Maybe not.”

  “So how do you explain it?”

  He looked straight into her eyes. “I can’t, Sis. I don’t have any clue as to why someone would take a shot at you or want to hurt Neva. And it scares me, it scares the hell out of me!”

  “But maybe someone was just interested in hurting Trask?” she said. “The rest of us might just have gotten in the way. After all, he was the one that took the punches last night.”

  Keith’s head snapped upward and his jaw tightened. “I hate the bastard. It’s no secret. You know it and so does he.” Keith’s voice faded slightly and he hesitated before adding, “And I hate the fact that he’s back here, getting you all messed up again, but I wouldn’t beat him up or shoot at him, for crying out loud.”

  Tory tapped her pencil nervously on the desk. What she was about to say was difficult. “I’m sorry, Keith. But I can’t seem to forget that the first day Trask came into town you were in a panic. You came out to the paddock to tell me about it, remember?” Tory’s heart was hammering in her chest. She didn’t like the role of inquisitor, especially not with Keith.

  “I remember.”

  “And later you said something about pointing a gun at him if Trask tried to trespass.”

  Keith squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed the stiffness out of his neck. “That was all talk, Tory.” He leaned back in the chair. “I just wish he’d leave us alone.” After finishing his coffee, Keith stood. “I don’t want to see you get hurt again. Everything that’s happening scares me.”

  “I’m a big girl, Keith. I can take care of myself.”

  Keith offered his most disarming smile. “Then I’ll try not to worry about you too much.”

  “Good.” She let out a sigh of relief and felt the tension in her tight muscles ease. She believed everything Keith had told her and wondered why she had ever doubted him. “Oh, by the way, how did you do in the poker game last night?”

  Keith’s grin widened and he pulled out his wallet. When he opened it, he exposed a thick roll of bills tucked neatly in the side pocket. “I cleaned everyone’s clock.”

  “That’s a switch.”

  “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

  “So how’d you get so lucky?”

  Keith took his hat off a peg near the entry hall and jammed it onto his head. “Haven’t you ever heard that poker is a game of skill, not luck?”

  “Only from the winners.”

  Keith laughed as he walked out the front door. “I’ll be on the west end of the ranch helping Rex clear out some brush.”

  “Will you be back for lunch?”

  “Naw, I’ll grab something later.”

  Keith left and Tory began drumming her fingers on the desk. Her brother had never won at poker in his life. Just when she was beginning to trust him, something he did seemed out of character. It worried her. It worried her a lot.

  “Cut it out,” she told herself, pushing her glasses onto her nose and studying the bank statement. “Trask’s got you jumping at shadows.” But she couldn’t shake the unease that had settled in her mind.

  * * *

  IT WAS NEARLY one-thirty when Tory heard the sound of a vehicle coming down the drive. She had been leaning over the fence and watching the foals and mares as they grazed in the pasture. Shading her eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun, she smiled when she recognized Anna Hutton’s white van.

  Dusting her hands on her jeans, Tory met the van just as Anna parked it near the stables.

  “How’s our boy doing?” Anna asked as she hopped out of the van and grabbed her veterinary bag.

  “Better than I’d expected. I took your advice about the cold poultices and he’s even putting a little weight on the leg this morning.”

  “Good.” Anna grinned broadly. “See, I told you. Sometimes we don’t have to resort to drugs.”

  “He’s in the paddock around back,” Tory said, leading Anna past the stables to the small enclosure where Governor was being walked by Eldon.

  The stallion snorted his disapproval when he saw the two women and his black ears flattened to his head.

  “So walking him hasn’t proven too painful for him?” Anna asked, carefully studying the nervous horse.

  “I don’t think so,” Tory replied. “Eldon?”

  The ranch hand shook his head and his weathered face knotted in concentration. “He’s been doin’ fine. If I thought walkin’ him was causing him too much pain, I wouldn’t have done it, no matter what you said.”

  “It’s great to have employees who trust your judgment,” Tory commented when she read the amusement in Eldon’s eyes.

  Anna seemed satisfied. “Let’s take a look at you,” she said to the horse as she slid through the gate, patted Governor’s dark shoulders and gently prodded his hoof from the ground. “Come on, boy,” she coaxed. “You should be used to all of this attention by now.”

  After carefully examining Governor’s hoof Anna released the horse’s leg. “He looks good,” she said to Tory. “Just keep doing what you have with the poultices. Keep walking him and consider that special shoe. I’ll look in on him in another week.”

  “That’s the best news I’ve had in two days,” Tory admitted as Anna slipped through the gate and they began walking toward the house.

  “I heard about what happened yesterday on Devil’s Ridge,” Anna commented.

  Tory stopped dead in her tracks. “What? But how?”

  With an encouraging smile, Anna met her friend’s questioning stare. “You’d better be sure that your backbone is strong, Tory. All sorts of rumors are flying around Sinclair.”

  “Already? I don’t see how—”

  Anna placed her hand over Tory’s arm. “Trask McFadden, excuse me, Senator McFadden is a famous man around these parts. What he does is news—big news. When someone attacks a man of his stature, it isn’t long before the gossip mill gets wind of it and starts grinding out the information, indiscriminately mixing fact with fiction to distort the truth.”

  “But it only happened last night,” Tory argued.

  “And how many people knew about it?”

  Tory smiled wryly and continued walking across the parking lot. “Too many,” she admitted, thinking about Trask, Neva, Keith, the private investigator... The list seemed nearly endless.

  “Then brace yourself; no doubt the press will be more than anxious to report what happened and how it relates to the horse swindle of five years ago as well as Jason McFadden’s murder.” Anna’s voice was soft and consolin
g. “Your father’s name, and his involvement in the scam, whether true or not, is bound to come up.”

  Tory let out a long breath of air. “That’s just what I was trying to avoid.” The afternoon sun felt hot on the back of her neck and the reddish dust beneath the gravel was stirred up by the easterly breeze.

  “Too late. The handwriting’s on the wall.”

  Tory lifted her chin and her eyes hardened. Involuntarily her slim shoulders squared. “Well, what’s done is done, I suppose. At least you’ve given me fair warning. Now, how about staying for a late lunch?”

  “It sounds heavenly,” Anna admitted, pleased that Tory had seemed to buck up a little and was ready to face the challenge of the future. “I thought you’d never ask!”

  Tory laughed and found that she looked forward to Anna’s company and sarcastic wit. She needed to think about something other than the mysterious happenings on the ranch and it had been a long time since she and Anna had really had a chance to talk.

  * * *

  “THAT WAS DELICIOUS,” Anna stated, rolling her eyes as she finished her strawberry pie. “Denver omelet, spinach salad and pie to boot. Whenever you give up ranching, you could become a chef. It’s a good thing I don’t eat here more often or I’d gain twenty pounds.”

  “I doubt that,” Tory said, pleased with the compliment nonetheless. “You’ll never gain weight, not with the work schedule you demand of yourself.”

  “That’s my secret,” Anna said. “I never have time to eat.”

  Chuckling softly the two women cleared the dishes from the table and set them in the sink. “So we’ve talked about what happened here yesterday, and about my plans for the ranch, and about Governor’s condition. Now, tell me about you. How’re you doin’?”

  Anna’s dark eyes clouded. “Things have been different since Jim moved out.” She held up a strong finger, as if to remind herself. “However, despite it all, I’ve survived.”

  “If you don’t want to talk about it...”

  Anna forced a sad smile. “There’s nothing much to talk about. I was involved with starting my own veterinary practice. I worked long hours and was exhausted when I got home. I resented the fact that he expected me to be the perfect wife, housekeeper, you-name-it, and he got bored with listening to my dreams, I guess. I kind of ignored him and I guess he needed a woman. So I really can’t blame him for taking up with someone else, can I?”

  “I would,” Tory said firmly. “It seems to me that if two people love each other, they can work things out.”

  “It’s not always that easy.”

  Tory thought of her own situation with Trask. The love they shared had always been shrouded in deceit. “Maybe you’re right,” she finally admitted. “But I don’t see why you should have to go around carrying all this guilt with you.”

  Frowning thoughtfully, Anna rubbed her thumb over her index finger. “Maybe I carry it because I was brought up to believe that a woman’s place is in the home, having babies, washing dishes, enjoying being her husband’s best friend.” She leaned against the counter and stared out the window. “But I got greedy. I wanted it all: husband, home, children and a fascinating career. I didn’t mean to, but somehow I lost Jim in the shuffle.”

  “Easy to do—”

  “Too easy. But I’ve learned from my mistakes, thank you, and you should, too.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  Anna laughed grimly. “That I’m about to poke my nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

  “Oh?”

  “Look, Tory. I know you never got over Trask.” Anna saw the protest forming on Tory’s lips and she warded it off with a flip of her wrist. “There’s no use denying it; you love him and you always have, regardless of all that mess with your dad. It’s written all over your face.

  “And, despite what happened in the past, I think Trask’s basically a decent man who loves you very much. What happened with your dad was unfortunate and I was as sad as anyone when Trask took the stand against Calvin. But that was five years ago and it’s over.” She took a deep breath. “So, if Trask is the man you love, then you’d better do your damnedest to let him know it.”

  Tory couldn’t hide the stunned expression on her face. “That’s the last piece of advice I would have expected from you,” she replied.

  “I had a chance to think about it last night. Let me tell you, if fate dealt me another chance with Jim, I’d make sure that I held on to him.”

  “How? By giving up your practice and independence?”

  Anna shook her head. “Of course not. By just being a little less stubborn and self-righteous. I still believe that you can have everything, if you work at it. But you have to give a little instead of taking all the time.”

  “But that works two ways,” Tory thought aloud.

  “Of course. But if you’re both willing, it should be possible.” Anna looked up at the clock on the wall and nearly jumped out of her skin. “Geez, is it really three? Look, Tory, I’ve got to cut this session short, if you don’t mind. I’m supposed to be in Bend at four.”

  “I’m just glad you stopped by.”

  “Anytime you’re willing to cook, I’m ready to eat. Thanks for lunch!” Anna was out the back door in a flash and nearly bumped into Keith as he was walking through the door to the back porch.

  “Excuse me,” Anna called over her shoulder, while running down the two wooden steps to the path that led to the front of the house.

  Keith, his eyes still fastened on Anna’s retreating back came into the kitchen and threw the mail down on the table. Dust covered him from head to foot and sweat darkened the strands of his hair. Only the creases near his eyes escaped the reddish-brown dust. He placed his hat on the peg near the back door and wiped the back of his hand over his face, streaking the brown film. “I suppose I missed lunch,” he said, eyeing the dishes in the sink.

  “I suppose you did,” Tory replied. “Anna and I just finished.”

  “I saw her take off.” He stretched the knots out of his back. “I have to go into town and pick up the part for the combine. Then I’ll go talk to Paul Barnett—you did say that he wanted to see me?”

  Tory nodded.

  “After that I’ll probably stay in town for a couple of hours and have a few beers at the Branding Iron. Do you think I could con you into making me a sandwich or something while I get cleaned up?”

  “Do I look like a short order cook?” she asked testily. “Didn’t I ask you if you’d be back for lunch this morning before you left?”

  “Please?”

  Keith could be so damned charming when he chose to be, Tory thought defensively. She managed a stiff smile. “Okay, brother dear, I’ll see what I can scrape together, but I’m not promising gourmet.”

  “At this point I’d be thrilled with peanut butter and jelly,” Keith admitted as he sauntered out of the kitchen and up the steps. In a few minutes, Tory could hear the sounds of running water in the shower upstairs.

  By the time that Keith returned to the kitchen, some twenty minutes later, he’d showered, shaved and changed into clean clothes.

  “I hardly recognized you,” Tory said teasingly. She placed a platter of ham sandwiches next to a glass of milk on the table. It was then she saw the mail. Quickly pushing aside the magazines and catalog offers, she picked up the stack of envelopes and began to thumb through them.

  “Bills, bills and more...what’s this?” Tory stopped at the fifth envelope. The small white packet was addressed to her in handwriting she didn’t recognize. There was no return address on the envelope but the letter was postmarked in Sinclair. Without much thought, she tore open the envelope. A single piece of paper was enclosed. On it, in the same unfamiliar handwriting that graced the envelope was a simple message:

  STAY AWAY FROM MCFADDEN

  “Oh, dear God!” Tory whispered, letting the thin white paper fall from her hands onto the table.

  “What?” Keith set down his sandwich and grabbed the letter befor
e staring at the threat in disbelief. As the message began to sink in, his anger ignited and his face became flushed. He tossed the letter onto the table. “That does it, Tory, I’m not going to listen to any more of your excuses. When McFadden gets back here you tell him that you’re out of this investigation of his!”

  “I think it’s too late for that.” She was shaken but some of her color had returned.

  “The hell it is! Damn it, Tory. He was beaten. Neva’s been getting threatening phone calls. You were shot at, for crying out loud! Shot at with a rifle! What does it take to get it through your thick head that whoever is behind this—” he pointed emphatically at the letter “—is playing for keeps!”

  “We can’t back out, the police are involved and the whole town knows what’s happening.”

  “Who gives a rip? We’re talking about our lives, for God’s sake!” His fist curled angrily and the muscles of his forearms flexed with rage. “All of this has got to stop!” Pounding the table and making the dishes rattle, Keith pushed his chair backward and stood beside the door. Leaning heavily against the frame he turned pleading gray eyes on his sister. “You can make him stop, y’know. You’re the only one he’ll listen to.”

  “Not when he’s set his mind to something.”

  “Then unset it, Tory!” He turned his palms upward and shook his hands. “What does it take to get through to you?”

  Tory looked down at the note lying face up on the table and she trembled. For a moment she considered Keith’s suggestion, but slowly her fear gave way to anger. “I won’t be threatened,” she said, “or compromised. Whoever sent this must have a lot to lose. I wonder what it is?”

  “Well, I don’t!” Keith nervously pushed his hair away from his face. “I wish this whole nightmare would just end.”

  “But it won’t. Not unless we find the truth,” she said.

  “Oh, God, Tory, you’re such a dreamer. You always have been. That’s how McFadden tricked you the first time and now you’ve let him do it to you again. You’re so caught up in your romantic fantasies about him that you don’t see the truth when it hits you in the face!”

 
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