Yesterdays lies, p.19
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.19

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “Apparently someone has something to hide.”

  “And he’ll go to just about any lengths to keep his secret hidden.” Trask let out a long sigh and leaned against the counter. “Have you talked to the sheriff?”

  “Not yet.”

  “What about any of John Davis’s men?”

  Tory shook her head. “The one man assigned to the ranch keeps a pretty low profile. He’s only been inside the house a couple of times, but several of the hands have commented about his presence.”

  Trask’s head snapped upward. “And what have you told them?”

  “That I’m trying to prevent another one of the calves from being shot, you know, protecting the livestock.”

  “And they bought that story?” His dark brows raised suspiciously.

  Tory shrugged. “I doubt it. The hands are too smart to be conned. They know when someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes and can see through lies, just about any lie. Though they don’t go poking around in my business, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a United States senator showed up here, sporting a rather ugly cut on his chin. Especially since there was a scandal he was involved in a few years ago.” She looked pointedly at Trask. “It hasn’t helped that the rumors and gossip are already flying around Sinclair like vultures over a dying animal. So you see, it’s really too much to expect the hands to think that the only reason a detective is on the ranch is to protect the cattle.”

  “I suppose so.” He looked down at the letter again. “I don’t like this, Tory.”

  She shuddered and took a sip of her coffee. “Neither do I.”

  Trask wearily pushed the hair from his face and began to pace across the kitchen floor.

  “Cut that out,” Tory admonished softly and then explained. “Pacing drives me nuts.”

  “You really are on edge aren’t you?”

  “I think we both are. Why don’t you call Neva and let her know that you’re all right? Then you can sit down and tell me everything that happened yesterday with the judge and his accomplice.”

  Trask reluctantly agreed and while he was on the phone to Neva and Paul Barnett, Tory fixed him a breakfast of muffins, fresh fruit and scrambled eggs. She was just placing the eggs on a platter when Trask walked back into the kitchen.

  “You’re spoiling me,” he accused with a devilish twinkle in his eyes.

  “And you love it.” She looked up and pointed at a chair near the table. “Now, sit, senator, and tell me everything there is to know about Linn Benton.”

  Trask slid into his chair and began eating. “Benton seemed to think it was a joke that I was there, but Henderson was scared spitless. I think Henderson would have talked, but he was afraid that Linn Benton would find out.”

  “So you didn’t learn anything you didn’t already know?”

  “Nothing specific,” Trask admitted. “But I’ve got a gut feeling that somehow Linn Benton is involved in what’s happening here. He was so amused by the whole thing, especially the fact that someone had beat the hell out of me.” Puzzled lines etched across Trask’s forehead.

  “But you can’t figure out exactly what he’s doing or with whom, right?”

  He looked away from her and his blue eyes grew as cold as the morning sky in winter. “I’m working on it. John Davis is checking out Benton’s friends and the people that still work for him on his ranch near Bend, and after I was through at the penitentiary, I drove to Portland and did some research.”

  “What kind of research?”

  “I made copies of all the newspaper accounts of what happened five years ago. Everything I could find on Jason’s murder as well as the Quarter Horses and the swindle.”

  Tory felt her back stiffen. “But you were at the trial, heard and gave testimony. You already knew what happened; at least you thought you did.”

  “But I wanted to get a new perspective on the scam. I thought I could find it in the press accounts of the investigation and the trial.”

  “You must have read all those articles a hundred times,” she whispered.

  “I did five years ago under...a lot of stress and conflicting emotions,” he said quietly. He finished his breakfast and again noticed the threatening letter. “So who do you think sent you this?” He pointed to the single white sheet of paper.

  “I don’t know.”

  “But surely you could hazard a guess,” he coaxed.

  “The only people I can think of are Linn Benton and George Henderson because we already know that they were involved. Benton has powerful allies outside of the penitentiary, people who are still on his payroll or owe him favors—”

  The front door opened with a bang. “Tory?” Keith’s anxious voice echoed through the house.

  “In the kitchen,” she called out to him.

  “Thank God you’re here,” he said, striding to the back of the house and stopping short when he met Trask’s cool stare. “I’ve got a bone to pick with you, McFadden.”

  Trask smiled wryly. “Another one?”

  “Rex found another calf—shot just like the last one,” Keith said, his face twisted with worry. He jerked his hat off his head, tossed it carelessly onto the counter and slid into the chair facing Trask.

  Tory’s slim shoulders slumped. Yesterday the note, today another calf...when would it end. “Where is it?” she asked.

  “Rex found it on the south side of the pasture, near the lake. He’s already taken care of the carcass.”

  “What was he doing in that pasture?” Trask asked.

  “He works here, damn it!” Keith replied, his fist coiling angrily. “He was laying irrigation pipe—why the hell am I explaining all this to you?”

  Tory held up her hands, forestalling the fight before it got started. “The calf was shot just like the other one?”

  “Right. Near as we can tell, someone jumped the fence, picked out a victim and blasted it.”

  Tory felt her blood run cold. She looked at Trask and noticed that every muscle in his face had hardened.

  “This all happened because of you,” Keith pointed out as he leaned against his elbows on the table and rubbed a dirty hand over his brow, leaving streaks of dust on his face. “Everything was going along okay until you started poking around here.”

  A muscle in the corner of Trask’s jaw began to work convulsively and he set his coffee cup on the table. When he stood, he towered over Keith and felt older than his thirty-six years. “I know that because I returned to Sinclair, I’ve put the ranch in danger. Believe me, it wasn’t intentional.”

  “Hmph.” Keith stared insolently up at the man who was responsible for all of the pain in his life. Tory’s brother had to close his eyes and shake the feeling of dread that had overtaken him in the last few days.

  “You don’t have to worry about what’s happening—”

  “Like hell!” Keith’s head snapped upward. “Another calf’s been killed and we got this...this threat, for crying out loud!”

  “I’ll take care of it.”

  “Like the way you took care of Dad?” Keith demanded.

  Tory’s stomach was in knots. “I don’t think bringing up the past will help—”

  “Hell, Tory, that’s what this is all about—the past—or have you forgotten?”

  “Of course not!”

  “Maybe we should all just cool off,” Trask suggested, staring pointedly at Keith.

  The silence in the kitchen was so thick Tory could feel the weight of it upon her shoulders. When Rex came through the back door, she was glad for the excuse of pouring the foreman a cup of coffee.

  “We lost another one,” Rex stated, frowning slightly at the sight of Trask in the house. He took off his Stetson and ran his hand over his forehead.

  “Keith told us about it,” Tory said.

  “What are your theories about how it was killed?” Trask asked, leaning his elbows against the counter, stretching his legs in front of him before crossing his ankles and folding his arms over his chest. Though he tried
to appear casual, Tory noticed the grim set of his jaw and the determination in his eyes.

  Rex shrugged and accepted the cup of coffee Tory offered. “Don’t really know.”

  “Surely you must have some thoughts about what happened?”

  Rex stared at Trask over the rim of his cup. “All I know is that the trouble started when you arrived.”

  Trask’s eyebrows cocked. “So you think it was more than a coincidence?”

  “I’d stake my life on it.”

  “Tell me, Rex,” Trask cajoled and Tory was reminded of the one time she had seen him working as a lawyer in the courtroom. Her blood chilled at the memory. It had been two or three months before the scandal involving her father had been discovered. Trask’s country-boy charm and affable smile had won him the confidence of everyone in the courtroom, including a few of the prosecution’s witnesses. He coaxed one woman, a witness for the prosecution, into saying something the D.A. would rather have remained secret. Dread began to knot in Tory’s stomach as Trask began to question Rex in his soft drawl. “Tell me how long you’ve been with the Lazy W.”

  “More years than I’d want to count,” Rex replied, returning Trask’s stare without flinching. “What’re you getting at, McFadden?”

  Trask overlooked the question. “And why did Calvin hire you?”

  Tory felt the air in the room become thick with suspicion. “Trask—”

  “What’s this got to do with anything?” Keith demanded.

  The foreman disregarded Keith’s interruption and drained his cup, never once taking his eyes off Trask. “Calvin needed help with the Lazy W, I guess. And I needed a job.”

  “And you’ve stayed all these years.”

  “Yep.”

  “Even after Calvin died.” Trask made it sound as if Rex’s loyalty were some sort of crime.

  “I’m too old to jump from spread to spread.”

  “Trask,” Tory interjected, her voice wavering slightly. “There’s no need for this. Rex doesn’t have to explain himself.”

  “Just a few friendly questions,” Trask replied coldly.

  Tory wondered what had happened to the warm caring man he had been only moments before.

  “Well, let me ask you a few,” Keith cut in. “You seem to be pointing fingers at nearly everyone you meet, McFadden. But what about you? How do we know that the letter you brought here isn’t a phony? How do we know that you haven’t been the one calling Neva, sending threatening letters to Tory or shooting the calves?”

  If Trask was outraged, he managed to hide it. His lips twisted into a grim smile but his eyes became as cold as the deepest well at midnight.

  “And you think I took a shot at myself, too?” Trask returned.

  “You could have hired someone to fire a shot when you were up on Devil’s Ridge. After all, you were the only one who knew you’d be up there. As for what happened to you—” Keith’s palm flipped upward as he pointed to the discoloration under Trask’s eye “—you could have hired that done as well, for authenticity’s sake!”

  “You know, Wilson, you have one hell of an imagination,” Trask said with genuine amusement. “Why would I bother?”

  “I think your motives are pretty obvious. Sure it looks like you’re on the up and up; that way you could worm your way back into Tory’s heart, not to mention the fact that you’d look good to the press. All the rumors and publicity that are bound to spring from your investigation aren’t going to hurt your career, are they? And they’ll serve to remind the voting public of the reason you were elected in the first place, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re still the hard-nosed, filled-with-integrity candidate you were four years ago!”

  “I just want to find out if another man was involved in Jason’s death.”

  “You’ve got your vengeance and more,” Keith said. “Because my father wasn’t involved with Linn Benton or George Henderson.”

  “Then why didn’t he say so, declare his innocence? He had his chance.”

  “I...I don’t know,” Keith said, his cocky attitude slipping a little.

  “So we’re back to square one, aren’t we?” Trask thought aloud. “Well, not for long. I intend to figure out what happened back then.” Trask’s eyes glittered so fiercely that Tory felt a needle of fear pierce her heart.

  “And what if your anonymous letter is a phony? How about that?” Keith persisted. “Then you’ve brought us all this trouble for no reason.”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Neither do I,” Tory said with conviction as she looked at the cut on Trask’s face.

  “Oh, God, Tory, you can’t believe him, not again!”

  “It sure takes a helluva lot to convince you, Wilson,” Trask said tiredly before returning his gaze to Tory. The warmth returned to his eyes. “Look, I’m going to be gone for a few days, do some checking around. But I’ll be back. And, while I’m gone, one of John Davis’s men will be here.” He looked pointedly at Rex and Keith before letting his gaze fall back on Tory. “I think you should call Paul Barnett and report what happened to the calf.”

  “I will,” she promised.

  “Here we go again,” Keith muttered as he grabbed his hat and walked out the door.

  Rex shifted uncomfortably before wiping his hand nervously over his brow. “I just want to clear the air,” he said.

  “About what?”

  “The reasons I came to the Lazy W.”

  “Rex, you don’t have to—”

  “I’ve got nothing to hide, Tory. I couldn’t get work anywhere because of my first wife. She claimed that I...that I’d get angry with her, drink too much and...rough her up.” Rex closed his eyes and sadly shook his head. “Marianne swore that on several occasions I’d beat her; but it just wasn’t so. The only time I slapped her was after a particularly bad fight and, well, she had a butcher knife, said she was going to use it on me if I came near her. I took the knife away from her and slapped her. She filed charges against me.”

  “Which were later dropped,” Trask added.

  “You knew all about it?” Rex asked with a grimace.

  Trask nodded and Tory felt sick inside that Rex had been forced to bare his soul.

  “Even though I was aquitted, no one would give me work.”

  “Except for Calvin Wilson.”

  Rex’s chin jutted outward. “I’ve been here ever since.” He set down his cup and started toward the door. “I’ll be in the stables if you want me,” he said to Tory. “The buyer from Sisters still wants thirty head of cattle.”

  Still slightly numb from the scene she had just witnessed, Tory found it difficult to concentrate on the work at hand. Her eyes offered Rex a silent apology. “What about horses?”

  Rex frowned and shook his head. “He said he’ll wait to decide about the horses, though he looked at a couple of yearlings that he liked.” Forcing his hat onto his head, Rex walked out the back door. Tory didn’t have to question him any further. She knew that the sale of the horses wasn’t completed because of the Quarter Horse swindle her father was supposedly involved in five years ago. Even though it had happened long ago and her father was dead, people remembered, especially now that Trask was back. So the paranoia of the past had already started interfering with the future.

  When she heard Trask move toward the door, she impaled him with her eyes. “That was uncalled for, senator,” she rebuked.

  “What?”

  “You didn’t have to humiliate Rex. Especially since you knew all the answers anyway. That’s called baiting, senator, and I don’t like it. It might work in Washington, D.C., but I won’t have it here, on the Lazy W, used against my employees.”

  “I just wanted to see if he would tell the truth.”

  Hot injustice colored Tory’s cheeks. “And did he pass the test?” she demanded.

  “With flying colors.”

  “Good. Then maybe you’ll quit harassing everyone who works on this ranch and concentrate on Linn Benton or whoever else might
have a grudge against your brother.”

  “I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said softly.

  “You don’t mean to do a lot of things, but you do them anyway, despite anyone else’s feelings.”

  “Not true, Victoria,” he countered, coming up to her and placing his hands over her shoulders, his blue eyes searching hers. His fingers gently massaged the tense muscles near the base of her neck, warming her skin. “I’m always concerned about you and what you feel.”

  “You weren’t five years ago.”

  A shadow of pain crossed his eyes. “I only told what I thought was the truth and you still can’t forgive me, can you?”

  She closed her eyes against a sudden unwanted feeling that she would break down and cry. “It...it was very hard to sit by and know that Dad was dying...alone in some god-awful jail cell all because of what I told you.”

  “It’s not your fault that you overheard Linn Benton discussing plans with your father.”

  “But it’s my fault that you found out about it,” she whispered.

  Trask frowned and took her into her arms, but the response he got was cold and distant. “You can’t keep blaming yourself.”

  She let out a tired sigh. “I try not to.”

  He hesitated a minute. “Are you okay?” She nodded mutely and took hold of her emotions to force the tears backward.

  “Good.” He kissed her softly on the forehead. “I’ve got to go. I’ll be back in a couple of days.”

  “Where are you going?”

  “I wish I knew,” he admitted. “I’ll start by visiting John Davis in Bend and showing him all these clippings. Maybe he can come up with something; a new angle. I’ll be back...soon.”

  “I’m counting on it, senator,” she whispered before he gathered her into his arms and kissed her with all of the passion that had fired his blood since the first time he had seen her. His tongue caressed and mated with hers and she leaned against him, her knees becoming soft. Once again she was caught up in the storm of emotions that raged within her each time she was near him, and when he finally released her, she felt empty inside.

 
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