Yesterdays lies, p.2
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.2

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  * * *

  TRASK PACED IN the small living room feeling like a caged animal. His long strides took him to the window where he would pause, study the distant snow-laden mountains through the paned glass and then return to the other side of the room to stop before the stone fireplace where Neva was sitting in a worn rocking chair. The rooms in the house were as neat and tidy as the woman who owned them and just being in the house—Jason’s house—made Trask restless. His business in Sinclair wasn’t pleasant and he had been putting it off for more than twelve hours. Now it was time to act.

  “What good will come of this?” Neva asked, shaking her head with concern. Her small beautiful face was set in a frown and her full lips were pursed together in frustration.

  “It’s something I’ve got to do.” Trask leaned against the mantel, ran his fingers under the collar of his shirt and pressed his thumb thoughtfully to his lips as he resumed pacing.

  “Sit down, will you?” Neva demanded, her voice uncharacteristically sharp. He stopped midstride and she smiled, feeling suddenly foolish. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I just hate to see you like this, all screwed up inside.”

  “I’ve always been this way.”

  “Hmph.” She didn’t believe it for a minute and she suspected that Trask didn’t either. Trask McFadden was one of the few men she had met in her twenty-five years who knew his own mind and usually acted accordingly. Recently, just the opposite had been true and Neva would have had to have been a blind woman not to see that Trask’s discomfiture was because of Tory Wilson. “And you think seeing Tory again will change all that?” She didn’t bother to hide her skepticism.

  “I don’t know.”

  “But you’re willing to gamble and find out?”

  He nodded, the lines near the corners of his blue eyes crinkling.

  “No matter what the price?”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  Neva stared at the only man she cared for. Trask had helped her, been at her side in those dark lonely nights after Jason’s death. He had single-handedly instigated an investigation into the “accident,” which had turned out to be the premeditated murder of her husband. Though Trask had been Jason’s brother, his concern for Neva had gone beyond the usual bounds and she knew she would never forget his kindness or stop loving him.

  Neva owed Trask plenty, but she couldn’t seem to get through to him. A shiver of dread raced down her spine. Trask looked tired, she thought with concern, incredibly tired, as if he were on some new crusade. His hair had darkened from the winter in Washington, D.C., and the laugh lines near his mouth and eyes seemed to have grown into grooves of disenchantment. His whole attitude seemed jaded these days, she mused. Maybe that’s what happened when an honest man became a senator....

  At that moment, Nicholas raced into the room and breathlessly made a beeline for his mother. “Mom?” He slid to a stop, dusty tennis shoes catching on the polished wood floor.

  “What, honey?” Neva stopped rocking and rumpled Nicholas’s dark hair as he scrambled into her lap.

  “Can I go over to Tim’s? We’re going to build a tree house out in the back by the barn. His mom says it’s okay with her....”

  Neva lifted her eyes and smiled at the taller boy scurrying after Nick. He was red-haired and gangly, with a gaping hole where his two front teeth should have been. “If you’re sure it’s all right with Betty.”

  “Yeah, sure,” Tim said. “Mom likes it when Nick comes over. She says it keeps me out of her hair.”

  “Does she?” Neva laughed and turned her eyes back to Nicholas. At six, he was the spitting image of his father. Wavy brown hair, intense blue eyes glimmering with hope—so much like Jason. “Only a little while, okay? Dinner will be ready in less than an hour.”

  “Great!” Nicholas jumped off her lap and hurried out of the living room. The two boys left as quickly as they had appeared. Scurrying footsteps echoed down the short entry hall.

  “Remember to shut the door,” Neva called, but she heard the front door squeak open and bang against the wall.

  “I’ll get it.” Trask, glad for the slightest opportunity to escape the confining room, followed the boys, shut the door and returned. Facing Neva was more difficult than he had imagined and he wondered for the hundredth time if he were doing the right thing. Neva didn’t seem to think so.

  She turned her brown eyes up to Trask’s clouded gaze when he reentered the room. “That,” she said, pointing in the direction that Nicholas had exited, “is the price you’ll pay.”

  “Nick?”

  “His innocence. Right now, Nicholas doesn’t remember what happened five years ago,” Neva said with a frown. “But if you go searching out Tory Wilson, all that will change. The gossip will start all over again; questions will be asked. Nick will have to come to terms with the fact that his father was murdered by a group of men whose relatives still live around Sinclair.”

  “He will someday anyway.”

  Neva’s eyes pleaded with Trask as she rose from the chair. “But not yet, Trask. He’s too young. Kids can be cruel.... I just want to give him a few more years of innocence. He’s only six....”

  “This has nothing to do with Nick.”

  “The hell it doesn’t! It has everything to do with him. His father was killed because he knew too much about that Quarter Horse swindle.” Neva wrapped her arms around her waist as if warding off a sudden chill, walked to one of the windows and stared outside. She stared at the Hamiltons’ place across the street, where Nicholas was busily creating a tree house, blissfully unaware of the brutal circumstances surrounding his father’s death. She trembled. “I don’t want to go through it all again,” Neva whispered, turning away from the window.

  Trask shifted from one foot to the other as his conscience twinged. His thick brows drew together into a pensive scowl and he pushed impatient fingers through the coarse strands of his brown hair. “What if I told you that one of Jason’s murderers might have escaped justice?”

  Neva had been approaching him. She stopped dead in her tracks. “What do you mean?”

  “Maybe there were four people involved in the conspiracy—not just three.”

  “I—I don’t understand.”

  Trask tossed his head back and stared up at the exposed beams of the cedar ceiling. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Neva. She and the boy had been through too much already, he thought. “What I’m saying is that I have reason to believe that one of the conspirators might never have been named. In fact, it’s a good guess that he got away scot-free.”

  Neva turned narrowed eyes up to her husband’s brother. “Who?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “This isn’t some kind of a morbid joke—”

  “Neva,” he reproached, and she had only to look into his serious blue eyes to realize that he would never joke about anything as painful and vile as Jason’s unnecessary death.

  “You thought there were only three men involved. So what happened to change your mind?”

  Knowing that he was probably making the biggest blunder of his short career in politics, Trask reached into his back pocket and withdrew the slightly wrinkled photocopy of the anonymous letter he had received in Washington just a week earlier. The letter had been his reason for returning—or so he had tried to convince himself for the past six days.

  Neva took the grayish document and read the few sentences before shaking her head and letting her short blond curls fall around her face in neglected disarray. “This is a lie,” she said aloud. The letter quivered in her small hand. “All the men connected with Jason’s death were tried and convicted. Judge Linn Benton and George Henderson are in the pen serving time and Calvin Wilson is dead.”

  “So who does that leave?” he demanded.

  “No one.”

  “That’s what I thought.”

  “But now you’re not so sure?”

  “Not until I talk to Victoria Wilson.” Tory. Just the thought of seeing her a
gain did dangerous things to his mind. “She’s the only person I know who might have the answers. The swindle took place on some property her father owned on Devil’s Ridge.”

  Neva’s lower lip trembled and her dark eyes accused him of crimes better left unspoken. Trask had used Victoria Wilson to convict her father; Neva doubted that Tory would be foolish enough to trust him again. “And you think that talking with Tory will clear this up?” She waved the letter in her hand as if to emphasize her words. “This is a prank, Trask. Nothing more. Leave it alone.” She fell back into the rocker still clenching the letter and tucked her feet beneath her.

  Trask silently damned himself for all the old wounds he was about to reopen. He reached forward, as if to stroke Neva’s bent head, but his fingers curled into a fist of frustration. “I wish I could, Neva,” he replied as he gently removed the letter from her hand and reached for the suede jacket he’d carelessly thrown over the back of the couch several hours earlier. He hooked one finger under the collar and tossed the jacket over his shoulder. “God, I wish I could.”

  “You and your damned ideals,” she muttered. “Nothing will bring Jason back. But this...vendetta you’re on...could hurt my son.”

  “Even if what I find out is the truth?”

  Neva closed her eyes. She raised her hand and waved him off. She knew there was no way to talk sense to him when he had his mind made up. “Do what you have to do, Trask,” she said wearily. “You will anyway. Just remember that Nicholas is the one who’ll suffer.” Her voice was low; a warning. “You and I—we’ll survive. We always do. But what about Nick? He’s in school now and this is a small town, a very small town. People talk.”

  Too much, Trask thought, silently agreeing. People talk too damned much. With an angry frown, he turned toward the door.

  Neva heard his retreating footsteps echoing down the hall, the door slamming shut and finally the sound of an engine sparking to life then rumbling and fading into the distance.

  CHAPTER TWO

  AS DUSK SETTLED over the ranch, Tory was alone. And that’s the way she wanted it.

  She sat on the front porch of the two-story farmhouse that she had called home for most of her twenty-seven years. Rough cedar boards, painted a weathered gray, were highlighted by windows trimmed in a deep wine color. The porch ran the length of the house and had a sloping shake roof supported by hand-hewn posts. The house hadn’t changed much since her father was forced to leave. Tory had attempted to keep the house and grounds in good repair...to please him when he was released. Only that wouldn’t happen. Calvin Wilson had been dead for nearly two years, after suffering a painful and lonely death in the penitentiary for a crime he didn’t commit. All because she had trusted Trask McFadden.

  Tory’s jaw tightened, her fingers clenched over the arm of the wooden porch swing that had been her father’s favorite. Guilt took a stranglehold of her throat. If only she hadn’t believed in Trask and his incredible blue eyes—eyes Tory would never have suspected of anything less than the truth. He had used her shamelessly and she had been blind to his true motives, in love enough to let him take advantage of her. Never again, she swore to herself. Trusting Trask McFadden was one mistake that she wouldn’t make twice!

  With her hands cradling her head, Tory sat on the varnished slats of the porch swing and stared across the open fields toward the mountains. Purple thunderclouds rolled near the shadowy peaks as night fell across the plateau.

  Telling herself that she wasn’t waiting for Trask, Tory slowly rocked and remembered the last time she had seen him. It had been in the courtroom during her father’s trial. The old bitterness filled her mind as she considered how easily Trask had betrayed her...

  * * *

  THE TRIAL HAD already taken over a week and in that time Tory felt as if her entire world were falling apart at the seams. The charges against her father were ludicrous. No one could possibly believe that Calvin Wilson was guilty of fraud, conspiracy or murder, for God’s sake, and yet there he was, seated with his agitated attorney in the hot courtroom, listening stoically as the evidence against him mounted.

  When it had been his turn to sit on the witness stand, he had sat ramrod stiff in the wooden chair, refusing to testify in his behalf.

  “Dad, please, save yourself,” Tory had begged on the final day of the trial. She was standing in the courtroom, clutching her father’s sleeve, unaware of the reporters scribbling rapidly in their notepads. Unshed tears of frustration and fear pooled in her large eyes.

  “I know what I’m doin’, Missy,” Calvin had assured her, fondly patting her head. “It’s all for the best. Trust me...”

  Trust me.

  The same words that Trask had said only a few days before the trial. And then he had betrayed her completely. Tory paled and watched in disbelief and horror as Trask took the stand.

  He was the perfect witness for the prosecution. Tall, good-looking, with a proud lift of his shoulders and piercing blue eyes, he cut an impressive figure on the witness stand, and his reputation as a trustworthy lawyer added to his appeal. His suit was neatly pressed, but his thick gold-streaked hair remained windblown, adding to the intense, but honest, country-boy image he had perfected. The fact that he was the brother of the murdered man only added sympathy from the jury for the prosecution. That he had gained his information by engaging in a love affair with the accused’s daughter didn’t seem to tarnish his testimony in the least. If anything, it made his side of the story appear more poignantly authentic, and the district attorney played it to the hilt.

  “And you were with Miss Wilson on the night of your brother’s death,” the rotund district attorney suggested, leaning familiarly on the polished rail of the witness stand. He stared at Trask over rimless glasses, lifting his bushy brown eyebrows in encouragement to his star witness.

  “Yes.” Trask’s eyes held Tory’s. She was sitting behind her father and the defense attorney, unable to believe that the man she loved was slowly, publicly shredding her life apart. Keith, who was sitting next to her, put a steadying arm around her shoulder, but she didn’t feel it. She continued to stare at Trask with round tortured eyes.

  “And what did Miss Wilson confide to you?” the D.A. asked, his knowing eyes moving from Trask to the jury in confidence.

  “That some things had been going on at the Lazy W...things she didn’t understand.”

  “Could you be more specific?”

  Tory leaned forward and her hands clutched the railing separating her from her father in a death-grip.

  The corner of Trask’s jaw worked. “She—”

  “You mean Victoria Wilson?”

  “Yeah,” Trask replied with a frown. “Tory claimed that her father had been in a bad mood for the better part of a week. She...Tory was worried about him. She said that Calvin had been moody and seemed distracted.”

  “Anything else?”

  Trask hesitated only slightly. His blue eyes darkened and delved into hers. “Tory had seen her father leave the ranch late at night, on horseback.”

  “When?”

  “July 7th.”

  “Of this year—the night your brother died?”

  The lines around Trask’s mouth tightened and his skin stretched tautly over his cheekbones. “Yes.”

  “And what worried Miss Wilson?”

  “Objection,” the defense attorney yelled, raising his hand and screwing up his face in consternation as he shot up from his chair.

  “Sustained.” Judge Miller glared imperiously at the district attorney, who visibly regrouped his thoughts and line of questioning.

  The district attorney flashed the jury a consoling smile. “What did Miss Wilson say to you that led you to believe that her father was part of the horse swindle?”

  Trask settled back in his chair and chewed on his lower lip as he thought. “Tory said that Judge Linn Benton had been visiting the ranch several times in the past few days. The last time Benton was over at the ranch—”

  “The Lazy W?


  Trask frowned at the D.A. “Yes. There was a loud argument between Calvin and the judge in Calvin’s den. The door was closed, of course, but Tory was in the house and she overheard portions of the discussion.”

  “Objection,” the defense attorney called again. “Your honor, this is only hearsay. Mr. McFadden can’t possibly know what Miss Wilson overheard or thought she overheard.”

  “Sustained,” the judge said wearily, wiping the sweat from his receding brow. “Mr. Delany...”

  The district attorney took his cue and his lips pursed together thoughtfully as he turned back to Trask and said, “Tell me what you saw that convinced you that Calvin Wilson was involved in the alleged horse switching.”

  “I’d done some checking on my own,” Trask admitted, seeing Tory’s horrified expression from the corner of his eye. “I knew that my brother, Jason, was investigating an elaborate horse swapping swindle.”

  “Jason told you as much?”

  “Yes. He worked for an insurance company, Edward’s Life. Several registered Quarter Horses had died from accidents in the past couple of years. That in itself wasn’t out of the ordinary, only two of the horses were owned by the same ranch. What was suspicious was the fact that the horses had been insured so heavily. The company didn’t mind at the time the policy was taken out, but wasn’t too thrilled when the horse died and the claim had to be paid.

  “Still, like I said, nothing appeared out of the ordinary until a company adjuster, on a whim, talked with a few other rival companies who insured horses as well. When the computer records were cross-checked, the adjuster discovered a much higher than average mortality rate for highly-insured Quarter Horses in the area surrounding Sinclair, Oregon. Jason, as a claims investigator for Edward’s Life, was instructed to check it out the next time a claim came in. You know, for fraud. What he discovered was that the dead horse wasn’t even a purebred Quarter Horse. The mare was nothing more than a mustang, a range horse, insured to the teeth.”

 
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