Yesterdays lies, p.20
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.20

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  Tory stood on the back porch and watched him leave. When his Blazer was out of sight, she tried to think of anything but Trask and his reasons for returning to the Lazy W.

  Pouring hot coffee into her cup, she walked into the den and sat at the desk, intending to concentrate on preparing a financial statement to take to the bank later in the week.

  But the numbers were meaningless and her mind wandered. She found her thoughts returning to the conversation she had overheard between her father and Linn Benton five years ago...in this very study.

  * * *

  THE SUMMER NIGHT had been breathlessly hot and humid. Tory had come downstairs for a glass of lemonade when she heard the muted whispers behind the closed doors to the study. Her father’s den had never been off limits, but that night, the night that Linn Benton had stormed into the house, everything changed and the pieces of the argument that drifted to her ears caught her attention and made her hesitate on the lowest step.

  “Don’t be so goddamned sanctimonious,” the judge had said in his high-pitched wheezing tone. “You’re in this up to your neck, Wilson.”

  Tory slipped down the final step and stood frozen in the entry hall, eavesdropping on a conversation she wished later that she had never overheard.

  “I should never have gotten involved with you,” her father replied brusquely.

  “Too late for second thoughts now.”

  “If it weren’t for the kids...” Her father’s voice had drifted off and her heart grew cold. Calvin was entangled with Linn Benton because of her brother and her. Her father was doing something he didn’t believe in just to support his children! She reached for the door, but the self-satisfied laughter of Linn Benton made her withdraw her hand. Tory realized that it would be better if she waited until she could speak to her father alone before confronting him.

  The rest of the angry conversation was muted and she only heard parts of it, just enough to know that whatever the two men were arguing about wasn’t aboveboard. She silently worried in the outer hall before going upstairs and pacing the floorboards of her room.

  When she heard the judge’s car roar down the drive, she raced down the stairs, intent on confronting her father and begging him to abandon whatever it was that involved Linn Benton.

  But Calvin was no longer in the study. The door to the den was open, and thick cigar smoke still lingered in the air. Two half-empty glasses of whisky sat neglected on the desk.

  “Dad?” she called, starting for the kitchen and glancing out the window just in time to see her father reining his favorite gelding out of the stables and kicking the horse into a full gallop in the moonlight. Head bent against a mounting summer wind, Calvin Wilson raced through the pastures toward the mountains and Devil’s Ridge.

  Tory ran to the front door, jerked it open and let the hot dusty wind inside. “Dad!” she called again, this time screaming at the top of her lungs from the front porch. Either Calvin didn’t hear her voice over the sound of his horse’s racing hoofbeats and the whistling wind, or he chose to ignore her.

  Tory was just about to follow him when Trask arrived. She was already leading a mare from the stables as his truck approached. Tory’s nerves shattered with fear for her father’s life and she quickly explained about the strange conversation she had overheard to the man she loved and trusted with all of her heart. Trask muttered an angry oath and his eyes blazed with angry lightning.

  His jaw set with furious resolve and with only a few abrupt commands telling her to stay on the ranch and wait for his call, Trask wheeled his jeep around and followed Calvin through the open fields. Like a fool she had trusted him and obeyed, keeping her lonely vigil through the night, pacing in the den, praying that the phone would ring and end her fears.

  Early the next morning, when Trask finally returned, she learned the horrible truth: Jason McFadden had been found dead—the result of a monstrous plot conceived by Linn Benton, George Henderson, and, according to Trask, her own father. Tory was numb with disbelief when she learned that Calvin Wilson had been charged with murder.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  NEARLY TWO QUIET weeks had passed when Trask found himself staring into the self-satisfied smile of the private investigator. Trask was sitting in one of the soft leather chairs near the desk, but his body had gone rigid.

  “You found out what?” Trask demanded, staring at the private investigator in disbelief.

  “Just what I told you,” John Davis replied, settling back in his chair and casually lighting a cigarette. Behind him, through the second-story window of his office, was a bird’s-eye view of the bustling downtown area of the city of Bend.

  “Damn!” Trask’s fist coiled and he slapped it into his other palm. His dark brows drew together.

  “I thought you wanted the truth.”

  “I did. I did.” Trask sounded as if he were trying to convince himself. “It’s just that... Hell, I don’t know.” His thoughts were jumbled and confused. The past couple of weeks had eased by in a regular routine. Fortunately there had been no more threatening letters, dead calves or violence. He had spent most of his time with Tory on the Lazy W. The days had been pleasant; the nights filled with passionate exhilaration. And now this unexpected news from John Davis was about to change all that. The damned thing was that it was exactly what he had been asking for.

  “You’re sure about this,” Trask said, already knowing the answer as he stared at the damning report in John’s hands.

  The private investigator stubbed out his cigarette and studied his client through thick lenses. “Positive, and even if you’re entertaining thoughts about keeping it quiet, I can’t. I’ve got some responsibility to the law, y’know.” He tossed the neatly typed report across the desk.

  “As well as your clients.”

  “Doesn’t matter. If you want to keep something the size of this quiet, Trask, you’ll have to use every bit of senatorial pull you have in this state. Even that might not be enough.”

  “I didn’t say I wanted to keep it quiet.”

  “Good. Now, if you’re worried about your career once the truth is known...” The young man shrugged and smiled.

  “I don’t give a damn about my career!”

  “Still the rogue senator, right?”

  Trask’s face tensed and his eyes dropped to the damning document lying on the polished mahogany of the desk. He picked it up and folded it neatly into the manila envelope John offered. “This is going to be one hell of a mess,” he thought aloud.

  “But it will be over,” John replied. The investigator’s voice sounded like a trumpet of doom.

  “Yes, I suppose it will,” Trask replied. “I guess I should thank you.” He placed the thick envelope in his jacket pocket and tossed the coat over his arm.

  “I guess maybe you should,” John replied with a smile, though his eyes remained sober.

  Trask strode out of the office feeling as if the weight of the world had been placed upon his shoulders. So Tory had been right all along: Calvin Wilson had been innocent! But not so her younger brother, Keith. And that news would destroy her. No doubt she would blame Trask.

  Trask’s blood began to boil with anger when he thought about how many times Keith had lied through his teeth, not only to Trask, but to Tory as well. Letting out a descriptive curse, Trask walked down the short flight of stairs to the ground floor. According to John Davis’s report, which the investigator had double-checked, Keith Wilson and not Calvin Wilson had been involved in the Quarter Horse swindle five years past. All Trask’s testimony at the original trial had been in error. Calvin Wilson had only been trying to protect his teenaged son from prosecution.

  “Crazy old fool,” Trask muttered as he walked out of the building and climbed into his Blazer. He threw the truck into gear and let out a stream of oaths against himself and the whole vile mess that Linn Benton had conceived. The aftermath of the ex-judge’s illegal scam was ruining the lives of the only people he really cared about. Tory, Neva and Nicholas had
all been innocent victims of a plot so malicious it had included the murder of his brother.

  Trask’s mouth twisted downward and he could feel his jaw clench at the stupidity of Keith Wilson. All of Tory’s precious trust would be shattered when she found out the truth about her brother and that Trask had helped send her father, an innocent man, to prison. “Damn it, Wilson,” he swore, as if Calvin were in the Blazer with him. “Why couldn’t you have said something before being so goddamned noble!”

  * * *

  TORY WALKED OUT of the bank and into the blazing heat of midafternoon. Her head throbbed and the muscles in the back of her neck ached. For the past two hours she had explained the profit and loss statements, as well as going over the assets and liabilities of the Lazy W to a disinterested young loan officer.

  “I’ll let you know,” the bored young man had said. “But I can’t make any promises right now. Your loan application, along with the financial statements and a status report of your current note with the bank will have to be reviewed by the loan committee as well as by the president of the bank.”

  “I see,” Tory had replied, forcing a discouraged smile. She knew, whether the young man admitted it or not, that he was peddling her nothing more than financial double-talk. The Lazy W didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of receiving more funds from this particular bank. “And how long will it take before I can expect an answer?” Tory had asked.

  “The loan committee meets next Thursday.”

  “Fine.” She had stood, shook the banker’s soft hand and walked out of the building, certain that the Lazy W would have to secure operating capital from another source.

  After stopping by Rasmussen Feed for several sacks of oats and bran for the horses, Tory made her weekly visit to the grocery store and bought a local newspaper along with her week’s supply of groceries. Once the sacks were loaded in the pickup, she glanced at the headlines on the front page of the paper.

  The article was small, but located on page one. In five neatly typed paragraphs it reported that Senator Trask McFadden was back in Sinclair looking into the possibility that there may have been a fourth conspirator in his brother’s death as well as the Quarter Horse swindle of five years past. The Sinclair Weekly promised a follow-up story the next week.

  “Wonderful,” Tory muttered with a groan, tossing the newspaper aside and heading back to the Lazy W.

  The past two weeks had been quiet and Tory had ignored her earlier doubts about the past to the point that she had let herself fall completely and recklessly in love with Trask all over again. There had been no threats or violence and oftentimes Tory would allow herself to forget the reason that Trask had come back to Sinclair. She had even managed not to dwell on the fact that he would be leaving for Washington D.C. very shortly.

  Though she was still worried about the threats of violence that seemed to have accompanied him back to the Lazy W, Tory had thought less and less about them as Trask’s wounds had healed and there hadn’t been any further incidents. Unfortunately, the Sinclair Weekly decided to stir things up.

  Just let me love him without the rest of the world intruding, she silently prayed.

  Of course her hopes were in vain. With the article in the newspaper, everything came crashing back to reality. No longer could she ignore the real reason Trask had returned to Sinclair. Nor could she forget that he would leave as soon as he had finished his investigation.

  And then what? she asked herself. What about all his words of love, promises of marriage? Is that what you want? To be married to a United States senator who lives in Washington D.C.? And what if he isn’t sincere? What if this has all been an adventure for him—nothing more. He left you once before. Nothing says he can’t do it again.

  “But he won’t,” she said as she parked the pickup near the back door. “He won’t leave me and he’ll never betray me again!” Hearing her own voice argue against the doubts in her mind, she experienced a sudden premonition of dread.

  Tory unpacked the groceries and after changing from the linen business suit she had worn to meet with the bank’s loan officer, she drove the pickup to the stables, unloaded the heavy sacks of grain and stacked them in the feed bins against the wall.

  Her eyes wandered lovingly over the clean wooden stalls, and she noted the shining buckets that were hung near the mangers. The smell of horses, leather and saddle soap combined with the sweet scent of oats and freshly cut hay. Tory gazed through the window. Against the backdrop of long-needled pines, Governor was grazing contentedly, his laminitis nearly cured. A distant sound caught his attention. He lifted his graceful dark head and pricked his ears forward, before pawing the ground impatiently and tossing his head to the sky. Tory’s heart swelled with pride as she watched the magnificent stallion, a horse she had cared for since he was a fiery young colt.

  She walked outside and closed the door of the stables behind her. Her eyes scanned the horizon and the rolling fields leading toward the craggy snowcapped mountains. What would she do if she lost the Lazy W? Leaning against the fence she could feel her brows draw together. The thought of losing the ranch was sobering and her small chin lifted in defiance against the fates that sought to steal her home and livelihood from her.

  I can’t, she thought to herself, slowly clenching her fists. No matter what else happens, I can’t lose this ranch. Tory had always believed that where there was a will, there was a way. So it was with the Lazy W. She would find a way to keep the ranch, no matter what. Livestock could be sold, as well as pieces of machinery, if need be. And there were several parts of the ranch that could be parceled off without really affecting the day-to-day operations. The fields used for growing hay could be sold and she could buy the hay she needed from other ranchers. And there was always Devil’s Ridge. Though Keith now owned that parcel, it could be sold or mortgaged.

  She leaned on the fence and sighed. If things had gone differently, Devil’s Ridge would now be where her father and mother would have retired and Keith would be running the ranch. Tory could have married Trask, and had several precious children to love...

  “Stop it,” she muttered to herself, slapping the fence post and dismissing her daydreams. “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.”

  Trying to shake the mood of desperation that had been with her since leaving the bank, Tory saddled her favorite palomino mare and mounted the spirited horse. After walking through the series of paddocks surrounding the stables, she urged the small horse into a gallop through the fields surrounding the main buildings of the ranch. Tory really didn’t know where she was going, but she felt compelled to get away from the problems at the Lazy W.

  The mare was eager to stretch her legs and Tory leaned forward in the saddle, encouraging the little horse. The only sounds she could hear were the thudding of the mare’s hooves against the summer-hard ground and the pounding of her own heart. As the palomino raced toward the lake in the largest pasture, Tory felt the sting of the wind tangle her hair and force tears to her eyes. As if stolen by the wind, the pressures of running the ranch ebbed from Tory’s mind and she gave herself up to the breathless exhilaration of the horse’s sprint.

  “You’re just what I needed,” she confided to the mare as she slowly reined the horse to a stop. Tory slid out of the saddle and let the horse drink from the clear lake. The late-afternoon sky reflected on the spring-fed pond and the scent of newly mown hay drifted over the land. Her land. The land both she and her father had worked to keep in the family.

  While the mare grazed nearby, Tory propped her back against a solitary pine tree and stared at the horizon to the west. Misty white clouds clung to the uppermost peaks of the craggy snow-covered mountains in the distance. Closer, in the forested foothills, the distinct rocky spine of Devil’s Ridge was visible.

  Despite her earlier vows to herself, Tory’s thoughts centered on the ridge and the afternoon she had spent with Trask just a few short weeks before.

  Trask. His image flitted seductively throu
gh her mind.

  He was the one man she should hate but couldn’t. Despite the deceit of the past and the uncertainty of the future, Tory loved him with all of her heart. The past few weeks even Keith seeemd to have thawed and for the first time Tory thought there was actually a chance of a future with the man she loved. She tossed a pebble into the lake and watched the ever-widening circles spread over the calm water.

  So what about the anonymous note, the dead calves, the rifle shot on Devil’s Ridge, the threats? her persistent mind nagged.

  With lines of concern creasing her brow, Tory plucked a piece of grass from the ground and twirled it in her fingers. When all of this is behind us, she thought, envisioning Trask’s face, then there will be time for you and me. Alone. Without the doubts. Without the lies...

  The sound of an approaching horse caught Tory’s attention. The mare lifted her head and nickered softly to the approaching horse and rider before grazing again.

  Tory shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand and recognized a large buckskin gelding and the man astride the horse. A smile eased over her features at the sight of Trask riding the gelding. Dressed in jeans and a cotton shirt, bareheaded to the sun, he looked as comfortable in the saddle as he did in a Senate subcommittee.

  Tory forced herself to her feet and dusted her hands together as Trask dismounted and tethered the gelding near Tory’s mare. “I was just thinking about you,” she admitted, her lips lifting into a welcoming smile. “How did you know where to find me?”

  “One of the hands, Eldon—at least I think that’s his name—” Tory nodded. “He saw you leave and told me which direction to take after saddling the buckskin for me.”

  “So much for privacy,” she murmured.

  “I didn’t think you’d mind.” He walked over to her and gently pulled her against him. Immediately she felt her body respond and the dormant stirrings of desire begin to waken deep in her soul.

  “I don’t, senator. Not much, anyway,” she said teasingly, cocking her head upward to gaze at him. The late-afternoon sun caught in her hair, streaking the tangled auburn strands with fiery highlights of gold.

 
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