Yesterdays lies, p.21
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.21

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  When she looked deep into his eyes she noticed the worry lingering in his gaze. The tautness of his skin as it stretched over his cheekbones and the furrow of his brow made her sense trouble. “Something’s wrong,” she said, feeling her throat constrict with dread.

  He tried to pass off her fears with a patient smile, but his blue eyes remained intense, dark with a secret. “I was just thinking that it’s about time we got married.”

  “What!” Though what he was saying was exactly what she wanted to hear, she couldn’t hide the astonishment in her eyes.

  “Don’t look so shocked,” he said coaxingly, kissing her tenderly on the forehead and squeezing his eyes shut against the possibility that he might never hold her again. “You know that it’s something I’ve been talking about for the past three weeks.”

  “Wait a minute. What’s going on? I thought we had an understanding that we had to get things settled between us. What about the note and the dead calves and your theory about another person being involved in the Quarter Horse swindle—”

  “None of that will change.” His voice was calm, his jaw hard with determination.

  It was then that real fear gripped her throat. “You know something, don’t you?” she asked, with the blinding realization that he was hiding something from her. She pulled away from his embrace and felt her heart thud with dread.

  The pain in his eyes was nearly tangible and the lines near his mouth were grim with foreboding. “I want you to marry me, as soon as possible.”

  “But there has to be a reason.”

  “How about the fact that I can’t live without you.”

  “Level with me, Trask.”

  “I am. I want to spend the rest of my life with you and I thought you wanted the same.”

  “I do...but something isn’t right. I can see it in your eyes. What happened?” she demanded.

  Trask pushed his hands through his hair and his broad shoulders slumped. “I just came from John Davis’s office,” he admitted.

  John Davis. The private investigator. Tory’s voice trembled slightly. “And?”

  “And he came up with some answers for me.”

  “Answers that I’m not going to like,” she surmised, taking in a deep breath.

  “Yes.”

  “About Dad?”

  “No.”

  Trask turned and met her confused gaze. “John Davis did some digging, thorough digging. He even went back to the penitentiary to double-check with George Henderson about what he’d discovered. George decided to come clean.”

  “About what?”

  “Your father was innocent, Tory. Just as you believed.”

  So that was it! Trask’s guilt for condemning an innocent man to prison was what was bothering him. Relief washed over her in a tidal wave and tears of happiness welled in her eyes. If only her father were still alive he could be a free man. “But that’s wonderful news,” she said, stepping closer to him.

  The look he sent her could have cut through steel. “There’s more. Your father wasn’t involved with Linn Benton and George Henderson but someone else was.”

  She froze and the first inkling of what he was suggesting penetrated her mind. “Who?”

  “Your brother, Tory. Keith was an integral part of the horse swindle.”

  Tory didn’t move. She let the words sink in and felt as if her safe world was spinning crazily away from her. Cold desperation cloaked her heart. “But that’s impossible. Keith was only sixteen. He didn’t even know Judge Benton or...George...”

  “He knew George Henderson, Tory. George was the local vet. He’d been out to the ranch more times than you can remember. He liked your brother. Keith had even gone hunting with him on occasion.”

  “But he was just a boy,” she said, feeling numb inside. “It just doesn’t make any sense, none of it.”

  “Why do you think Keith reacted so violently to my return to Sinclair?”

  “He has reason to hate you.”

  “And fear me.”

  Tory’s mind was clouded with worried thoughts, pieces of the puzzle that weren’t fitting together. She walked away from Trask, pushed her hands into the back pockets of her jeans and stared into the lake, not noticing the vibrant hue of the water. The gentle afternoon breeze lifted her hair from her face. “I don’t believe you,” she whispered. “If Keith had been involved with Linn Benton and George Henderson, it all would have come out at the trial.”

  “Unless your father paid for your brother’s crime.”

  “No!” She whirled to face him. Her eyes were wide with new understanding and fear.

  “Why else wouldn’t Calvin defend himself?” He reached forward and grabbed her upper arms, his fingers digging into the soft flesh. She was forced to stare past the anger of his eyes to the agony in his soul. “Your father sacrificed himself, Tory. So that your brother wouldn’t have to go to some correctional institution or prison.”

  “No! I won’t believe it!” A thousand emotions raged within her: love, hate, anger, fear and above all disbelief. “You’re grasping at straws because that investigator found out that Dad was innocent.”

  “God, woman, do you think I made this up?” he asked, his voice cracking with emotion. “Do you think I enjoy watching you fall apart? Do you think I wanted to come out here and tell you that I was wrong, that I’d made some horrible mistake about your father and that your only living relative was the real criminal?”

  She placed her head in her hands and closed her eyes. “I don’t know, Trask.”

  “Marry me,” he said, desperately trying to hold on to the love they had shared. “Don’t think about anything else, just marry me.”

  “Oh, God, are you crazy?” she threw back at him, her chest so tight she could barely breath. “After what you just told me, you want to marry me.” Her eyes became incredibly cold.

  “I don’t want to lose you again,” he said, his fingers clutching her upper arms in a death grip.

  Again she buried her face in her hands trying hopelessly to make some sense of what he was telling her, trying not to let her feelings of love for this man color her judgment. She swallowed with difficulty before lifting her eyes and meeting his stormy gaze. “I...I just can’t believe any of this.”

  “Can’t or won’t?”

  “Same thing,” she pointed out, feeling suddenly alone in an alien world of lies and deception. “I won’t believe it and I can’t. Keith was with me at the trial, helped me here at the ranch. He’s grown into a good man and now you’re trying to make me believe that he was capable of swindling the public, being a part of a gruesome murder and letting my father go to prison in place of him? How would you feel if I’d just said the same thing to you.” Tory was shaking, visibly fighting to keep from breaking down.

  “I don’t know,” he admitted, his voice harsh, “because I’ve lived the past five years without my brother.”

  “It’s all happening again,” Tory whispered, swallowing back the lump forming in her throat. “Just like before.” She felt as if her heart was slowly being shredded by a destiny that allowed her to love a man who only wanted to hurt her. “And you’re the one to blame.” She shook her head and let the tears run freely. “I suppose you think that Keith beat you up, shot the calves and wrote threatening notes to both me and Neva?”

  “I don’t know,” Trask said. “But I wouldn’t rule it out.”

  “And what does your crackerjack ace detective think?” she asked, her voice filled with sarcasm.

  “He knows he’s found out the truth. He knows that some of the testimony of the original trial was faulty at best and maybe downright lies at the worst.”

  “Including yours?” she asked. Trask’s jaw hardened and his eyes glittered dangerously, but Tory couldn’t help the outrage overtaking her. Keith. A criminal! It couldn’t be. She wouldn’t sit still and let her only brother be given the same sentence as her innocent father. She had to fight back against the fates that were continually at odds with her happ
iness. “And I suppose Mr. Davis feels obligated to set the record straight.”

  “It’s his job.”

  She smiled bitterly through her tears. “And what about you, senator? Is it your duty as well?”

  “I’ve only wanted two things in my life: the truth and one other thing.”

  “I don’t want to hear it,” she whispered.

  “You can’t hide from it, Tory. I want you. All of you. No matter what else happens, I want you to be with me for the rest of my life.” He lifted his head proudly and she realized just how difficult confronting her had been for him.

  Her heart felt as if it were breaking into a thousand pieces. “Then why do you continue to try and ruin me?” she choked out, her eyes softening as she looked past the pain in his. “Must we always be so close and yet so distant?”

  He reached for her, but she drew away. Her eyes were filled with tears and she didn’t care that they ran down her cheeks and fell to her chest. “Please, just trust me,” he asked so softly that she barely heard the words.

  “I don’t know if that’s possible,” she replied. She straightened her spine and attempted to tell herself that she could live without him. She had before. She would again, despite the gripping pain in her chest. “I...I think we should go back to the house.” She turned toward the mare but the sound of his voice stopped her dead in her tracks.

  “Victoria?” he said and she pivoted to face him. “I’ll always love you.”

  She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, as if in so doing she could deny the painful words. How desperately she had loved Trask and now she wished with all of her heart that she could hate him.

  They rode back to the house in silence, each wrapped in private and painful thoughts. Though dusk was gathering over the meadows, painting the countryside in vibrant lavender hues and promising a night filled with winking stars and pale light from a quarter moon, Tory didn’t notice.

  Keith’s pickup was parked near the barn. Tory’s heart began to race at the thought of the confrontation that was about to take place. She silently prayed that just this once Trask was dead wrong.

  After Eldon offered to unsaddle and cool the horses, Tory walked with Trask back to the house. They didn’t touch or speak and the tight feeling in Tory’s chest refused to lessen.

  “About time you showed up,” Keith shouted down the stairs when he heard Tory walk into the house. “I’m starved.” The knot in the bottom of her stomach tightened at the sight of her brother as he came down the stairs. His shirt was still gaping open and he was towel-drying his hair. “What say we go into Bend and catch a movie and then we’ll go to dinner—my treat...” His voice faded when he saw Trask. He lowered the towel and smiled grimly. “I guess you probably have other plans.” He stopped at the bottom step and noticed her pale face. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

  “There’s something Trask wants to ask you about,” Tory said, her voice quavering slightly.

  “So what else is new?” Keith cast an unfriendly glance at Trask before striding into the kitchen.

  “It’s a little different this time,” Trask remarked, following the younger man down the short hallway.

  “Oh yeah? Good.” Keith chuckled mirthlessly to himself. “I’m tired of the same old questions.” He seemed totally disinterested in Trask’s presence and he rummaged in the refrigerator for the jug of milk.

  Alex was whining at the back door and Keith let the old collie into the house. “What’s the matter, boy?” he asked, scratching the dog behind the ears. “Hungry?”

  The sight of her brother so innocently petting the dog’s head tore at Tory’s heart. “Keith—” Tory’s words froze when she noticed Rex’s pickup coming down the drive.

  “What?”

  “Maybe we should talk about this later,” she said.

  “Talk about what?” Keith poured a large glass of milk, then drank most of it in one swallow.

  “About what happened five years ago,” Trask stated.

  “I thought you said you had come up with some new questions.”

  “I have.” The edge to Trask’s voice made Keith start.

  “Not now—” Tory pleaded, desperation taking a firm hold of her. She had already lost her father and the thought of losing Keith the same way was unbearable.

  Though he felt his stomach tighten in concern as he studied the pale lines of Tory’s face, Trask ignored her obvious dread, deciding that the truth had to be brought into the open. “No time like the present, I always say.” He watched with narrowed eyes as the foreman climbed out of his pickup and started walking toward the house. “Besides, Rex should be part of this.”

  “Part of what?” For the first time Keith noticed the worry in his sister’s eyes. “What’s going on?” he insisted. “Don’t tell me we got another one of those damned notes!”

  “Not quite.”

  “Oh, Keith,” Tory whispered, her voice cracking.

  Rex rapped on the back door and entered the kitchen. His eyes shifted from Tory to her brother before settling on Trask and he felt the electric tension charging the air. “Maybe I should come back later-—” he said, moving toward the door.

  “No.” Trask swung a chair around and straddled the back. “I think that you can help shed a little light on something I’ve discovered.”

  “You’re still going at it, aren’t you?” the foreman accused. He lifted his felt hat from his head and worked the wide brim between his gnarled fingers. “You’re worse than a bull terrier once you get your teeth into something.”

  “Trask’s private investigator has come up with another theory about what happened five years ago,” Tory explained, her worried eyes moving to her brother.

  Keith bristled. “What do you mean ‘another theory’?”

  “John Davis seems to think that your father was innocent,” Trask said, silently gauging Keith’s reaction.

  “Big deal. We’ve been telling you that for years.”

  “But you wouldn’t tell me who Calvin was protecting.”

  “What!” Keith’s face slackened and lost all of its color.

  Tory felt as if her heart had just stopped beating.

  “John Davis seems to think that your father was covering for you; that you were the man called ‘Wilson’ that was involved with Linn Benton and George Henderson.”

  “Wait a minute—” Rex cut in.

  Tory’s eyes locked with the foreman’s anxious gaze. Oh, my God, he knows what happened, she realized with a sickening premonition of dread. Her chest felt tight and she had to grip the counter for support.

  “What do you know about this?” Trask turned furious eyes on the foreman.

  “Keith wasn’t involved with the likes of Henderson and Benton,” the foreman said, his face flushed, his grizzled chin working with emotion.

  “Davis can prove it,” Trask said flatly.

  Dead silence.

  “How?” Tory asked.

  Trask took the envelope from his jacket and tossed it onto the table. “Someone, a man who worked for Linn Benton when he was judge, saw Keith. George Henderson verified the other guy’s story.”

  “No!” Tory screamed, her voice catching on a sob. Not Keith, too. She wouldn’t, couldn’t lose him.

  “Back off, McFadden,” Rex threatened, his eyes darting to the rifle mounted over the door before returning to Trask.

  Keith’s shoulders slumped and he looked up at the ceiling. “No, Rex, don’t. It’s over—”

  “Shut up!” the foreman snapped, his cold eyes drilling into Trask and his gnarled hands balling into threatening fists. “You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you?”

  “Why are you standing up for him? Were you involved, too?” Trask suggested.

  “Save it, Rex,” Keith said, his eyes locking with those of his sister. “He obviously knows everything.” Keith’s hands shook as he opened the envelope and skimmed through the contents of John Davis’s report.

  “Not everything. Maybe you can fill in a few of the m
issing blanks.”

  “Oh, God, Keith,” Tory said, shaking her head, her voice strangling in her throat. “You don’t have to say anything.”

  “It’s time, Sis. I knew it the minute McFadden showed up here. I let Dad cover for me because I was young and scared. I don’t have those excuses to hide behind any more.”

  “Please,” she whispered.

  “You promised your father,” Rex reminded Keith.

  “And it was a mistake. A mistake that you and I have had to live with for five years,” Keith said. “I know what it’s done to me and I can see what’s happening to you.”

  “You were in on it, too?” Trask said, his voice stone-cold.

  “No, he wasn’t involved,” Keith said.

  “Wait a minute,” Tory said, realizing that Keith was about to confess to a man who would ultimately want to see him sent to prison. “You don’t have to say anything that might incriminate you—you should talk to a lawyer....”

  “Forget it, Tory. It’s time I said what’s on my mind. Even if McFadden hadn’t come back, I would have told the truth sooner or later. It wasn’t fair for Dad to take the rap for me, or for Dad to expect Rex to protect me.”

  A deathly black void had invaded her heart and she felt as if her world was crumbling apart, brick by solid brick. All because of Trask.

  “What happened?” Trask asked persistently. Every muscle in his body was tight from the strain of witnessing what this confrontation was doing to Tory. Maybe he’d been wrong all along, he thought, maybe, as Keith and Neva had so often suggested, he should have forgotten it all and just fallen in love with Tory again. As it was, she was bound to hate him. He could read it in her cold gray-green eyes.

  “George Henderson approached me,” Keith was saying. “He asked me if I would help him with some horses he wanted hidden up on Devil’s Ridge. All I had to do was keep quiet about it and make sure that no one went up to the ridge. I was stupid enough to agree. When I found out what was going on, how he and Linn Benton were switching expensive Quarter Horses for cheaper ones, I told George I wanted out. George might have gone for it, but the judge, he wouldn’t let me out of the deal...told me I was an accomplice, even if an unwitting one. And he was right. No doubt about it, the judge knew the law from both sides. And I did know that something shady was going on. I just didn’t realize how bad it was...or...or that it could mean a stiff jail sentence.”

 
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