Yesterdays lies, p.23
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.23

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “Yes.”

  Tory’s eyes snapped up and she felt her breath constrict in her throat. Who was responsible for bringing Trask back to Oregon? Who knew about Keith’s involvement and wanted to see him go to prison?

  “The letter came from Belinda Engels,” Trask stated. Tory took in a sharp breath. “Belinda is the wife of Rex Engels, the foreman of the Lazy W.”

  “The same man who was sworn to secrecy by Calvin Wilson before he died?”

  “Yes.”

  “Thank you, Senator McFadden. No more questions.”

  When Keith declined to cross-examine Trask, the senator was asked to step down. With his eyes fixed on Tory, Trask walked back to his seat, and Tory felt her heart start to pound wildly. Even now she couldn’t look at him without realizing how desperately she loved him.

  The district attorney called Belinda Engels to the stand and Tory watched in amazement as the young woman with the clear complexion and warm brown eyes explained that she had spent five years watching her husband’s guilt eat at him until he became a shell of the man she had married.

  “Then you knew about Keith Wilson’s involvement in the horse swindle?”

  “No,” she said, looking pointedly at Keith. “I only knew that Rex was sure another man was involved. One night, not long after it happened, Rex woke from a horrible nightmare. Against his better judgment, he told me that he was covering for someone and that Calvin Wilson wasn’t involved in the murder. I just assumed that the other man was someone connected to Linn Benton. I...I had no idea that he was Keith Wilson.”

  “And even though you knew that an innocent man was on trial five years ago, you didn’t come forward with the information.”

  Belinda swallowed. “I...I thought that Rex might be charged with some sort of crime and I didn’t think he’d be given a fair trial because of his past...with his ex-wife.” Tory sitting silently, watched as the red-haired young woman struggled against tears.

  “But you and your husband both knew that Calvin Wilson was innocent.”

  Belinda leveled her gaze at the district attorney. “My husband’s a good honest man. He promised to keep Calvin’s secret. I did the same.”

  Tory closed her eyes as she pictured her father and all of the suffering he had accepted for Keith’s involvement with Linn Benton. Tears burned at the back of her eyes but she bravely pushed them aside.

  The rest of the trial was a blur for Tory. She only remembered that Keith spoke in his own defense, explaining exactly what happened in the past and why. Since he had pleaded guilty to the charges, the only question was how stiff a sentence the judge would impose.

  When Tory left the courtroom, her knees felt weak. She held her head high, but couldn’t hide the slight droop of her shoulders or the shadows under her eyes. The past few weeks had been a strain. Not only had the trial loomed over her head, but she had been forced to deal with nosy reporters, concerned friends, and worst of all the absence of Trask in her life. She hadn’t realized how difficult life would be without him. She had grown comfortable with him again in those first warm weeks of summer. Since he had discovered Keith’s secret, there was a great emptiness within her heart, and life at the Lazy W alone was more than Tory could face at times.

  Lifting her head over the whispers she heard in the outer hallway of the courthouse, she walked down the shiny linoleum-floored corridor, through the front doors and down the few concrete steps into the radiant heat of late July in central Oregon.

  She stepped briskly, avoiding at all costs another confrontation with the press. At the parking lot, she stopped short. Trask was leaning against her pickup watching her with his harsh blue eyes.

  After catching the breath that seemed to have been stolen from her lungs at the sight of him, Tory lifted her chin and advanced toward Trask. Her heart was pounding a staccato beat in her chest and her pulse jumped to the erratic rhythm, but she forced her face to remain emotionless.

  Trask pushed his hands deep into his pockets, stretching his legs in front of him as he surveryed her. Dressed in a cool ivory linen suit, with her hair swept away from her face, Tory looked more like royalty or a sophisticated New York model than an Oregon rancher. He grimaced slightly when he noticed the coldness of her gaze as she approached. She stopped in front of him, her head slightly tilted to meet his gaze.

  “Are you happy?” she asked, inwardly wincing at the cynicism in her words. She noticed him flinch.

  His teeth clenched and a muscle worked in the corner of his jaw. The hot summer wind pushed his hair from his face, exposing the small lines etching his forehead. The sadness in his eyes touched a very small, but vital part of Tory’s heart.

  “No.”

  “At least satisfied, I hope.”

  He frowned and let out a long sigh of frustration. “Tory, look. I just wanted to say goodbye.”

  She felt a sudden pain in her heart. “You’re...you’re leaving for Washington,” she guessed, surprised at how hard it was to accept that he would be on the other side of the continent. If only she could forget him, find another man to love, someone who wouldn’t destroy all she had known in her life.

  “The day after tomorrow.”

  She stiffened. “I see. You wanted to stick around for the sentencing, is that it?”

  His face hardened, but the agony in his blue eyes didn’t diminish and her feelings of love for him continued to do battle in her heart. Rex and Keith had been right all along. Trask had used her to promote himself and his damned political career. Already the papers were doing feature articles about him; painting him as some sort of martyred hero who had come back home to capture his brother’s killers. Only Keith hadn’t killed anyone!

  “I just hoped that we could...” He looked skyward as if seeking divine guidance.

  “I hope that you’re not going to suggest that we be friends, senator. That’s a little too much to ask,” she said, but the trembling of her chin gave away her real feelings.

  “I wish that there was some way to prove to you that I only did what I had to do, and that I didn’t intend to hurt you.” He lifted a hand toward her and she instinctively stepped backward.

  “Don’t worry about it. It won’t happen again. All my family is gone, Trask. There isn’t anyone else you can send to prison.” She walked around to the driver’s side of the truck and reached for the door handle, but Trask was there before her. His hand took hold of hers and for a breathless instant, when their fingers entwined, Tory thought there was a chance that she could trust him again. God, how she still loved him. Her eyes searched his face before she had the strength to pull away. “I have to go.”

  “I just want you to be careful, some things still aren’t clear yet.”

  She shook her head at her own folly of loving him. “Some things will never be clear. At least not to me.”

  “Listen...I thought you’d want to know that I’ve instructed John Davis to keep watching the ranch.”

  “What!”

  “I think there still may be trouble.”

  “That’s impossible. It’s all over, Trask.”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Call him off.”

  “What?”

  “You heard me!” She pointed an angry finger at Trask’s chest. “Tell Davis that I don’t need anyone patrolling the ranch. Furthermore, I don’t want him there. I just want to forget about this whole damned nightmare!” Her final words were choked out and she felt the tears she had managed to dam all day begin to flow.

  “Tory...” His voice was soft, soothing. His fingers wrapped possessively over her arm.

  “Leave me alone,” she whispered, unable to jerk away. “And tell that private investigator of yours to back off. Otherwise I’ll have the sheriff arrest him for trespassing.”

  “I just want you to be safe.”

  “And I want you out of my life,” she lied, finally pulling away and jerking open the door of the pickup. With tears blurring her vision, she started the truck and drove out
of the parking lot, glancing in the rearview mirror only once to notice the defeat in Trask’s shoulders.

  * * *

  TORY HADN’T BEEN back at the Lazy W very long before the telephone rang. She had just stepped out of the shower and considered not answering the phone, but decided she couldn’t. The call could possibly be from Keith.

  Gritting her teeth against the very distinct possibility that the call was from another reporter, she answered the phone sharply.

  “Hello?”

  “Ms. Wilson?” the caller inquired.

  Tory grimaced at the unfamiliar voice. “This is Victoria Wilson.”

  “Good. Don Morris with Central Bank.”

  The young loan officer! Tory braced herself for more bad news. “Yes?”

  “I just wanted to let you know that the loan committee has seen fit to grant you the funds you requested.”

  Tory felt as if she could fall through the floor. The last thing she expected from the bank was good news. Nervously she ran her fingers through her hair. “Thank you,” she whispered.

  “No problem at all,” the loan officer said with a smile in his voice. “You can pick up the check the day after tomorrow.”

  “Can you tell me something, Mr. Morris?” Tory asked cautiously. She didn’t want to press her luck, but the bank’s agreement to her loan didn’t seem quite right. She felt as if she were missing something.

  “Certainly.”

  “The last time I came to see you, you insisted that I didn’t have enough collateral for another loan with the bank. What happened to change your mind?”

  “Pardon me?” She could almost hear the banker’s surprise.

  “You haven’t had a change of policy, have you?”

  “No.”

  “Well?”

  The young banker sighed. “Senator McFadden agreed to cosign on your note.”

  Tory’s eyes widened in surprise. “What does Senator McFadden have to do with this?”

  “He talked with the president of the bank and insisted that we lend you the money. The senator owns quite a chunk of stock in the bank, you know. And the president is a personal friend of his. Anyway, he insisted that he cosign your note.”

  Blood money! “And you agreed to it?”

  “You did want the loan, didn’t you? Ms. Wilson?”

  “Yes...yes. I’ll clear things up with the senator,” she replied, her blood rising in her anger as she slammed down the phone. “Bastard,” she whispered between clenched teeth.

  It occurred to her as she towel-dried her hair and pulled on her jeans that Trask might have cosigned on the note to the bank as a final way of saying goodbye to her. After all, he did appear sincere when he said he hadn’t wanted to hurt her.

  “Oh, God, Trask, why can’t we just let it die?” she wondered aloud as she took a moment to look out the window and see the beauty of the spreading acres of the ranch. As August approached the countryside had turned golden-brown with only the dark pines to add color and contrast to the gold earth and the blue sky. And Trask had given her the chance to keep it. It wasn’t something he had to do. It was a gift.

  “And a way of easing his conscience,” she said bitterly, trying desperately to hate him.

  Without really considering her actions, she ran outside and hopped into the pickup with the intention of confronting Trask one last time.

  * * *

  DUSK HAD SETTLED by the time that Tory reached Trask’s cabin on the Metolius River. Even as she approached the single story cedar and rock building, she knew that Trask wasn’t there. His Blazer was nowhere in sight and all of the windows and doors were boarded shut.

  He’d already gone, Tory thought miserably, her heart seeming to tear into tiny ribbons. As she ran her fingers over the smooth wooden railing of the back porch, she couldn’t help but remember the feel and texture of Trask’s smooth muscles and she wondered if she would ever truly be free of him, or if she wanted that freedom.

  With one last look at the small cabin nestled between the pines on the banks of the swift Metolius, Tory climbed back into her pickup and headed into Sinclair. On the outskirts of the small town, she turned down the road where Neva McFadden lived.

  Trask’s Blazer was parked in the driveway.

  Maybe he had turned to Neva. Keith had said that Neva was in love with him. A dull ache spread through her at the thought of Trask with another woman, any other woman.

  With her heart thudding painfully, Tory walked up the sidewalk and pounded on the front door. Almost immediately, Neva answered her knock.

  “Trask!” she shouted before seeing Tory. The color drained from Neva’s face. “Tory?” she whispered, shaking her head. “I thought that you might be Trask...” The blond woman’s voice cracked and she had to place a hand over her mouth.

  Tory felt her blood turn to ice water. “What happened? Isn’t he here?” She lifted her hand and pointed in the direction of the Blazer but Neva only shook her head.

  “I guess you’d better come in.”

  Neva led Tory into the house. “Where’s Trask?” Tory asked, her dread giving way to genuine fear.

  “I don’t know. He...he and John Davis and Sheriff Barnett are looking for Nicholas.”

  Tory stood stock-still. When Neva lifted her eyes, they were filled with tears. “Where is Nicholas?” Tory asked.

  “I...I don’t know. Trask and I assume that he’s been kidnapped.”

  “Kidnapped?” Tory repeated, as she leaned against the wall. “Why?”

  “Because of the trial. Trask thinks Linn Benton is behind it.”

  “But how—?”

  “I don’t know. George Henderson told everything he knew about the swindle and that included some pretty incriminating things against Linn Benton. The blackmailing alone will keep him in the pen several more years,” Neva said.

  “Wait a minute, slow down. What about your son?”

  “I came back from the trial and he was gone. There was just a note saying that I hadn’t kept Trask from digging up the past and I’d have to pay.”

  “And you’re sure that Nicholas didn’t go to a friend’s house?”

  “Yes.” Neva could stand the suspense no longer. Her tears fell freely down her face and her small body was racked with the sobs.

  Tory wrapped her arms around the woman and whispered words she didn’t believe herself. “It’s going to be all right, Neva,” she said. “Trask will find your son.”

  “Oh, God, I hope so! He’s all I have left.”

  Gently Tory led Neva to the couch. “I think you should lie down.”

  “I can’t sleep.”

  “Shh. I know, but you’re a nurse; you’ve got to realize that the best thing to do is lie still. I’ll...I’ll make you some tea.”

  Neva reluctantly agreed. She sat on the edge of the couch, staring at the clock and wringing her hands with worry.

  Tory scrounged around in Neva’s kitchen and found the tea bags. Within a few minutes, she brought two steaming cups back to the living room.

  “Thank you,” Neva whispered, when Tory offered her the cup. She took a sip of the tea and set it on the arm of the couch, letting the warm brew get cold.

  “They’re going to kill Nicholas,” she said firmly and tears ran in earnest down her cheeks.

  “Don’t talk that way—”

  “I should never have told Trask. Oh, God—” Neva buried her face in her hands. “I’ll never forgive myself if they hurt my baby—”

  The knock on the door made Neva leap from the couch. “Oh, God, it’s got to be Nicholas,” she whispered, racing to the door to discover Deputy Woodward on the front steps.

  “What happened?” she cried.

  The grim deputy looked from one woman to the next. “We’ve found your boy, Mrs. McFadden.”

  Neva looked as if she would faint in relief. “Thank God. Is he all right?”

  “I think so. He’s in the hospital in Bend, just for observation. He appears unharmed. I’d be happy to drive y
ou there myself.”

  “Yes, please,” Neva said, reaching for her purse.

  “Where’s Trask?” Tory asked.

  “Senator McFadden is in the hospital, too.”

  Tory felt sick inside and she paled. What if something had happened to Trask? What if she could never see him again? What if he were dead? Tory couldn’t live without him.

  Neva turned and faced the young deputy. “What happened?”

  “The senator got into a fist fight with the man who kidnapped your son. It looks as if this guy might be the one that knocked Senator McFadden out and beat him up a few weeks ago—the guy who was shooting at you on Devil’s Ridge.”

  “Who is he?” Tory demanded, fear and anger mingling in her heart.

  “A man by the name of Aaron Hughs. He’s the foreman of Linn Benton’s spread, just north of Bend.”

  “And Hughs still works for him?”

  “Appears that way.” The deputy turned his attention to Neva. “Anyway, if it hadn’t been for the senator, your boy would probably be across the state line by now. According to the sheriff, McFadden should be awarded some sort of medal.”

  “Then he’s all right?” Tory asked.

  “I think so.”

  “Thank God.”

  “How did you know where to find Nicholas?” Tory asked.

  “Senator McFadden, he thought your son had to be somewhere on Linn Benton’s ranch. As it turns out, he was right. The kid was tied to a chair in the kitchen.”

  A small cry escaped from Neva’s lips. “Come on, let’s go.”

  The trip to the hospital seemed to take forever. Tory closed her eyes and imagined Trask lying in a stark, white-sheeted hospital bed, beaten beyond recognition. Oh, God, I’ve been such a fool, she thought, knowing for the first time since Keith had been arrested that she would always love Trask McFadden. The few fleeting minutes that she had thought he might be dead had been the worst of her life.

  Deputy Woodward took them into the hospital and straight into the emergency ward. Nicholas was sitting up on a stretcher looking white, but otherwise none the worse for wear. At the sight of his mother, he smiled and let out a happy cry.

 
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