Yesterdays lies, p.6
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.6

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “If there were another man involved in the horse swindle, don’t you want to see him accused of the crime?”

  “So he could be put behind bars like my father.”

  “Oh, Tory,” he said, releasing a sigh as his arms tightened around her. “How can you be so damned one-sided? You used to care what happened to people...”

  “I still do.”

  “But not to the extent that you’re willing to help me find out who was involved in my brother’s murder and the Quarter Horse swindle.”

  She felt herself sag against him. It would be so nice just to forget about what happened. Pretend that everything was just as it had been on the night she’d met Trask McFadden before her life had become irrevocably twisted with his. “I just don’t know if it will do any good. For all you know that letter could be phony, the work of someone who gets his jollies by stirring up trouble.”

  “Like the dead calf?”

  Tory ran her fingers through her hair. “You don’t know that the two incidents are related.”

  “But we won’t find out unless we try.” He held her closer and his breath whispered through her hair. “Just give it a chance, Tory. Trust me.”

  The same old words. Lies and deceit. Rolling as easily off his tongue as they had in the past. All the kindness in her heart withered and died.

  She extracted herself from his embrace and impaled him with her indignant green-eyed stare. “I can’t help you, Trask,” she whispered. “You’re on your own this time.” She reached for the copy of the note and slowly wadded it into a tight ball before tossing the damning piece of paper into the blackened fireplace.

  Trask watched her actions and his lips tightened menacingly. “I’m going to find out if there was any truth to that letter,” he stated emphatically. “And I’m going to do it with or without your help.”

  Though her heart was pounding erratically, she looked him squarely in the eye. “Then I guess you’re going to do it alone, aren’t you, senator?”

  Looking as if he had something further to say, Trask turned on his heel and walked out of the room. The front door slammed behind him and the engine of his pickup roared to life before fading in the distance.

  “You bastard,” Tory whispered, sagging against the windowsill. “Why can’t I stop loving you?”

  CHAPTER FOUR

  FOR SEVERAL HOURS after Trask had left the ranch, Tory sat on the window seat in her bedroom. Her chin rested on her knees as she stared into the dark night. Raindrops pelted against the panes, drizzling against the glass and blurring Tory’s view of the lightning that sizzled across the sky to illuminate the countryside in its garish white light. To the west, thunder rolled ominously over the mountains.

  So Trask had come back after all. Tory frowned to herself and squinted into the darkness. But he hadn’t come back for her, as he had vowed he would five years past. This time he had returned to Sinclair and the Lazy W because he needed her help to prove that another man was part of the Quarter Horse swindle as well as involved in Jason McFadden’s premeditated death.

  With tense fingers she pushed the hair out of her eyes. Seeing Trask again had brought back too many dangerous memories. Memories of a younger, more carefree and reckless period of her life. Memories of a love destined to die.

  As she looked through the window into the black sky, Tory was reminded of a summer filled with hot sultry nights, the sweet scent of pine needles and the familiar feel of Trask’s body pressed urgently against hers.

  She had to rub her hands over her arms as she remembered the feel of Trask’s hard muscles against her skin, the weight of his body pinning hers, the taste of his mouth...

  “Stop it,” she muttered aloud, pulling herself out of her wanton reverie. “He’s the man that sent Dad to prison, for God’s sake. Don’t be a fool—not twice.”

  She walked over to the bed and tossed back the quilted coverlet before lying on the sheets and staring at the shadowed ceiling. Her feelings of love for Trask had been her Achilles’ heel. She had trusted him with every breath of life in her body and he had used her. Worse than that he had probably planned the whole affair; staging it perfectly. And she’d been fool enough to fall for his act, hook, line and sinker. But not again.

  With a disconsolate sigh, she rolled onto her side and stared at the nightstand. In the darkness she could barely make out the picture of her father.

  “Oh, Dad,” Tory moaned, twisting away from the picture. “I wish you were here.” Calvin Wilson had been an incredibly strong man who had been able to stand up to any adversity. He had been able to deal with the loan officers of the local banks when the ranch was in obvious financial trouble. His calm gray eyes and soft-spoken manner had inspired the local bankers’ confidence when the general ledgers of the Lazy W couldn’t.

  He had stood stoically at the grave site of his wife of fifteen years without so much as shedding a tear. While holding his children close he had mourned silently for the only woman he had truly loved, offering strength to his daughter and young son.

  When he had faced sentencing for a crime he hadn’t committed he hadn’t blinked an eye. Nor had he so much as flinched when the sentence of thirty years in prison had been handed down. He had taken it all without the slightest trace of fear. When he’d found out that he was terminally ill with a malignant tumor, Calvin Wilson had been able to look death straight in the eye. Throughout his sixty-three years, he had been a strong man and a loving father. Tory knew in her heart that he couldn’t have been involved in Jason McFadden’s murder.

  Then why didn’t he stand up for himself at the trial?

  If he had spoken out, told his side of the story, let the court hear the truth, even Trask’s damning testimony would have been refuted and maybe Calvin Wilson would be alive now. And Trask wouldn’t be back in Sinclair, digging up the past, searching for some elusive, maybe even phantom, conspirator in Jason’s death.

  And now Trask had returned, actually believing that someone else was involved in his brother’s death.

  So it all came back to Trask and the fact that Tory hadn’t stopped loving him. She knew her feelings for him were crazy, considering everything they had been through. She loved him one minute, hated him the next and knew that she should never have seen him again. He could take his wild half-baked theories, anonymous letters and seductive smile straight back to Washington where they all belonged. Surely he had better things to do than bother her.

  “Just leave me alone, Trask,” Tory said with a sigh. “Go back to Washington and leave me alone...I don’t want to love you any more...I can’t...”

  * * *

  THE NEXT MORNING, after a restless night, Tory was making breakfast when Keith, more than slightly hung over, entered the kitchen. Without a word he walked to the refrigerator, poured himself a healthy glass of orange juice and drank it in one swallow. He then slumped into a chair at the kitchen table and glared up at Tory with red-rimmed eyes.

  “Don’t tell me you’re dehydrated,” Tory said, with a teasing lilt in her voice.

  “Okay, I won’t. Then you won’t have to lecture me.”

  “Fair enough.” From the looks of it Keith’s hangover was punishment enough for his binge, Tory thought, and she had been the one who had insisted that he go into town last night. If he were suffering, which he obviously was, it was partially because of her insistence that he leave the ranch. She flipped the pancakes over and decided not to mention that Keith hadn’t gotten home until after three. He was over twenty-one now, and she didn’t have to mother him, though it was a hard habit to break considering that the past five years she had been father, mother and sister all rolled into one.

  “How about some breakfast?” she suggested, stacking the pancakes on a plate near a pile of crisp bacon and placing the filled platter on the table.

  “After a few answers.”

  “Okay.” Tory slid into the chair facing him and poured syrup over her stack of hotcakes. “Shoot.”

  “What have to
decided to do about McFadden?” Keith asked, forking a generous helping of bacon onto his plate.

  “I don’t know,” Tory admitted. She took a bite from a strip of bacon. “Maybe there’s nothing I can do.”

  “Like hell. You could leave.”

  “Not a chance, we went over this yesterday.” She reached for the coffeepot and poured each of them a cup of coffee.

  “McFadden will come here.”

  “He already has.”

  “What!” Keith’s face lost all of its color. “When?”

  “Last night. While you were in town.”

  Keith rubbed his palm over the reddish stubble on his chin. “Damn, I knew something like this would happen.”

  “It wasn’t that big of a deal. We just talked.”

  Keith looked at his older sister as if she had lost her mind. “You did what?” he shouted, rising from the breakfast table.

  “I said I talked with him. How else was I supposed to find out what he wanted?”

  Keith’s worried eyes studied her face. “So what happened to the woman who, just yesterday afternoon, was going to bodily throw Trask McFadden off her land if he set foot on it. You know, the lady with the ready rifle and deadly aim?”

  “Now, wait a minute—” Tory’s face lost all of its color and her eyes narrowed.

  “Weren’t you the one who suggested that we point a rifle at his head and tell him to get lost?”

  “I was only joking...”

  “Like hell!” Keith sputtered before truly seeing his sister for the first time that morning. A sinking realization hit him like a ton of bricks. “Tory, you’re still in love with him, aren’t you? I can’t believe it! After what he did to you?” Keith stared at his sister incredulously before stalking over to the refrigerator and pouring himself a large glass of milk. “This isn’t happening,” he said, as if to console himself. “This is all just a bad dream...”

  “I’m not in love with him, Keith,” Tory said, tossing her hair over her shoulder and turning her face upward in order to meet Keith’s disbelieving gaze.

  “But you were once.”

  “Before he testified against Dad.”

  “Goddamn,” Keith muttered as he sucked in his breath and got hold of himself. His large fist curled in frustration. “I knew he’d show up the minute I left the ranch. What did he want?”

  “My help.”

  “Your what? I can’t believe it. After what he put you through? The nerve of that bastard!” He took a long swig from his glass with one hand, then motioned to his sister. “Well, go on, go on, this is getting better by the minute.”

  “He thinks that there may have been someone else involved in Jason’s murder and the horse swindle.”

  “Are you kiddin’?” Keith placed his empty glass on the counter and shook his head in disbelief. “After all this time? No way!”

  “That’s what I told him.”

  “But he didn’t buy it?”

  “I’d say not.”

  “Great! The dumb bastard will probably drag all of it up again. It’ll be in the papers and everything.” Keith paced between the table and the back door. He squinted against the bright morning sunshine streaming through the dusty windowpanes and looked toward the barn. “Dad’s name is sure to come up.”

  “Sit down and eat your breakfast,” Tory said, eyeing Keith’s neglected plate.

  Keith ignored her. “This is the last thing we need right now, you know. What with all the problems we’re having with the bank...” He swore violently, balled one fist and smashed it into his other palm. “I should never have left you last night, I knew it, damn it, I knew it!” His temper threatened to explode completely for a minute before he finally managed to contain his fury. Slowly uncurling his fist, he regained his composure and added with false optimism, “Oh, well, maybe McFadden got whatever it was he wanted off his chest and now it’s over.”

  Tory hated to burst Keith’s bubble, but she had always been straight with her brother, telling him about the problems with the ranch when they occurred. There was no reason to change now. “I don’t know that it’s over.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “I don’t think Trask is going to let up on this. He seemed pretty determined to me.” Tory had lost all interest in her breakfast and pushed her plate aside. Unconsciously she brushed the crumbs from the polished maple surface of the table.

  “But why? What’s got him all riled up after five years?” Keith wondered aloud. “His term as a senator isn’t up for another couple of years, so he isn’t looking for publicity...”

  “He got a letter.”

  Keith froze. He turned incredulous gray eyes on his sister. “Wait a minute. The man must get a ton of mail. What kind of a letter got under his skin?”

  “An anonymous one.”

  “So what?”

  No time like the present to drop the bomb, she supposed. With a feeling of utter frustration she stood, picked up her plate and set it near the sink. “If you want to read it, there’s a copy in the den, in the fireplace.”

  “In the fireplace! Wonderful,” Keith muttered sarcastically as he headed through the archway that opened to the short hallway separating the living room, kitchen, dining room and den.

  “Hey, what about this breakfast?” Tory called after him.

  “I’m not hungry,” Keith replied, from somewhere in the vicinity of the den.

  “Great,” Tory muttered under her breath as she put the uneaten pancakes and bacon on another plate. “Tomorrow morning it’s cold cereal for you, brother dear.” With a frown at the untouched food, she opened the door to the back porch and set the plate on the floorboards. Alex, the ranch’s ancient Border collie, stood on slightly arthritic legs and wagged his tail before helping himself to Keith’s breakfast.

  “Serves him right,” Tory told the old dog as she petted him fondly and scratched Alex’s black ears. “I’m glad someone appreciates my cooking.”

  Tory heard Keith return to the kitchen. With a final pat to Alex’s head, she straightened and walked into the house.

  Keith was standing in the middle of the kitchen looking for all the world as if he would drop through the floor. He was holding the crumpled and now slightly blackened piece of paper in his hands and his face had paled beneath his tan. He set the paper on the table and smoothed out the creases in the letter. “Holy shit.”

  “My sentiments exactly.”

  “So how does he think you could help him?” Keith asked, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

  “I don’t know. We never got that far.”

  “And this—” he pointed down at the paper “—is why he wanted to see you?”

  “That’s what he said.”

  Keith closed his eyes for a minute, trying to concentrate. “That’s a relief, I guess.”

  Tory raised an inquisitive brow. “Meaning?”

  Keith smiled sadly and shook his head. “That I don’t want to see you hurt again.”

  “Don’t worry, brother dear,” she assured him with a slightly cynical smile, “I don’t intend to be. But thanks anyway, for the concern.”

  “I don’t want to be thanked, Tory. I just want you to avoid McFadden. He’s trouble.”

  Tory couldn’t argue the point. She turned on the tap and started hot water running into the sink. As the sink filled she began washing the dishes before she hit Keith with the other bad news. “Something else happened last night.”

  “I’m not sure I want to know what it is,” Keith said, picking up his coffee cup and drinking some of the lukewarm liquid. With a scowl, he reached for the pot and added some hot coffee to the tepid fluid in his cup.

  “You probably don’t.”

  He poured more coffee into Tory’s empty cup and set it on the wooden counter, near the sink. “So what happened?”

  “There was some other nasty business yesterday,” Tory said, ignoring the dishes for the moment and wiping her hands on a dish towel. As she picked up her cup she le
aned her hips against the edge of the wooden counter and met Keith’s worried gaze.

  “What now?” he asked as he settled into the cane chair near the table and propped his boots on the seat of another chair.

  “Someone clipped the barbed wire on the northwest side of the ranch, came in and shot one of the calves. Three times in the abdomen. A heifer. About four months old.”

  Keith’s hand hesitated over the sugar bowl and his head snapped up. “You think it was done deliberately?”

  “Had to be. I called the sheriff’s office. They’re sending a man out this morning. Rex is spending the morning going over all of the fence bordering the ranch and checking it for any other signs of destruction.”

  “Just what we need,” Keith said, cynicism tightening the corners of his mouth. “Another crisis on the Lazy W. How’d you find out about it?”

  “One of Len Ross’s men noticed it yesterday evening. Len called Rex and he checked it out.”

  “What about the rest of the livestock?”

  “As far as I know all present and accounted for.”

  “Son of a bitch!” Keith forgot about the sugar and took a swallow of his black coffee.

  “Trask thinks it might be related to that,” she pointed to the blackened letter.

  “Trask thinks?” Keith repeated, his eyes narrowing. “How does he know about it?”

  “He was here when Rex came over to tell me about it.”

  Keith looked physically pained. “Lord, Tory, I don’t know how much more of your cheery morning news I can stand.”

  “That’s the last of the surprises.”

  “Thank God,” Keith said, pushing himself up from the table and glaring pointedly at his older sister. “You’re on notice, Tory.”

  She had to chuckle. “For what?”

  “From now on when I decide to stay on the ranch rather than checking out the action at the Branding Iron, I’m not going to let you talk me out of it.”

  “Is that so? And how would you have handled Trask when he showed up on the porch?”

 
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