Yesterdays lies, p.8
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.8

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “You got it.”

  Tory, with the intention of pouring a large glass of lemonade once she was inside the house, walked across the gravel parking area and then followed a worn path to the back porch. Alex was lying in the shady comfort of a juniper bush. He wagged his tail as she approached and Tory reached down to scratch the collie behind his ears before she opened the door to the kitchen.

  “Tory? Is that you?” Keith yelled from the vicinity of the den when the screen door banged shut behind her.

  “Who else?” she called back just as she heard his footsteps and Keith entered the homey kitchen from the hall. His young face was troubled and dusty. Sweat dampened his hair, darkening the strands that were plastered to his forehead. “You were expecting someone?” she teased while reaching into the refrigerator for a bag of lemons.

  “Of course not. I was just waiting for you to get back.”

  “That sounds ominous,” she said, slicing the lemons and squeezing them on the glass juicer. “I’m making lemonade, you want some?”

  Keith seemed distracted. “Yeah. Sure,” he replied before his gray eyes darkened. “What took you so long in town?”

  Tory looked up sharply. Keith hadn’t acted like himself since Trask was back in Oregon. “What is this, an inquisition?”

  “Hardly.” Keith ran a hand over his forehead, forcing his hair away from his face. “Rex and I were just talking...about what happened last night.”

  “You mean the calf?” she asked.

  “Partially.” Keith had taken the wooden salt shaker off the table and was pretending interest in it.

  Tory felt her back stiffen slightly as she poured sugar and the lemon juice into a glass pitcher. “And the rest of your discussion with Rex centered on Trask, is that it?”

  “Right.”

  At that moment Rex walked into the room. He fidgeted, removed his hat and worked the brim in his gnarled fingers.

  “How about a glass of lemonade?” Tory asked, as much to change the direction of the conversation as to be hospitable.

  “Sure,” the foreman responded. A nervous smile hovered near the corners of his mouth but quickly faded as he passed a hand over his chin. “I thought you’d like to know that all of the horses and cattle are alive and accounted for.”

  Relief seeped through Tory’s body. So the calf was an isolated incident—so much for Trask’s conspiracy theories about vague and disturbing warnings in the form of dead livestock. “Good. What about any other signs of trouble?”

  Rex shook his head thoughtfully. “None that I could see. None of the animals escaped through that hole in the fence, and we couldn’t find any other places where the fence was cut or tampered with.”

  Tory was beginning to feel better by the minute. The dark cloud of fear that had begun to settle over her the evening before was slowly beginning to dissipate. “And the fence that was damaged has been repaired?”

  “Yep. Right after you brought the deputy out to look at the calf. Did it myself.”

  “Thanks, Rex.”

  “All part of the job,” he muttered, avoiding her grateful glance.

  “Well, then, I guess the fact that the rest of the livestock is okay is good news,” Tory said, wincing a little as she remembered the unfortunate heifer. Neither man responded. “Now, I think we should take some precautions to see that this doesn’t happen again.”

  Rex smiled slightly. “I’m open to suggestion.”

  “Wait a minute, Tory,” Keith cut in abruptly as Tory turned back to the pitcher of lemonade and began adding ice water to the cloudy liquid. “Why are you avoiding the subject of McFadden?”

  “Maybe I’m just tired of it,” Tory said wearily. She had hoped to steer clear of another confrontation about Trask but knew the argument with her brother was inevitable. She poured the pale liquid into three glasses filled with ice and offered a glass to each of the men.

  “McFadden’s not going to just walk away from this, you know,” Keith said.

  “I know.”

  “Then for Pete’s sake, Tory, we’ve got to come up with a plan to fight him.”

  “A plan?” Tory repeated incredulously. She had to laugh as she took a sip of her drink. “You’re beginning to sound paranoid, Keith. A plan! People who make up plans are either suffering from overactive imaginations or are trying to hide something. Which are you?”

  “Neither. I’m just trying to avoid another scandal, that’s all,” Keith responded, his eyes darkening. “And maybe save this ranch in the process. The last scandal nearly destroyed the Lazy W as well as killed Dad, or don’t you remember?”

  “I remember,” Tory said, some of the old bitterness returning.

  “Look, Sis,” Keith pleaded, his voice softening a little. “I’ve studied the books and worked out some figures. The way I see it, the Lazy W has about six months to survive. Then the note with the bank is due, right?”

  “Right,” Tory said on a weary sigh.

  “The only way the bank will renew it is if we can prove that we can run this place at a profit. Now you’re close, Tory, damned close, but all it takes is for all the old rumors to start flying again. Once people are reminded of what Dad was supposedly involved in, we’ll lose buyers as quickly as you can turn around, and there go the profits.”

  “You don’t know that—”

  “I sure as hell do.”

  Tory shifted and avoided Keith’s direct stare. She knew what he was going to say before the words were out.

  “The only way the Lazy W can stay in business is to sell those Quarter Horses you’ve been breeding. You know it as well as I do. And no one is going to touch those horses with a ten-foot pole if they think for one minute that the horses might be part of a fraud. The reputation of this ranch is...well, shady or at least it was, all because of the Quarter Horse scam five years ago. If all the publicity is thrown into the public eye again, your potential buyers are going to dry up quicker than Devil’s Creek in a hot summer.”

  “And you think that’s what will happen if Trask is allowed to investigate his anonymous letter?”

  “You can count on it.”

  Tory’s eyes moved from the stern set of Keith’s jaw to Rex. “You’ve been awfully quiet. What do you think?”

  “I think what I always have,” Rex said, rubbing his chin. “McFadden is trouble. Plain and simple.”

  “There’s no doubt about that,” Tory thought aloud, “but I don’t know what any of us can do about it.”

  “Maybe you can talk him out of dredging everything up again,” Keith suggested. “However, I’d like it better if you had nothing to do with the son of a bitch.”

  Tory glared at her younger brother. “Let’s leave reference to Trask’s parentage and any other ridiculous insults out of this, okay? Now, how do you know he’ll be back?”

  “Oh, he’ll be back all right. He’s like a bad check; he just comes bouncing back. As sure as the sun comes up in the morning, McFadden will be back.”

  Tory shook her head and frowned into her glass. She swirled the liquid and stared at the melting ice. “So if he returns to the Lazy W, you want me to try and persuade him to ignore the letter and all this nonsense about another man being involved in the Quarter Horse swindle and Jason’s death. Have I got it right?”

  “Essentially,” Keith said.

  “Not exactly an intricate plan.”

  “But the only one we’ve got.”

  Tory set her glass on the counter and her eyes narrowed. “What if the letter is true, Keith? What if another person was involved in Jason’s death, a man who could, perhaps, clear Dad’s name?”

  Keith smiled sadly, suddenly old beyond his years. “What’s the chance of that happening?”

  “’Bout one in a million, I’d guess,” Rex said.

  “Less than that,” Keith said decisively, “considering that McFadden wouldn’t be trying to clear Dad’s name. He’s the guy who put Dad in the prison in the first place, remember? I just can’t believe that y
ou’re falling for his line again, Sis.”

  Tory paled slightly. “I’m not.”

  “Give me a break. You’re softening to McFadden and you’ve only seen him once.”

  “Maybe I’m just tired of everyone trying to manipulate me,” Tory said hotly. She stalked across the room and settled into one of the chairs near the table. “This whole thing is starting to reek of a conspiracy or at the very least a cover-up!”

  “What do you mean?” Keith seemed thoroughly perplexed. Rex avoided Tory’s gaze and stared out the window toward the road.

  “I mean that I ran into Neva McFadden at the feed store. She wanted to talk to me, for crying out loud! Good Lord, the woman hasn’t breathed a word to me since the trial and today she wanted to talk things over. Can you believe it?”

  “‘Things’ being Trask?” Keith guessed.

  “Right.” Tory smiled grimly at the irony of it all. Neva McFadden was the last person Tory would have expected to beg her to stay away from Trask and his wild theories.

  “You know that she’s in love with him, don’t you?” Keith said and noticed the paling of Tory’s tanned skin. Whether his sister denied it or not, Tory was still holding a torch for McFadden. That thought alone made Keith’s blood boil.

  “She didn’t say so.”

  “I doubt if she would: at least not to you.”

  “Maybe not,” Tory whispered.

  “So anyway, what did she want to talk about?”

  “About the same thing you’re preaching right now. That Trask’s anonymous letter was just a prank, that we should leave the past alone, that her son would suffer if the scandal was brought to the public’s attention again. She thought it would be wise if I didn’t see Trask again.”

  “Too late for that,” Rex said, removing his hat and running his fingers through his sweaty silver hair as he stared through the window. His thick shoulders slumped and his amiable smile fell from his face. “He’s coming down the drive right now.”

  “Great,” Keith muttered.

  Tory’s heart began to pound with dread. “Maybe we should tell him everything we discussed just now.”

  “That would be suicide, Tory. Our best bet is to convince him that his letter was nothing more than a phony—”

  A loud rap on the door announced Trask’s arrival. Keith let out a long breath of air. “Okay, Sis, you’re on.”

  Tory’s lips twisted cynically. “If you’re looking for an Oscar-winning performance, you’re going to be disappointed.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” Keith asked warily.

  “Haven’t you ever heard the expression ‘You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’?” Without further explanation, she walked down the short corridor, ignored the round of swearing she heard in the kitchen and opened the front door.

  Trask was about to knock again. His fist was lifted to his shoulder and his jaw was set angrily. At the sight of Tory, her gray-green eyes sparkling with a private joke, he was forced to smile and his angular features softened irresistibly. When Senator McFadden decided to turn on the charm, the effect was devastating to Tory’s senses, even though she knew she couldn’t trust him.

  “I thought maybe you were trying to give me a not-so-subtle hint,” Trask said.

  Tory shook her head and laughed. “Not me, senator. I’m not afraid to speak my mind and tell you you’re not welcome.”

  “I already knew that.”

  “But you’re back.” She leaned against the door, not bothering to invite him inside, and studied the male contours of his face. Yes, sir, the senator was definitely a handsome man, she thought. Five years hadn’t done him any harm—if anything, the added maturity was a plus to his appearance.

  “I hoped that maybe you’d reconsidered your position and thought about what I had to say.”

  “Oh, I’ve thought about it a lot,” Tory replied. “No one around here will let me forget it.”

  “And what have you decided?” Cobalt-blue eyes searched her face, as if seeing it for the first time. Tory’s heart nearly missed a beat.

  “Why don’t you come inside and we’ll talk about it?” Tory stepped away from the door allowing him to pass. Keith and Rex were already in the den and when Trask walked through the archway, the tension in the room was nearly visible.

  “It takes a lot of guts for you to come back here,” Keith said. He walked over to the bar and poured himself a stiff drink.

  “I said I would,” Trask responded. A confident grin contrasted with the fierce intensity of his gaze.

  “But I can’t believe that you honestly expect Tory or anyone at the Lazy W to help you on...this wild-goose chase of yours.”

  “I just want to look into it.”

  “Why?” Keith demanded, replacing the bottle and lifting the full glass to his lips.

  Trask crossed his arms over his chest. “I want to know the truth about my brother’s death.”

  Keith shook his head. “So all of a sudden the testimony at the trial wasn’t enough. The scandal wasn’t enough. Sending an innocent man to jail wasn’t enough. You want more.”

  “Only the truth.”

  Keith’s jaw jutted forward. “It’s a little too late, don’t ya think, McFadden? You should have been more interested in the truth before taking that witness stand and testifying against Calvin Wilson.”

  “If your father would have told his side of the story, maybe I wouldn’t be here right now.”

  “Too late for second-guessing, McFadden,” Keith said, his voice slightly uneven. “The man’s dead.”

  An uncomfortable silence filled the room. Rex shifted restlessly and pushed his Stetson over his eyes. “I’ve got to get home,” he said. “Belinda will be looking for me.” He headed toward the door and paused near the outer hallway. “I’ll see ya in the morning.”

  “Good night, Rex,” Tory said just as the sound of the front door slamming shut rattled through the building.

  “I think maybe you should leave, too,” Keith said, taking a drink of his Scotch and leaning insolently against the rocks of the fireplace. He glared angrily at Trask and didn’t bother to hide his contempt. “We’re not interested in hearing what you have to say. You said plenty five years ago.”

  “I didn’t perjure myself, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”

  “I’m not insinuating anything, McFadden. I believe in telling it straight out.”

  “So do I.”

  “Then you’ll understand when I ask you to leave and tell you that we don’t want any part of your plans to drag up all the scandal about the horse swindle again. It won’t do anyone a bit of good, least of all the people on this ranch. You’ll have to find another way to get elected this time, senator.”

  Trask leaned a hip against the back of a couch and turned his attention away from Keith to Tory. His blue eyes pierced hers. “Is that how you feel?” he demanded.

  Tory looked at Trask’s ruggedly handsome face and tried to convince herself that Trask had used her, betrayed her, destroyed everything she had ever loved, but she couldn’t hide from the honesty in his cold blue stare. He was dangerous. As dangerous as he had ever been, and still Tory’s heart raced at the sight of him. She knew her fascination for the man bordered on lunacy. “I agree with Keith,” she said at last. “I can’t see that opening up this whole can of worms will accomplish anything.”

  “Except make sure that a guilty party is punished.”

  “So you’re still looking for retribution,” she whispered, shaking her head. “It’s been five years. Nothing is going to change what happened. Neva’s right. Nothing you can do or say will bring Jason back.”

  “Neva?” Trask repeated. “You’ve been talking to her?” His features froze and the intensity of his stare cut Tory to the bone.

  “Today, she ran into me on the street.”

  “And the conversation just happened to turn to me.” The corners of his mouth pulled down.

  Tory’s head snapped upward and her chi
n angled forward defiantly. “She’s worried about you, senator, as well as about her son. She thinks you’re on a personal vendetta that will do nothing more than open up all the old wounds again, cause more pain, stir up more trouble.”

  Trask winced slightly and let out a disgusted sound. “I’m going to follow this through, Tory. I think you can understand. It’s my duty to my brother. He was murdered, for God’s sake! Murdered! And one of the men responsible might still be free!

  “The way I see it, you have two options: you can be with me or against me, but I’d strongly suggest that you think about all of the alternatives. If your father was innocent, as you so self-righteously claim, you’ve just gotten the opportunity to prove it.”

  “You would help me?” she asked skeptically.

  “Don’t believe him, Tory,” Keith insisted, walking between Tory and Trask and sending his sister pleading glances. “You trusted him once before and all he did was spit on you.”

  Trask’s eyes narrowed as he focused on Tory’s younger brother. “Maybe you’d better just stay out of this one, Keith,” he suggested calmly. “This is between your sister and me.”

  “I don’t think—”

  “I can handle it,” Tory stated, her gaze shifting from Trask to Keith and back again. Her shoulders were squared, her lips pressed together in determination. Fire sparked in her eyes.

  Keith understood the unspoken message. Tory would handle Trask in her own way. “All right. I’ve said everything I needed to say anyway.” He pointed a long finger at Trask. “But as far as I’m concerned, McFadden, you have no business here.” Keith strode out of the room, grabbed his hat off the wooden peg in the entry hall, jerked open the front door and slammed it shut behind him.

  Trask watched Keith leave with more than a little concern. “He’s got more of a temper than you did at that age.”

  “He hates you,” Tory said simply.

  Trask smiled wryly and pushed his fingers through his hair. “Can’t say as I blame him.”

  “I hate you, too,” Tory lied.

  “No, no you don’t.” He saw that she was about to protest and waved off her arguments before they could be voiced. “Oh, you hate what I did all right. And, maybe a few years back, you did hate me, or thought that you did. But now you know better.”

 
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