Tell Me No Lies (11 page)

“It’s going to be hard proving anything after so long,” I said. She had glanced away to check on Dylan, so I waited until she looked back to say, “How long ago was it?”

“Over seven years, but Kingman is a small town. Not much changes. Someone here has to know more than they are telling, and I’m going to find out what.” She paused as if debating something within herself. “Look, I know I’m on the right track because someone left this in my mailbox yesterday.”

She pulled a note from the pocket of her apron and handed it to me. It was typed in big, bold letters on a folded sheet of white paper that had no distinguishing marks. I opened it carefully.

 

 

Justice has been done. Don’t mess with things unless you want more trouble than you got with Skeet.

 

 

A shiver of dread rolled through me. “Mia, you said Skeet hurt you. What did he do?”

She shook her head, her ponytail swinging with the force of her effort. “No,” she said faintly.

I guess that meant she wasn’t ready to talk about it—at least not to me. “This note proves something,” I said.

“That’s what I think. I’ve been asking everyone questions, and I must be getting close. Look, I know it’s not a great time, but do you think you and Gage could stay a few more days until my husband gets home from his trip? I’m so afraid someone will come while I’m sleeping, and I won’t hear them. I’m never afraid with Gage here.” She took the note from my fingers and tucked it back inside her apron.

“What about the police? You need to tell them about that note.”

“I will if you come with me.” Mia held up a hand. “But you can’t tell Gage. He says it’s done and over and I should forget it. But I can’t—not now. That record will haunt him the rest of his life. He wouldn’t have been able to find a good job if one of the prison guards hadn’t put in a word for him with his brother who manages the company Gage works for, and I never, ever thought Gage would marry because he said he didn’t want any child of his to grow up like we had to. But you saw how he is with Dylan—he deserves to be a father to his own kids someday.”

“Maybe if Gage saw the note, he’d have hope.”

“No. Until there’s real a real chance of clearing his name, I’m not telling him anything.” Tears started in Mia eyes. “I failed my brother seven and a half years ago, but I won’t fail him now. I should have taken the blame.”

“No one should accept blame that doesn’t belong to them. Besides, you had your husband and Dylan to think about.” Since Dylan was in the first grade, that meant Mia had been expecting him about the time of the murder, or shortly after.

Mia ran her fingers under an eye to catch the moisture, glancing to make sure Gage and Dylan were still occupied. “It wasn’t because of them that I didn’t do it. It was the shock of everything that happened then. I—I lost myself for a bit. I’m stronger now, but the note frightens me.”

“So is the note the real reason you wanted Gage to come here now?”

“Yes. I mean, of course I’d want to meet you anyway, but I was glad to have the excuse. I also hoped you might have some ideas about the murder since you can look at it with fresh eyes. You have as much stake in his future as I do.”

I swallowed hard, loath to reply. I had no business delving into Gage’s life, not in this way, but I didn’t want to let Mia down either.

“We’ll stay,” I said. “At least until your husband comes home.” I wasn’t exactly excited about running off to Lily’s where I’d have to explain that my marriage was fake and over with before she even met the groom she’d raved about. Besides, staying here would probably go a long way toward convincing my grandfather’s attorney that my marriage was everything I claimed. “But we should talk to the police as soon as possible, so they can start looking for whoever put that note in your mailbox.”

“We can go before dinner. I know one of the officers from school. Maybe he’ll have time to talk to us.” There was a relief in her voice that came clearly through the fear, and I knew insisting on going to the police was the right thing to do. I had to admit that I hoped Mia was right, that Gage really was innocent.

“Mommy, is something wrong?” Carrying a chicken, Dylan was coming toward us. I turned to see him, and that made Mia become aware of his approach. He signed something.

“No,” Mia said aloud, signing at the same time. “Nothing is wrong. I am so happy to meet your new aunt. Come, meet her yourself. Her name is Tessa. She and your uncle are married.”

Dylan stared at me, more in consternation than anything. “Married?”

I smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, Dylan.” I held out my hand, and he shook it solemnly. “Those are way cool chickens you have. Do you think they’ll let me pet them? I’ve never touched a chicken before.”

Dylan was all too eager to show me. I was holding a big white one when Gage finally emerged from the chicken coop, stooping to clear the door.

“Uncle Gage, how come you didn’t tell me you were getting married?” Dylan called to him.

“I didn’t know it myself.” Gage’s eyes met mine. Big circles of wetness stained his T-shirt, and his hair was matted with sweat. My stomach flip-flopped.

When a guy in desperate need of a bath made my stomach react like that, I was in trouble. I’d have to put some figurative space between us.

“Do you kiss her and everything?” Dylan asked.

“Sure. Why not?”

Dylan made a face. “Ooh, gross.” Yet he giggled and watched us expectantly.

My stomach started to churn.

Gage reached for me, but as much as I secretly wanted to kiss him one more time to prove to myself that last night’s amazing kiss had been a fluke, he was covered in straw and chicken manure.

“Yuck! You need a bath!”

“Oh, come on. Just one little kiss. It’s our honeymoon, after all.” He chased me to the gate, which I opened hurriedly and dived through.

Mia stood watching us, her face all smiles again. She signed at him and spoke at the same time. “You do kind of stink. Go take a shower, or your wife might change her mind about marrying you.”

Gage sobered almost instantly, and I felt a little sad when the light-heartedness vanished from his eyes. “She won’t change her mind,” he said.

Why did the words make me feel so terrible? He was an ex-con, for crying out loud, and I was paying him for his help. That’s all there was between us.

We exchanged a look that did something funny to my chest, and I turned away so he couldn’t see. Shrugging, he ran to the back steps and disappeared into the house. Mia watched me with a satisfaction that left me more confused.

“Thank you for staying,” she said before turning to shut the gate that Dylan had left slightly ajar.

I waited until she turned back around before speaking. “I haven’t told Gage about staying, yet. He might not agree.”

“He’ll be fine with it.” She looked around for Dylan, who seemed to be heading around to the side of the house. She clapped her hands, and he stopped and began signing, making me wish I understood the language.

Mia shook her head, and he followed Gage inside the house, looking annoyed.

“What?” I asked Mia.

“He wanted to get the mail, and I can’t let him do that. There might be another note.”

“Oh.” I shivered, though the day was still entirely too warm.

Eyes seemed to be watching us from behind the trees. Watching and waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

W
hen I emerged from my turn in the guest bath, I was fully dressed and my hair nearly dry. Fortunately, I had brought hair gel, so I managed to coax a bit of body from the roots, but the orange heap was pretty much a straggly mess. I had a few waves, but none of the lovely curls I’d seen on some strawberry blondes. I would give a lot for the curling iron Avery had used on me yesterday.

From habit, I checked my phone and saw that Lily had called five more times. Didn’t she understand the word
honeymoon
? I clicked to read the text she’d also left:
Call me. Terrible news. I’m so scared for you.

Great. Obviously, Julian had been busy sharing Gage’s name with my family. With nothing to do but surf the Internet while she was on bed rest, Lily would know more about the murder than I did. I’d been waiting for the opportunity to research it myself, and obviously I needed to get on it before I called Lily back.

I opened my laptop on the dresser where I’d left it and turned it on. What would I say if Gage walked in? Well, it wasn’t as though I had to show him what I was doing. Still, I walked over and locked the door.

In the end it didn’t matter because Mia’s Internet was protected with a password. I tried the names of their family in different combinations, but without luck. Sighing, I shut the laptop and went to find Mia.

In the kitchen, Gage was seated at a small counter where Mia’s computer was located. I could see he was checking e-mail. Mia and Dylan were nowhere to be seen, but the beautiful smell of roasting meat and onions wafted from the oven. My mouth watered. It would definitely be a miracle if I didn’t gain ten pounds on this excursion.

Gage looked up as I entered. “So, Mia tells me we’re staying a few days?”

“She’s nervous without her husband here.”

“And you care why?”

I glowered at him. “Look, if you don’t want to stay, don’t. She’s your sister. I can leave tomorrow. You can stay or leave—whatever you want. It was your idea to come here, not mine.”

“Sorry.” He stood and walked over to me. The smell of chickens had been replaced by something spicy that made me want to step closer. “I guess I just don’t understand what set her off. It’s been six months since she’s wanted anyone to stay here while Aiden is out of town. I thought she was past that.”

My anger lessened a bit at the apology, but his closeness was doing odd things to my heart. I eased away slightly. “Why did she need someone to stay?”

He frowned. “Something happened to her after high school, and it made her really scared—so scared she was almost paralyzed with it. Her deafness only complicates matters, though we’ve done everything we can to make her feel more secure. We put in an alarm that activates bright lights in her room, we’ve put in a phone she can type words into so she can easily call anyone, even if she’s too upset to make herself understood. The person’s verbal response appears on the screen as well.” He took a single step that brought him closer to me again.

“She’s still afraid.” I knew it must be somehow connected with the murder or whatever Skeet had done to Mia the week before the killing, but even now Gage obviously didn’t want to let me in on what exactly had happened.

“I thought it was behind her. She’s been helping out some deaf kids who were abused. People from Sarah’s House called her in to translate for the counselors, and she’s been volunteering a lot there. It helped her recover. Aiden and I have been hopeful.” There was a bleakness in his voice that told me the situation with Mia was worse than anyone was saying, which explained why he hadn’t put her off when she’d begged to meet me.

“Sounds like Aiden needs a new job that’ll let him stay home more.” I went to the cupboard, trying to guess which ones held glasses. I was feeling much in need of a cold drink of water. With lots of ice.

“He’s lucky to have any sales rep job in this economy, and unfortunately, that means traveling. She used to go with him a lot when Dylan was younger, but he’s in school now. Is there some reason you keep walking away from me?” He dropped his head and sniffed his shirt. “I don’t still smell, do I?”

“I need a drink, that’s all. Where are the cups?” He pointed, and I filled one with ice and water from the dispenser on the fridge. “We can stay. Not a big deal.”

He was coming toward me again, and my pulse started racing. I was saved by Mia sweeping into the room. “Oh, good, you’re all ready. Gage, will you keep an eye on Dylan and what’s in the oven? Tessa and I need to go somewhere.”

“Uh, sure.” He looked rather nonplused. “I guess.”

“Sorry to steal her away, but we need to . . .” Mia trailed off, looking at me helplessly.

“I need to get a few things at the store,” I said. “Womanly things. We went off so fast. I didn’t plan well.” I’d still rather tell Gage about the note and our plan to take it to the police, but that was for Mia to decide.

Mia bobbed her head. “You know, nightgowns, nylons, makeup, fingernail pol—”

“I get it.” He signed as he spoke, as though anxious for her not to say anything more personal. “I have work to do, anyway. I hadn’t planned to take off, and there’s a report I need to file.”

I grinned. I
knew
geologists had to do reports.

“You can have a proper honeymoon later,” Mia said. “Aiden will be home on Monday at the latest.”

Gage’s face softened at her eagerness. “Actually, that’s probably for the best. I just got an e-mail from my boss, and I really should go on site for a bit tomorrow morning to take samples that I was supposed to have completed yesterday.”

“Good. Then it’s settled.” She turned and opened the oven to baste her roast.

“Samples?” I asked.

Gage carefully turned his back to Mia. “I work for a mining company. I thought you knew. I’m in the field a lot, taking soil samples and the like. They’re going to open a new mine outside Flagstaff, and I need to recheck the soil to see if the mineral levels are where they should be before we sign the contracts.” He smiled. “Want to come? It’s interesting.”

“Okay.” I’d have nothing else to do tomorrow—the day I was to have become Mrs. Julian Willis. I crossed my hands over my stomach.

Despite my attempt to mask my feelings, something must have shown in my face, because Gage put a hand on my shoulder. “It’ll be okay.” The gentleness in his voice made me want to give in to my tears.

I shook my head. “How I can still care for him when he so obviously doesn’t feel the same—it’s stupid.”

“Happens more than you think. It’s not easy.”

I wondered if he was talking about Bailey, but if she’d ever given him reason to worry, it all seemed in the past now. Should I tell him she was completely crazy for him, even though I personally thought the woman had all the appeal of a grub?

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