Read Tell Me No Lies Online

Authors: Rachel Branton

Tags: #lds, #Christian, #karen kindgsbury, #Romantic Suspense, #ariana, #Romance, #Suspense, #a bid for love, #clean romance, #dee henderson

Tell Me No Lies (13 page)

BOOK: Tell Me No Lies
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“Where?”

“Crawford cereals. My father’s company, actually. I was a shift manager until I left a few weeks ago.”

“Going to be here long?”

“A few more days. I’m staying with Mia.”

He nodded several times, and his Adam’s apple move up and down twice before he said casually, “I could show you around a bit, if you’d like. That is, if you don’t have someone already doing that.”

I felt completely flattered. He liked me.
Take that, Julian.
Ridge was a nice, decent man who would probably ask me for a real date if I encouraged him. Of course I couldn’t do that because I was supposedly married, and I’d have to say no, which was disappointing. Nothing like a little admiration to put a woman to rights.

Mia laughed, apparently catching at least part of his invitation. “No, Ridge, she’s not the girl I want to set you up with. This is my new sister-in-law. She married Gage.”

“Oops.” Ridge made a face that only endeared him to me more. “I thought you—please forgive me, I didn’t see a ring, and Mia told me last week she had a friend she wanted me to meet.”

“I must have left my ring in the bathroom when I showered,” I said. “Don’t worry about it. I’m flattered. Honestly. You’re very sweet to offer.”
I wish I could say yes,
I wanted to add.

“They only got married yesterday,” Mia explained. “All on the spur of the moment. They haven’t even planned a honeymoon. I can’t believe Gage.” Her voice left no doubt as to her disgust.

“My dress was beautiful,” I said for Ridge’s benefit, “and we had a nice dinner, and we saw a show and went dancing. It’s not as if it was a real—” Oops. My brain finally overcame my motor mouth. “A really long ceremony. We had time to get out and see the town a bit.”

“That’s good,” Ridge said politely, but I could tell his interest had wandered.

Mia bent her head down and furiously scribbled two addresses she copied from an address book in her purse. “There. Finished.”

“Is there anything you want to add?” Ridge asked me. When I shook my head, he said, “Well, if you don’t mind putting down your contact information, in case I think of any questions.”

“Sure.” I scribbled at the bottom of the paper where Tessa had written a half-dozen names, an equal number of questions, several Internet sites, and the two addresses. A few of the names had notes off to the side: angry, didn’t want to talk, happy to help, knows some sign language. I noticed one of the names was Bailey Norris, Gage’s ex-fiancée.

Ridge walked us to the front of the police station. “Thanks for coming in. I’ll do what I can.” He nodded at me a bit sheepishly. “Nice to meet you. Here’s my card, if you ever need to get a hold of me.”

I liked him enough that maybe after this was all over, I would look him up. He didn’t have Gage’s rugged, eye-catching handsomeness or Julian’s aristocratic manners, but he was nice, dependable, and underneath all that, I suspected he was capable of passionate commitment, which looked pretty darn good to me these days.

Mia breathed a sigh of relief as we reached the car. “I’m glad that’s over. Ridge is good at his job. I feel better already.”

“I’m glad.”

I thought we’d go straight back to the house, but to my surprise Mia drove to JCPenneys. “What are we doing?” I asked.

“Spending that fifty bucks Gage gave you. If we come home without anything, he’ll be suspicious. Come on.”

She was good—I hadn’t given our excuse a second thought. As for what to spend the money on, I could use another pair of jeans and a few shirts. I might be able to make the money stretch that far, and if not I could always use my debit card. As soon as I received my trust fund, things wouldn’t be so tight.

To my embarrassment, Mia headed directly to the sleepwear department and began pulling out lacy negligees. “You’re a six or an eight, aren’t you?”

“I don’t need one of those.” I told her. “That’s taken care of.” My face was aflame. All I needed was to go back to Mia’s with something like that. My sweats would do for now.

“My treat,” Mia said. “You didn’t even get a fun bridal shower, and that’s what I would have given you.” Before I could protest further, she turned her back and disappeared between the racks.

Sighing, I went to find a pair of jeans, which fit remarkably well, two fitted tees on clearance, and a dressy purple blouse I could wear with my black pants in a pinch. At the last minute I picked up a black skirt that was on sale, in case Mia went to church on Sunday. I’d attended church every week in Phoenix on my own, though growing up I’d only gone at Easter and Christmas.

The lady in front of me in line offered me an extra fifteen percent off coupon from a small stack she carried, which I was not too proud to use, and that meant only a few bucks ended up on my debit card. Lily would be proud. She was constantly telling me of the bargains she found for Mario and the girls they sheltered.

Mia was waiting for me when I finished paying. She carried a JCPenney’s sack and wore a beatific smile that would have rivaled an angel. If I’d had even a minuscule amount of artistic talent, I would have wanted to paint her in that moment.

“What did you get?” I said, frowning.

“You’ll see.” She hurried to the car, with me lagging behind.

The drive to Mia’s was again too silent for my comfort, but I had to admit she was an excellent driver. I was pondering how I could sneak Mia’s shopping bag away and hide it so Gage would never find it, when Mia began honking the horn madly. The car lurched to a stop on the dirt road in front of her house.

What was going on?

I looked around frantically as Mia jumped out and raced up the walk, waving her hands and screaming.

I hurried after her, my feet stumbling on the road as I realized what was wrong. Standing in front of her porch was a man with greasy brown hair pulled back into a short braid. He had a wispy goatee and a fuzzy little mustache, the kind that men talked themselves into being proud of when they couldn’t grow anything better. He was tall, but far too thin, and he had the worn look of an alcoholic. Not much of a match for Gage, who stood on the porch looking down on the stranger.

Or wouldn’t have been much of a match, except for the gun in his hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

“G
et out of here, Charlie Norris!” Mia yelled, her voice high and unnaturally shrill. “Leave my brother alone!”

I could barely understand her, the words having become garbled with emotion, and I doubted the strange man could pick out anything. He turned from Gage, the gun not quite pointed at anyone, but wavering now in Mia’s direction about knee height.

Gage leapt off the porch and placed himself in front of his sister, heedless of the wild look in the man’s eyes. “Go on home, Charlie,” he said. “You don’t want anything to happen here. You’ve seen me fight before. Even if you won, the police would come after you. Believe me, prison is not a pretty place—especially for a scrawny thing like you.”

Charlie lifted his chin. “I didn’t come to hurt no one. I came to tell you to stay away from my sister. I won’t have you breakin’ her heart again. I won’t let you or anyone hurt her.”

“Bailey’s a big girl. She can take care of herself.”

“She’s gone on you. Always has been. She was all broken up after you went away.”

“We were over before I went to prison, no matter what she might have told you.”

“Yet the minute you’re back, she comes running over.”

Gage shook his head. “She was here to meet my wife. That’s all.”

“She come home crying and yelling and—did you say
wife
?” The words finally penetrated Charlie’s brain.

“Yes.” Gage gestured toward me, frozen on the sidewalk to Charlie’s right. “This is Tessa, my wife.” I could only hope Charlie didn’t decide to shoot me and clear the way for his sister.

Charlie’s mouth formed an O. “I didn’t know you were married. But you told Bailey you would never marry, not her or anyone.”

“This is different.”

I thought Gage’s words would anger Charlie, but the gun hand slowly fell to his side. “I didn’t know you were married.”

So he’d already said. Obviously, Charlie was not big in the brains department.

Charlie was shaking his head. “So that’s why she was crying. She thought you loved her. How come you never wrote?” He was half crying himself, now.

“I did write twice, but since it was over, it seemed kind of pointless after that.”

Charlie punched the air with his free hand. “That wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be you and Bailey, and me and Mia.”

Mia shook her head. “No, Charlie. I love Aiden. I’ve always loved Aiden. You know that.”

“You might have loved me if Skeet hadn’t done what he did. I wasn’t ready to be a father, and Skeet messed everything up.”

“I loved Aiden,” Mia repeated. “Skeet doesn’t matter.”

Charlie blinked. “Oh.”

“Why don’t you go home and rest?” Gage said, taking a step forward slowly, as though confronting a frightened animal. “Why don’t you leave that gun with me?”

In a rapid motion, Charlie brought the gun to his chest, hugging it. “You can’t have it. I might need it to protect myself. Besides, it’s borrowed.”

Gage held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Okay, just go on home.”

Charlie nodded and started down the sidewalk, shuffling along with a slight limp. I stepped out of the way as he approached, and he nodded at me as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Sweat beaded on his forehead and along his hairline. His eyes were so reddened, I couldn’t tell their color.

He stopped and turned around. “You’re right. Skeet don’t matter. He’s dead. You stay away from my sister, Gage, or you’ll be dead, too. Ain’t the first time I had to protect her.”

We watched him hobble down the dirt road to a battered Ford sedan that had been old a decade ago, all of us guarding the silence.

“Is he always like that?” I asked finally.

“I don’t know, really,” Gage answered. “He and Bailey and their mother came to live with their aunt after their old man died. We were all in high school then, but Charlie dropped out of school and went into the navy. We didn’t see much of him after that. They kicked him out after a year or so, and I don’t know what he did then. He shows up every so often to visit Bailey.”

Interesting. “Was he in town the time of the murder?” I asked.

Gage’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know where you’re going with this, but Charlie wasn’t there that night. It was me and Skeet.”

“And Mia.”

“Leave her out of this,” he retorted, his gaze dark.

“I’m not
in
anything. But if you are innocent, you shouldn’t have taken the blame.”

“I did what I had to do, and I paid for it.”

Oddly enough, his insistence convinced me more than anything Mia could say that he wasn’t guilty. “And if you had to do it again? Now that you’re older and wiser? Would you make the same choice?”

“Yes,” he growled.

“Okay then. Everyone’s happy.”

“Exactly.”

Except that he was glowering at me, and I was glowering at him, Bailey was crying, Charlie was threatening Gage with a gun, and Mia was receiving threatening notes. Something was not right in Kingman.

“Stop, stop, stop!” Mia wedged her way between us. “This is all my fault. I should never have brought you here right now. You should be on your honeymoon.”

Gage put his arm around his sister, his other hand moving rapidly. Whatever he said calmed her, despite its brevity. She signed something back and went inside the house.

“She says to tell you dinner will be ready in a while and that she’s sorry.”

“For what?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. None of this is her fault, but Mia’s like that. She feels responsible—a lot. She’s always sorry for everything. It’s one of the reasons I can’t live here. She’d die inside a little every day if she saw how people treat me when they know who I am.”

“Not too much better in Flagstaff, I bet.”

“It’s a lot better. I’m more of a mysterious figure there. Besides, there’s this horse I like to visit, and a pretty girl.”

I laughed, wondering how we could go from wanting to strangle each other one moment and flirting the next.

“I’ll go park the car,” Gage started down the walk.

For a moment I watched the broad lines of his back, the graceful movements when he folded himself into the small car. If Gage hadn’t murdered Skeet, would that change things between us?

No. What we had was a business deal, nothing more.

A business deal that I seemed to conveniently forget every time he kissed me. Which, if I thought about it, he really shouldn’t be doing.

Inside the house, Mia was in the kitchen talking to Dylan, who was setting the table. Utter silence reigned. I wondered if it was like this all the time, or if when Aiden was home, he turned on music or something.

Then again, simply because I couldn’t understand the language, didn’t mean there was silence. Obviously, Mia and Dylan were communicating perfectly well. I had to begin looking at things differently, think of them differently. The mother cooking, the boy arranging the dishes on the table. Stopping to move his hands in her direction, a smile playing on his face. Warm sunlight streaming through the window onto the back of Mia’s ponytail as she answered.

Not silent. Warm, happy, loving. Better yet, this little boy knew two complete languages. I’d read that multiple languages improved a child’s cognitive abilities, so maybe Dylan had more advantage than most children from a single-language home.

Dylan was the first to notice me in the doorway, and I realized I’d begun humming something under my breath. Some song from my childhood, whose title eluded me. “Hi,” Dylan said shyly.

“Hi. I see you’re helping your mother.”

“I always set the table. It’s my job.”

Mia looked at me. “Everything okay?”

“Fine. Except I’d like to check my e-mail. I have a laptop, but I need to use your Internet connection. You have wireless, don’t you? Would you mind giving me your password?”

BOOK: Tell Me No Lies
12.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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