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 (6 page)

“Wait here a moment,” Gage said. “Maybe Calvin used his own name.” He returned to talk to the hostess, and the eyes of every woman in the place followed him, including mine.

“Excuse me.”

I looked up to see the silver-haired woman addressing me. Her companion was close behind. “Yes?” I prompted.

“Is that Gage Braxton?” Her voice was hoarse and nervous.

“Yes. Why? Do you know him?”

The woman looked as if she’d been sucking on a lemon. Her pale eyes were as sharp as toothpicks. “We know of him, don’t we, sister?”

The other woman nodded, the tight brown curls bouncing slightly. She gave an exaggerated shiver and said in a breathy voice, “Everyone in Kingman knows him.”

Oh, they were from his hometown.

“He has some nerve,” the first woman said. “Showing up after all this time. Doesn’t look a bit different, though it’s got to have been at least five or six years. Isn’t that right, Gretty?”

Her sister nodded. “He’s a murderer, you know, and that’s how long he’s been in prison.” They stared at me in expectation, as if hoping I would exclaim or faint from the knowledge.

“So you know about that,” I said, the casualness in my tone belying the pounding of my heart. Murder. That couldn’t be possible.

“My word, of course! Everyone knows. It was in all the papers. We were only too grateful that his mother was dead before it all happened. Her heart would have broken to pieces.”

“You knew his mother?”

“Not personally, but we’d seen her around. Kingman isn’t very big, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.”

The silver-haired woman leaned closer to me. “You must be careful, dear. Very careful. You have no idea how dangerous he is.”

“Cold-blooded murderer,” added the other.

“Premeditated.”

“Took a poker from his own fireplace. Shoved it right into the poor fellow’s head.”

“Sneaked right up. Poor man didn’t know what hit him.”

“Cold blood. Must have planned it for months.”

My head bobbed between the two sisters as they talked. A poker? They were saying Gage used a poker to commit murder? If Gage had committed murder, he’d surely have used a gun or knife, or even his broad hands—all in self-defense, of course, or sudden revenge. But a poker in cold blood? Premeditated? That was cowardly, and Gage did not strike me as a coward.

I’d run into women like this before during some of my mother’s never-ending luncheons. Women who gossiped and changed the truth to suit themselves. Old broads who simply wanted to make trouble.

“Wait,” I said, keeping my voice low. Already we were drawing interested stares from some of the people around us. “You’re telling me he killed a man in cold blood with a poker? So did he carry it around as he searched for the guy? I mean, isn’t that what premeditated means? Going out and getting a weapon and planning to use it? Seeking for an opportunity? It seems sort of odd, his walking around with a poker, if that’s what he planned to use. Kind of noticeable. You’d think someone would come up and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing walking around with that poker?’ ”

The women stared at me blankly for a moment and finally decided they didn’t like my attitude.

“Well,” silver hair humphed. “It was premeditated, even if he didn’t carry the poker around. It certainly made no difference to the man with the hole through his head if he carried it around or not, now did it?”

“There was a witness after all,” added her sister in her obnoxious breathy voice that didn’t match her hangdog appearance. “He had blood in his heart, and that’s the honest truth. That handsome face can’t hide the evil in his heart. If it hadn’t been the poker, it would have been something else.”

“And his poor fiancée. Sweet thing. Practically didn’t talk for a whole year. I doubt she knows he’s even out of prison. She’s been waiting for him all this time. Writing him letters and such.”

“Judy!” Brown hair blanched and nudged her sister, looking over her shoulder at Gage who was coming our way.

“You’ll stay clear of him, if you’ve any sense,” silver hair hissed.

“Well, that might be a little difficult,” I said. “Seeing as how we’re getting married tonight.”

As one they gasped and held their wrinkled hands to their sagging chests. I watched them scoot away in a hurry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

“P
roblem?” asked Gage, eyeing the retreating women.

I forced a smile and did what I always do when I was worried—I made a joke. “They thought I was a movie star. Wanted my autograph.”

“I’m not surprised.”

That warmed me so much my worry dissipated. No matter what those old vultures had said, I couldn’t believe Gage had killed anyone with anything, much less a poker.

Unfortunately, that piece of lead was back in my stomach again.

“Calvin did put our reservation under his name, so they’re ready to seat us now. Good thing because Cirque Du Soleil starts at seven.”

I stopped walking. “We’re seeing Cirque Du Soleil? I’ve always wanted to see that.”

“I know. You told me.”

Had I? I couldn’t remember, but I suppose it could have come up during one of our conversations in the pasture.

“I’ve wanted to see it, too,” he added. “So I asked Calvin to pull in some favors to get us the tickets. I hear some of the performers have trained since childhood.”

Minutes later we were seated as far away from the bar as possible, in a corner that made me feel secluded, even in a room full of people. “Three courses?” I asked, eyeing the menu. “You really are trying to make me fat. Serenity won’t be pleased.”

He laughed. “If she can carry that boy who feeds her while you’re gone, she can handle two of you.”

“She has. That’s the only way my sister could ride. Serenity wouldn’t let her get on by herself, but maybe that’s because Lily was always afraid she’d fall off and Serenity would step on her.”

“Serenity wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

We ate soup with our first course, followed by grilled prawns for me and filet mignon for him. For dessert we both chose fresh fruit. “I didn’t take you for a fruit kind of guy,” I said.

“Oh, what kind of guy am I?”

How to answer that. I couldn’t exactly say, “Well, not the kind to hit someone with a fireplace poker.”

“I don’t know,” I said instead. “With your beard and mustache, I thought maybe you’d be more into slabs of dutch-oven cake or something. Why do you wear a beard, anyway?”

Even as I said it, I wondered if he was hiding. Hiding from people like the women who’d accosted me earlier. Yet wouldn’t that mean he had something to hide? That maybe he hadn’t been joking when he said he’d been in prison? Because for all its insidiousness, a rumor often began with a kernel of truth. A kernel, though, wasn’t the full truth, and for whatever reason, I trusted Gage. Certainly I’d trust him over those biddies whose primary agenda seemed to be spreading hurtful gossip. I felt embarrassed for having asked about his beard at all.

“So I can fend off all the women,” he said, winking at me.

“Right.” He had a point there because I was finding it hard to remember we weren’t on a real date. This was a business arrangement, nothing more. Still, I was glad to have something to do before our eleven o’clock appointment at the hotel, or I’d be thinking about it too much.

My mother was going to disown me. My father, too. At least my actions wouldn’t hurt Lily, and we would always have each other.

“What is it?” Gage asked. “You went quiet all of a sudden.”

“It just hit me. What I’m doing.”

His eyes were still kind, but he might as well have been wearing his beard for all the emotion I could see in his face. “It’s not too late to change your mind.”

“I don’t have a choice.”

“There are always choices. It’s finding one you can live with that matters.”

Why did I think he was talking more about his life than mine? “I can live with this.”

“Okay, then. So, are you finished? The Cirque Du Soleil awaits.”

The seats around the arena were packed, and a feeling of anticipation hung in the air. I barely sat back in my seat during the performances, my eyes pinned to the amazing feats of daring, dancing, and martial arts.

“Did you see that?” I leaned over and grasped Gage’s arm for probably the hundredth time. “I can’t believe it.”

His warm hand closed over mine. “I don’t know which is better—watching you or the performance.”

I laughed and tried to sit still. After a moment, Gage’s arm went around the back of my seat, and it felt natural to lean into him.

I found myself becoming increasingly curious about his life, his family, his friends. While our association would end soon, I’d probably face a lot of questions from my family. They’d want to meet him, and if Gage wouldn’t agree, I’d have to supply a lot of excuses until the trust fund was taken care of and I could announce a permanent dissolution of the marriage.

“Look,” Gage said. “I could so see you doing that.” He pointed to an acrobat who was leaping through a ring of fire.

I laughed and forgot my worries.

The show ended about nine, and we still had an hour to kill before I needed to start getting ready. As we left, he took my hand to guide me through the crowd, and I realized I hadn’t thought of Julian all night. What did that say about me? Maybe Lily was right when she said Julian was all wrong for me.

A fresh wave of pain hit my chest, and I clung to Gage’s hand with more force than necessary. He glanced at me with one eyebrow raised. I loved how he did that. So expressive. A question without speaking a word.

“It’s early yet,” I managed. “Let’s go to a dance club.”

“They have one right here. People dance until the wee hours of the morning. Maybe all night.”

“Let’s go.”

“Aren’t you a little tired?” He stifled a yawn.

“Not at all. You?”

“I’m fine.”

The music in the club was loud, the beat exactly what I needed to drown my doubts and fears. I pulled Gage onto the floor and began to move. I didn’t have a lot of talents, but I could dance. As a child, my mother had put me into every imaginable dance class available, more to keep me busy than for any other reason. I didn’t mind. I’d loved every minute, every step, every routine learned. At one time, I’d imagined myself on the stage—a short-lived dream that died when I learned of the daily hours of practice involved. I still loved the beat, though, and freestyle was the best.

To my surprise, Gage matched me move for move. What he didn’t know in theory, he made up for in effort. When a slow song came, he drew me into his arms.

“Tired yet?” he asked, his lips close to my ears so I could hear, his breath warm on my cheek.

“No.” In fact, life was seeping into me. “I love staying out late. Tomorrow, though, I won’t be able to get up. I’m not a morning person. You?”

“Mornings are my favorite time. I especially love watching the sunrise.”

Something caught in my throat because I suddenly had a picture of us on the porch of a cabin somewhere, hot chocolate in hand, with me wearing one of his flannel shirts, as we sat and enjoyed the sunrise.

“I don’t think I ever saw a sunrise,” I admitted. “Plenty of sunsets. I love to watch them, especially over the ocean.”

“Maybe you’ll show me someday.” The music ended as he yelled this in my ear. We stared at each other, and I knew that like me he was suddenly remembering that none of this was real.

“Sure,” I lied.

The tension was thick between us. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to. What I wanted was for him to put his arms around me again and dance until morning. Julian and I didn’t often go dancing. He liked movies better, or playing golf, or hanging with stuffy business associates.

“Uh,” I said, “Something seems to be vibrating in your pocket.” We were still close enough for me to feel the movement, not to mention the hardness of his chest.

Gage released me and reached into his blazer pocket, drawing out his phone. “Someone’s trying like mad to reach me. It’s got to be at least the sixth phone call since we got here.” He glanced at the number. “Oh, it’s my sister.”

Sister? I didn’t even know he had a sister. Wait, yes. He’d mentioned her once before. She was younger and married with a child. Maybe.

“Go ahead and call her,” I said. “Might be important.” I only hoped no one had seen me with Gage and tracked me down through him.

He nodded. “She’s not usually this persistent. I’ll go find someplace quiet to talk to her. Be right back.”

In seconds he was swallowed by the noisy crowd. I swayed with the music, pondering Gage and his family. His mother was gone, according to the women at the restaurant, if they even had that right. What about his father? How close were he and his sister? He’d lived in Flagstaff nearly a year that I knew, but where was she?

Odd that I felt so alone without him. Alone and vulnerable in this huge city.

“Hey, sweetheart.”

I looked around to see a man addressing me. The man was taller than Gage, but half his width. The thin, tennis player type. Unruly blond curls dominated his head as though he was trying hard to be a surfer. I smiled at him. Why shouldn’t I? There was no telling how long Gage would be gone, and it wasn’t as if we were engaged. Well, not really.

“I’m Eddie,” he yelled over the music. His breath told me he’d been enjoying himself at the bar.

“Tessa.”

He nodded and got into the dance. He was more practiced than Gage, but his movements were not as graceful. I smiled my encouragement.

The music ended, and we moved off the dance floor. “Can I buy you a drink?” Eddie asked.

“I don’t think so. I’m waiting for a friend.”

His eyes turned hard. “You didn’t say anything about a friend a while ago. If you don’t like me, you should just say so.”

“I like you fine, but I really do have a friend. I need to wait here, or he won’t know where to find me.”

“He? You have a boyfriend?”

“Not a boyfriend. Look, it’s complicated.”

“Then come on. We’ll only be a minute.”

I was becoming angry at having to explain myself—for feeling obligated to explain. We’d shared a dance, for crying out loud, not a contract. He had no claim on me. “No, thank you,” I said, nearly shouting to be heard over the music. “Thank you for the dance, though. It really was fun.”

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