The name flashed an image of a cocky, gangly boy older than her who got into scrapes at least once a week. She stared at his wide shoulders and long legs. From the minute she'd encounter this man there had been nothing cocky about him. He was all seriousness and business. What could change—He'd gone to jail for the robbery the day her father was killed.
Tessa shot out of the chair splashing coffee down her dress and across the floor. She grabbed Van's arm and swung him around to look at her.
"You were there the day my pa was shot." She stared at Van Donovan. She'd forgotten about him. He'd been swept from her thoughts as quickly as he'd been hauled out of town after the trial.
Being part of the gang, he'd know if her father had fallen into cahoots with the drifters. All these years she'd stuck up for the man, she had to know her loyalty hadn't been in vain.
"W-was," she choked back the nerves. She had to know. But what if he told her what the judge had been saying all along? Could she live with the knowledge her father had been on the wrong side of the law? The unknown was worse than whatever the answer would be. "Was my pa part of the gang?"
Van shook his head. "He was an innocent bystander." He grasped her upper arms. "I didn't fire a shot that day. I was just the lookout. Only the deputy nabbed me before I could whistle a warning. Crane and Harper came charging out shooting their pistols like liquored up cowboys. Your pa was hit minding his own business." His hands slid down her arms and hung loose at his side. "I'd give anything to live that month over."
His remorse oozed from him like sap from a tree. He'd been a boy bent on causing his pa grief. Everyone in town knew Van did all the outrageous things he did to get his father's attention. The man was hard as the steel rails he'd worked so hard to bring to this town.
Still, Van had participated in the unthinkable. The town's people had called him a traitor, having helped the drifters take their hard earned money. She spared Van a glance as memories of the events right after her father's death raced through her mind. Her mother's grief had consumed both of them for nearly a year and hung on just as sharp and unrelenting as Patch's claws clung to a mouse. She couldn't remember a happy day since her father's death. Twelve years.
That was a long time to live without the most basic of emotions.
Van wasn't the only one to blame.
"Why does Judge Spencer insist my father was part of the gang? Did you tell him the truth?"