“I understand. Go ahead.”
“Lauren Kittrie was raised in a small town on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Her family was poor. Her mother abandoned her and her twin sister with their father, who worked as a hand on a local ranch. He was a busy man, not much interested in or capable of raising two beautiful headstrong girls.”
Sitting back, I took a page from Eva’s book and tried to picture two teenage Monicas. The image was more than striking.
“As you can imagine,” he continued, “they got noticed. Toward the end of high school, they’d caught the attention of a group of wealthy college students from Austin. Punks, with a dangerous sense of entitlement. The leader was Jackson Tramell.”
I nodded. “She married him.”
“That was later,” he said flatly. “Lauren was savvy about men from the outset. She wanted out of the life her parents had, but she knew trouble when she saw it. She rebuffed him, many times. Her sister, Katherine, wasn’t as smart. She thought Tramell could be her ticket out.”
Unease caused me to sit back. “How much of this do I need to hear?”
“Against Lauren’s advice, Katherine went out with him. When she didn’t come home either that night or the next day, Lauren called the police. Katherine was discovered by a local farmer in his field, barely conscious thanks to a toxic combination of street drugs and alcohol. She’d been violently assaulted. Although it wasn’t proven, it was suspected that multiple individuals were involved.”
“Katherine was in bad shape,” Clancy went on. “The hallucinogenic drugs in her system combined with the physical trauma of gang rape caused permanent brain damage. She needed round-the-clock care for an indefinite period of time, something their father couldn’t afford.”
Restless, I went to the bar, then realized a drink was the last thing I wanted.
“Lauren went to the Tramells, confronted them about their son and what she suspected he’d done. He denied it and no one was able to prove a connection to him, owing to a lack of physical evidence at that time. But he saw an opportunity and took it. Lauren was the one he’d wanted, so he got his parents to cover the expenses of basic care for Katherine in return for Lauren herself and her silence about the assault.”
Turning to face him, I stared. Money could hide a multitude of sins. The fact that Stanton had effectively hidden Eva’s past with sealed court files and nondisclosure agreements proved that. But Nathan Barker’s father had let him pay for his crimes. The Tramells had gone out of their way to conceal their son’s.
Clancy straightened in his chair. “Jackson wanted sex. Lauren negotiated with his parents to secure marriage, which she thought would provide some sort of guarantee that Katherine would always be looked after.”
I changed my mind about the drink and filled a tumbler to the halfway point with scotch.
“For a span of months, the situation between Lauren and Jackson was stable. They lived—”
“Stable?” A harsh laugh tore at my throat. “She just about sold herself to the man who orchestrated the gang rape of her twin sister. My God …”
I tossed back the liquor.
Monica—or Lauren—had been stronger than any of us had given her credit for. But was it worth it to Eva to learn that, considering the horror of the rest of it?
“The situation was stable,” Clancy reiterated, “until she met Victor.”
I caught his gaze. Just when you thought a situation was as bad as it could be, there was always worse.
His jaw tightened. “She became pregnant with Eva. When Jackson found out the baby wasn’t his, he tried to take care of it—with his fists. Although they lived in his parents’ home, the older Tramells never interceded during arguments between the two. Lauren feared for the life of her child.”
“She shot him.” I ran my hands through my hair, wishing I could scrape the image out of my mind as easily. “The undetermined manner of death—she killed him.”
Clancy sat quietly, letting me absorb that revelation. I wasn’t the only one who’d killed to protect Eva.
I began to pace. “The Tramells helped Lauren get away with it. They had to. Why?”
“During the time Lauren was with Jackson, she quietly documented anything and everything she could use against him later. The Tramells valued their reputation—and the reputation of their debutante daughter, Monica—and they just wanted Lauren, and all the problems she’d caused, gone. Lauren left with the clothes on her back and the understanding that, moving forward, Katherine’s care was entirely her responsibility.”
“So it was all for nothing,” I muttered. “She was right where she started.”
Then all the information clicked into place. “Katherine’s still alive.”