Written in 20 minutes. No time for typos.
After Elizabeth’s revelations about the fate of the Lewis brothers, she closed up and Jason knew he wouldn’t get any more answers, so he left the ranch and headed back to town. Instead of going to the boarding house where he was staying, he rode towards the older part of town, where the founders’ families lived.
Where his grandmother still lived in the elegant home his grandfather had built when Diamond Springs had been little more than a boom town in 1850. Edward Quartermaine had uprooted his entire family to travel west, taking the fortune he’d made in property and commerce in New York City.
The Quartermaines had come west with the Hardys, the Webbers, Lewises, and Joneses. Jason had traveled with them, no more than three years old, the illegitimate grandson that Edward had refused to leave behind when his mother, Susan, had died in childbirth.
The Quartermaines had built the town, but had declined over the last decade as men died and women left to find better options in San Francisco or Sacremento. Now, only Jason and his grandmother were left.
Lila beamed at him as he strode into her little parlor. “Darling! I have been longing to see you.” She extended her hand and Jason bowed over it, an old habit from his youth when she’d been missing the England and ballrooms of her youth.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been by very much,” he told her.
“You could solve that if you lived in your old rooms,” Lila said with a sly smile. “You’d have the run of the house—”
Jason hid his grimace, but shook his head. “I like the boarding house for now. It’s closer to the jail.”
Lila pursed her lips, then nodded. “All right. We’ll discuss it at another time.” She patted his hand. “It’s rather late for a visit, dearest. Have you a reason for coming by?”
Jason hesitated. His grandmother was a wonderful woman, but she was strict about manners and propriety. He couldn’t simply ask her what had happened to Elizabeth Webber five years ago, when she’d stopped writing—but maybe he could work around to it.
“I was told today that the Lewis brothers both died,” Jason said hesitantly. “I was surprised by that—they were young. I was hoping you might tell me what happened.”
Lila frowned slightly with a bit of a gimlet eye—as if she knew exactly why he was asking. “The Lewis brothers? Alexander and Peter? Why, I haven’t given them a single thought in years.” Her voice shook slightly, and he heard the lie.
“Interesting.” Jason raised a brow. “Because I would think a murder-suicide would be memorable.”
Lila pursed her lips, drew back her hands. “Well, if you already know the gory details, my dear, then why are you asking me?”
“Because you never mentioned it,” Jason told her. “You wrote about everything—but not this. And I wanted to know why.”
“This is about that Webber girl,” Lila said, her voice tight. “You were hoping to marry her when you came home. But you never came home—”
“Because you wrote to tell me she was married. I always thought she’d married one of the brothers.” And it had torn at him—Jason had refused to touch the inheritance from his grandfather or father, but the Lewis brothers didn’t have that problem. He’d wondered if Elizabeth had married for the money.
“Well, by the time she married, there was only one Lewis left,” Lila said sharply. She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. She was a lovely girl, but I couldn’t abide being connected to that family. That Jeffrey Webber was a terrible person—”
“Grandmother, Elizabeth and I wrote to each other for two years—and her father arranged to keep all of our letters from reaching us.”
Lila’s nostrils flared as she reared back. “That reprobate! How dare he! You are a Quartermaine! He should be so lucky!” She twisted her hands in her lap. “How dare he,” she muttered. “If your grandfather were still with us—”
“Do you know what happened to Cameron’s sons?” Jason asked gently. “And why is Elizabeth at the Lazy W when she should be here, in town? In the Lewis house?”
“The Lewis house was sold after the incident,” Lila said. “She and Cameron made their home on the ranch. There was no—” She sighed. “There was no money. Alexander gambled away his share, and Peter had made a terrible investment—between the two of them, it was all Cameron could do to settle their debts. Then—” Lila twisted her handkerchief in her hands. “Alexander and Peter insisted that they were being tricked—that they’d been tricked out of their money, but they argued with each other, and—well, no one knows for sure what caused it. But it was over the loss of the money, we’re sure of it.”
Jason sat back. “So…Elizabeth’s marriage had nothing to do with them?” he asked, skeptically.
“Well, I don’t know about any of that. I know that Jeffrey Webber was hoping she would agree to marry that awful banker,” Lila said with a sniff. She didn’t trust anyone who handled money for a living. “But she never did. She and Alexander were always friends as children—you know that. I suppose we thought they might marry, but then the tragedy—” Lila smiled thinly at him. “Does it matter now, dearest?”
“I don’t know,” Jason admitted. He was looking for a reason Elizabeth had stopped writing him, why her letters seemed to be such a secret — but maybe it wasn’t that difficult to understand.
She’d written more than a hundred letters to a man who’d never answered them. Why would anyone keep writing?
Jason frowned, looked at Lila. “Wait, Alexander and Peter claimed someone was tricking them?”
“That was the rumor, but I don’t pay much attention to those. It was probably their pride—”
“Maybe.” But Jason couldn’t get the thought out of his head that Elizabeth had stopped writing him, might have married Alexander Lewis—and then Alexander and Peter were broke, without money.
And Ric Lansing was a banker who was still bothering Elizabeth now, seven years after she’d rejected his proposal of marriage on her seventeenth birthday.