“I’m sure Mr. Hayes will want to continue in his grandfather’s stead, or he wouldn’t have come East at all. But I want you to speak with him about a donation.”
“Me? Speak with him? Certainly you’re in a better position to solicit funds.”
“Don’t be foolish, Elizabeth. You have such a convincing way about you, when you’re passionate about an issue. I doubt the man will be able to tell you no.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. Luke Hayes certainly hadn’t found saying the word difficult earlier that afternoon.
And he likely wouldn’t have trouble saying it again.
“Sell it all,” Luke said from behind his grandfather’s desk. “The companies, the estate, everything but the stocks.”
The lawyer, Mr. Byron, cleared his throat. “You can’t.”
“Why?” Luke waved his hand over the will spread across the desk. “Is there some sort of stipulation that prevents me from selling?”
“It’s not done.” Mr. Byron folded his stubby arms across his chest and peered through his spectacles. “Your grandfather intended for you to continue running the companies he worked so hard to establish, not to sell them off.”
Luke stared at the papers he’d spent the past two hours poring over, the lines of neat handwriting growing blurry beneath his gaze. He’d inherited nearly everything his grandfather had owned. Fifteen accounting offices with an insurance company attached to each branch, and a smattering of investments both in Albany businesses and on the New York Stock Exchange. “This shouldn’t even be mine. My father should inherit it.”
“Your grandfather was very clear. He wanted the estate and businesses to fall to his only living grandson.” The lawyer spoke without inflection, as though the words didn’t threaten to shatter the life Luke had built out West.
The unreachable little spot between his shoulder blades started to itch. Had Grandpa thought Luke would feel obliged to stay, once he saw the vast holdings? According to Pa, Jonah Hayes had manipulated everything and everyone around him. When the old codger tried forcing Pa into a marriage all those years back, Pa left, and Grandpa disowned him. Was Grandpa trying to get back at Pa by pulling his pa’s only living son back East?
Luke stretched his arm behind his back and tried to scratch the nagging itch. He couldn’t spend his days in an office, staring at lists and numbers, instead of ranching. Falling asleep to the distant howl of wolves and breathing the sharp air of the first mountain blizzard. Working with his hands to brand the cattle, round them up and drive them east. Seeing the prairie change from summer to autumn to winter to spring, all while the bold, jagged Tetons to his west watched like slumbering giants.
No. He wouldn’t leave the West. Not for all the wealth of his grandfather’s estate. “If Grandpa left everything to me, then he shouldn’t care what I do with it, and I want it sold.”
“You don’t realize the scope of what you ask.” The lawyer shoved his spectacles back up on his nose, only to have them slide halfway down again. “Think of all the problems selling such large holdings will cause. With the economy as it is, you’ll get maybe half the true value of your grandfather’s companies.”
Luke clenched his jaw. Beating his head against a brick wall would be easier than talking to the lawyer. “I don’t care about the money. My ranch does well enough. But if Grandpa was bound and determined to leave me his estate, the least I can do is take the money from it back to Pa, who should have gotten all this in the first place.”
“I appreciate that you want to reconcile things between your father and late grandfather, but you must consider some of the other people caught in your decision. What will happen to all the employees at Great Northern Accounting and Insurance if you sell?”
How was he to know? The new buyers would likely keep some of the employees. It wasn’t as though he put thousands of people out of work just by choosing to sell Grandpa’s companies. He wouldn’t be shutting down the businesses, merely putting them in the hands of men actually interested in running them.
“And what about the staff here at the estate? Do you realize how many people’s livelihoods you will be terminating with the single command to sell?”
Luke raked a hand through his hair. He hadn’t thought of the servants, either. Whoever bought the estate would probably have his own slew of servants to replace Grandpa’s. He’d need to have a meeting with the staff next week, explain the situation and let all but the minimum go.
No. That seemed too abrupt. Maybe he would keep them on for an extra month and give them time to find new employment.