Samantha shrugged as she settled back down beside the tree. “It’s Luke. Anytime you disagree with him, he’d say you handled something wrong.”
Covered in dust and smelling of sweat, Luke hurried through the back entrance to Grandpa’s house. After spending the first half of the day sorting through the things in Grandpa’s office, he’d decided to take a peek at the stable. After all, if he shut down the estate, he’d need to sell off whatever horseflesh Grandpa had acquired. But at a glance, some of that horseflesh had looked a little too good to be sold. So he’d hopped astride Triton, the finest beast in the stable, for a little ride.
He certainly hadn’t expected to find Samantha and Miss Wells. He glanced down at his hand and couldn’t help but smile. The white stain from her chalk dust had long since faded, but he’d never forget the memory of first looking at his hand and seeing white, then watching the color rise in Miss Wells’s face.
With her bright hazel eyes, perfect mouth and head of thick mahogany hair, the teacher was just as beautiful today as she had been yesterday...and terribly determined to wheedle money for the school out of him.
Luke rolled his shoulders as he headed through the back hallway and out into the grand hall. Should he give the school some money? It wouldn’t hurt anything. Grandpa had left him more than enough. And it might help Sam to see he wasn’t some type of greedy tyrant.
But then, he didn’t rightly know what he wanted to do with any of Grandpa’s money yet, besides give it to Pa. And how unfair would it be to all the other charities Grandpa had supported if he discounted them and wrote out a bank draft to Hayes Academy because a pretty little teacher with shiny hazel eyes smiled at him?
Twenty-four hours in Valley Falls and his brain was already half mush. He had to get out of this place. Soon.
Luke strode through the grand hall toward the bright marble staircase. He’d stayed out riding Triton for too long after meeting up with the womenfolk. Now he needed to bathe fast, if he didn’t want to arrive at that fancy banquet late. He could always scrub up quicklike in the stream behind the house, but this place crawled with enough servants that someone would probably venture along while he washed. Plus Sam could probably list a good ten rules about why a man couldn’t take a simple bath in a stream these days.
A knock sounded behind him on the front door, not more than three feet away. He glanced around the large empty room with its glittering chandelier and polished white marble. “I’ll answer it.”
The butler emerged from a doorway on the left, but Luke pulled the door open anyway. A dark-haired young man stood there, dressed in a tuxedo and top hat, his skin smooth and pale as though he’d never seen a day in the sun.
The man pondered him for a moment, then a polished smile curved his lips, and he thrust his hand out. “Good evening. You must be Mr. Luke Hayes.”
Luke shook the offered hand, the scent of his body’s odor rising as he moved his arm. The other man deserved some credit for not gagging.
“I’m Jackson Wells.”
Wells. As in related to the mathematics teacher? Couldn’t be. Miss Wells was proper all right, but she didn’t come off as slick, like the spiffed-up man in front of him. “Howdy, Mr. Wells.”
“I’m manager at the Great Northern Accounting and Insurance office in Albany.” He rubbed the brim of his top hat.
“Nice to meet you.” So this was the accountant for Hayes Academy—who also happened to share the same surname as his little mathematics teacher? He scratched behind his ear. The lawyer hadn’t said anything about the accountant and teacher being related, but he supposed it was possible.
And either way, he had a couple hundred questions to ask the man, if not for needing to be ready for that banquet thing he’d gotten roped into.
“Your grandfather hired me a few years ago. I imagine you own the accounting office now? It’s a pleasure. I’ve been wanting to meet you.”
“Thanks for coming around, Mr. Wells. But I’ve got a banquet to get to. Let’s schedule an appointment at the office on Monday. About nine o’clock?”
“Yes, sir.” Wells’s gaze drifted down Luke’s sweat-encrusted clothing, and the man frowned. “Were you planning to travel with us tonight? Should Samantha and I wait for you?”
“Samantha and you?”
“Traveling?” Luke’s scalp heated. The man spoke too easily, as though he expected to wrap Sam up in a blanket and haul her off to...to...
Well, it didn’t really matter where the man wanted to cart her off to. The dandy was too old for his sister. “Sam’s not taking visitors today.”