Something flashed in Wells’s eyes. A challenge? It was gone too soon, replaced by that overly polished face once again. “Is there some trouble with Samantha accompanying me to the banquet tonight?”
Samantha at the banquet? Luke slammed the door in Wells’s face. “Sam!” He grimaced as his shout echoed up the polished stairs.
“Mr. Hayes, sir.” The butler stepped forward. “Perhaps I can show Mr. Wells into the gentlemen’s reception room, where you can discuss the situation.”
Luke turned to the butler. What was his name again? Stebbens? Stevens? “Thank you, no.”
Sam appeared at the top of the stairs, dressed in a long silvery-lavender gown. “Is Jackson here?” A thousand bursts of sunlight radiated from her face.
He should speak, send her a look, do something to show his displeasure. But he only stared as her beautiful figure descended the stairs. It couldn’t be his sister. Her hair, a mixture of honey and spun gold, piled atop her head in curls, a few of which hung down to frame her soft face. Her cheeks glowed the perfect shade of pink and her lips...she’d dyed them red with something.
Sam glided to the base of the stairs, an uncertain smile curving the corners of her mouth.
A fist pounded on the door.
The butler cleared his throat.
His sister sniffed the air. “Goodness, you stink, Luke.”
“Where did you get that dress?” His voice was too hoarse, and try as he might, he couldn’t look away. Oh, he knew she was of marrying age. Had handed her a letter from Levi just yesterday, likely with a proposal inside. But giving her a letter from an old friend was a far cry from letting her traipse around town dressed like that with the spiffed-up stranger outside.
“Grandfather ordered it made for a ball earlier this summer. I didn’t attend, of course, after his heart failed, but I was able to have the color switched from blue to lavender. It’s appropriate for attending the banquet, with my still being in half mourning, don’t you think?” She spoke eloquently and smoothly, with a gentle lift of the shoulder here, and slight ducking of the chin there. She was practically a grown woman, wearing that beautiful gown and honoring her late grandfather.
But none of that changed the two most important things. She was still his sister and... “Did you say you were going to the banquet, the one I’m attending?”
He opened his mouth to add she was too young, then stopped and attempted to blow out his frustration in one giant breath.
It worked great—until his shoulders tightened into knots.
Sam frowned. “No. I’m wearing satin to a banquet in the town park. Yes, the banquet you’re attending. I gave Jackson my word. Now, if you would please step away from the door so Stevens can let Jackson inside. He came all the way from Albany just to pick me up.” Her dress swished, catching the light from the chandelier as she waved toward the door.
Luke raked his hand through his hair. Mourning indeed. Why couldn’t the gown be some other color? A bright childlike yellow or pink. Not shades of lavender and silver that shimmered in the lighting and caused her skin to look as creamy as warm milk. He wanted his old sister back. The one that skinned her knees trying to climb trees and didn’t cry when she fell off a horse.
Again, the knock.
Luke gritted his teeth and looked between his sister, the butler and the door. He’d give his grandfather’s estate away in a second, if he could be instantly back in Wyoming, Sam by his side. But since that wasn’t an option, what else could he do? Keep the slick-looking man outside, and haul Sam upstairs to hog-tie her to her bed for a day or two?
She’d never speak to him again. “Stevens, please show Mr. Wells into the...” He snapped his fingers, the name of the room escaping him.
The butler raised his eyebrows. “The gentlemen’s reception room, sir? Or would you prefer the drawing room since the lady is present?”
Wasn’t one room the same as another?
“The drawing room will do nicely.” Samantha moved toward the double doors on the right.
Luke followed her into the room and nearly had to step back out. The carpet. The molding. The drapes. The furniture. Gold gleamed at him from every direction, and the few things that weren’t gold were white. Someone had painted the walls a blindingly pure shade, and the white cushions on the furniture looked so bright they’d likely never been sat on. A large marble fireplace, also white, dominated the far wall, while floor-to-ceiling windows sent shafts of sunlight into the room.
He narrowed his eyes at his sister, who stepped daintily across the room. “Hang it all, Sam. Why didn’t you tell me you were going to this banquet earlier?”