Samantha sat on a small fancy sofa thing with perfect cushions, her chin quivering slightly. “I didn’t feel like being yelled at.”
“I’m not...” Yelling. Though he was close. He pressed his lips together to keep from saying more.
“Mr. Hayes.” Stevens stood in the open doorway. “Miss Hayes. May I present Mr. Jackson Wells.”
Wells cast Luke that too-polished smile but walked straight to Sam. “Ah, Samantha, your beauty this evening is riveting.” The man settled onto the dainty couch, somehow confident the fragile furniture would hold two people.
Luke eyed the chair beside them. Those spindly gold legs would likely collapse if he sat down, and if the chair didn’t break, his filthy clothes would ruin the cushions.
“Thank you, Jackson. It’s lovely to see you, as well.” Samantha sent the dandy a smile despite her still trembling lips and extended her hand, palm down, which Wells kissed.
He should burn the man’s lips off.
“Luke, allow me to make introductions.” Samantha sniffed, her nose tilted into the air, but something wet glinted in her eyes.
Certainly he wasn’t being a big enough fool to make her cry, was he?
“This is Jackson Wells, son of our esteemed local assemblyman, Thomas Wells. He also works for you, as manager of Great Northern Accounting and Insurance’s office in Albany.”
“I know he works for me.” And the knowledge didn’t curb his urge to chase away the scoundrel with his Colt.
“Jackson.” Samantha’s smile seemed more genuine as she glanced at her suitor. “This is my brother, Luke Hayes.”
Wells’s gaze, sickeningly friendly, rested on Luke. “We’ve spoken.”
“Mr. Wells.” Luke nodded, his voice vibrating like a dog’s low growl. Probably wouldn’t do to fire the man just for being sweet on his sister, but it was tempting.
Wells leaned forward and whispered something in Sam’s ear, and she laughed softly.
Luke flexed his fingers. “Don’t eastern folk ask permission from the man of the family before they start courting a lady?”
Samantha stopped midwhisper, and Wells stood. “I spoke with the late Mr. Hayes before he passed. He was thrilled when I requested to call on Samantha. He and my father are acquainted, of course, and—”
Luke cut the boy off with a wave of his hand. “And you expect to take her to the banquet.”
“Plans have changed. Samantha is accompanying me. You can meet her there.”
Sam sprang from her seat. “Luke, you can’t—”
“Perhaps you’re concerned about a chaperone?” Wells interjected. “My sister is awaiting us in the carriage. She’s a spinster and a perfectly acceptable chaperone.”
“Miss Wells, Luke.” Sam held her chin at a determined angle, but she blinked against the tears in her eyes. “The mathematics teacher you met at the academy yesterday.”
So Miss Wells and the dandy were related after all. And that also made her the daughter of the local assemblyman. No one had bothered to tell him that, either.
What was the daughter of a politician doing teaching mathematics like some spinster?
Not that it mattered. Nope. Certainly not. Whatever Miss Wells chose to do or not do, whoever she happened to be related to or not related to, was no concern of his.
Luke rubbed his hand over his forehead and glanced back at his sister, only to find more tears glistening in her eyes. Confound it. Why did she cry at everything he did? Made him feel like an ogre—which he most definitely was not.
Or so he hoped. Maybe he had some questions for Sam, and needed to have a long chat with her suitor, but now was hardly the time to go into all that. Clearly Sam and Wells had arranged to attend the banquet, and it hardly seemed fair to stop them just because he’d arrived in town and hadn’t known about their plans.
But he still didn’t cotton to the idea of Sam going off without him. “How about this. Sam and I will go to the banquet together. Sam, if your friend and the mathematics teacher want to tag along, so be it.”
Sam bit her bottom lip and sent him an uncertain glance. “Does that mean you’re going to change clothes?”
Elizabeth scooted toward the far side of the carriage, giving the rancher—not cowboy—more room as he sat beside her. She hadn’t considered that he and his sister would attend the banquet together, or that he would insist they take his carriage, not Jackson’s. She didn’t want to share a carriage with the man after offending him earlier that afternoon.
Though she still wasn’t sure how she’d offended him. Surely the man couldn’t be upset because she’d asked for a donation, could he?