The Wyoming Heir - Page 24

“I’d like to discuss things, as well.” She glanced across the carriage as it rolled to a stop in front of the Kenmore Hotel. The lovers whispered together much the way she and Mr. Hayes did. She edged as far away as she could, pressing herself against the wall. “But not tonight.”

His eyes narrowed and blood throbbed in her ears.

She averted her gaze and focused on a streetcar clunking past, but she didn’t let out her breath until he shifted away. How foolish to let him bother her. First with getting her ire up that afternoon, and now by acting so polished and intelligent she could hardly think. A man hadn’t stirred her this way since her former fiancé.

But she was older now, and stronger, no longer a child to be swayed by flattering words and handsome looks. She’d even gone to college and gotten her mathematics degree to avoid being trapped into a marriage with someone like David again.

“Miss Wells?”

She glanced up.

Mr. Hayes stood in the doorway of the now empty carriage, his hand extended, his eyes assessing. Did he know what went on inside her? How handsome she found him? How hurt she was by his disregard for anything and everything concerning Hayes Academy?

Of course not. He could only see what the lights illuminated, which was precious little, as she clung to the far corner of the conveyance and shadows filled the space between.

“Are you all right?”

Of course she was all right. She was Miss Elizabeth Wells, daughter of the esteemed and long-standing assemblyman, Thomas Wells. Educated woman and teacher of mathematics. And she wasn’t about to let a few whispered words from Mr. Hayes bother her. She leaned forward and gave him her hand.

“I’m sorry for barging into your class yesterday and disrupting the test, and for that comment this afternoon about a diploma not being important. I didn’t mean to upset you. Not either time.” His low voice rolled over her, smooth as polished glass.

She nodded slightly as she climbed down from the carriage. “You apologized about interrupting class yesterday.”

He rubbed a hand over his chin. “Didn’t exactly mean it then, but I do now.”

She couldn’t stop the smile that curved her lips. “Thank you, sir. We’ve still much to discuss, but I’m afraid this evening simply isn’t the time. Now we’d best head inside.”

“As you like.” He took her hand and placed it firmly on his arm.

She glanced around and tried to tug free. But Mr. Hayes only settled his other hand atop hers, giving her little choice but to follow him into the Kenmore. She didn’t intend to let him escort her. She had plans for the evening, and they involved speaking to the school board members about keeping Hayes Academy open, not standing around on the arm of a rich bachelor and fluttering her eyelashes every time he deigned to look her way. Arriving at the banquet together had been merely a matter of convenience, hadn’t it?

Once inside, Mr. Hayes helped her with her cloak before she could take it off herself, and handed the garment and his hat to the clerk. When he extended his elbow this time, she stepped back.

“If you’ll excuse me.” Her heart thudded slowly, as he turned those cool blue eyes—eyes that always seemed to see too much—on her. “There is a gentleman I must speak with. Do forgive me if I slip away.”

Before he could answer, or take her hand again, or stare into her eyes for too long, or do something else equally unnerving, she turned and hurried toward the banquet hall, alone.

The room held the dimly lit, quiet ambiance of formal dinners but lacked some of the usual glamour. The rich array of women’s dresses should have looked beautiful beside the men’s crisp tuxedos, but the gowns and suits appeared old and overworn. That only made sense, as her own dress was more than four years old. No one had money for new dresses or properly tailored tuxedos these days.

Even the hall itself reflected the hotel’s attempt to save money. On the tables, crystal goblets glittered beside sparkling china plates and polished silverware. But the tablecloths weren’t bright white, more gray in hue with an occasional faded stain, and the chandeliers and windows looked in need of a good scrubbing.

The depression had hit New York hard, and her family felt it more than most. The force of the panic struck home last April, when a mob had descended on her father’s bank. Nearly all her parents’ campaign financing and personal savings had been lost, along with the trust funds set up for her and her brother—which she hadn’t been able to access until she married anyway. Indeed, few people had escaped the panic and depression unscathed. Fortunately for Luke Hayes, his grandfather had been one of them.