The unfamiliar masculine voice sent a chill down her spine. She looked toward the patio doors. A tall figure in a painfully crisp suit approached, his dark hair gleaming in the lamplight though his face remained shadowed. She took a sudden step back.
“May I help you?” The night seemed to swallow her words, leaving only emptiness around them.
“You most certainly may. I’m Reginald Higsley from the Albany Morning Times.”
He didn’t need to say where he worked. His name had imprinted itself on her mind, when it first appeared beneath the headline of that wretched newspaper article.
“Why are you here, sir?” Outside? Alone with me? Though her stomach twisted, she raised her chin. “At an event to which you weren’t invited?”
“I was indeed invited. Your father asked me to attend.”
Betrayal blazed through her gut. Of course Father would invite the reporter and try to schmooze good publicity from him.
“I’ve hoped for a word with you all evening.” He moved close, so close the sleeve of his coat brushed her gloved arms and the soft puff of his breath on the chilled air floated into her face.
She took another step back, bumping the wall. “Would you like a statement, then, for the paper?” She cringed at the quiver in her voice. “Perhaps next week you’re going to run an article on the importance of educating young women rather than the dangers of it?”
His mouth curved up into a shadowed smile. “Yes, I suppose you could say that.”
“Very well, then. I believe the importance of educating women cannot be ignored despite the current economy. Young women are not to blame for the panic or the recession. Why should they be the first to suffer?”
“So you feel women should be educated at all costs, even at the expense of feeding hungry children?”
She ground her teeth together. This was why she hated reporters. “I think both causes are important, and one shouldn’t be sacrificed for the other.”
“So you would starve children if it allows you to keep teaching trigonometry?”
Advanced algebra. First her mother tried fixing her up with Luke Hayes, then her father revoked the funding from Hayes Academy, and if that wasn’t enough, now this polished reporter was twisting her words. It was enough to drive even the most sane of people mad. “I didn’t say that. But how like a reporter. You ask questions fifteen different ways until you get an answer you half like. Then you go on your merry way and make up false quotations for all the world to read the next day.”
And she’d just ruined any hope of Mr. Higsley’s next article repairing the damage from the last one. Oh, why couldn’t she keep better control of her tongue? It was like she had a little monster inside her mouth, popping out and saying whatever it willed at the worst times.
“I don’t appreciate being called a liar.” The man loomed over her, barely contained fury radiating from beneath the lines of his stiff suit.
She shrank back against the wall. Yes, she should cut out her tongue for all the trouble it got her into. Tongues were such a useless part of one’s anatomy, anyway. One didn’t need them for practical things like quadratic equations or theorems or integration.
Except one could use a tongue to scream when in danger. A sure benefit in her current situation. But if she cried out now and someone came, everyone would see she’d been outside with a man. And with her hair in such a state of disarray, it would appear that...that...
Well, the incident would get her fired.
“Tell me, Miss Wells.” Mr. Higsley placed one arm on either side of her, trapping her against the cold bricks. “Does it feel good knowing that students at your extravagant academy continue their education in luxury while most young women their age work ten-hour days to bring bread home for their families?”
“Leave the lady alone.”
The reporter jerked back as though stung.
Elizabeth felt more than saw Mr. Hayes approach from the far side of the building. Trembling, she blew out the air in her lungs and took a hesitant step away from Mr. Higsley, only to have her next breath clog in her throat. Had Mr. Hayes been there this whole time? Listening around the side of the building?
But then, perhaps his eavesdropping wasn’t so terrible. At least he wouldn’t assume she’d set up a secret rendezvous with the reporter.
Mr. Hayes stopped beside her, his gaze narrowed on the reporter. “Why don’t you take yourself back to whatever hole you climbed out of. The lady’s spent enough time with you.”
Mr. Higsley extended his hand. “I’m Reginald Higsley, sir. And I’m afraid this situation is not as it appears. You see, I’m a reporter for the Albany Morning Times, and I just stepped outside to get a—”