The Wyoming Heir - Page 36

She looked away. Of all the things to discuss, why her spinsterhood? “My marital status isn’t your concern.”

“Is it teaching, then? Does that mean so much you’d give up a family?”

The inside of her mouth turned painfully dry. The man didn’t understand. Teaching was all she had, her only escape from life with an unfaithful husband. And if the academy closed, she would lose the little security she’d found. “We’ve discussed enough about me. Now what about you? Tell me what you’ll do with your vast inheritance. Obviously you’re not planning to give to charities or to further educational opportunities, like your grandfather did.”

“Sell what I can and go back home.”

He said it so simply, as though he was discussing the dinner menu or the weather rather than his grandfather’s life work. “All of it? Even the companies and estate? You could keep something in your name for an investment, at minimum.”

“Every bit and as quick as I can.”

“Oh, that’s noble. What happens when you get home? Do you sit around on your pile of money and congratulate yourself on a job well done? You sold a man’s life work in record time. What a hero you are.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“No. Rest assured I don’t. You’re planning to yank your sister away from her dream and run back home when you have opportunity to do so much good here. Did you know Samantha wants to study architecture?”

“Yes, and it’s ridiculous.”

Rage burned under her skin, flushing from the tips of her toes up to her hairline. How dare he say such a thing and of his sister, no less. “Why, because she’s a woman? A woman can study architecture as well as any man.”

“I’m sure a woman can. And let’s say for just a moment that you’re right. Let’s say that Sam doesn’t go home, where she belongs, and goes off to college instead. What happens after college? Does she graduate and get a job? As an architect? No architectural firm is going to hire a woman. And even if she does get hired, how would she deal with the builders? You think a crew of men is going to listen to her when she tells them they have the wrong dimensions for a parlor, or that they need to frame a doorway at a different angle?”

Elizabeth swallowed. He had a point, of course. Most of society would agree that architecture was hardly an acceptable field of work for women. Women could do things like nurse and teach, but becoming something like an architect or lawyer was a bit different. Still, Samantha shouldn’t have to give up her dream so easily. The goal she’d set for herself would be difficult to achieve but not impossible. “Louise Blanchard Bethune is a professional architect. She even lives in the state.”

“A woman as a professional architect?” Mr. Hayes snorted. “She probably runs an architectural firm with her father or brother.”

“Husband. But that doesn’t mean she couldn’t run one on her own.”

Mr. Hayes gripped her wrist, his fingers closing around her skin until she brought her eyes up to meet his. “It does, Miss Wells. No businessman in need of architectural work is going to hire a woman for such a thing.”

“So, because of that, what some man might tell your sister in the future, you’ll deny Samantha the chance to be an architect? She could end up like Louise Bethune. Even if Bethune works with her husband, she’s still doing the thing she loves. It’s wrong for you to steal such a dream away from your sister and force her back home.”

He released her wrist. “I don’t have a choice.”

“But you do.”

The muscle in his jaw clenched and unclenched. “No. I don’t.”

The man was three sides of stubborn and an oaf on top of it. “How can you say that?”

“It’s not just about me or Sam. It’s about my ma...” His eyes dipped down to his boots, nearly shrouded in the darkness. “She has consumption.”

Consumption. The word echoed through the dark carriage, the heaviness behind it seeming to drain the very life from Mr. Hayes.

“If Sam’s going to see Ma before she dies, Sam’s got to get home soon.”

Elizabeth drew in a long, slow breath. She’d assumed the man beside her was being selfish in demanding his sister return to Wyoming. She hadn’t thought, hadn’t expected, hadn’t dreamed something so serious drove him.

“I—I’m sorry.” The words sounded inane. A paltry offering that couldn’t begin to make up for the grief Mr. Hayes must be feeling—or the pain Samantha would feel once she found out.

“Yeah, me, too.”