Maybe Miss Wells was right, and he should tell Samantha about Ma’s consumption, regardless of the promise he made. But that felt wrong somehow. He’d only been in Valley Falls for a day and a half, and he needed to try to honor his promise for more than two days.
But would anything short of the truth draw his sister away from here?
I love you, Jackson. The scene beside the Kenmore flashed across his mind once again. The tremble in Sam’s voice. The tears in her eyes. Getting her away from Jackson Wells was going to be harder than starting a campfire during a rainstorm, especially with her accusing him of being so unreasonable. It was not unreasonable to protect his sister from a wily city slicker. Why couldn’t she see that?
Then again, him pulling her out of school with little explanation probably had something to do with her anger.
What if he went ahead and made that donation to the academy? That might temper Sam some, at least convince her that he didn’t hate her school and wanted the best for her.
An image of Miss Wells rose in his mind. Her eyes soft and vulnerable as she explained that her father had pulled state funding away from her school. No, it couldn’t hurt to make the donation.
And what was he thinking? He was not going to pledge away two thousand dollars of his grandfather’s money just because a pretty teacher had gotten misty eyed with him. Something was happening to his brain. He’d been clearheaded and competent enough to run a ranch for the past decade, but put him around Miss Wells, and his mind suddenly turned to mush.
He rose and left the room, taking the stairs down to the grand hall two at a time. “Stevens!” He’d consider giving money to the academy, but he’d do so based on sound logic—and the possibility of it helping his relationship with Sam—not because of a pretty mathematics teacher.
And before he gave a dime, he was going to learn everything he could about the woman asking for the money. He walked into the drawing room and blinked against the bright lights glinting off the gold and white furnishings.
“You called, sir?” Stevens appeared in the doorway.
“What do you know of Miss Wells?”
“Miss Wells? The mathematics teacher and daughter of Assemblyman Wells?”
“That’s the one.” Luke leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms.
Stevens pursed his lips together and paused, as if trying to reach into the back drawer of his mind for information. “She thinks rather highly of female education, and went off to college instead of marrying her intended several years ago.”
“She had an intended?” His pulse accelerated. He’d been daft not to see it sooner. With her family and looks, the woman had probably been offered more proposals than there were men in the Teton Valley.
“Yes, sir, one of the most acclaimed men of Albany. He’s in Washington, D.C., now. A congressman.”
“How convenient for her father.” He could imagine it all too clearly, Miss Wells in a shimmering silk gown like tonight, her hand tucked gently into the arm of her politician husband as he smiled and schmoozed and cajoled. And after growing up in a politician’s home, Miss Wells was surely practiced at playing the perfect role of supportive female. Yes, on the surface, she would make a fine politician’s wife. “Why didn’t they marry?”
Stevens kept his face set in austere lines. “It’s not my business to speak of it. Perhaps you should make your inquiry to Miss Wells herself.”
A servant that didn’t like gossip. Just his luck. “You know something. Tell me.”
“Really, sir. I’d prefer not to—”
Stevens cleared his throat. “Ah, yes, sir. I don’t know much of the situation, but before Miss Wells was to marry Mr. DeVander, it is my understanding that she learned the gentleman kept a mistress, so she refused him.”
He stilled even as his blood began to simmer. What type of cheating crook would do such a thing? “I assume the family ran off the scoundrel with a shotgun.”
He glowered at the butler, who again didn’t seem inclined to give more information. “What do you mean, no?”
“The family didn’t seem to mind Mr. DeVander’s indiscretion. He had a rather large bank account and a bright political future.”
“So she stood up to her family.” That made sense. He could almost picture her telling her father she wouldn’t marry a cheat as she stood with her chin high, her shoulders back and her gaze cool.
“She would have still ended up married had your grandfather not stepped in.”
“What?” Now that he couldn’t envision. Especially since the old codger had tried forcing Pa into a similar marriage. Oh, as far as he knew, the bride picked out for Pa hadn’t been a cheat, but Pa hadn’t loved her. Marrying her would have been nothing but a business transaction, arranged for Jonah Hayes’s benefit. Grandpa would have been more likely to help the Wells family marry Elizabeth off, not protect her. “Doesn’t seem like it would even be his business.”