“Your grandfather and Thomas Wells were rather close, and he was always something of a godfather to the Wells children. They seemed to replace the grandchildren he never saw, until Samantha arrived, that is.”
Luke glowered. As though he needed to be reminded that he’d never met his grandfather. “Go on.”
“I never inquired into your grandfather’s motivations regarding Miss Wells, sir. It wouldn’t be proper. He did smooth things over with her parents regarding the broken engagement, however. And he was most supportive of her studies. It pleased him greatly to see her teach at the school he’d founded. And then, in his will, he gave her the house she’d been making payments on.”
“Grandpa did all that for her?” Luke scratched his head. This didn’t seem like the man Pa’d told cruel stories about, but hadn’t the lawyer said something about giving someone a house when they were going over the will? He just hadn’t been paying much attention.
“Perhaps you should speak with Mr. Byron about it, if you have any further questions. All I know of the situation regarding Miss Wells is what I’ve overheard.”
“Thank you, Stevens. You may go.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
The butler turned and left, and Luke rubbed the heel of his hand over his bleary eyes, his blood still boiling at the thought of what her former fiancé had done.
And why should his blood boil? Why should he care at all? She was just a teacher who wanted a donation from him. No different from any of the other people who had asked him for money tonight.
So why couldn’t he get those fiery hazel eyes out of his mind?
Elizabeth’s breath clogged in her lungs, and the air around her turned thick and heavy. One would think she stood held at gunpoint, with the way her heart raced and her body went from hot to cold and back in an instant. Instead she stood in church, exactly one pew behind Mr. Hayes.
People filled the small sanctuary, their voices singing and bellowing and crooning on this bright Sunday morning. Smiles radiated from faces as though heaven itself had descended and implanted a spark of divine joy in the hearts of the worshippers. But she could hardly focus on singing with Mr. Hayes blocking her view of the song leader—and everyone else.
She held the hymnal open and scanned the page. She’d known the words to “Rock of Ages” since childhood, and the song rolled over her tongue with little effort. Maybe that was the problem. The hymn proved too familiar to offer a distraction.
Not that being distracted from those muscular shoulders would be easy. She glanced around the small church. A handful of farmers carried themselves the way Mr. Hayes did, with wide shoulders and thick necks and strong bearings.
But the farmers looked rough in their coveralls and flannel shirts, while Mr. Hayes’s tailored suit lay smooth against his body. And if she leaned close enough to Mr. Hayes, she could probably even smell the sun and grass and cologne that had entranced her last night.
She looked around the congregation as the pianist continued playing. Every woman present, whether married or single, watched Mr. Hayes—not that she was paying attention. If the man decided to sit right at the front of the church, of course women would stare. He was likely the richest man within a hundred miles.
But he hadn’t held another woman’s hand last night. And he hadn’t rescued someone else from the reporter. And he hadn’t smoothed hair from another woman’s face or stared into another woman’s eyes. She swallowed. He had looked at her as though she mattered. He’d caressed her jaw and pinned a strand of hair behind her ear, his face close enough that his breath warmed her cheek.
And she would have kissed him. Oh, why hadn’t he leaned forward just a bit? Let their lips brush? Then she’d know how his mouth felt on hers and wouldn’t be left wondering.
And what was she thinking? Why kiss at all when he would leave in a few weeks?
The minister motioned for the congregation to sit while the pianist played the introduction to “Amazing Grace.” Elizabeth sang the opening line, letting her soprano voice ring out above the others.
Samantha turned and looked at her, giggles sounded from the pew behind, and Mrs. Weldingham, seated to her left, glared. Elizabeth looked around. Was something...?
She clamped her mouth shut as more snickers erupted. A rich alto voice filled the air. One rich alto voice. She shifted to see past Mr. Hayes. Indeed, one woman stood at the front of the church, singing the solo Elizabeth had tried making into a duet.
Elizabeth pressed her eyes closed until the last strains of music faded away, and she could open them to find everyone staring at the pastor rather than her.