Of course, the heir had to arrive first.
And at this rate, the academy would be closed and the building sold before the man got here.
The students returned from lunch, a cascade of laughter and conversations fluttering in their wake. Elizabeth tried to smile, tried to straighten her shoulders and stand erect, tried to be grateful for the chance to teach her students—an opportunity that she might not have in another month.
Tried, but failed.
“Miss Wells?” The shining blue eyes of Samantha Hayes, Jonah’s granddaughter and one of the academy’s most intelligent pupils, met hers. “Meredith, MaryAnne and I are going to have a picnic along the stream that runs through Grandfather’s estate tonight. Do you want to join us?”
Elizabeth did smile then, though it doubtless looked small and halfhearted. How enjoyable to spend the evening chatting with the girls beside the clear stream, watching autumn swirl. If only she didn’t have to find a way out of the financial mess she’d created for Hayes Academy, which meant she had an appointment for tonight with the extra set of ledgers she kept for the school. “I’d best not. Thank you for asking.”
“Are you feeling all right?” Concern flitted across the young lady’s face. “You look pale.”
“I’m fine, but...well, now that I think of it, I could use your help on a certain project tomorrow.”
Samantha’s eyes danced, light from the window streaming in to bounce off her golden tresses. The girl was breathtaking. More than breathtaking, really. Elizabeth smiled. Little surprise her brother, Jackson, had started courting Samantha Hayes last spring. Half the men of Albany would be courting her if they had any sense about them.
“Is it more calculus?”
She did smile then, full and genuine. If only all her students were as exuberant over calculus as Samantha Hayes. “I’m afraid not. I’ve some ciphering to do tonight, and I’d like for you to check my sums.”
Samantha excelled at finding discrepancies in account books, whether they be the school’s or Jonah Hayes’s or Elizabeth’s personal ledgers. “Sounds fun. Should we meet at the picnic spot around lunchtime tomorrow, then?”
If Samantha knew the state of Hayes Academy’s accounts, she wouldn’t be nearly so happy. Oh, well, the younger girl would find out tomorrow.
“Yes, that will be fine, but you’d best take your seat now.” Elizabeth moved to the chalkboard and turned toward her students. Thirteen expectant faces stared back at her. Last year, she’d had twenty-three in her advanced algebra class.
“Today we’re going to learn about...”
But she couldn’t finish. How could she, with the school struggling to pay its bills and teachers’ salaries? Did the girls understand how much funding had been pulled from the academy within the past five days? That they might not be able to finish their final year of high school if more students didn’t enroll or if new funds couldn’t be raised?
And part of it was her fault. Oh, what had ever possessed her to write that editorial?
“Miss Wells, are you feeling okay?”
“Can we do something for you?”
“Did you forget what you were saying?”
The voices floated from different corners of the room. Elizabeth plastered a smile on her face. “Forgive me, class, but I’ve decided to change the lesson. We’ll review today.”
Her hand flew across the chalkboard as her mind formed the numbers, letters and symbols without needing to consult a textbook for sample equations. “I’m giving you a surprise quiz. Take the next half hour to finish these quadratic equations, and we’ll check them at the end of class.” She wiped her chalk-covered hands on a rag and turned.
A shadow moved near the open classroom door, and the darkened frame of a man filled the doorway.
A man. At Hayes Academy for Girls. What was he doing here?
“Can I help you?”
He entered and dipped his head. “Excuse me, ma’am.” A Western drawl lingered on the rusted voice.
“You’re here!” Samantha screeched.
Elizabeth nearly cringed at the unladylike sound, but Samantha took no notice as she sprang from her desk and rushed toward the gentleman. “I can’t believe you finally came. I missed you so much!” Samantha threw her arms around him for all the world to see.
Most unladylike, indeed. Did Jackson know about this other man? These were hardly fit actions for a girl who’d had an understanding with another man since last spring.
“Samantha...” Elizabeth drew up her shoulders and stepped closer. Their quiz forgotten, the other students watched the spectacle. “Sir, if the two of you would accompany me into the hallway. Students, please continue working.”