All in all, hadn’t been bad in the least—which made that familiar spot between his shoulder blades start to itch.
The lawyer, too, had been thrilled when Luke told him to go ahead and start interviewing men for an overseer’s position. If he was going to keep the house staff on for as long as possible, he could at least find an overseer to manage the accounting and insurance offices. If the setup didn’t work after a year or two, he could always come back to Valley Falls and sell the companies.
But campfires and managers and meetings aside, he now had another stack of paperwork to get through, and he still needed to have that conversation with Sam. “Did my sister enjoy her day at school?”
The boy turned back to him, a frown plastered across his face. “Wouldn’t know, sir. I don’t usually ask her such things. And besides, she hasn’t returned yet.”
Luke stopped, despite the people milling in the crowd around him. “She hasn’t returned? As in she’s still at school?”
“No, sir. She’s at Miss Wells’s house for her calculus lesson. Goes there every Monday and Wednesday, she does.”
“And no one thought to fetch her home?”
The boy shifted nervously from one foot to the other and glanced at his boots. “I wasn’t aware I needed to.”
Luke scrubbed a hand over his face. So help him, he should shove Sam on the first train West. Here he was trying to be nice by letting her go to school one last time, then she up and headed to a lesson without so much as asking. There was no keeping the girl happy. “And where does Miss Wells live?”
“She owns a place just down from the academy. Rents rooms to two of the other teachers.”
“You’d best take me.”
The coachman nodded and scampered toward the carriage.
The conveyance took him to a quiet tree-lined street where neighbors sat on porches and children played in the yards. Just the sight of the two-story house, painted a buttery-yellow with soft green shutters and gables, calmed him. He could well imagine Miss Wells up in the little turret on the north side of the house, knitting or painting or doing some other ladylike craft while she looked down on the street below. Not that he needed to think about Miss Wells all cozy in her home.
He headed up the walk and knocked on the door, then waited.
He knocked again, a little louder this time.
Turning the door knob, he slipped inside. Muted female voices floated from the doorway on his left. He followed the sound, trying to force his boots to step quietly through the otherwise silent house.
Samantha sat at a writing desk against the far wall of the parlor, while Miss Wells stood beside his sister, her shoulders and head bent, her soft voice filling the room with odd sounding words: derivative, function, linear approximation, tangent line. Sam’s head bobbed back and forth as she scrawled something across a slate.
A teacher. The woman standing beside the far wall surely was one. She’d said as much to him the other night in the carriage when she’d insisted she was content to remain a spinster and had refused to answer his questions about why she didn’t want a family. When he had first seen her at the school, she’d been so beautiful he couldn’t envision her doing anything but marrying a distinguished gentleman.
But would she marry if it meant she’d spend her days at home rather than lecturing or whispering encouraging words to her students? Rather than covering her hands with chalk dust?
He walked closer. They’d have to hear the rustle of his suit or the floor creak beneath his feet. But with their backs to him, neither woman noticed until he stood close enough to touch.
“Mr. Hayes?” Surprise lit Miss Wells’s eyes.
“Luke.” Sam turned, guilt rather than astonishment etching her face. “What are you doing here?”
He crossed his arms. “Seems I should be asking you that.”
Sam stiffened. “I’m studying calculus with Miss Wells, like I do every Monday. Grandfather never had a problem with it.”
Miss Wells’s gaze flitted between them, her lovely hazel eyes filled with questions. “Samantha, did your brother give you permission to be here?”
Sam hunched back over the desk. “I understand the first one. It’s this second derivative I can’t quite grasp.”
“No.” Luke shifted and tapped a finger against the slate, filled with as many letters and symbols as digits. How did they even call this stuff mathematics if it hardly used numbers? “She didn’t have permission to be here or at school today. She was supposed to sort through Grandpa’s room. I need her help at the estate, if we’re going to make it home anytime soon.”