“Oh. I’m sorry.” And the round, sad look in Miss Wells’s eyes showed she truly was. “When I saw Samantha this morning, I assumed that you...well...had become more sensible about your decision and had given her permission to attend classes until she left Valley Falls.”
“My decision’s perfectly sensible.” He not only needed Sam’s help at the estate, he needed to break her away from the things she’d grown to care about here and get her excited about going home. None of that would happen if she spent her days at school, fixated on heading to college. “Sam, get to the carriage.”
“Mr. Hayes, if nothing else, please let her continue these private lessons with me. It’s the least you can do, if you’re going to be taking her away soon.” Miss Wells looked away, blinking and biting her lip.
He swallowed a groan. The last thing he needed was for the woman to start crying.
“I understand that you miss your sister,” she went on, her shoulders straightening. “And I realize you have reasons for wanting her home. But can’t you wait a few more weeks? Maybe she could return home with you at Christmas, after the end of the semester.”
“Go home at Christmas? Now you expect me to leave, too, Miss Wells? I’m not going to Wyoming at Christmas or anytime after that.” Samantha gripped the back of the chair, her knuckles whitening. “You’ll have to drag me to that train, and I’ll scream the entire way. Then I’ll—”
“I don’t care how much screaming you do.” What was the point in being reasonable with the girl anymore? Nothing he did made a dent in Sam’s stubbornness, and he could be just as mule-headed as she. “And I’m done trying to be nice about it. You’re on a train West as soon as I find a chaperone to take you.”
“No!” Horror filled his sister’s face. “I’ll turn around and come back, I swear it. I’m finishing school. I want to graduate and go to college. I want to be with Jackson. He says I can still attend college after we marry.”
Luke balled his hands into fists. “You’re not marrying that scoundrel.”
Miss Wells gasped, and heat burned the back of his neck. Probably shouldn’t have called the lady’s brother a scoundrel while she was present. But what else was he supposed to do while Sam was hollering at him?
“This is about Blake, isn’t it?” Sam sprang from her chair.
“Blake? You’ve gone daft.” He’d been about four years old when he figured out most women were batty, but nothing illustrated it better than Sam’s cockeyed statement.
“I’m just going to slip into the kitchen and make some tea,” Miss Wells squeaked and scurried through the doorway.
Sam held his gaze. “I’m not daft. You’re not happy I left after he died. You never wanted me to leave, and now that you see me here and happy, you can’t stand that you were wrong about me leaving the Teton Valley.”
She’d gone haywire. Sam needed to go home because of Ma, not because of something that had happened in the past. But her words brought back the memories anyway, an image of his twin’s body lying on the blood-soaked dirt.
Blake had discovered some things missing around the ranch, and when he’d pegged the thief as one of their seasoned cowhands, Blake had fired him. The man had ridden up to Blake’s place the next morning, called for him while he was sitting at breakfast with Cynthia, and shot him the moment he stepped outside.
Luke’s stomach twisted at the image in his mind, and an insatiable well of regret opened inside him. He hadn’t known what was happening to Blake. His brother’s cabin was on the other side of the ranch property, out of view from the big house, but when Blake hadn’t shown up in the stables at his usual time, Luke had ridden out, only to find Cynthia crying over his bloodied twin.
He’d jumped from his horse and kneeled beside the body, ripping off his shirt to stanch the bleeding. “Who’s riding for the doctor? Why don’t you have rags here to stop the blood?”
Cynthia shook her head while tears coursed down her face—a face she’d powdered that morning, as though she still lived in Boston rather than the Teton Valley.
“I tried. The horse...” She hiccupped. “I couldn’t...h-he wasn’t hitched to the wagon.”
“Answer me, Cynthia! Who did you send for help?”
“No one was around. I tried to saddle the horse, but...” She broke off in a fresh torrent of sobs while the sticky warmth of Blake’s blood soaked his shirt and coated his hands.
“I’m not going home,” Sam spoke quietly from somewhere above him.