Luke looked up at his sister. Somehow, he was sprawled in the green wingback chair by the front window of Miss Wells’s parlor, though he didn’t remember moving there or sitting. “You don’t have a choice, Sam.”
“You should give me one instead of ripping me away from the place I love.”
Luke didn’t even glance at her, just watched the street through the lacy window covering. It was time. He couldn’t keep putting off the truth about Ma if it was going to destroy their relationship. “Ma needs you. You have to go home.”
But Sam didn’t ask what he meant about Ma needing her. Instead, she thrust a finger into his chest. “No. It’s not Ma. It’s you. You don’t like that mathematics makes me happy. Or that I want to marry Jackson. You don’t want me to go to college and become an architect.
“You storm back into my life and try taking everything away.” Sam tossed her head to the side and blinked furiously against the moisture glistening in her eyes. “Well, I won’t let you. I have dreams, too, Luke. And they’ve got nothing to do with a cattle ranch in some forgotten valley. If my going home had to do with wanting family to be together, you’d be taking Cynthia and Everett home, too. Goodness, you have a nephew, Blake’s very own son, and you’ve never even seen him.”
Luke clenched his jaw. Why did Sam keep dredging up Cynthia when Ma was dying? “Confound it! You’re not listening. Coming home—”
“No. You’re right. I’m not listening to you anymore.” Sam stormed past him and out the parlor door.
Luke followed her into the hall as the sound of the front door opening and then slamming echoed through the house. He buried his forehead in his hands and groaned.
How had he messed that up so badly? He was only trying to help, only attempting to tell her about Ma.
“Mr. Hayes?” Miss Wells emerged from the door at the far end of the hallway, a tray with tea service balanced in her hands. “Is everything all right?”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, yeah. Look, Miss Wells, I’m sorry about all this....” He gestured toward the parlor. “We should have saved our shouting match for the ride home.”
“I don’t mind so much. Truly.” She swayed gracefully inside the room, set down the tray, then returned to the doorway leading from the hall to the parlor. “Every family has words at one time or another. I’m sorry about your brother, though. I can tell he meant a lot to you, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be to lose your mother, as well.”
“You’re a blessed woman, Eliz— I mean, Miss Wells. To still have your family alive and well.”
She sighed, her chest rising and falling with the motion. “I suppose you’re right. My family might not be overly supportive of my teaching, but they’re all living.”
“You should cherish that.”
A sad smile tilted the corner of her mouth. “I should. More than I do at times.”
“Right.” He looked away but couldn’t help seeing her as she’d been the other night. Those full lips so near his own, the soft curve of her cheek in the moonlight, the mesmerizing swirl of gold and green and brown in her eyes as she had stared up at him.
“The knot in your tie is lopsided,” she stated, those beautiful eyes filled with somber thoughts.
The knot in his tie? He nearly choked. “I hadn’t noticed.”
And he hadn’t.
Then again, most men looked in the mirror when knotting them, because most men didn’t see their dead brother’s face staring back from the glass. He lifted a hand and fumbled to straighten the offending piece of cloth.
“Mr. Hayes—Luke. Can you try doing something for me?”
There was a hint of deliberation in her voice, a vague trace of calculation. His hand stilled on his tie as he narrowed his gaze. Miss Wells’s large, perfect eyes; her full, pink lips; the sincerity in her face. This felt like a trap, if he’d ever seen one. “Depends on what you’re wanting.”
“Can you try working out something with the school? For Samantha, that is. Perhaps your sister could arrange for a long break at Christmas and travel home to see your mother then. Or maybe she could still attend classes for the length of time you remain in Valley Falls and try to graduate early. Whatever you decide, you have to do something, if you want to make peace with her. I’m sure exceptions can be made, if you’ll talk to Miss Bowen.”
Luke rubbed his hand over his forehead. The woman was a teacher through and through, always thinking about her students over anything else. “This isn’t a simple situation.”