“I think I’ll be making that donation after all, Miss Wells. And having some visits with a few of the school board members.”
“I know you say there should be money here, Miss Wells, but I certainly can’t find it.” Samantha raised her head from where she sat in a chair in Jonah Hayes’s office—or rather, his former office. The office now belonged to the man with sun-streaked blond hair standing on the other side of the room with his lawyer.
Elizabeth pulled her eyes away from Mr. Hayes and frowned at Samantha. There should be several hundred more dollars. Somewhere. If only she could find the mistake buried in the endless columns of numbers. Here she was, a mathematics teacher defending the need for higher-level academics to people like her parents and Mr. Hayes, and she couldn’t even add. “You’re certain?”
“Maybe it’s in one of the other accounts? The food money could have gotten mixed up with the funds for teacher supplies or something.”
Elizabeth flipped back several pages in the ledger on her own lap and ran her eyes down the columns once again. “I’ve already checked twice. There’s nothing extra.”
But the missing food money had to be tucked somewhere. Either that or the school’s food supplier was cheating them out of produce.
“Are you saying the school’s missing money?” Mr. Hayes glanced up from the paper he’d been studying with Mr. Byron.
“No.” Or if so, she certainly couldn’t prove it. She scratched the side of her head, causing a lock of hair to tumble down from its pins. “The books balance perfectly.”
Which would be fine, if she was getting a hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of food delivered to the school each month, and if she didn’t have letters from the gas company and general store saying they’d never received payment for overdue bills. The books showed every expense paid in full.
She simply must have made a mistake somewhere. She’d probably recorded a donation in the wrong place and thus had incorrect fund levels in several of her accounts. If only she could find the discrepancy.
Sam flashed a bright smile at her brother. “See, nothing to worry about.”
Elizabeth forced herself to nod, but Mr. Hayes’s sky-blue eyes riveted to hers, as though he knew something wasn’t quite right.
“Operating on a budget as tight as the one at Hayes Academy, I’d expect you to have some difficulty spreading your funds around to pay outstanding bills, am I correct?” Mr. Byron shoved his sagging glasses back up on his nose.
“Something like that,” Elizabeth mumbled.
Mr. Hayes scowled at her. “You realize that if I’m going to convince the board to keep the school open, I have to prove it to be financially stable?”
“Yes, of course. I—”
“If you’ve any concerns, you should talk to Jackson Wells about this.” The lawyer shifted closer to Mr. Hayes. “His books are likely in better order.”
Samantha jabbed a finger at Mr. Byron. “That was uncalled for. Miss Wells can answer your questions better than Jackson, and I should know, since I’m close to both of them. Hayes Academy is just another client to Jackson. He doesn’t pay its ledgers anywhere near the amount of attention Miss Wells does.”
“Yes, Mr. Byron—and I regularly check my books against my brother’s.” Elizabeth stood, her face burning. She didn’t need to sit here and be accused of mismanaging the ledgers after already giving Mr. Hayes and Mr. Byron three hours of her afternoon. “You’ll find both sets of ledgers match perfectly. Now if you gentlemen will excuse me, it’s growing late, and I’ve tomorrow’s lessons to prepare.”
She set the ledger on the ornate desk dominating the far side of the office and headed for the door. Mr. Hayes and the lawyer could spend their time attempting to make sense of the pages if they wished, but she was done for the night.
And possibly forever, if Mr. Hayes didn’t manage to charm the school board.
“I’ll see you out.” Mr. Hayes appeared by her side, extending his elbow her direction.
She nearly groaned as she slipped her hand onto his arm. She must look a fright, with her hair starting to fall from its pins, and her skirt rumpled after a long day of teaching and studying books, and...she looked down. Yes, the front of her plum-colored skirt sported a large patch of white chalk dust.
A fright indeed.
“I appreciated your help tonight.” Mr. Hayes led her down the large hallway filled with floor-to-ceiling windows, sparkling chandeliers and elaborate gold trim. The sky outside had darkened to a deep blue, turning the view from the front of the estate into a perfect scene for an artist’s canvas.