And what about Cynthia and Everett? Are you forcing them to go back, as well? Sam’s words rippled through his mind. But surely he wasn’t supposed to take them back to Wyoming. He wasn’t even obligated to see them. Cynthia had married into the family and held no blood relation.
But Everett...Everett was his twin’s blood. Blake’s legacy and heir.
A sickening sensation fisted in his gut. He was shutting out family—not so much for his own ambition, and not just because of his anger and grief, but to forget his own failures. And he would regret it one day. Confound it, he regretted it even now, the hard words he’d spoken to Cynthia over Blake’s body, the way he’d sent her packing before she saw her husband buried.
And he was being just as controlling with Sam, in pressing her to make amends, to go back and see Ma, to be a part of the family once again. She was seventeen and standing on the edge of womanhood, yet he pushed her to settle things in his way and his time, not leaving any part of the decision up to her.
Luke sunk his head in his hands. Truly he was as bad as Grandpa. He was making all the same mistakes, just in different ways. Forcing those he loved to do something, regardless of his motives, was controlling and ruthless. And he wouldn’t do it anymore.
He’d find out where Cynthia lived—somewhere near Philadelphia, if he recalled—and ask her to forgive him, see how she wanted to settle things. Maybe the woman wished to move back West. Maybe she wanted her son, Blake’s son, raised somewhere else. Maybe she longed to be a part of the Hayes family again. He would leave the decision up to her but she’d have his support no matter what she chose.
As for Sam, he had to tell her about Ma. He’d promised Ma that he’d keep quiet, but he never would have made that promise had he known how much Sam loved her life here. Sam was grown enough to wear some man’s ring on her finger, and if she was grown enough for that, she was grown enough to make her own decisions about Ma. He wouldn’t be like Grandpa one day, looking back from the end of his life and wishing he’d been more honest with Sam, regretting that he hadn’t let her make her own choices.
He only hoped it wasn’t too late for Samantha and Ma. As for Cynthia...he’d find out where he stood when he got to Philadelphia.
“Luke?” A soft voice echoed from the doorway. Sam stood there, dressed for bed in a white lacy nightgown.
She glanced around the cluttered room. “You’re going through Grandpa’s things? Now? I can help some more. I don’t mind. I just didn’t want to sort through this stuff instead of attending school.”
“I’m sorry, Sam.”
She blinked. “For what?”
Everything, it seemed. “For trying to force you back West.”
Her eyes turned wide as a boy’s who’d just been given his first rifle.
“Come sit.” He patted the floor beside him.
She came, trusting and innocent, and tucked herself up against his side.
He slowly rubbed circles on her back. “I never should have tried forcing you to go home.”
“This is my home.”
He held up a hand, stopping the argument before it started afresh. “Forcing you West. It’s your choice to make, not mine. And...” He fingered Grandpa’s letter, its edges crisp beneath his touch. “I was afraid if I left things up to you, you’d choose the wrong thing.”
Her eyes shot tiny sparks. “So you still think it’s wrong for me to stay here?”
“Yes. No. I...” He growled and scratched behind his ear. “I have my reasons for wanting you to go back. The main one being Ma...”
His words jammed together in his throat, so many of them aching for release. But how to get them out without ruining things again?
“I know she misses me. You’ve told me before. And I miss her, too, but I’m not going to leave for Wyoming in the middle of the school year. Maybe later, sometime over the summer, I can come see her. I want her to meet Jackson, after all, and—”
“Summer will be too late, if you want to see her alive.” The words fell from his tongue, hard and shattering and unavoidable. “She’s dying, Sam. She’s got consumption.”
Sam grew still, her chest barely rising enough to give her breath. Her face drained of color, starting at the top of her forehead and slowly blanching until her skin shone white as snow. She reached a hand out and gripped his forearm, and her fingers trembled as they dug into his shirtsleeve. “No, she can’t be dying. I don’t believe it.”
He placed his hand over her cold fingers. “I should have told you sooner. Ma wanted me to keep it secret, wanted you to stay out here and continue your life without worrying about her. But I look at you, and though I expected to find the girl I dropped off at the train station three years ago, you’ve changed in the time you’ve been here. You’re grown up now, thinking about marriage, planning your future. You’ve got a right to know about Ma, a right to make your own decision about whether you see her before she dies.