At least she’d have something to give her sweet memories when she was eighty.
“You do remember the Code of Conduct you signed when first agreed to teach at Hayes?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The document had been fifteen pages of painstakingly small rules. True, she couldn’t recall every minute detail, but the chaperone one had probably been in there. “What’s to be done, then? Do you need to inform the board?”
“I should. Our procedures ask that the board be notified in these types of situations.” Miss Bowen sighed and repositioned her glasses on her nose. “Though your mother’s illness did bring about some extenuating and unforeseen circumstances. I trust she has recovered?”
The moisture leeched from her throat. “Yes, quite.”
“Well, then, since nothing inappropriate happened between you and Mr. Hayes...”
Her heart pounded. Nothing inappropriate? She’d hardly call that kiss “nothing inappropriate,” but then Miss Bowen wasn’t asking for confirmation so much as assuming the best.
“...And in light of all Mr. Hayes has done to keep the school open, I will refrain from informing the board this once. We can hardly have such a story leaking out and casting Mr. Hayes and the school in a bad light.”
Elizabeth forced a smile. Luke wouldn’t be the one seen in a bad light nearly so much as her, but if Luke’s help with the school would get her out of this situation, then she’d hardly complain.
“So, Elizabeth, please make certain that you’re not alone with Mr. Hayes again.”
“Thank you for understanding. I’ll be more careful from now on.” And she refused to think about why that depressed her.
“I won’t make another exception like—”
A knock sounded on the office door, and the secretary entered.
“Yes, Sarah?” Miss Bowen asked.
But Sarah didn’t look at the headmistress. “Elizabeth...er, Miss Wells. There’s a reporter here to see you.”
“A reporter? From the Morning Times?” But she already knew the answer. Who else could the reporter be other than Mr. Reginald Higsley? And the man was likely seething since Luke had gotten that retraction printed in the paper. The reporter had probably come to find more lies to print.
What if he’d dug up an embarrassing piece of information from her past?
Or worse, what if he’d learned about David’s recent “proposal”?
The air around her turned thick, and her hands began to tremble.
“Miss Wells?” Sarah held the door open. “He’s waiting in the outer office.”
Her feet weighed heavily as she followed Sarah through the door, but Mr. Higsley wasn’t in the office. The man leaning over the desk and scrawling on a pad of paper was undoubtedly a reporter, but with his short stature and thick middle, he certainly wasn’t the man she’d met at the banquet. He busied himself with the other secretary, Elaine, battering her with all manner of questions about the admissions process to Hayes. Poor Elaine could hardly answer one inquiry before he fired another.
“Those reporters are spectacles to behold, aren’t they?”
Elizabeth gasped and turned toward the rusty voice. Luke lounged against the wall near Miss Bowen’s door. As always, he wore those dusty cowboy boots, a leather vest and a kerchief around his neck, and his hands held a wide-brimmed hat. She smiled, her heart tightening as she took a step toward him.
And stopped. What was she doing? She couldn’t go to him. Not after that lecture in Miss Bowen’s office. Not after her decision to avoid him.
Though making that decision in her dark bedroom was a lot easier than holding to it here, when Luke Hayes stood three feet from her.
That familiar half smile curved his lips, and he dipped his head toward her, his eyes lingering on her skirt. “You look lovely this afternoon, Miss Wells.”
She glanced down, and sure enough, chalk smeared the fabric just below her waist.
Once, just once, she wanted to see Luke teach advanced algebra without getting chalk on himself. “Did you need something?”
His gaze landed on her lips for a moment, so brief anyone watching wouldn’t have noticed, but she flushed nonetheless.
He cleared his throat and pushed off the wall. “I wanted to bring the reporter—Mr. Thompson—by. Figured after school would be a good time for the two of you to meet formal-like.”
“You brought him? Why?”
“He needs to settle some things with you.”
She’d seen reporters settle things enough to know she wanted nothing to do with it. “If you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment with one of my students.” She turned and started for the door.