“Be that as it may, she has been a student here for over three years without your interference, and she has done exceptionally well. I’m sure you want the best for your sister’s future, and she thrives in this environment. She’ll make an excellent student at Maple Ridge College a year from now.”
College. There it was again. That lousy word that threatened to keep Sam out East for good rather than home where she belonged. “Look, I appreciate what you’re doing here, trying to educate women and all. And if you want to teach fancy mathematics to the girls in your classroom, you go right ahead.”
“It’s advanced algebra.”
“Call it whatever you want. But with no more family in the area, there’s nothing to keep Sam here. My sister will finish her schooling in Wyoming and won’t be attending college next fall. She’s coming home with me as soon as I straighten Grandpa’s affairs.”
The teacher raised her chin, her small nose jutting arrogantly in the air. “This conversation is becoming ridiculous.”
“I’m sure if we schedule an appointment to discuss the situation with your sister and the headmistress, we could reach a more satisfying conclusion for all affected.”
Oh, he could think of a satisfying conclusion, and it involved him and Sam hightailing it out of this confounded school, never to return. “I said my sister won’t be returning, and I meant it. She’s got obligations at home.”
“Mr. Hayes, you are making a grave and regrettable mis— Is that a gun?” Her voice squeaked, all semblance of propriety fleeing while she stared at the Colt .45 holstered on his right hip.
Somewhere down the hall a door closed, and the clip of shoes on flooring resonated against the walls. He shifted his weight to his left leg and cocked his right hip, purposely exaggerating the firearm’s presence. Not that he wanted to scare her, but she was a sight to behold with her perfect little feathers all in a ruffle. “We use them where I come from.”
Unfortunately, she didn’t stay flustered quite long enough. She clamped her hands to her hips and glared. “I’d thank you to remove it from the premises at once. We’ve no need for guns at Hayes Academy. Why, the entire class probably saw it.”
Luke crossed his arms. “I seem to recall something in the U.S. Constitution about citizens bearing arms.”
“Yes, well, certainly not in a school.”
“Now look here—”
“Mr. Luke Hayes, I presume.”
Luke flicked his eyes toward the tall woman coming down the hall. She moved the way a shopkeeper did when suspecting someone of pocketing a gold watch—quickly and full of purpose.
The woman stopped and extended a wrinkled hand. “What a pleasure to meet you. I’m Josephine Bowen, headmistress here at Hayes Academy.”
“Luke Hayes.” He gave the hand a hearty shake.
“I trust there’s no problem?” The headmistress slid a stern gaze toward Miss Wells.
He’d seen similar looks on teachers’ faces plenty a time in his youth. It always preceded him being dragged to the front of the schoolroom for a switching.
But Miss Wells didn’t so much as flinch under the heated stare. “Mr. Hayes and I were discussing his sister’s schooling. Now if you’ll both excuse me, I should return to my students.”
“Yes, Miss Wells.” The headmistress nodded. “Do return to your class, please, and thank you for taking time to make Mr. Hayes feel welcome.”
He rubbed his jaw. Hopefully the rest of Valley Falls didn’t plan to “welcome” him the way the fiery little teacher had.
Miss Wells gave a tight smile as she opened the classroom door, then disappeared inside.
“Mr. Hayes, we’re simply delighted to have you.” The headmistress’s overly bright voice echoed through the hallway, but she wasn’t lecturing him on pulling Sam out of school. Then again, she probably hadn’t read his letter yet, or she’d be bawling like a cow in labor.
“Hayes Academy has benefited greatly from your grandfather’s generosity, and we look forward to doing the same with you,” she continued.
Seeing how he’d never met his paternal grandfather, he hadn’t the foggiest notion what Grandpa’s generosity entailed. “I haven’t talked to Grandpa’s lawyer yet. In what ways, exactly, has my grandfather aided you?”
Miss Bowen beamed up at him. “Where, sir, do you think the name Hayes Academy comes from?”
He’d figured as much.
“Twenty years ago Jonah Hayes donated the land that this school sits on and a good portion of the funds to build it.” The headmistress clasped his hand. “Three years ago we used another donation to replace the windows on the second floor and renovate the grounds. Surely you noticed the horticulture as you came in? But right now, we’re simply hoping to—”