But no book labeled such sat in the As. She frowned up at the too-high books. The spot where the Academy book would have stood held an unlabeled ledger. Maybe that was it.
She pulled it down, but the book wasn’t for Hayes. The pages held random labels, with columns of dates and items and money listed, then smaller monetary figures running along the far right. Greater Albany Hospital, Maynard’s Bakery, Albany Ladies’ Society, Headings Mercantile, St. Thomas Orphanage, and various other names had been scrawled across the tops of the pages. The businesses seemed to have no rhyme or reason for the order in which they appeared, or for the single page of accounts dedicated to each one.
Then she spied it. Hayes Academy for Girls printed neatly across one of the middle pages, and an open column of numbers beneath. Entries for foodstuffs and teaching supplies with larger amounts of money had been recorded in one column, and a second column of smaller amounts ran along the...
Coldness swept her body. She dropped the book, and it crashed to the floor in a flutter of pages. But she didn’t need to glimpse the page again to make sense of the numbers. She knew those figures, had them circled in her own ledger. They weren’t sums paid to suppliers. They were the missing sums. The money for the food, only two-thirds of which had arrived two weeks ago and again on Wednesday. The new slates ordered for the beginning of the school year that had come with a third of the slates missing. The note from the insurance company saying it hadn’t received its full payment last month. The amount of bills for the school Jackson had claimed to pay pitted against the actual supplies and creditors’ notes that had arrived at the school.
And Jackson had the difference recorded in his book. A book that didn’t just include Hayes Academy, but hospitals and orphanages, small businesses and... She hunkered down on the floor beside the ledger and flipped through pages. The numbers blurred, but the names of the organizations branded her mind.
Jackson couldn’t have. He wouldn’t. He was her brother, after all. Surely he wasn’t embezzling money from so many different places. Certainly he didn’t have a bank account somewhere in the city where he had all these funds collected.
She found three pages for Maple Ridge College and Connor Academy for Boys. The columns on the left listed salaries, books and office supplies, among other things. On the right were the sums that must have been rerouted to a separate account. As if the girls’ academy wasn’t enough for him to steal from.
What was she going to do? She had to tell someone. Luke? No. He wouldn’t be back until later this evening, and she couldn’t wait that long. The police? But she couldn’t just walk into a strange police station and accuse her brother of...of...
Oh, goodness, she couldn’t even think of the full ramifications if he had indeed embezzled funds from all these establishments. So where did that leave her? She swallowed back the bile climbing into her throat. Dinner. She was still going to dinner, wasn’t she? Her family expected her, and she needed to talk to Jackson.
Maybe the book she held was some mistake. Her brother probably had a sensible explanation for the entries that meant the situation wasn’t as it appeared. Yes, of course Jackson had a logical reason for everything. Why not these accounts? She needed to see him before she did anything else.
She straightened and slammed the book shut.
Samantha stood in the doorway, concern engraved on her too-innocent face. “Are you all right? What’s wrong?”
Samantha started toward her, but she held up her hand. “No. Don’t come any closer.”
“What’s happened? You’ve been in here for half an hour. Any longer and we’ll be late to your parents’.”
She used the desk to pull herself up onto wobbly legs, then grabbed the ledger and clutched it to her chest. Jackson was this girl’s fiancé, even if the wedding was temporarily delayed. If the ledger was accurate and her suspicions correct, what would happen to Samantha? She’d be betrayed by her fiancé at a young age, similar to what David had done eight years ago. Only Jackson’s mistress was money rather than a woman. Either way, Samantha shouldn’t have to witness the conversation she needed to have with Jackson.
“No. You’re not going to my parents’.”
Samantha’s mouth fell open. “But Jackson... You said...”
“Things changed. You’re going home.” She cringed at the harshness ringing through her voice, even as she came around the desk. “You get back in that carriage and head straight to your brother’s estate. Don’t stop anywhere or for anything. Simply go home.”