But Jackson’s arms wrapped around her, hard and unyielding as he dragged her backward. “No, you don’t.”
“Let me go. You’ve no right to manhandle me.” She tried to pry his hold from around her waist and kicked at his shins with her heels.
“You can go, all right,” he whispered in her ear. “Just as soon as you’ve watched every last page of that wretched ledger burn.”
She turned her face away from the fire’s orange glow, but the heat of the blaze, ravenous as it devoured the papers, seared her skin. A tear slid down her face, then another. “You won’t get away with this. There’s other proof of what you’ve been doing. There has to be. See if I don’t find it. See if I let you walk off with all that money.”
He fisted a hand in her hair and yanked it to the right, her head turning until she’d no choice but to stare into the flames once again. “We kept our bank accounts under false names, and my office has the only records for most of those businesses. Even if you go through my office, how do you know which accounts I altered and which I left alone? You can try to prove what I stole, Elizabeth. But your only proof is in that fire.”
Luke’s back ached as he turned his rented horse down the Hayes estate’s long drive. He’d spent all day with Cynthia and Everett, staying so long at the orphanage he’d rushed to catch the last train out of Philadelphia and then rented a horse in Albany since the train to Valley Falls wouldn’t run again until morning.
The lights from Grandpa’s house gleamed in the distance, though he’d no idea why more than one or two lights would be lit at this time of night. What he wouldn’t give to be in bed right now, curled up under a heavy quilt on a comfortable feather mattress.
Time was when he wouldn’t have minded bedding down under the stars with a rock for a pillow, but this place was making him soft. And strange as it was, he didn’t mind coming back here, welcomed the sight almost as much as he did the view of his own ranch. Returning to the place Grandpa had built felt almost right.
So if the place felt right, if he wanted to be here, why was he trying to sell it or find a manager for Great Northern Accounting and Insurance?
Luke rubbed his bleary eyes. These thoughts were Elizabeth’s fault, every last one of them. Her words had niggled in his mind ever since he’d told her that he loved her. You’re leaving. Whatever you feel for me, whatever I feel for you, it doesn’t mean anything. It can’t, unless you stay here and manage your inheritance.
Besides the lawyer on his first night in Valley Falls, no one else had mentioned him staying until Elizabeth. Luke stared at the acres of trim grass, passing slowly by under the dim moonlight. Acres that he owned. Maybe he’d have been better off staying in Wyoming and never coming East, telling the lawyer to sell everything and send the profits West. His life would have been easier, for sure and for certain.
But then he never would have seen the Philadelphia orphanage or ensured Hayes Academy stayed open. He never would have looked into the faces of the students and orphans Grandpa had helped. Never would have realized his sister was growing up or faced Cynthia. Never would have met Elizabeth...
He shifted in his saddle. Returning to Wyoming with Sam used to mean reuniting his family, but with matters settled between him and Cynthia, and with Sam scheduled to leave on Monday for Wyoming, going back West for good took on a whole other significance. It meant ending his ties with all Grandpa had worked for and pretending the orphans in Philadelphia and the young women at Hayes Academy required nothing from him. Ignoring the needs of the staff at the estate and the hundreds of insurance agents, accountants and actuaries along the East Coast that he employed.
Was it right to rush away from the things Grandpa had left him, or was it some form of neglect? And was Grandpa even the one who had given him this vast inheritance? Or had God done that?
The thought echoed inside him like a shout reverberating through a mountain pass. His heart thudded slowly, surely, and he knew. Here he’d been blaming Grandpa for his new heap of responsibilities, but God controlled the world, not Jonah Hayes.
God could have let Grandpa’s savings and assets be lost in the panic, as had happened to the Wellses and countless others. God could have led Grandpa to disperse his assets and estate himself, donating everything to charities rather than a grandson he’d never met.
Luke swallowed as a new thought took shape. And God could have seen him shot rather than Blake on that sunny morning three years ago. Then Blake would have inherited everything.
Instead, God had given it all to him, Luke Hayes.