The man’s eyebrows furrowed together. “Well, several of the board members couldn’t be reached, but it hardly matters as more than a majority were in compliance with the recommendations.”
“I see.” Had Luke been one of the members left uninformed? Or perhaps he had defended her, and Mr. Taviston refused to admit it for one reason or another.
And wasn’t she a heartsick fool, hoping for anything other than the obvious. Her family had hurt Luke, and there would be consequences. Losing her job was one. Losing Luke was another. She sucked in a breath and prayed Mr. Taviston didn’t notice the underlying tremble.
“You should also know,” Mr. Taviston continued, “that we’ll be looking closely into your actions at Hayes Academy. We would, of course, hate to discover that you’d been aware of your family’s illegal activities earlier and had hidden it to protect them.”
She jumped from her seat. “I would never, never jeopardize my students like that. I turned in my family as soon as I discovered what was happening. Do you know how that feels, Mr. Taviston? To have to choose between your family and your students? Your family and honoring God?”
The man stood. “No, Miss Wells. I can’t say I do, or that my family would ever put me in a situation where I’d find out. But if you’re innocent, I’m sure an adequate investigation will show—”
“Go.” She pointed toward the door, her finger stiff. “I refuse to sit in the house I own and listen to you accuse me of some crime I never committed. Get out. Now.”
Mr. Taviston’s jaw fell, and he stared at her as though she’d lost her mind. And maybe she had, telling off a distinguished gentleman like him.
“Well then, I’ll take my leave. But first, someone requested I give you this.” He dug inside his pocket and then held out an envelope.
David. She recognized his script before she even took it. The letter likely retracted his offer to marry her and claimed he’d found another woman more suitable to be his wife just that morning. She smiled bitterly. Had she really considered his offer, however briefly, to help her family? She wasn’t just some heartsick fool, she was the world’s largest one.
She straightened her shoulders and met Mr. Taviston’s gaze. So she didn’t have much dignity left or any reputation to speak of, but she wouldn’t let a man like David DeVander humiliate her without even being present. Tearing the envelope in thirds, she dropped it on the floor. “As I said, Mr. Taviston, good day.”
* * *
“I’ve got another one, sir.”
Luke looked down at the accountant, holding out an open ledger and pile of receipts. Hushed voices and the shuffle of papers filled Jackson Wells’s office as men went from one ledger to another comparing original receipts to the amounts Jackson had written in his ledgers.
“Looks to be about a thousand dollars since March.” The man pointed to a number he’d circled at the top of the page. “Though we’ll have to go over it again to be certain of the amount.”
Luke rubbed his hand over his mouth. A thousand dollars from an orphanage. How could people steal from such a place? He waved a hand toward the table where a wire-thin police detective sat. “You know where to take it.”
Chest puffed and shoulders high, the employee weaved his way through the throng of policemen and accountants that spilled from the office into the hallway as they searched for more evidence of falsified accounts.
The frenzy had started last night, when he’d ridden back to Albany, awoken Jackson’s assistant from bed and sent the man to the office. Then he’d gone to the police station to drag an officer over to Great Northern Accounting and Insurance. The accountant had found money missing from two places before they’d arrived.
Luke moved to the side of Jackson’s desk and stared at the ledger he’d left open. How much longer would the officers be here? Did they intend to break for the evening and then return come morning? Because as a man who hadn’t slept last night, he was perilously close to sitting down in Jackson’s armchair and dozing off.
And yet, despite the fatigue plaguing his eyes and the haze encompassing his mind, sleeping didn’t seem right. Not with all these men rushing about his company in a work-induced frenzy, and not without knowing how Samantha and Elizabeth were coping with all that had happened.
Samantha was still slated to leave on the train in the morning, but maybe she’d want to postpone her trip. Sure, he’d never liked Jackson, but he could hardly blame her if she wanted the comfort of her friends and familiar places for another day or two after the stunt Jackson and his father had pulled. But even then Samantha’s heartache looked miniscule compared to Elizabeth’s.