The Wyoming Heir - Page 83

Luke raked his hand through his hair. How was she? Still as upset as she had been last night? He should go to her, see how she was and if he could do anything to help. She probably hadn’t slept last night, either. But hopefully one of her roommates had found a way to distract her from all the rumors floating around today—and made sure she ate some breakfast and lunch.

Hang it all, he should be with her now, taking her for a walk, seeing that she got a decent meal and promising that he still loved her despite what her family had done. Instead he was stuck here going over ledgers and listening to workers mutter about cheating politicians and arrogant office managers.

“Mr. Hayes?”

Luke turned toward the half-familiar voice and frowned at the older man in a suit and hat. What was his name? Witman? Wiltern? He’d met him the night of the banquet and then again when he’d gone to the school board to convince them the academy needed to stay open.

“Ah, Mr. Wisner, what brings you by this afternoon?” Luke extended his hand.

“It’s Wilhem, son, not Wisner.”

“Sorry. I remember all the faces from the school board but can only seem to recall half the names.”

He chuckled, a calming, grandfatherly sound. “Doubt I’d be able to remember everyone’s name either if I were in your position.” He glanced around the overfilled office. “Quite the day you’re having, eh?”

Luke shrugged even as a policeman bumped into an accountant, knocking him into the table where the detective sat and sending a tall stack of papers fluttering to the floor. “I didn’t exactly envision myself in this mess yesterday. But you’re not here to tally numbers. What can I do for you?”

“For me? Oh, nothing at all. I wanted to find out if there’s anything the school board can do to help you straighten out this...er...”

“Tangle.”

The man’s black-and-gray speckled eyebrows rose. “Yes. That’s probably an adequate description.”

Luke inched a ledger closer to the older man. “Don’t suppose you’ve a mind for ciphering?”

Wilhem shook his head. “Own a shipping company but leave the book work to others. Still if there’s any way we can be of aid...” Despite the chaos of the room, a shattered silence lingered between them. “You’ll be pleased to know that Thomas Wells has been relieved of his position on the school board.”

Luke crossed his arms. “Probably goes part and parcel with embezzling over twenty-five thousand dollars and getting yourself locked up.”

“Too true.” Wilhem looked down at the tips of his shiny black shoes. “Elizabeth Wells has also been relieved of her teaching position.”

The words sliced through him, cold and slick. He didn’t think, didn’t swallow, didn’t even breathe. Just reached for the man and gripped his lapels. “What?”

Every head in the cramped room turned at his shout. Wilhem was probably just the messenger, sent to relay a decision others had made. But Luke’s hands tightened on Wilhem’s coat regardless, and he pulled the man closer. “Why don’t you explain precisely what ‘relieved of her teaching position’ means?”

“Well, ah...” Wilhem gulped. “Surely you understand. I like Elizabeth, I do, and I’ve known her since she was a little girl. But we can’t keep her in our employ when everyone will soon know her family has been engaged in illegal activities.”

Luke sucked in a deep breath and let it out. He could control himself. He didn’t need to explode. And he wouldn’t break Wilhem’s nose because he didn’t like something the man said.

He hoped.

“I still see no reason to take action against Miss Wells.”

“Ponder the situation a moment, Hayes. What parents would want their daughters taught by a woman of questionable character?”

“Questionable?” He dragged Wilhem closer.

“Mr. Hayes, is there a problem? Perhaps I might be of help.”

Luke flicked a glance at the skinny police detective, now standing beside him. “There’s a problem, all right, but I doubt you can fix it.” He released Wilhem. “Why don’t you explain why Miss Wells’s character is suddenly questionable?”

Their eyes met, Wilhem’s gaze holding an uncomfortable sympathy. “You won’t like it.”

Luke just crossed his arms and glared.

Wilhem’s shoulders slumped. “We’re looking into whether she knew of the embezzlement earlier and covered the matter to protect her family.”

How could they accuse Elizabeth of such a thing? She was wholesome and honest and determined. Didn’t the school board understand that the mere mention of this suspicion would destroy her? “That’s nonsense. She’s been nothing but honorable in this whole mess and I won’t let you take teaching away from her. She’s sacrificed too much for the academy and those girls to be treated that way.”

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