Pink tinged Wilhem’s cheeks. “I attempted to say as much to Taviston, but he refused to listen.”
“Then we’ll change Taviston’s mind together.” Luke whirled and stalked from the room with Wilhem’s hasty footsteps following behind. Maybe he couldn’t prevent Elizabeth’s family from abusing her and stealing. Maybe he couldn’t prevent the papers from informing the whole of New York about what her family had done. But there was one thing he could do. And he’d use everything in his power to accomplish it.
Two trunks and three crates. Elizabeth had to fit everything she needed inside them, and she had so many things sitting about her house, all little pieces of the home she’d worked to create. Packing her room had been a simple matter of folding her clothes into squares, stacking them in the trunks and cleaning out the few other items she wanted to take. But downstairs she faced the settee and chairs, the curtains, the dishes, the pictures on the walls. And the two open crates on the parlor floor had filled far too quickly.
The five-shelf bookcase loomed in front of her now, full of textbooks and works by mathematical geniuses. Which should she take? Newton’s Principia or Descartes’s discourse on geometry? Leibniz on calculus or Gauss on geometry? She had room for maybe five texts total.
She moved to the shelf and pulled down An Introductory Calculus, the textbook from her first calculus course. Opening the cover, she ran her fingers over the letters on the first page.
Elizabeth, May you use this book and the knowledge you have learned in these classes to do great things. Professor Strohm.
This one would have to go with her, even if she had little hope of teaching calculus wherever she settled.
She reached up and took Newton down, then opened that cover.
My Dear Elizabeth, When you returned from your first year of school and I saw how much you’d come to appreciate calculus, I decided you needed the work of the man who fathered the subject. Happy Birthday.
She pressed the books to her chest and closed her eyes. How did one choose? How did one pack a life into two trunks and three crates? Perhaps the past two days hadn’t been kind to her, but she’d lived twenty-six years in upstate New York. She couldn’t wipe all the memories of pleasant times from her mind and heart because her family had been deceitful.
A knock sounded on the door. She jolted, then glanced at the clock on the mantel. Miss Atkins and Miss Tourneau wouldn’t be back from the academy for another four hours. Who could possibly be here?
The pounding sounded again.
She walked to the window and peered through the lacy curtains, then stopped. Luke Hayes stood on her porch, wearing that familiar cowboy hat yet again. She stepped to the side of the glass and pressed her back against the wall lest he decide to peer through the window and see her.
Perhaps she had the strength to leave, selling her house and starting her life anew. But she hadn’t the strength to face him or her students again. The ties that bound her to Luke and the girls at Hayes Academy had snapped the night she’d found Jackson’s ledger, and the words I’m sorry could hardly repair the damage done.
Elizabeth blinked back the moisture pooling in her eyes. Crying seemed to be the only thing she wanted to do of late. But her tears couldn’t fix what happened or change what needed to be done any more than the words I’m sorry could.
Something creaked near the back of the house, and she stilled. Had Luke broken in through the kitchen door? She clutched the base of her throat. Certainly not. The house simply groaned sometimes, all houses—
Footsteps echoed in the hallway, then his familiar silhouette filled the parlor entrance. “Miss Wells.” He tipped his head and removed his hat.
“W-what are you doing here?”
“Front door was locked, found the back open, though.” He watched her, those clear blue eyes seeming to bore into her soul, and held out a lunch tin. “Just got back from delivering Sam to the train station. She still wanted to go home, was more eager than I could have ever imagined to get away from Jackson. So I figured I’d stop by on my way home and make sure you got something to eat. Doesn’t look like you’ve had a good meal in about two days.”
He wanted to share a meal? Where was his anger? His rage over what her family had done? He’d been quiet and supportive when last they’d spoken, but that had been before he’d done the audit and seen the extent of her family’s fraud.
“I’m not hungry. Thank you.”
He snorted. “Figured you’d say something like that. It’s about lunchtime, though. You won’t mind if I eat?” He came into the parlor and plopped down on the floor by her crates, then emptied the contents of the sack. Cold ham, cubed cheese, crackers and grapes. Her favorite.