A citified woman.
He cleared his throat and placed his half-empty coffee mug on the desk.
She tilted her nose into the air. “You shouldn’t set that on the wood. It could ruin the finish.”
He lifted his eyes, and their gazes collided. He set his jaw. She straightened her spine. He narrowed his eyes. She raised her chin. Somewhere outside, a bird chirped and a servant called. A door closed on the floor above, and footsteps plodded down the hall. But neither of them moved.
“Since I inherited this desk, along with the rest of the estate,” he said slowly, his eyes still burning into hers, “I reckon it’s not your concern how I treat it.”
“You shouldn’t use phrases like ‘I reckon,’ either. It’s most unbecoming.”
He gripped the edge of the desk and leaned over it. “I’m not interested in being ‘becoming,’ Samantha. I’m interested in settling this slew of money Grandpa left me and taking you home. Where you were born, where you were raised and where you belong.”
“You can’t make me leave.”
Figured stubbornness was the one thing that fancy school hadn’t stripped from her. “Don’t you tell me what I can and can’t do.”
“I can’t tell you what to do? What gives you the right to tell me?” She jumped from the chair, her hands balled into fists at her sides. “I’m staying here and graduating, then I’m going to college to study mathematics and architecture. Because I want to be an architect one day.”
Her tongue lingered over the word architect, and her eyes burned with a fierce passion. “Not that you’ve bothered to ask why I want to go to college.”
He didn’t know whether to laugh or bang his head against the wall. At least Sam had something she wanted to do, some reason for avoiding their family—though she’d evidently had the good sense not to mention such a ridiculous notion in her letters to him.
Had probably told Ma all about it, though.
A woman architect. Who’d ever heard of such a thing?
“Well, aren’t you going to say something?” she snapped.
He rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s a fine dream you’ve got, Sam.” Or a crazy one. “But I’ve got to take you home before you go off chasing after college.”
“You don’t. Ma would want me to stay here. I just got a letter from her last week saying how much she loved hearing about how happy I am in Valley Falls.”
Of course Ma would say that. But then, Ma hadn’t exactly told Sam about her consumption, either. And if Ma were here, watching his conversation with Sam right now, she’d be upset with the way he was handling things.
He rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen the knots tightening his muscles. If he could manage a ranch with five thousand head of cattle, he could convince Sam to go back home while still keeping his promise. Couldn’t he? “Look, I’m sorry for how I brought up your leaving at school. I didn’t mean to yammer about it in front of your teacher. The words just slipped out, when you talked about packing a bag. But you can’t stay in New York now that Grandpa’s passed. Who would look after you? Besides I need your help around the estate for the next few weeks while we get ready to leave.
“You can start going through the things in Grandpa’s room. You know better than me what should be kept or sold off. I figured Pa might cotton to a couple of keepsakes.” Which was probably more a dream than anything, given that Pa hadn’t talked to Grandpa in over thirty years. “The sooner we sort through this estate, the sooner we can get home.”
“I cared about Grandpa,” she said, nodding toward the black band around her upper arm. “And I’m happy to sort through his things, but don’t you try using that as a way to get me out of school. There will be plenty of time for me to sort through things outside of school hours. Come Monday morning, I’ll be back at Hayes Academy. And I’m not going to Wyoming.”
Had Sam been this disagreeable three years ago? He tried to envision it but ended up with the mental picture of a sweet girl crying over her injured cat in the barn. “I happen to love you, and I happen to want my sister with me, under her family’s care.”
“If you loved me, you’d let me stay. I love it here! This place is my life.”
Love it. She once said that about the Teton Valley. “What about Ma and Pa? You haven’t seen them for nigh on three years.” And Ma might not be around in another year.
She ducked her chin and toyed with the fabric of her skirt. “Do they know you’re trying to take me away, trying to quash my dream?”