The Wyoming Heir
The Cowboy in the Classroom . . .
Given a choice, Luke Hayes wouldn’t ever leave his Wyoming ranch. Yet when his estranged grandfather dies, leaving him everything, he’ll travel to Valley Falls, New York—but only to collect his sister and his inheritance. He won’t be roped into saving a floundering girls’ school, no matter what mathematics teacher Elizabeth Wells says.
Elizabeth has defied social convention and her own family for the sake of her beloved Hayes Academy. Luke is pure rancher, from the tip of his Stetson to the scuff on his boots, yet he’s also becoming her unlikely ally. Only he can help save her job and school…but how much will she lose when the time comes for him to leave.
Excerpt (from Chapter 4)
Elizabeth tried not to watch as Luke Hayes approached, but in truth, she could hardly take her eyes from him as he raced across the field. He seemed to move as one with the strong horse, his legs hugging the beast as though it were an extension of his own body. It hardly seemed possible to imagine the man stuffed into Jonah Hayes’s office, going through the endless papers.
“Good afternoon.” Mr. Hayes reined the horse to a stop beside the blanket, towering over them like a king; then his eyes narrowed on his sister. “You didn’t say anything about coming out here, Sam.”
Samantha’s eyes flashed, and she crossed her arms over her knees. “I wasn’t aware I needed to ask permission to go for a walk on the estate.”
He raised one of his arrogant eyebrows and scanned the blanket, ledgers and slates sprawled on the ground. He didn’t need words to express the thoughts clearly written across his face: this doesn’t look like an unplanned walk.
Samantha huffed and picked up the ledger again, interested anew in the endless columns of numbers.
“Miss Wells, I can’t say I expected to find you here either, but I’ve a need to speak with you.” He glanced briefly at the equation-filled slate on her lap, and the side of his mouth quirked into a cocky little smile. “Do you ever take time off from that fancy mathematics?”
“Do you ever take time off from being a cowboy?”
The smile on his lips straightened into a firm, white line, and he swung off his horse. “I own five thousand head of cattle in the Teton Valley. I’m a rancher. That’s a mite different than being the hired help we call cowboys.”
“Indeed.” She nodded curtly and drew in a long, deep breath. With Samantha sitting beside her, she couldn’t exactly persuade him to let his sister graduate, but she still needed to ask about donating money to the academy. If only she could be polite long enough to make her request.
It was going to be very, very hard.
She blew out her breath and forced herself to smile.
“Can I help you up?” Mr. Hayes extended his hand.
She stared at it for a moment, hesitating to reach for him. But really, what was the point of being rude when she still had to ask about that wretched donation? She placed her palm firmly in his.
His wide, callused palm engulfed her small fingers, and heat surged through the spot where their skin met. He raised her to her feet without ceremony, as though he didn’t feel the impact of their touch somewhere deep inside. As soon as she was able, she tugged away her hand and shoved it behind her back, where it could stay safely away from Mr. Hayes.
The rascal didn’t even seem to notice, just pinned her with his clear blue eyes. “It seems you’ve taken quite an interest in the business affairs of Hayes Academy here lately.” Afternoon sunlight glistened down on Mr. Hayes’s head and cowboy hat, turning the golden-blond tufts of hair beneath the brim nearly white.
Elizabeth forced her gaze away from his hair. Why was she staring at it, anyway? So the man had beautiful blond hair. His sister did, as well. Blond hair wasn’t that uncommon.
Except when it shimmered like silvery gold in the sunlight.
And she was still thinking about his hair. Ugh! “I teach at the academy. It’s only natural I’d be interested in it.”
“Interested enough to write editorials for the newspaper?”
Every bit of blood in her face drained to her feet, and her limbs felt suddenly cold. She’d expected he’d find out but not so soon. Did he hate her for interfering? Feel she had no business fighting for new students? Resent the negative attention she’d drawn to the school when that dreadful reporter retaliated?
The emotionless look on his face gave nothing away. His eyes stayed that cool blue, the same shade as a winter sky, without a hint of either understanding or disdain as they waited for her answer.
“Educating women is important to me.”
“I gathered that much yesterday. A bit hard to miss, actually, but I’m curious about the school ledgers at the moment.”
He nodded toward the books, the one laying on the blanket and the other still in Samantha’s lap. “My lawyer informs me you’re keeping a set. I assume these are them?”
Oh, perfect. Just what she wanted to discuss. “My brother in Albany has the official ledgers. Perhaps you should talk to him.”
“I intend to, but I’d like a look at yours, as well.”
“No.” The word flew out of her mouth before she could stop it.
Samantha slammed her ledger closed. “Why do you want them? So you can look for some excuse to close down the school? As if pulling me out isn’t bad enough.”
Mr. Hayes glanced briefly at his sister. “This has nothing to do with you, Sam. I’m only doing the job Grandpa left me.
Miss Wells, you must be aware that since I’ve been given my grandfather’s seat on the school’s board, I can request your books at anytime.”
She knew very well what he could request, and what he’d likely do if he saw the books. He’d take one look at how little money was in the account and want the school closed immediately.
“Mind if I borrow your rag?”
Mr. Hayes held up his hand—the same he’d used to help her stand. His palm was practically white, smeared with chalk dust.
Heat flooded her neck and face. She didn’t need to look down to know her own hands were covered in fine powder.
“Messy place, these fields.”
She reached into her pocket, grabbed a hanky—one of the ones she was forever using to wipe her chalk-covered hands on—and held it out to him. “I apologize. I don’t usually forget to clean my hands.”
“Thank you.” He rubbed the cloth over his palm and returned it.
She wiped her hands furiously, even though she’d be back to work the second he left.
He simply watched her, a half smile quirking the side of his mouth. “You missed a spot.” He pointed to her right sleeve, where a huge smear of white stood stark against the yellow of her dress.
“Thank you,” she gritted.
“So can I take those ledgers now?”
“I’d—” …rather eat a toad!
Could she lie? Tell him things were going well—or at least as well as they had been before the newspaper article appeared on Monday morning—and tear out the last pages of the ledgers so the school appeared to have money?
She rubbed her fingers over her temples. No, of course she couldn’t do such a thing. She’d never been one to lie for convenience, and she wasn’t about to develop the habit now. He’d find out the truth soon anyway; just as he’d learned of the article she’d written to the paper. Better to be honest.
No, better to ask for another donation, and then be honest.
Except she didn’t want to ask the arrogant man in front of her for a penny.
Taking her requests to Jonah, with his kind smiles and grandfatherly manner, had been easy. But the man who had stormed into her class yesterday and torn Samantha out of school wasn’t exactly grandfatherly.
She stared into Luke Hayes’s rigid face, his mouth and eyes stern and unreadable, and forced herself to form the words. “Actually, I’ve been wanting to speak to you about the ledgers and the academy. We’ve recently had difficulty with several of our donors, and I was hoping you could make a donation to Hayes Academy.”
There. She’d said it. Surely she deserved some type of award. A medal of honor, a golden cup, a life-size statue of herself erected in the town square.
“Yeah, that would at least be something nice you could do for the school.” Samantha crossed her arms over her chest. “Seeing how you’re dead set on pulling me out of it.”
But Mr. Hayes didn’t bother to look at his sister. “Grandpa donated slews of money to Hayes Academy. I don’t understand why you can’t be happy with what it’s already received.”
She threw up her hands. The man’s brain was as dense as a piece of lead. “Happy? You think I want a donation to make me happy? Girls’ futures are at stake, not my happiness. It’s an issue of keeping the school open, so we can train young women, not pleasing me.”
Mr. Hayes rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. “Why is girls getting high school diplomas so all-fired important? I never graduated from high school, and neither did Grandpa. Yet here I am, doing a fine job of running my ranch without any piece of paper from a high school.”
She opened her mouth to respond, then snapped it shut. What did she say to that? Was it true Jonah Hayes never finished school? Probably. A lot of young people left to find work before graduating even now, let alone sixty years ago.
Mr. Hayes’s face remained set, his jaw determined, but sincerity filled the little sun-lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. He wasn’t furious with her as he’d been yesterday but was asking an honest question.
And here she was, parading the importance of educating women in front of him, when he’d never finished his own education. Did he feel slighted or belittled? That hadn’t been her intention. “Well, you see, a high school education is important because—”
“Never mind. I read your article last night., and I don’t need to hear some highfalutin list of arguments in person. Just give me the ledgers, and I’ll be on my way.”
“Oh…um…” And there again the man had her speechless. From ledgers to donations and back again, she could hardly keep up with the conversation. “Will Monday be all right? Samantha and I have a bit more work to do on them this afternoon, and I’ve some issues to discuss with my brother. I truly need the books over the weekend.”
Mr. Hayes blew out a long, tired breath, the kind that held a world of weariness in the exhaled air. “Monday then. Sorry to disturb you ladies.” And with that, he swung back onto his horse and galloped off.
Elizabeth tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and sighed. The conversation surely could have gone worse. At least she hadn’t stormed away in a rage, and he hadn’t refused to give money to the school—
Though he hadn’t agreed to give any, either.
So why did she have a sour taste in her mouth?
She turned and offered Samantha a weak smile. “I feel like I handled that wrong.”
Samantha shrugged as she settled back down beside the tree. “It’s Luke. Any time you disagree with him, he’d say you handled something wrong.”
The Wyoming Heir
Text Copyright: 2014 by Naomi Rawlings
Cover Art Copyright: 2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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