She released the covers and whirled. She had not expected him to come and check on her. She had assumed he would return downstairs where he could talk with Miss Kightly or seek his own rooms in order to change out of his smoke-stained clothing. His hair was still damp, and it curled at the back of his collar.
“Of course not,” she hurried to say before he could notice that she was staring. “Not beyond the obvious ones, I should say.”
He nodded, and she expected he would urge her to rest and be on his way. Instead, he lingered by the door. “I have assured your brother as I have you that everything humanly possible will be done to rebuild the church.”
“I am sure.” She smiled, astounding herself because she had been thinking only moments ago of surrendering to tears. “With your expertise, my lord, all should go well.”
He looked past her as if unwilling to meet her eyes. “About that, Miss Fenwick. I hope you understand that I have never been involved in building a church.”
“Nor have Gregory or I.”
“True.” A smile flitted across his lips as he leaned one shoulder against the doorjamb. “I will need guidance.” He looked toward the ceiling before lowering his gaze to meet hers. “Not just from above, but on a more practical earthly plane.”
“We will do everything we can to help.”
She sensed there was something more he wanted to say. Perhaps she was mistaken. She did not know him well enough to discern his true feelings, but her intuition whispered she was right.
“And,” she said with a smile of her own, “I am grateful that you have offered such a lovely and comfortable place for Gregory and me to stay. We both will understand if a time comes when you need our rooms for other guests.”
“Nonsense. I’m not tossing you out when you have no place to go. What sort of fellow would I be then?”
Tears rushed into her eyes, and she lowered them before he could discern how much his words meant to her. If Lord Hedgcoe had shown that kindness, she and Gregory would not have feared being homeless and facing starvation.
“Have I said something wrong, Miss Fenwick?” Lord Meriweather asked, sincere concern in his question. “If I have said something unseemly, forgive me. I have spent too many years with men who spoke plainly.”
She met his gaze with her own. “You have not said anything unseemly. You are being far kinder than I dared to hope.”
Oh, dear! Had she offended him when all she wanted to do was thank him? Every word that came out of her mouth today seemed to be the wrong one.
When she said that and asked for his forgiveness, he chuckled. “I could say the same thing to you, Miss Fenwick, and beg your indulgence. I daresay fatigue and shock have more control of our tongues than our brains do.”
“I agree.” For the first time since she had heard of the fire at the church, her shoulders sagged from their rigid stance. A shudder of pain rushed down her back as her strained muscles protested.
A good night’s sleep. That was what she needed as much as her brother did.
Vera did not realize that she had swayed until Lord Meriweather’s hand closed around her arm and he asked if she needed to sit. Warmth slipped from his palm, strengthening her, but her head remained light.
“Maybe I should sit,” she murmured.
“May I help you?”
“Yes.” She did not want to tumble on to her nose in front of him, so she allowed him to guide her to the settee in front of the largest window.
He sat her as if she were made of the most brittle porcelain. Brittle. That described exactly how she felt. Every inch of her seemed to feel too much and be about to crack at the next bit of bad news.
Kneeling beside her, he held her hands between his calloused ones. She wondered why his fingers were trembling; then she realized the quivering came from her own fingers.
“Tell me what you need, Miss Fenwick,” he said, his face turned up toward her.
She gazed down at him. A low mat of tawny whiskers emphasized the planes of his jaw and cheek. How had she failed to notice that tiny scar beneath his right eyebrow? It was no bigger than the nail on her smallest finger, and she was curious if he had received it, as his friend Lord Northbridge had, during the war. Or had it been there before he joined the fight against Napoleon?
“Yes?” she asked as she seemed to fall into the brown depths of his eyes. They had seen so much. Things she could not imagine. Things she did not want to imagine.
Again the tired tears scorched the back of her eyes. She needed to be more like him in the wake of the fire at the church. Be strong and keep her focus on the task that lay ahead.