She considered trying to find him, but climbed the stairs to the room she would be using until they returned to the vicarage. She had offered up prayers earlier to ask God to help her be there for her brother through the trials ahead. She also needed to pray that she would be able to do the same for Lord Meriweather.
The next morning, Edmund found only Lady Meriweather seated at the table in the breakfast parlor. She put down the newspaper she had been reading.
“Good morning, Edmund,” she said with the warmth that suggested he was her son rather than her late husband’s distant cousin.
“And to you, my lady. Do not let me interrupt your reading.”
She laughed. “This newspaper was sent from London. It is nearly a week old, so waiting longer to read it is no problem.”
Helping himself to eggs and sausages, he placed his plate at the seat across from the baroness. She poured him a steaming cup of coffee from the silver pot that had been left on a ceramic tile by her right hand. He reached for a muffin from the basket that was set beside him by one of the well-trained footmen.
He buttered it as he said, “I have not had a chance to thank you for making arrangements for Mr. Fenwick and his sister to stay at Meriweather Hall.”
“It was my pleasure. Dear Vera has been a steadfast friend to my daughters, and it is not as if we don’t have the room.” Her laugh sparkled through the space. “She tells me that you have agreed to help with rebuilding the church.”
“It is my place.”
“To provide the funds, yes, but Vera suggested you were going to provide more than that.”
He poured cream into his cup and stirred it. Setting the pitcher on the table, he wondered when the two women had talked. No doubt, it had been after he had scurried away like a hurt child from Sir Nigel’s barbed comments. He snuck a glance at the lady across the table from him. Had Miss Fenwick told her about that conversation? If so, he saw no sign of pity on her face.
“You know of my work before I came to Meriweather Hall,” he said when he realized the lady expected him to answer. “I know something of building projects.”
“Quite a bit, according to my new son-in-law.” She chuckled. “Jonathan mentioned something about seeking your advice for the larger house he plans to build for him and Cat.”
“He said nothing about that to me.”
“Because he knew you would help when the time came. You, Jonathan and Charles learned to depend on each other’s skills in the army, and that will never change.” She picked up her coffee cup. “You have been given a great gift, Edmund. Such friends do not come along often.”
“I realize that.”
“Have you heard more about the tunnel that led into the church?” She must be as curious as he was to learn how and when the smugglers had gotten into the church.
“Sims brought me a report this morning. The tunnel appears to have been collapsed completely. We cannot guess where it might go.”
“Nothing aboveground suggests its direction or destination?”
He was impressed with the baroness’s question, though he should not have been. All the Meriweather women had sharp minds and cared deeply about the estate and the people of Sanctuary Bay.
With a shake of his head, he said, “The smugglers are too careful to allow that. Otherwise they would have been found out years ago.”
“I see.” After Lady Meriweather took a sip of her coffee, she changed the subject to her plans for the gardens once the weather was warm enough to plant flowers among the hedges and perennials. He listened with half an ear as he thought of what she had said. He and Northbridge and Bradby had been melded together in the crucible of war. That bond had been strengthened as they had faced the smugglers’ treachery since he had first arrived in Sanctuary Bay. He could depend on their assistance again, if necessary.
He hoped it would not be, because Bradby was on his honeymoon and Northbridge and his family were settling into his ancestral estate in the south of England. But it was good to remember that, if he needed them, they would come.
Maybe fulfilling Miss Fenwick’s request to help rebuild the church would not be impossible, after all.
* * *
When Foggin came to announce a guest later that morning, Edmund assumed either the vicar or Miss Fenwick wished to discuss the plans for rebuilding the church. Instead, a dark-haired man with an air of arrogance strode into the room as if he were lord of the estate and Edmund his least minion. Edmund suspected women would find Lord Ashland handsome, but his sharp features and hollow cheeks reminded Edmund of how disdainful the viscount had been when Edmund went to his estate in hopes of obtaining help in halting the smugglers.