He opened a bag on the bed that already held a few items, including several books that must have come from Lord Meriweather’s book room. “I must seek the bishop’s counsel on dealing with the smugglers. As well, I want to share our plans for rebuilding the church.”
“The plans to move the church closer to the village?” She walked to the other side of the bed and watched as he deftly packed the bag. If she did not know better, she would have guessed he had done that many times before.
“Yes, but it is not only the building. There is the churchyard to consider. If we move to another location, do we build a wall around it to protect the graves? The parishioners will not want to be separated in death from their loved ones by starting a new churchyard with the new building.”
She sat on a chair near the foot of the tester bed. “Perhaps we could move the new church a bit closer to the old foundation, so we can still incorporate the graves within the churchyard.”
“A good idea, Vera. I shall share it with the bishop.” He put the last of the clothing in the bag. “Thank goodness that Lord Meriweather and I are close enough in size so I don’t have to call on the bishop wearing dirty and torn clothing.” He closed the top of the worn leather bag and stepped away from the bed.
“I cannot imagine the bishop would judge your ability to lead our parish through this crisis with the smugglers because of what you are wearing.” She smoothed her hands over her lap and the fine gown that was Cat’s. It was even more elegant than the one she had worn to her friend’s wedding, but for the daughter of a baron, it would be considered an everyday morning gown.
“True. Mr. Hamilton has agreed to lead the services on Sunday. I trust you will help him as you do me.”
“Of course.” She would write a simple sermon for Mr. Hamilton to read. He was a fisherman like many in the village, but he helped often at the church and tended the churchyard.
“And if you are away longer than that?”
“I will worry about that if I must.”
Vera bit back frustrated words. Her brother allowed her to assist in his work, but nothing more. How could he not see that she longed to do more to serve God? Many times, she had dreamed of being the one standing at the pulpit preaching the words she had written. Her brother could not imagine a woman having such an ambition.
Gregory glanced toward her. “Something is bothering you, Vera. What is it?”
“Lord Meriweather asked me an unsettling question yesterday.” That it was rumored she and Gregory had abetted the smugglers had kept her awake most of the night.
“About what?” He reached into the cupboard for a coat that, like the rest of his clothing, must belong to the baron.
“The silliest thing.” She should have said nothing. Gregory had been pleased to have the old Lord Meriweather’s complete confidence in him. That the new one might not would upset him more.
“What did he ask?” He folded the coat over his arm and looked at her.
“He asked if we had ever helped the smugglers, and I told him that we hadn’t.”
Gregory placed the coat on top of the bag. “That is not completely true.”
“What?” She jumped to her feet. “Gregory, you cannot be serious!”
“I am.” He motioned toward the door. “Let’s find Lord Meriweather. I might as well explain to both of you at the same time.”
She fought the sickness clawing at her stomach. Her brother had helped the smugglers? Lord, how can I face Lord Meriweather knowing that my brother assisted the men who threatened the baron’s cousins? Both Sophia and Cat had escaped alive, but the situation could easily have gone the other way. And Gregory had helped them....
Somehow her feet carried her alongside her brother. She gripped the banister as they descended the stairs. She heard Gregory ask someone where the baron was but could not focus on whom he spoke with nor the answer. She realized where they were going only when she saw four suits of armor that held swords and lances at the ready lining either side of the corridor.
Gregory knocked on the door of the book room and called, “Lord Meriweather, may we speak with you for a moment?”
“Come in,” the baron called.
Vera walked with her brother into the room that was lined with overflowing bookshelves. More books were stacked in front of them. A rosewood desk was set in front of a large double window. Chairs faced the white marble fireplace.
“Good morning,” Lord Meriweather said with a smile as he stood from one of the chairs.
That smile wavered when Gregory said, “I understand you have asked Vera about our connections with the smugglers, and you need to know that the answer she gave you was not the truth.”