She had asked God to help her learn to think before speaking, but she had not succeeded in listening to His guidance yet.
“Then,” the baron said, “I shall not stand in your way of eluding Mme. Dupont.”
He lowered his hands slowly to his sides, but did not move aside. Instead, he stood there, smiling. His eyes were level with hers because he stood on a lower step, and she was fascinated by the golden specks in his eyes. She had never noticed them before. They burned like miniature fires within his dark eyes.
Only the sound of the doorway in the entry hall below tore Vera’s gaze from Lord Meriweather’s. She looked down to where Jessup was stepping back to allow someone in.
“My lord?” Jessup called. “Miss Kightly has arrived.”
Vera saw her own surprise on Lord Meriweather’s face before he turned to walk down the stairs. Miss Kightly came into the entry hall, her clothing, as always, elegant and fashionable. The blonde greeted Lord Meriweather with a cool smile, then looked up the stairs to where Vera stood.
“Miss Fenwick, I am pleased to see you looking well.” Miss Kightly’s smile warmed as Vera joined her and Lord Meriweather. “I hope on this visit, we will have a chance to talk and become better acquainted.”
“That would be very nice.” With both Cat and Sophia planning to live elsewhere, she would appreciate having a new friend near Sanctuary Bay.
“I thought so, too.” Miss Kightly turned back to Lord Meriweather. “Forgive me arriving without an invitation.”
“You know you are always welcome at Meriweather Hall,” he replied.
“That is good, because Uncle Nigel has been called away on some business, and he believes I would be bored at his house, though I am not sure why he thinks that. There are many parts of the house that I haven’t seen yet. But he did not want me to be alone there.”
Vera resisted the urge to lift her eyebrows in an incredulous look. If Sir Nigel’s house was anything like Meriweather Hall, Miss Kightly could never be alone there. At least a score of servants worked in the house, and more people were in the stables and other outbuildings.
“A wise thought,” Lord Meriweather said with a strained smile.
Miss Kightly must have seen only the smile, not the tension, because she said, “His business should take only a few days.”
“You are welcome to stay as long as you need to.” He looked at the footman. “Jessup, let Lady Meriweather know that Miss Kightly will be staying with us.”
“Yes, my lord.” He bowed his head, then hurried up the stairs.
After Lord Meriweather sent another footman to get Miss Kightly’s bags from her carriage, he invited her into the small parlor. Vera could not keep from noticing what a handsome couple they made. Miss Kightly seemed to light up when the baron spoke to her, and, in spite of his taut smile, he clearly enjoyed the blonde’s company. It would be an excellent match.
The thought created a cramp in her chest, as if she could not quite catch her breath. When a hand settled on her shoulder, she flinched.
“Why are you standing here alone in the entry hall?” asked Lady Meriweather with a kind smile. “Why aren’t you going with the others?”
“I was unsure if they wanted...” She bit back the words she should not speak. To suggest that Miss Kightly wanted to be alone with Lord Meriweather would be a horrible mistake. Even a single wrong word, overheard and repeated, could sully a young woman’s reputation.
“Of course, they wanted to have you join them.” The baroness swept past her. “Come with me.”
Vera had no choice but to comply. She could not speak of the sensations that had rushed through her on the stairs when she had first seen the golden flames in Lord Meriweather’s eyes. Nor could she say how unsettled she had felt when she had thought of the baron and Miss Kightly making a match. She decided the best thing to do was to sit quietly and let the others talk. That way she would not betray that she found Lord Meriweather too tantalizing for her own good.
* * *
It was not how he had planned to spend his day, and Edmund wished he could find a way to excuse himself from the conversation the ladies were having. It had started with Lady Meriweather and Miss Fenwick’s arrival, and it had continued through the midday meal, and now it was almost time for tea. He had hoped to finish his list of initial ideas for the church so he could share it with Miss Fenwick.
He glanced at her. She sat primly a little bit away from the rest of them. Now that he thought about it, he could not recall her saying very much while Lady Meriweather and Miss Kightly chatted.
Her eyes caught his. A slight tilt of her left eyebrow spoke volumes, and he had to turn his laugh into coughs before he embarrassed himself.