Not that he had returned to Sanctuary Bay. She looked at the letter that had been delivered an hour ago. It had been simple and to the point. He had a meeting arranged with the bishop, but not until next week. Many Lenten responsibilities were occupying the bishop. Gregory stated that she should be hearing from a pastor from Scarborough who, though retired, was willing to come north to Sanctuary Bay for Sunday services until Gregory returned.
“But where will we hold those services?” she asked aloud.
After the most recent al fresco service led by Mr. Hamilton, who had shivered so hard that none of the words she had written for him had been understandable, several parishioners had implored her to ask her brother to find a place indoors.
“Excuse me? What did you say?” asked Lord Meriweather as he came into the small parlor.
No, she needed to think of him as Edmund, as he had requested.
Maybe it would have been easier if he had not torn down that wall of formality. He had said nothing about their ride back to Meriweather Hall, but she could not forget the expression on his face as his hand had curled around her shoulder and his mouth had lowered toward hers. If he had not bumped her knee, would he have kissed her?
She would have been a willing participant to a kiss, but she must not let it happen again. That was how the trouble began. Nolan Hedgcoe had teased her into giving him a kiss, and she had believed it was because he was in love with her. What else was a naive girl of fifteen to think? She could not have imagined he was luring her into lying for him while he spent time with a woman his father had forbidden him to see. If she had been honest then, he might not have ended up fighting a duel and dying from his wounds.
“Forgive me,” she said, looking up at him for the first time.
He must have been outside because grass was stuck on his boots. His hair was damp and twisted on his forehead by the wind, and she thought of her fingers combing his hair back into place.
“For what?” He smiled while he crossed the room and folded his arms on the back of a chair facing where she sat.
“For being so lost in thought that I started talking to myself.”
“I recall someone stating that talking to oneself proves that person is ready to be banished to Bedlam.” He glanced at the letter she held. “I trust that contains good tidings.”
“Geoffrey is delayed because he will not be speaking with the bishop until next week.” She folded the letter and put it beneath her glass of water on the table beside her chair. “He is sending a substitute for the service on Sunday, but the man is coming from Scarborough. I worry that few people will be willing to stand in the cold again.”
“I might have a solution.”
“Really?” Excited, she stood. A tiny twinge came from her right knee, but nothing more.
“Vera, shouldn’t you remain sitting?” Concern darkened his eyes.
“Not you, too. Between your aunt and Lady Meriweather, you would think I am too feeble to do anything.” She stepped carefully around the stool. “I am better, but they won’t listen to me.”
“I had thought Lady Meriweather would.”
When his lips twitched, she rolled her eyes. “She is being as stubborn as your aunt.” She did not pause before she asked, “What is your solution for the problem of having no church?”
“I was going to tell you, but now I think I will show you.” He offered his arm.
She put her hand on his sleeve. Trying to pretend she did not like being near him was silly. Maybe the past two days had been boring and bleak because Edmund had been busy. The only time they had had together was during the evening meal, and his aunt had kept her from joining in the conversation by asking Miss Kightly a question each time Vera had opened her mouth.
As he led her out of the room, he made her promise to tell him the moment the journey became too much for her. Her knee would have to hurt as much as it had when they had pulled her out of the collapsed tunnel before she would call for a halt. It was too wonderful to escape from the chair in the small parlor.
“Has the hole been filled in?” she asked.
“Yes, but not before we examined it.”
“Someone went down in it?”
He shook his head. “No, but we lowered a torch so we could see the broken timbers better. They looked like the ones in the cellar of the old church. I have told the men to be on their guard. If they feel the ground shifting beneath them, they should flee as fast as they can.”
Vera let him change the subject to the progress on the new church. Now that the old cellar had been filled, the new one was being dug. It was slow work, because they had found a lot of stones that had to be lifted up and out. That was actually good news because it meant the smugglers had not dug underground in that area.