Events with the smugglers and watching his friends fall in love and pledge to spend their lives with his cousins. They had begun to overcome the pain and unseen wounds they had brought back from the Continent.
While they had accomplished that, he still had not taken a full tour of the manor house. He had not halted the smugglers. Getting past the changes the war had made on him seemed impossible. Nor had he trusted his heart as his friends had theirs.
His gaze went of its own volition to where Vera glowed with happiness as she and Mrs. Williams went over the tasks to be done before Sunday. She glanced in his direction, and her smile softened.
He wanted to shout that she needed to stop looking at him as if her heart ached to belong to him. It was true that, when she had fallen into the smugglers’ tunnel, he had been more frightened than he had ever been on the battlefield. She would be a pea-goose to want more from him than his help in rebuilding her brother’s church. He was not the man he had been, and, as each day passed, the hope dimmed that he would regain what had been lost.
“Here you are!” Miss Kightly’s cheerful voice lilted through his grim thoughts.
“Come in,” Vera called as Mrs. Williams excused herself to gather the necessary hands and supplies to begin cleaning the chapel.
Miss Kightly entered, holding her gown up so the hem did not brush the dirty floor. “Is this a chapel?”
“Yes, we will be using it for services for the parish.” Vera smiled. “Isn’t that wonderful? It has just been rediscovered.”
“Oh, what fun!” Miss Kightly clapped her hands in delight. “I hoped to find some great treasure like this when I explored my uncle’s house, but he keeps warning me to stop because parts of the house are not stable.” Her eyes twinkled. “But I would risk it if I could find a special room like this one.”
“Come. Let me show you around.”
As Vera led Miss Kightly around the small space, Edmund watched them. Vera had a dark beauty while Miss Kightly was light and ethereal. He could not forget how much he had wanted to kiss Vera in the carriage. Yet, maybe his aunt was right. Instead of flirting with Vera, should he consider marrying a woman like Sir Nigel’s great-niece? She knew much about the ton, and if he followed her lead, he might be able to hide his inability to make a decision. He almost laughed. To offer her marriage, he first had to decide to marry her.
“Mrs. Williams believes, with some help from the ladies in the village, the chapel will be ready for Sunday,” Vera went on.
“Are you sure?” Miss Kightly’s nose wrinkled. Her eyes widened when her gaze alighted on him, but she looked back at Vera who assured her that the chapel would be in good enough condition for Sunday.
“After all,” Vera said, “our Savior was born in a stable where there must have been plenty of dust and spiders. Our prayers will not be deemed of lesser value because we are not sitting in a pristine chapel.” Her laugh was filled with delight. “To be honest, we should be right at home here, because there were always webs in the corners of the church that I could not reach even with a broom.”
“I hope you are right about having it ready,” Miss Kightly said, holding her skirt close to keep it from touching the benches or pulpit. “I have my doubts.” She looked at him again. “Don’t you?”
Knowing he could not loiter in the shadows, Edmund walked along the single aisle. “Actually I do.” He hurried on when he saw the joyful light in Vera’s eyes dim. “But I am discovering that once Vera sets her mind on something, it comes to pass, no matter how many doubting Thomases surround her.”
Miss Kightly gasped. “Vera?” She looked at Vera and grinned. “If he calls you by your given name, he must do the same for me.” She laughed when Edmund started to protest. “Oh, bother! Do not offer me an etiquette lesson. We are not in London. Besides, you don’t want to make Vera think you value her less because you address her by her Christian name?”
“I never—” he began.
Miss Kightly did not let him finish. “So it is set. You will call me Lillian, and I will call both of you by your first names. How much more companionable we will be!” She started to add more but sneezed once, then a second and a third time. “Oh, bother! ’Tis the dust. It always makes my nose itch. Excuse me!”
He stepped aside as she rushed out of the chapel, “Vera, it was never my intention to make you feel of lesser value by suggesting we call each by our given names.”
“I know that.” Vera smiled and tapped his nose as if he were a tot. “Couldn’t you tell she was teasing with you? It was her method of getting her way without a long, drawn-out discussion.”