“I never thought of it that way.”
“Because all you were thinking of was how your aunt would see such casualness between you as a sure sign that you were ready to offer for Lillian.”
“You know my aunt too well, it would seem.”
“No, I have come to know you.” Before he could reply to that unanticipated comment, she added, “Thank you, Edmund, for making this chapel available to our parishioners.”
“I told you. It was Lady Meriweather’s suggestion.”
“But you are the lord of Meriweather Hall. If you felt uncomfortable with the villagers coming here, nobody would gainsay you. I—and Gregory—appreciate this more than words can say.”
He was amazed how difficult it was for him to accept a compliment from her. And how too easy it was for his attention to shift to her whenever she was nearby.
As they left the chapel, Edmund let Vera do most of the talking. She was making lists of what needed to be done and how to make sure it was completed. Her voice trailed away, and he saw a familiar silhouette walking toward them.
“They told me I would find you here, Meriweather.” Sir Nigel’s voice resounded through the hallway. “I thought I would find my niece with you.” His eyes shot daggers at Vera who stood stiffly beside Edmund.
“Here I am!”
Lillian ran down the hallway, threw her arms around Edmund, rocking him back on his heels. Had she gone around the bend? Sudden insanity was the only reason he could imagine that she would act so outré. He raised his hands, but lowered them quickly. He could not push her aside. That would be ill-mannered. On the other hand, if he let her continue to cling to him, he might find himself in hot water with Sir Nigel. What to do...?
He looked over her head and toward Vera for help before he even realized what he was doing. In the moment before she drew an emotionless mask over her face, pain flashed in her eyes. Then Vera hurried away, and he was left with Lillian hugging him and a broadly smiling Sir Nigel and the knowledge that he had hurt Vera because he had not been able to decide what to do.
A fortnight later, Gregory had returned with good news from the bishop, who was pleased to hear that the parish had found a new home in the chapel at Meriweather Hall. Instead of working with Edmund as Vera had expected, her brother spent time writing to publishers and booksellers to find copies of the books burned in the fire. He seemed to receive a package at least every other day from Hatchard’s or Lackington, Allen & Company’s bookshops in London as well as others in York and Edinburgh. He focused on reading those and left the details of rebuilding the church to her and Edmund.
Vera made every effort to work with Edmund, though the memory of Lillian embracing him remained between them, an invisible wall that she had no idea how to climb over. He was trying to act as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, too, but he had hosted both Lillian and Sir Nigel twice in the past fortnight, much to the delight of his aunt who had bluntly asked him last evening where he thought his and Lillian’s wedding should be held. A flush had risen out of his collar before he had pardoned himself and left the table. Mrs. Uppington had continued to quiz Gregory about various churches in the area where banns could be read. Partway through the conversation, unable to listen to more, Vera had made her own excuses and withdrawn.
The match would be deemed an excellent one by the Beau Monde. A new lord marrying the daughter of a family that had been titled for generations, combining two prominent Yorkshire families. She should be happy for both of them.
She was not, because she could see that Edmund was not in love with Lillian. Yes, the ton married for other reasons than love, but Edmund was new to the highest realms of Society. Like her, he had a working-class view that love was necessary for a marriage. She kept reminding herself, Edmund’s plans were none of her bread-and-butter. Their focus should be on the new church. That was why, at least every other day, they had gone to check on the progress.
Last week, the cellar for the new church building had been finished. It was lined with stone from the vicarage, as well as rocks brought from nearby fields. There had been some suggestion of taking rocks from the abandoned tunnel, but that could lead to more collapses. Nobody wanted to risk that.
More building supplies had arrived and were stacked near the site. They were guarded closely by men from Meriweather Hall. Vera admired Edmund’s foresight, even though she was unsure if the smugglers would halt the new church from being built. There was no threat for them with the new building as there had been with the old. She wondered what might have happened if the tunnel had been discovered in the church cellar before the fire.