She sighed. No matter how much she had believed she had matured and changed, she had been as unthinking while standing beside the burned-out church as she had been before Lord Hedgcoe had sent them away. Would she never learn to consider the consequences of her words before she spoke them? She had injured Edmund when all she had wanted was to make sure the church was rebuilt so she and Gregory could continue to live and do their work in Sanctuary Bay.
* * *
Edmund tried not to make it obvious that he was watching Vera walk away after she excused herself abruptly. When he looked back at the mason as Bruse spoke about hiring a few more skilled masons, he realized he had not been successful. The mason kept his gaze on a button in the center of Edmund’s waistcoat, and Bruse flinched when speaking Vera’s name, clearly worried about what Edmund would do or say.
Why was nobody acting as they should? First, it had been Sir Nigel. Next, Lillian seemed to have two different women living underneath her skin—the one who treated him as a friend and the one who made no secret of the fact that she wished he would ask her to become his wife. Now, Vera, the one who always seemed the most stable and unchanging, the one he could depend on to be honest with him, was as unwilling to meet his eyes as the mason.
“You were told at the beginning to get all the men you need,” Edmund said with what shreds of his dignity he could muster.
“I will send word to Meriweather Hall to let you know who I hire and at what wage, so they can be properly paid.”
“Just make sure they are skilled.”
“We are hiring men from Whitby and Scarborough and even as far west as Pickering.” He glanced at the foundation, then tipped his cap. “I’ll let the lads know that the church will have a single aisle like the old one.”
Edmund nodded. It had been a simple decision. He should have been able to make it, but he could not halt the visions of the roof falling in if he chose unwisely. Men had already died because of his misguided decisions. He did not want to let that happen again. He was grateful—again!—for Vera’s suggestion.
Vera stood near the old churchyard. As if he had called her name, she turned and met his gaze. She said nothing. What was she thinking about now?
Please, make it something that requires no decision, he prayed in desperation as he walked to where she stood. I don’t want to disappoint her.
That thought drew him up short. Before, he had thought of himself and his embarrassment when he could not make a decision. Never before had he thought about disappointing Vera...as he may have disappointed her when he had drawn back in the carriage the day she hurt her knee. Or maybe she had been glad he had come to his senses and not kissed her. He had no idea, and she had given him no sign.
Unable to speak of his tangled thoughts, Edmund said as he reached Vera, “You appear perplexed.”
“I am. I want to ask you about a matter that will be of greatest concern to the parishioners. Would it be possible for the lych-gate to be set so it can serve the old churchyard as well as the new?” She walked to a spot about fifteen yards away. “About here?” She returned to where he stood. “That way, those who wish to be buried with their loved ones in the old churchyard still can pass through a lych-gate on their way to the funeral service.” She smiled. “Not that it matters as much to the deceased as it does to the pallbearers who may need some rest after coming up the steep hill in the village.”
“That seems to make sense.”
Her smile broadened, and he was sure the sun had popped through the clouds. Everything seemed brighter. “I’m glad you think so, Edmund. I cannot tell you how much this will mean to everyone.”
“You know the parishioners better than I do.”
“And I hope you don’t mind when I make suggestions like this.”
A suggestion that came with a solution already attached, a suggestion that did not require him to make a decision? He was grateful.
As they started back toward the carriage, she paused. “Look! Daffodils!”
A clump of yellow buds poked up out of the grass.
“Spring must finally be on its way to Sanctuary Bay,” he said.
“We need a shovel.”
“A shovel?” he repeated, confused.
“If we leave the daffodils here, they will be trampled by the workers. If you don’t mind, I can transplant the bulbs to Meriweather Hall. Once a new vicarage is ready, I will move the bulbs there.”
“Trust you to care about flowers as much as you do the church.”
“The church is men’s creation. Daffodils are God’s.”
He savored the happy glow on her face. He had last seen that expression when he had offered the chapel for the parish’s services. Lost in his own uncertainty for the past few weeks, he had failed to notice her reticence. What a horrible host he had been! Worse, he had been a wretched friend.