Edmund halted his pacing and faced her. “That sounds as if you think someone in this house is working with the smugglers?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t seen any sign of that, but if someone chanced to see him writing the note or coming here to deliver it, he could be risking his life and more.”
“All the more reason to question the wisdom of arranging such a meeting.”
“They feel they don’t have any other choice, Edmund,” she said softly.
“They? The smugglers or the law-abiding folk of Sanctuary Bay?”
“Both.” She sat in one of the comfortable chairs facing the hearth and looked up at him. “It wasn’t always like this. I remember when I first came to Sanctuary Bay that the smugglers kept to themselves, never interfering in anyone’s lives. Then, there was an abrupt shift. The smugglers no longer seemed content to earn money by deceiving the excise men. They began to intimidate the honest villagers, something that Gregory heard about almost immediately.”
“My cousin Sophia was sent to London, I know, when she came too close to unmasking the man who set the smugglers on that evil path.”
Vera digested that tidbit of information. Why hadn’t she been more curious why Edmund’s predecessor had suddenly decided Sophia needed a London Season?
“You must be as careful, Edmund,” she said, then felt her cheeks redden as she realized she was giving him an order.
“I will be.”
“Not only with the smugglers, but with the fog. When it’s this thick, it’s easy to become disoriented and lose one’s way.”
“I know. This is not my first foggy night in Sanctuary Bay.” He leaned forward and brushed his finger against her cheek. “I could say you don’t need to worry, but I know you will. You care about those around you. To own the truth, I like that you are concerned about me because it shows that you have come to care about me, too.”
“You have been kind to Gregory and me.”
“I am not speaking of a ‘Gregory and me’ situation. I am saying that you, Vera, caring about me is wonderful. Too bad I had not met you before I joined the army. It would have been comforting during the war to know that you were thinking of me and praying for my safety.” His fingers trailed down along her chin as he tipped it up toward him. “And I could have been thinking of you rather that what awaited me in the next encounter with the French.”
Words filled her mind, but none that she could speak. How could she allow herself to forget, even for a moment, what he had endured on the Continent? Not that she knew exactly what had happened to him and his friends, but stories of the horrifying battles were still repeated almost two years after Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo.
“And now...” He sighed as he drew away from her. “Now I must decide if I should meet Cadman or not.”
She silenced her sigh of regret that he no longer was touching her; then she kept another from escaping as she realized the import of what he had said. He needed to make a decision, but it was an impossible task for him. Was he asking for her help? She had been making suggestions throughout the planning for the new church, and he had accepted them as such. Would he be as willing to listen to her thoughts on something that had no connection to the church?
She said quietly, “You should not go alone.”
“It sounds as if you think I should go.”
She could not miss the relief in his voice that he did not have to make the choice on his own. “If Stanley risked so much to get this message to you, he must have something vital to tell you.”
“I agree.” Going to the window, he looked out into the night where the land and the sea were both lost in the inky darkness. “I am not a man who turns away from risks.”
“But you must not go alone.” She came to her feet. “I will—”
“If you are going to say that you will go with me, don’t bother.” He faced her and put his hands on her shoulders. “You are right about it being a risky venture, and I will not endanger you by letting you come with me into what may be a trap.”
“Edmund, I know Stanley. Gregory knows him even better than I do.”
“But he did not ask to meet you or the vicar. He asked to meet me.”
His hands gentled on her shoulders, and his eyes sparked as he held her gaze. The emotions flashing there were powerful. She could imagine the enemy quailing before him on the battlefield. But he was on her side, ready to defeat the smugglers who had taken too much from her. Not only her home, but her last remnants of security. She longed to lean against his broad chest and let his arms surround her.