Everyone seemed to be busy with some task...except Vera. The household staff did their regular daily chores, and Lady Meriweather was conferring with her housekeeper and cook. Gregory had shut himself away in his room to work on the next sermon. Or so she assumed, because her brother had not spoken to her since those three accusing words yesterday in Edmund’s office. Nor had she spoken to Edmund, who before breakfast had ridden into the village to speak to people he trusted. He wanted to affirm Mr. Brooks’s statement that nobody in the village would ever think of him as his qualityship.
Maybe she could concentrate if she had not chanced to see her brother walking past the armor by the book room yesterday and going in. She had thought he was looking for a book, but, before the door closed, she had heard him say, “Lord Meriweather, we must talk about Vera.”
She had been tempted to press her ear to the door to hear what was said. She already knew what Gregory would say as he revealed her great shame to Edmund. How had Edmund reacted? With anger that she had kept the truth from him, letting him think he had done something wrong in the garden to upset her? Or had he been sorry he kissed her, thinking her free with her affections? Oh, how she ached to tell him that, when she had fallen in love with Nolan Hedgcoe, she had been only a foolish girl with air-dreams of first love. That young girl was long gone, destroyed along with her youthful fantasies. Now...
She wished she could state as emphatically how she felt now. She could easily fall in love with Edmund, but she knew that yearning was as doomed as her calf-love for Nolan. Saying that aloud would be more painful than anything else in her life, even more than disappointing her brother again.
Vera stopped in midstep as she saw someone walking toward her. Her heart skipped. Was it Edmund? The man strode through the house with the ease of familiarity. But the man was too tall, and, when he neared, his black hair was burnished by the sunshine with streaks of blue. A scar along his left cheek where a French blade had struck him instantly identified him.
“Lord Northbridge!” she exclaimed.
“Miss Fenwick!” he said, feigning an identical amount of shock. He became somber as he added, “Meriweather told me that you and the vicar were staying here. I was very sad to hear about the fire at the church. As you can guess, that church holds a special place in my heart and in Sophia’s.”
The earl and the late baron’s older daughter had been the last ones married in the old church. She could remember how happy everyone had been that day when the Meriweather family had set aside their grief from the previous baron’s death and celebrated.
“I had not heard you were visiting Sanctuary Bay,” she said, trying to keep her own sorrow hidden. “Are Sophia and the children here, too?”
“I made this a lightning fast ride north, so I didn’t bring the children. As well, we thought it for the best for Sophia not to travel now.” A grin on his stern face betrayed what his words meant. Sophia must be in an interesting condition, for no woman would risk her unborn child by journeying on rutted roads.
Vera wanted to offer her congratulations, but until an official announcement was made, she had to wait. She guessed the truth shone from her eyes as she said, “I am sure you and your family will make many other trips to Sanctuary Bay.” And I hope I will be here to see you. She tried to shake her dreary thoughts from her head, but they refused to be budged.
“I don’t think the children would allow me not to.” Lord Northbridge’s smile broadened. “Michael is already clamoring to see the sea, as he says, but I believe he wants to come back to enjoy the nursery.”
“Have you heard from the newlyweds?”
“Are they enjoying their travels through Italy?”
“Why don’t you ask them yourself?” He grinned.
“They are here?”
“Surprise!” called a beloved voice from behind her.
Vera whirled. She threw her arms around Cat and hugged her; then she stepped back to appraise her dear friend. Cat’s smile and her dancing brown eyes conveyed her happiness. Vera was glad her prayer for Cat to find love had been answered.
Cat held out her hand, and her tall, lanky husband came to take it. With his ginger hackles and easy smile, Mr. Bradby did not look like the solicitor he was. Her friend must already be having an effect on him because he was not wearing his usual garish jumble of clothing. Instead, he wore a simple light brown waistcoat beneath his sedate black coat.
“Mr. Bradby, how good to see you, too,” she said.
“Jonathan,” he corrected with a smile as he draped his arm over his wife’s shoulders. “Cat has told me often that she thinks of you as a second sister, and it would not do for anyone in her family to be formal with me.”