A Bride for the Baron - Page 80

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“Mr. Brooks has made arrangements for him to be held in the cell he keeps for that purpose. As soon as all the information is gathered and you are recovered, the trial will move forward.”

“Good.” He called for the driver to leave.

Edmund watched the wagon drive away, then smiled when he saw daffodils blooming by the stable door. Picking one, he went back toward the house. He knew someone who would be happy to see it.

* * *

Lillian put her teacup gracefully on her saucer, each motion perfection. Even in her unusually dark clothing, Lillian looked beautiful. The navy fabric made her blond hair glow.

“You don’t have to look at me as if you expect me to shatter into a million pieces,” Lillian said. “And you don’t have to apologize, Vera. Not again and again and again. You did nothing wrong.”

“But I am sorry that you have been dragged into this because Sir Nigel is your great-uncle.” Vera set her own cup on the tray, but the china rattled in her unsteady hand.

“My mother should have given some thought to what the old fool was up to before she banished me here so she could enjoy an extended honeymoon with her new husband. Now she will have to spend plenty of time making sure none of this scandal attaches itself to me.”

“Is that possible?”

Lillian smiled. “My dear Vera, anything is possible if my mother flatters the right people and my stepfather arranges a large enough dowry for me. Don’t worry that I will be a pariah because of my great-uncle. He hasn’t made an appearance in London for many years, so he has no allies there. Fortunately my mother has many.”

“I’m sor—” Vera halted herself when Lillian frowned. “One thing I’m not sorry about is that I have gotten to know you, and having gotten to know you, I have to ask. You didn’t know Sir Nigel was leading the smugglers, but you knew something wasn’t right, didn’t you?”

“Yes to both. I had hoped that Uncle Nigel wasn’t involved, but I could no longer ignore the clues right in front of my face. He was acting stranger and stranger all the time. When I wanted to explore the house, he kept suggesting I come here for a visit instead.”

“He didn’t want you to find the smuggled goods he hid in his house after the church was burned.”

Scores of crates had been discovered in the unused wings of the great house. Some were marked for shipment to customers. The excise officers who had come from Whitby were already hunting down those customers to arrest them for dealing in illegal goods.

“Not only that. He hoped to distract Edmund by pushing me at him. I humored him so he would not guess that I suspected something was amiss. That is why I acted madly in love with Edmund whenever my great-uncle was near.” Lillian smiled. “Go ahead. You might as well tell me what you thought. I must have appeared to be touched in the head.”

“I did wonder. Edmund was totally left at sixes and sevens, or so my brother told me.” She did not add that she had been baffled, as well, and hurt.

“The poor, dear man. I must apologize to him.” Wrapping her arms around herself, she sighed. “He has endured too much from my family. I hope he doesn’t believe my betrayal was worse than my great-uncle’s.”

“You are worrying needlessly. Edmund is a fair man. He will listen to you and forgive you.”

“Good.” Lillian stood and lifted her chin. “When I decide to marry, it will be because I have fallen in love. Not because my great-uncle wants to arrange for another shipment of illegal brandy and silk into Sanctuary Bay.”

Vera struggled to keep her voice serene as she rose, too. “So, you have no interest in marrying Edmund?”

“He is a nice man, but not one who touches my heart. He likes living out here in daisyville. I want to live in London. I want the excitement of the Season, and the chance to choose my husband from among the many who will be vying for me.” Her nose wrinkled. “To own the truth, Vera, I would go out of my head if I stayed here for the rest of my life.” As her eyes widened, she hurried to add, “Please don’t take offense at my words, because I know this is your home.”

“I’m not offended. You want to go to London, and I would have to be bound and gagged to go there.” Vera smiled. “God made every one of us differently.”

“And what about you, Vera? Are you happy?”

She hesitated. How could she explain what she felt to Lillian? She was relieved that the smugglers had been halted, at least for now. She could not say that to the blonde, because, no matter what he had done, Sir Nigel was part of Lillian’s family.

She could say that she was happy that Gregory was writing his sermon for Sunday himself. His close call with death had brought back his fervor for preaching as well as tending to his flock. He was revitalized and reinspired and thankful to be alive to do God’s work.

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