Just as Miss Fenwick asked you to help with the church.
He grimaced at how easily she slipped into his thoughts when he was not on guard to prevent it.
“I can send for another footman, my lord,” Foggin said.
“If you need to be relieved...”
“Nay, my lord.” The footman stumbled over his words as he added, “I meant to take over for you.”
“No need.” That the footman had misread his grimace was probably the best thing that had happened all day. It would not do for the household staff to start whispering about how their lord could not get his mind off Miss Fenwick.
That would be insulting to the vicar’s sister. She had endured enough without him saying something that would be repeated and distorted throughout Sanctuary Bay. It was not she who monopolized his thoughts, but the project she had asked him to work on with her.
The vicar swayed in spite of their grasp on his arms; then he steadied. Edmund looked back to see Miss Fenwick with her hand against her brother’s back.
“Move away,” Edmund said. “If he falls, he could take you with him.”
“I am just helping, even though I know you won’t let him fall.” She gave him a bolstering smile.
That smile did something unexpected to him, making him feel—for a moment—that he could do anything. Even coming to a simple decision would be possible if she smiled at him again with that expression that suggested she believed he was capable of again becoming the man he once had been. It was oddly comforting to have someone believe the invisible wounds he carried would heal.
“Thank you,” he said.
Her crystal-blue eyes widened, and he realized he had put too much fervor into those two words. What a beef-head he was! She was thinking of her brother’s welfare, not his. Hadn’t he just noted what a devoted sister she was to the vicar? She appreciated Edmund’s help. Nothing more. Nothing less. He must not forget that again.
* * *
Vera closed the door to the room where Gregory now slept. She guessed Mrs. Porter had slipped some valerian into Gregory’s tea, because he had calmed and grown sleepy after drinking less than half of the cup. Maybe with a good night’s sleep, he would be more himself in the morning.
Thank You, Lord, for letting him find rest. We will need Your help even more than usual in the days to come.
She walked along the corridor to the room that Lord Meriweather had offered for her use. Going inside, she faltered. Many times she had sat in this room because it had belonged to Catherine Meriweather before her wedding. Here, while seated on the settee in front of the large arched window, she and Cat had talked of every possible subject and read books they both had enjoyed. Occasionally, she had brought a small bag of mending from the vicarage while Cat worked on her needlework. They had sometimes simply looked out at winter snow, summer blooms and the ever-changing sea. She had been here so often that every piece of furniture was as familiar as any in the vicarage, and she knew every contour of the coffered ceiling.
But she had never imagined she would sleep in that grand bed with its bright pink curtains and lush covers. She never had coveted it, being satisfied with the simpler bed in her tiny room at the vicarage. The house she and Gregory had used on Lord Hedgcoe’s estate had been larger, but she had been grateful every day that they had a home in Sanctuary Bay.
Now she would be sleeping in this magnificent room until the vicarage was habitable again. She had no idea when that would be. Both Lord Meriweather and her brother had insisted it was too dangerous for her even to peek inside the burned house, so she could not guess how much work it would need. The first priority was rebuilding the church.
No, they needed to find a place to hold services. If the fire had happened a couple of months from now, winter would be past and services could be held out-of-doors. There was no place in the village big enough to hold the parishioners. Maybe Gregory could do several different services for a short time. It was logical, but she knew how important it was to the parish to worship together. That was why, at the time of the previous lord’s death, the talk had begun about building a larger church. Recently, the population in the village had grown.
Her fingers clenched on the coverlet. She hoped the arrival of more people to the village set on the side of the steep cliff had nothing to do with the smugglers. Easy money could entice criminals who would change Sanctuary Bay forever. With all the preparations for Cat and Jonathan’s wedding, she had spent very little time in the village during the past six or seven weeks. Maybe she should make some calls on longtime parishioners and discover more about the newcomers.
“Is there a problem, Miss Fenwick?” asked Lord Meriweather.