Atticus paused at that revelation. The name of Parker’s then wife in New York was Georgiana James. So the last one was the child she was pregnant with when Parker and Zora had begun their affair. Atticus was shaken, too, by her first name. Harper. It couldn’t be a coincidence that she bore the name of the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, the very same novel featuring his namesake, Atticus Finch. Atticus swallowed the distaste that Parker Muir obviously had something to do with his mother’s choice of his name.
He shut the computer, frustrated that he’d learned so little about this man who was his biological father. Atticus grew up the only child of two compulsively hardworking parents. They were a solid family, celebrated the usual holidays, milestones. There was love between them. Yet now that his parents were dead, and just when he felt most alone, he was informed he had this other family living in Charleston.
Another family. Maybe this is what Atticus had felt was missing his entire life. What he’d been searching for.
Before he fell asleep that night, Atticus knew that the following morning he would call the Pearlman law office to find out more about the Muir family. He needed details. He needed his birth certificate.
He needed an address.
All couples have issues to get through. That’s what marriage is all about. Taking the good and bad, the hard and easy. And making it work.
March is a mercurial month in the lowcountry, but as promised, the rain and wind blew off island during the night. The sun rose on clear skies and warmer weather than the residents had experienced so far this spring. Carson opened her eyes and stretched languidly. The sheets were warm and scented of love. Sighing, she patted her hand on the mattress beside her. Blake’s side was empty. Fear fluttered through her. She kicked off her sheet and in a mild panic half rose to let her gaze dart around the room. Soft breezes from the open window caressed her naked skin.
Her gaze shifted to follow Blake’s voice. He stood at the door carrying a tray. She let her eyes feast on his long, lean frame as her body slumped softly with relief. “You’re here.”
“Where else would I be?” He walked toward her.
Carson didn’t reply. When she’d found the bed empty, she felt a sudden terror that he’d left her.
Blake was already dressed in his usual khakis and dark green polo shirt bearing the logo of NOAA. She thought to herself that if he lived in Los Angeles, he’d likely wear black jeans and a tight T-shirt to show off his swimmer’s body. She chuckled to herself, knowing Blake would never be so fashion-forward. Blake put on his clothes in the morning without thought. From the moment he woke up, his mind focused on getting outdoors as quickly as possible. Blake had a long waist with taut and sinewy muscles across his chest, shoulders, and arms from hours spent on the ocean, not the gym. The scent of the sea, mud, salt, these were home to him. Like her, he needed to be near the water and spent as much time as he could out on the waterways researching the animals that lived in the depths. Blake was a marine mammal specialist at NOAA, and their shared love of dolphins had initially cemented their relationship.
She smiled up at him as he set a tray on the bed beside her.
“Merci,” she said, letting her fingers stroke his hand.
She gathered her long dark hair in her hands and pulled the locks from her face, remembering with a flush the long afternoon and longer night of talking, arguing, and making love. She gave him a slanted look. “I feel rode hard and put up wet.”
She got the hoped-for smug smile as he straightened and caught her gaze.
Carson hid her own smile of satisfaction by looking down at the tray. He’d remembered her favorites. Wheat toast, yogurt, fresh berries, coffee.
But, oh, she needed water.
“I’m parched,” she said in a raspy voice. “I’m so dry I can barely speak. Could I have some water? You’ve run me dry, boy.”
She detected another faint smile of self-satisfaction as he ducked out of the room. She sipped the coffee, and in a moment he returned. Hobbs pushed past him into the room, trotting to the bed, and immediately began sniffing the sheets with keen interest. Carson giggled as Blake shoved him away with a gruff “No.” Hobbs backed off with a snort of displeasure and sat a few feet away, staring at Carson with baleful eyes.
Blake handed Carson a tall glass of icy water. “I’m pretty sure when a dog snorts like that it’s dog language for ‘Fuck you.’?”
Carson laughed, then drank thirstily. Again, she felt a breeze flutter the curtains and slide across her body like water.
Blake sat on the bed beside her. She felt the dip in the mattress with his weight, then his cool hand as it slid across her body. “I’ve missed seeing you in my bed.”
“Oh, I’ve missed this, too. You by my side. The soft island breezes. I slept like I haven’t slept since I left.”
He snorted. “I should hope not.”
“When you let me sleep, I should say.”
He leaned forward to kiss her. The moment lips met the spark ignited, as it always did for them. She felt the telltale trembling of his lips as his tongue pushed hers open.
“No, no, no,” she whimpered, pushing him back. “I don’t have the energy. Or the time. They’re expecting us for lunch.”
He released her, but still leaning close, his dark eyes searched hers. “Carson . . .” He hesitated, and his tone implied he wanted to talk.
“Yes?” She picked up a slice of toast. She bit into the buttery bread, using the action to disguise her sudden wariness.
Blake pushed back and placed his palms on his thighs. “We need to talk.”
She knew that look on his face. She felt her guard go up. “I thought we’d done enough talking.”
“You took off your ring.”
Carson glanced at her ring finger, barren of the diamond. “We’re still engaged. Sort of. We’re going to be promised to each other. While we work things out. No pressure.”
“Last night when we were exhausted, it seemed a decent compromise. But in the light of day . . . What the hell does promised even mean? We’re sort of engaged? We’re promised to do what? That puts us in limbo.” Blake shook his head, moving his dark curls, longer now after a winter’s growth. “I can’t do that.”
“But we said—”
“I can’t face them.”