Harper’s stare was defensive, as was the stiffness of her smile. “I would never ask Mamaw to move to the cottage,” she said with some heat. “In fact, I begged her not to. But she insisted. And you know Mamaw when she’s made up her mind.”
Carson grinned wryly. “That Muir stubbornness.”
Harper paused, assuaged a bit by the humor. “She said she wanted to have a smaller space of her own. Mamaw has free rein of the house, of course. She comes and goes as she pleases. She still likes to sit on the back porch, the same queen as always.” Harper’s tone grew thoughtful. “But more and more, I find her sitting on the porch of the cottage, rocking, reading a book. I think she finds comfort there, where Lucille lived.”
“But isn’t it, I don’t know . . . weird? Sleeping in her room?”
“At first, maybe. But not anymore.” Harper met Carson’s gaze squarely. “This is my home, after all.”
There it was. The line in the sand. The house now belonged to Harper. She’d bought it free and clear. In doing so, she’d not only provided Mamaw the opportunity to remain at Sea Breeze rather than move into a retirement community alone, but the generous purchase offer had provided Mamaw a comfortable income to live on for as long as she lived. It was extraordinarily fortunate for all of them that the house could remain in the family.
The tension was broken when Taylor entered the foyer, a huge black dog at his heels. Blake and Taylor greeted each other warmly, leaning forward to slap backs and mutter words of welcome. They were both tall, but the resemblance ended there. Taylor was broad shouldered and muscled and bore the upright stance of a man who’d spent years in the Marines. When Harper had first met Taylor, his hair had been shorn close to the scalp. Now the light brown hair was longer at the top and she’d been amused to see it had a slight wave.
“Carson!” Taylor stepped forward to wrap her in his strong arms for a firm hug. “Good to see you again. Welcome home. Here to stay now, are you?”
Carson flushed with pleasure at his hearty welcome. “I’m good. Glad to be home.”
“You look good.”
“I stopped at Blake’s place to freshen up.” She glanced at Blake, who met her gaze with a conspiratorial smile.
“Well, be prepared,” Taylor said ominously. “Harper’s been revving up, just waiting for you to get here. And her grandmother arrives next week. Whoooeee, Blake”—Taylor patted Blake’s shoulder—“there’s going to be a sea of estrogen bubbling over wedding details here. You and I have to make ourselves scarce and get out of their way. Let’s start with getting ourselves a beer.”
As the men chuckled and walked off to the kitchen, Harper glanced at Carson and could see the anxiety in her face, the awkward looking around the room, unsure of where she should go.
“Well, I guess I’d better get settled. Where do I sleep?” she asked Harper, in a nod to her authority over Sea Breeze.
Harper visibly relaxed. Her smile bloomed with enthusiasm. “In your room, of course. It will always be your room, Carson. That will never change.”
Carson heard the sincerity in Harper’s words and moved to wrap her arms around her.
Harper smelled the oriental scent of Bal à Versailles, Mamaw’s scent and now Carson’s as well. Harper always associated the scent with love and security, and it brought her instantly back to the days of their girlhood summers. In that moment all the tension vanished and there was only her and her sister, back at Sea Breeze, together again.
When a woman lives long enough to see her grandchildren married and settled, she feels blessed.
Later that evening, when the moon rose over the earth and the stars sparkled in a crisp, cool sky, Mamaw stood at the kitchen window peering out at the Cove. The moon shed dreamy light across the water, creating a ribbon of light on the rippling tide. Her granddaughters were sitting together on the dock—Eudora, Carson, and Harper. This early in the season that water would be nippy, so instead of dangling legs in the sea they sat huddled in blankets against the chill. Occasional yelps of high-pitched laughter sang out in the quiet night. In the moonlight, they could be young girls again—her Summer Girls. Her heart expanded as she said a prayer of thanks that the summer before her plan to bring the girls back together at Sea Breeze, after their being scattered to the four corners of the United States, had worked so well. Far better than her expectations. Here they were once more, happy, connected. Sisters.
True they were half sisters. The daughters of her only child, Parker, and his three wives. Not that she blamed him for wandering. Though she loved her granddaughters to distraction, her daughters-in-law were a disappointment to say the least. Dora’s mother, Winnie, was a small-minded, prejudiced woman Mamaw found annoying at best.
Then there was poor Sophie, Carson’s mother. Mamaw couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the eighteen-year-old French nanny, even though she broke up Winnie and Parker’s marriage. But then again, if it wasn’t Sophie, it would have been someone else. Her son had a wandering eye, and Sophie was too young and too weak to withstand his charms. Her tragic death had scarred young Carson, but in consequence, the four-year-old was delivered to Mamaw’s care. And for that special bond she shared with Carson, Mamaw would always be grateful.
Mamaw only had disdain for Harper’s mother, Georgiana James. A more arrogant, self-righteous harridan she’d never met. And a negligent daughter and a narcissistic mother to boot. For the scant few months she was married to Parker, Georgiana was also cruel. The best Mamaw could say about that union was that Harper was born—and a sweeter child never walked the earth.
But Parker, bless his heart, though a dear boy, had displayed little restraint or sense of responsibility to himself or his daughters. Mamaw had done her best to support him, but in the end she’d only made excuses and cleaned up his messes. Edward was furious with his son, then disgusted, then finally apathetic. He’d wanted to cut Parker off since college, but Mamaw wouldn’t hear of it. In her day, a mother did what she could to help her child. Yes, she’d spoiled him. But Parker was her only child. She’d made mistakes, she knew that now. Her therapist had taught her the word they’d coined for what she was—an enabler.
Mamaw had her regrets, true. But one thing she had no regrets about was inviting her three granddaughters to Sea Breeze each summer. She gathered her Summer Girls together like precious seashells and helped them to connect as sisters should. Mamaw sniffed. She couldn’t count on their mothers for that! Besides, with Carson in California and Harper in New York, how else could she be certain they’d know where they were from? To remind the girls of their southern roots.