And they did come. Every year, from the time they were young girls until they reached their teens. Then, typically, each of the girls made other summer plans, and before too long they stopped coming to Sea Breeze. The slim thread that bound them together was broken.
They visited rarely. In fact, only for the funerals of their father and a year later, their grandfather, her dear husband, Edward. She received letters and phone calls, but Mamaw had felt lonely, even neglected, by the girls. She reasoned it was all part of the selfishness of youth. Yet when she reached the ripe old age of eighty and realized that she could no longer care for an estate on the sea with all the nips and tucks necessary for maintenance, she brought the girls home once more to celebrate her eightieth birthday and bid farewell to Sea Breeze before it was sold.
She had hoped they would all come for the weekend. But the girls had ended up staying the summer. . . . Mamaw sighed in memory, hardly able to believe how perfectly everything had come together. She owned that it was due to her admittedly manipulative ways. Lucille had pointed her finger at her and accused her of “foolin’ around where you ought not.”
Mamaw shifted her weight and sniffed. She saw her actions as simply the determination of a devoted grandmother to protect her beloved granddaughters. Sometimes one had to be creative, eh? And what did it matter now, anyway? Mamaw smiled again as she looked out at the girls sitting shoulder to shoulder on the dock, a unified block of family. She’d succeeded. Far more than she’d thought she would, even in her wildest dreams.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
She turned and smiled when she spied Girard approaching. In his presence she was not Mamaw, the name her granddaughters affectionately called her, but Marietta. Ageless, still attractive, full of life. A woman in love. Girard was a courtly figure. At eighty, with his tanned skin and white hair streaked with dark gray strands, his blue eyes that always held a hint of mirth, he still turned her head. She recalled her friend Sissy’s comment the night they’d first met Girard and his wife, Evelyn, fifty years earlier. Sissy had nudged Marietta and whispered how Girard reminded her of Cary Grant. Mamaw laughed to herself. God help her, he still did. She and Girard had been friends back then. Good neighbors. But all these years later, he a widower and she a widow, they’d reconnected, thanks to the charms of one beguiling dolphin.
Girard stepped closer and placed his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him with a long sigh.
“I was thinking how I look out there and see my Summer Girls talking like sisters should and know how lucky I am. We’re all back together again at Sea Breeze. They seem happy. And in a short while Carson and Harper will be married to good and decent men. Dora, too, in her time. When a woman lives long enough to see her grandchildren married and settled, she feels blessed. I feel quite content. My life has come full circle. I am complete. I want nothing more in life.”
“I hope I’m part of that circle.”
She rested her head on his shoulder. “A very important cog in the wheel, my dear. And a wheel that is still turning. We’ll have weddings soon, then births, baptisms. We’ll begin the circle again.”
“Yes, together.” She smiled once more when she felt his hand squeeze her shoulder.
Carson closed the door to her bedroom and, leaning against it, sighed deeply in the peaceful darkness. Dinner was over. Blake had left for his apartment. It had been a wonderful evening with the family. A long one, too. Carson yawned and began unzipping the sleek silk dress. She let the dress slide from her body to the floor as she walked toward the window. Her bra and panties followed, also left on the floor. Carson opened the window to the spring-night air, chilled and moist with the remnants of winter. She breathed deep the scented air and spread out her arms. She was home. At Sea Breeze.
Her Sea Breeze. The attachment to the place was visceral. Impossible to let go. Yes, this was Harper’s house now. Intellectually Carson knew that. Accepted it. Harper couldn’t have been a more welcoming sister and hostess . . . thus far. Yet by virtue of being Harper’s house, Sea Breeze was no longer Carson’s. She crossed her arms and jutted out her chin. In her heart, Sea Breeze would always be hers. Her touchstone. The only place that had ever made her feel secure. The only house she had ever called home.
She’d thought going away again would lessen the ties, but the moment she’d seen Harper open the door as mistress of the house, when Carson was served dinner at the table, ever so graciously, by Harper and Taylor, she had felt more a guest. The thought occurred to her—how long could she stay? Could she help herself to something from the fridge? Did being a sister allow her to drop in or were reservations required? She supposed they were. This was the new reality at Sea Breeze.
With a groan she fell back onto the bed, spread-eagled. The soft mattress of her youth wrapped itself around her like a cocoon. Lying on her back, Carson glanced idly around her room—the four-poster rice bed, the long mahogany bureau, the two brass-and-crystal lamps, and directly across from her bed, the elaborately framed portrait of her great ancestor Claire Muir. Her lustrous dark tresses curled to her shoulders in an elaborate coiffure complete with a charming hat spilling over with lace and feathers. And speaking of spilling over . . . the great lady’s endowments were barely concealed by the lace and velvet of her eighteenth-century blue velvet gown and the rows of lustrous pearls that revealed her wealth.
Still, it was her eyes that drew Carson in. A blue so unique and brilliant, a color so dominant, that it defied being recessive through generations and was inherited by each of the three Muir granddaughters. Legend claimed that Claire’s blue eyes had first captured the attention of the rogue Gentleman Pirate when he reached port in Charleston. But her wit and fiery spirit were what had won his heart and caused him to give up a life on the seas and settle in Charleston. Their love was fabled. How much was true and how much conjecture was uncertain. But Mamaw loved the stories and told them to the girls with relish, especially how their illustrious ancestor had left treasure buried somewhere on Sullivan’s Island. Carson and Harper had spent much of their youth searching for it.
Carson would never forget the evening that Mamaw had entered Carson’s room to say her usual good-night and found Carson crying bitterly. She was in the turbulent, angst-ridden preteen years. She’d been an ugly duckling with her long, skinny body, her big feet, and untamed, thick dark hair that other children had teased was a “rat’s nest.” Carson had wept that she would never be the southern belle that Dora—or Mamaw—was.