“Let me be clear. I’m not here in search of a father. Tyrone Green is my father. He’s the only father I’ve ever known or need to know. And he was a good man. A good husband to my mother.”
“I’ve no doubt. Meeting you is proof enough.”
“Thank you.” He was relieved that his loyalties were clear. “But they’re both gone now. As are their parents, my grandparents.”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Atticus shook his head. “I’m an only child. I’m alone.”
Mrs. Muir smiled gently. “Well, you have three sisters now.”
He took a deep breath, exhaling with wonder at that reality. “Right. Half sisters, anyway.”
“Blood is blood.” Mrs. Muir brought her hands up and clasped them near her heart. “I have a grandson,” she said with disbelief, feasting her eyes on him.
Atticus felt emotions long held in check come surging up now. “I didn’t know if you’d be glad to learn about me. If you’d want me.”
“Oh, dear boy, I’m overwhelmed with joy. I didn’t know you existed. My son’s son.” She put her fingers to her lips. “You are the sole male heir of the Muir family.”
Atticus put up his hands, suddenly feeling a little trapped. “Whoa . . . I didn’t come to interfere. The Muir granddaughters might not appreciate that. Laws of primogeniture notwithstanding, I didn’t come here to be one of the Muir clan.”
“But you are here, Atticus. And you are a Muir.”
When she put it like that, it made his arguments sound trivial. He looked at his hands. He didn’t want to expose the fragility of his emotions. Having a family meant more to him than he’d realized. He had been feeling lonely since his mother’s death, a man adrift without a family to anchor him. Now this woman, his grandmother, was including him in his new family, and it was a gift, as welcome as it was daunting. How did he feel about embracing this family as his own? That was not clear yet.
“You’re curious about us,” Mrs. Muir continued.
“That’s why I came. It’s only natural that I’d want to know my genetic history. My health records.”
“And you’ll have them. Do you have children?”
“No. I’m not married.”
She leaned back, surprised. “A handsome man like you? Goodness, in that respect you’re not at all like Parker.”
Atticus looked at her with surprise, then saw that she was laughing. Parker had married three times and had three children, one with each wife. He sounded like a womanizer. That she could make a joke of it showed character, and he liked her all the more.
“You’ll want to meet your sisters, no doubt.”
Atticus blew out a stream of air and leaned back against the sofa. “Honestly? I don’t know. They might not be thrilled to meet me.”
“Why ever not?”
“This is all happening so fast. I hadn’t meant to tell anyone about my family connection today. Not even you.”
She lifted a brow speculatively. “So this was a scouting mission?”
He half smiled as one caught in his game. “Exactly.”
“But then I recognized you and ruined your plan.”
His grin widened. “I didn’t expect that.” He was aware she was watching him with a thoughtful, appraising expression.
“I think you should meet your sisters. Why waste any more time on doubts? You’ll like them.”
“Are they anything like you?”
Marietta laughed shortly and said, surprised, “Why, I should think they are. I hope I’m like them.”
“Then I know I’ll like them.”
She lowered her chin coquettishly. Atticus thought she must have been quite something in her heyday.
“How will they react to a surprise brother? Even a half brother?”
“It’s not a new experience for them.”
“Not even a black half brother?”
“That might be a surprise, perhaps. But it won’t matter.”
Atticus crossed his legs. “It might.”
“Let’s risk it. What choice do we have?”
“Mrs. Muir . . .”
Marietta put her hand up. “Please, that’s much too formal under the circumstances. Call me Mamaw. That’s what the girls call me.”
He swallowed, touched by the offer, but shook his head. “I’m sorry. It’s a kind offer, but I’m not ready to go that far yet.”
“Marietta,” he conceded.
“I hope that someday you’ll feel comfortable calling me Mamaw.”
Atticus accepted the statement with a tilted nod of the head. Mamaw’s breath momentarily caught in her throat as she recognized the gesture as a mannerism of Parker’s. “I hope I will, too.”
Marietta made a move to rise. “This is going to be such a great surprise for your sisters. You’ll be here to celebrate Harper’s and Carson’s weddings!”
Atticus put up his hand in an arresting motion. “Hold on a minute, please.”
Mamaw settled herself back on the sofa and waited, eyes alert.
“When are the weddings?”
“They’re coming up right quick. May. Not a double wedding. One on Saturday and one on Sunday with a joint rehearsal dinner on Friday night here at Sea Breeze.”
He could see the excitement taking hold of her. “With the weddings so close, I don’t think the timing is right to spring this on them. Weddings are a roller coaster of emotions. The last thing they need to deal with now is a brother they knew nothing about. Mrs. Muir . . . Marietta . . . I’m a minister. I deal with the ups and downs of weddings all the time.” He made a face. “Weddings bring out the best and the worst in people. You can’t believe what people say and do—to their own family members—under normal circumstances. I don’t think it’s wise to expose a long-held family secret into the mix. Not now.”
He could see the older woman was having trouble accepting this possibility. She wanted to pop the champagne and celebrate the return of the lost grandson. Still, his argument wasn’t lost on her.
Marietta brought her hand slowly to her neck. “I didn’t think of it that way. Perhaps you’re right. This is a delicate time for them.” She rolled her eyes for effect. “And we have a few issues to deal with already.” She sighed, not quite ready to give up the argument. “But you’re here now. It’s a shame to wait.”