“Harper!” Marietta exclaimed, and opened her arms.
So this was his half sister, Atticus thought as he watched her come to her grandmother’s side and place a kiss on Marietta’s upturned cheek.
“I want you to meet someone,” Marietta said, indicating Atticus.
As he rose to his feet, Atticus’s stomach tightened under the appraising gaze of this stranger, his half sister. He braced himself for another round of startled recognition of their father, but it didn’t come.
“This is the Reverend Atticus Green,” Marietta said, delivering a megawatt smile toward him that spoke clearly of her expectations. “Atticus, this is my granddaughter Harper Muir-James. One of the brides-to-be.”
She stepped closer and suddenly he was looking into eyes the exact color of his own. Hands were extended and he caught a glimpse of an enormous diamond on her slender finger. They murmured greetings in the usual polite manner.
“Atticus is an old family friend,” Marietta continued. “Very dear.” She turned to Harper. “I have a surprise for you.”
“I love surprises.” Harper’s eyes sparkled.
You have no idea, Atticus thought to himself as he rocked on his heels. He looked at Marietta, his eyes pulsing with the message Do not tell her who I am.
Marietta said, “I wrote to Atticus and asked a favor of him, if he would please come to Charleston to marry you and Carson. And he has agreed! Isn’t that just too wonderful?”
Harper was momentarily stunned by the unexpected announcement. Then her face lit up with astonishment. “Really?”
Atticus managed a stiff smile and a nod of his head.
Marietta, in contrast, was at ease. “You know how we worried about who would officiate. And now we have our answer. Atticus drove all the way here from Atlanta to meet you and Carson.”
Harper put her hand to her heart. “I’m speechless. I’m so happy! So you’ll really marry us?”
Atticus swallowed. “Yes.”
It was done. One word and he’d tied himself to the story that would bind him for the next few months.
Harper clasped her hands together. “That’s super! Amazing, actually. Mamaw!” Harper turned on her heel to face Marietta. “Why didn’t you tell us you had this card up your sleeve? You clever old girl.”
“I didn’t want to make the announcement until Atticus agreed.” Marietta cast a searching glance his way.
A furrow creased Harper’s smooth brow. “I’m not a member of any church. Is that a problem?”
Atticus shook his head. “No. I’m a Baptist minister, but it shouldn’t be.”
Harper sighed. “What a relief. I didn’t want to get married by a justice of the peace. And if you’re a family friend, it makes it all the more special, doesn’t it? I don’t know many people here, you see. I moved here from New York only a year ago. Most of my family is in England.”
“You’re a Muir, dear,” Mamaw reminded her. “You have family connections here.”
“But I don’t really know them. Nor they me. Did you talk to Granny James about this?” Harper turned to Atticus. “My grandmother is giving the wedding. Her name is Imogene, but we call her Granny James. She’ll be flying in from England soon, and I can’t imagine she’ll have any objections.”
Mamaw scoffed, “I should think not. And, no, I didn’t talk to her about it yet. This is my contribution to your wedding. She’s been rather miserly about sharing duties, after all.”
“Now, Mamaw.” Harper cast an embarrassed glance toward Atticus. Apparently this was a tender subject. “You’re throwing the wedding for Carson. It’s all decided.”
“Yes, well. There are things I can help with, being here and all. And don’t you have a say? Are you happy with the arrangement?”
“Then it’s decided. Atticus will say the service.” Marietta sniffed. “Unless Imogene’s bringing a member of the clergy in tow from England.”
“She’s not.” Harper laughed lightly. She turned to Atticus. After a brief pause she tilted her head. “How are you a family friend, by the way? Are you a relative of Lucille’s?”
Atticus was caught unawares. Lucille? Who was Lucille? The first stumble already. Atticus turned to Marietta with a challenging stare.
“He’s met Lucille, of course,” Marietta jumped in smoothly. “Long before she died.” Marietta stressed that important point to Atticus. “But that’s not the connection. Atticus’s mother, Zora, was a great friend of Parker’s.”
Atticus prudently kept silent.
“Yes,” Mamaw replied evenly. “Zora Green is a writer, too.” She lowered her head in respect. “Or was, may she rest in peace. While she was alive, we kept up over the years, Christmas cards and such. Not nearly as much as we should have. But I thought of Atticus when you were searching for a minister and”—Mamaw paused and held out her arms—“here we are!”
The answer seemed enough to satisfy Harper. She turned to Atticus, her smile radiating warmth. “I’m so delighted. And Carson will be thrilled.”
Atticus thought to himself how the young woman had not an ounce of guile. The genuineness of her joy was endearing. Yet beneath the smile she had a sophistication and innate grace that revealed class. This was the young woman who had purchased Sea Breeze from her grandmother, after all. No small change could have done that.
“Does Carson know?” Harper asked.
“Not yet,” Marietta replied breezily. “He’s only just arrived. Where is she, by the way?”
“Out on the dock. Again. Probably yearning for Delphine.”
“Go fetch her, will you?” asked Marietta. “I’d like her to meet Atticus.”
“You’ll love Carson,” Harper said to him. “Everyone does. Be right back.”
Harper turned and hurried from the room, clapping her hands for the dog to follow her. He leaped to his feet and trotted happily behind.
Marietta smiled broadly, clearly pleased with the turn of events.
“She’s lovely,” Atticus said.
“I told you. Each of them are. Are you sure you don’t want to tell them?”
“Yes,” he said firmly.