“Atticus! Wait!”

He lowered his head, his hand on the truck, and sighed. Not fast enough, he thought. With resignation he dropped his foot back to the gravel and turned to see Carson hurrying down the stairs after him.

“I’m glad I caught you!” she called out, arms tucked, trotting to his side.

“Did I forget something?”

“We don’t have your contact information while you’re here. Mamaw asked me to come fetch it.”

There was no way he couldn’t give the information to her. “Right. Let me give you my card. It has my cell phone number.” He patted his pockets but remembered he hadn’t brought his card case. “I keep a box in the glove compartment. Hold on.”

He climbed up into the truck and stretched across the driver’s seat to open the glove compartment. He pulled out a small cardboard box. From this he pulled out several cards, then returned to face Carson. “These ought to do it.” He handed the cards to her. “You can reach me on my cell.”

“Okay. Great. Thanks.” She looked at the card. A brisk breeze blew a strand of hair across her face. She brushed it away, then looked up at him warily. “Will we have to do those pre-wedding discussions?”

“I recommend them. If you were a member of my parish, it would be mandatory.”

“To be honest, I’m not so keen on the idea.”

“I’ll leave that decision up to you.”

The March wind gusted, icy and damp. Carson wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “I hate the cold,” she said through chattering teeth.

He searched her face and sensed anxiety lurking behind her question. Intuition was an important aspect of his work, and he’d learned to trust it. “Do you have anything in particular you’d like to discuss? Something bothering you?”

She looked off a moment, and when she turned back to him, she nodded curtly.

“Step into my office.” Atticus grinned. He leaned over the seat again and pushed open the passenger door. He then closed his own door and started the engine, boosting the heat. Carson climbed into the passenger seat and spent a moment rubbing her hands together in front of the surge of warmth.

“It’s sure cold today,” she said, blowing on her fingers. “Feels like winter. Just when you think it’s spring.”

“To be fair, official spring hasn’t arrived yet. But the promise of spring is in the greening trees and flowers.”

She tilted her head and smiled at him, liking his answer. “True.”

He waited for her to begin. It was close quarters in the front cab of the truck, and the heater was barely doing its job. “So, what’s on your mind?”

“It’s all this wedding business. Now that I’m home, it seems all anyone thinks or talks about are the wedding preparations. When Harper’s grandmother arrives in a few days, everyone will be in full wedding mode. Aka hysteria.”

He had to chuckle at this.

Carson sighed. “You met Harper. Sweet, elegant, thoughtful—right?”

He nodded.

“Be forewarned. She’s turning into a bridezilla. She’s got us all on a short leash. Her favorite new expression is chop-chop. I hardly recognize her.”

“And you?”

Carson shrugged noncommittally and tucked her hands between her knees. “I care, of course. But honestly”—she looked up at him—“I’m not all that interested in wedding plans. Frankly, I’ve got so much on my plate right now, I can’t be bothered.”

This was often a warning flag for him that something else was amiss. “Are you feeling pressured into getting married?”

“No, it’s not that. Well . . .” She pursed her lips. “Maybe a little.”

“How are you feeling pressured?”

Carson looked out the windshield and said miserably, “Blake and I just went around the block on this. There are outside issues that are causing problems. Schedules.” She paused, then turned to look at him. “Do you have time to listen to all this? I thought you had to go.”

“I have time.”

She heard this, glanced at the front door of the house as though she expected Harper to come running out for her. “We can’t agree on my working situation. I have a job as a stills photographer with a film company that takes me away for months at a time. Usually eight to nine weeks. But it can go longer with delays. Blake doesn’t want me to continue working that job after we’re married. Thinks it’s not a real marriage if I’m gone a lot.” She puffed out air. “And to be fair, when we got engaged, I promised him I’d quit after this last gig.”

“I hear a but coming.”

“But . . . I got offered another job. It’s great money and I love what I do.”

“Sounds very cool.”

“It is. At first. The travel gets old after a while. But more than that, I don’t have another job waiting in the wings. Frankly, I’ve been unemployed, and it freaks me out to face that possibility again. I mean, why should I give up my career just because he doesn’t want me to travel? So I can wait tables again? I don’t think that’s fair of him to ask me to do that.”

“Is he asking you that? I thought you just said you’d promised him you would.”

She lowered her head, seemingly contrite. “I did. That’s why I suggested we change our engagement to a promise that we want to get engaged. Just until we work this out. But Blake won’t do that. He says we’re beyond that point. We’re either engaged or we’re not.”

“Sounds like he’s a pretty strong guy. Do you feel comfortable with that? Safe?”

“Oh, sure. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Blake is not opinionated as much as he has strong convictions. I like that. He’s old-fashioned about some things, like marriage. But he can be pretty flexible, too. And fair.” She smiled at some memory. “Always fair.”

“Are you in love with your fiancé?”

“Yes! Intensely. Loving Blake is the only thing I am sure about.”

“Intense feelings are pleasurable and desired,” Atticus said evenly, “but they’re not a measure of compatibility for marriage. Whether or not the relationship is solid requires time and personal conversations. That’s part of what I hope we can do when we all sit down together. To help you navigate whether or not you feel whole in your relationship, secure enough to voice your private thoughts and truths and know you’re heard. To evaluate your relationship with your heart and your head.”

Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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