A loud bark sounded from the house. Turning, they spotted Thor galloping like a horse down the slope toward them. He thundered down the wooden dock to their side, tail wagging, tongue lolling from his mouth, delighted to be out of doors. Nate took a step back from the probing, icy nose, but Blake leaned over to pat the dog’s black barrel chest and murmur, “Good boy.”
“I’m freezing,” Nate announced, slipping his hands under his arms.
“Me, too,” agreed Carson. “Come on, Thor. Back home,” she ordered with a hand gesture.
The dog shot off and ran, nose to the ground, blazing the trail. They followed him down the dock toward the house, their footsteps echoing on the wood.
“Now let’s get inside and warm up. Your aunt Harper’s going to boil over if I don’t go shopping with her this afternoon.” Carson rolled her eyes at Blake. “More wedding stuff.”
“That reminds me. My mother wants to schedule a time for you to see the Legare Waring House.”
This was the historic plantation home of his ancestors. Held in family hands for generations, in recent years it had been sold, and now, with the stately house, the impressive line of live oaks and lush gardens and its long Charleston history, the plantation was used for events, such as weddings. Blake’s family members had been married there for generations. This beautiful location was where Carson and Blake would be married.
“I’ll call her today,” Carson promised.
Blake wrapped her in his arms and looked down into her eyes. His own were shining. “We’re getting married,” he said, and stooped to kiss her, quick and sweet and proper.
Granny James arrived with the spring weather. The long stretch of gray skies and rain ended at last. The day opened with a glorious sunrise of surreal pinks and blues that chased away the doldrums. Frowns turned upward as people raised their faces to the warm sunlight, removed windbreakers, and headed out of doors.
The birds came out as well. In the trees winter-resident mockingbirds, thrashers, and cardinals tweeted out territorial tunes while woodpeckers drummed, heralding breeding season. Higher in the sky the ospreys were already busy repairing their large nests. Small ruby-throated hummingbirds were brilliant flashes in the garden, and on the beach assorted gulls were returning from Florida. Love songs were in the air.
Harper was a whirling dervish in preparations for Granny James’s arrival. She wanted the house to look its best. She’d raked every inch of the property, planted her spring garden, and refilled the hanging baskets of ferns along the front porch. Inside the house the aromas of oil soap on the floors and lemon-scented furniture polish competed with the sweetness of the fresh flowers arranged in vases in every room. Even Thor had a good scrubbing and was not allowed to roll around in the pluff mud.
Taylor’s horn honked lightly as he pulled into the circular driveway of Sea Breeze. Harper stood at the front window and knew a moment of panic. This was her grandmother’s first visit since last September when she had helped Harper purchase the house. Harper felt her responsibilities keenly. She was considered by her family to be efficient, organized, and tasteful. She wanted everything to be perfect for her first family gathering as mistress of Sea Breeze. Yes, Mamaw and her sisters had helped, but she was the hostess. Her emotions were running high; she was pregnant, after all. Taylor kept telling her to relax but wasn’t that just like a man? What did he understand? When someone saw a well-organized home they complimented the wife. When the house was a mess, well, they pitied the husband. And who would be more critical than Granny James? Her grandmother excelled at running a large estate. Even if she did have a staff that carried most of the weight. Harper wrung her hands and stared out the window at the car. She saw Taylor coming around the car to open Granny’s door. Oh God, she wasn’t ready.
Mamaw floated through the living room in a cloud of perfume. She was wearing a pale blue dress with a brilliantly colored Ferragamo scarf around her neck that lent a vibrancy to her appearance. She had dressed carefully for Imogene’s arrival, like any queen would a foreign dignitary. For all their friendliness post Harper and Taylor’s engagement, there was still the whiff of competition between the two ladies.
“Come, darlin’, they’re here!” Mamaw exclaimed, waving her fingers to hurry Harper along.
Harper placed a practiced smile on her face and followed Mamaw to the front door. When they opened it they saw Taylor helping Granny James down the high truck step.
Granny James was dressed for travel. Her tan Burberry trench coat, dark slacks, and sensible shoes were simple but smart. Harper noted that her hair was shorter, a blunt cut tucked around the ears. Younger in style, she thought, though Granny looked pale with fatigue. Granny James appeared a bit disconcerted from the effort of getting out of the truck. She adjusted the belt of her coat with crisp movements as she looked around to get her bearings. Harper knew a pang of guilt since she didn’t go with Taylor to pick her up, but she had fallen behind in dinner preparations. She could only imagine Granny James’s reaction when she saw Taylor pull up with his pickup truck.
Harper rushed down the stairs. “Granny James!”
The moment Granny James spotted Harper her face blossomed with a wide smile of adoration. “There she is! Come here, my darling bride!” Granny James exclaimed. “I’ve traveled a long way for this moment.”
Harper ran the distance into her grandmother’s arms. Catching her scent, joy blanketed Harper and her earlier worries dissipated. She felt enveloped in her grandmother’s love. “Oh, Granny, I’m so glad you’re here.”
When they separated there were the usual polite questions and complaints about the trip, enough for each of them to catch their breaths and regain composure. Granny James looked around the compound, her eyes bright. She sighed with pleasure when her gaze rested on the cottage.
“Welcome, Imogene!” Mamaw called from the front porch, where she’d waited to give the two a moment alone.
Mamaw began her trek down the stairs to greet her. “Come in and put your feet up! I have a pot of tea waiting especially for you. You must be exhausted after that long flight.” She came walking across the gravel, arms extended in welcome. Granny James stepped forward to receive a warm hug of welcome and a kiss on the cheek.
“It’s so good to be back,” Granny James said. “You don’t know how many times I’ve thought of Sea Breeze in the past months.” A flutter of sadness shadowed her eyes. “But I’m here now.”