“All those delays. I know I swore I’d be back earlier. I’m months late. I couldn’t help them. I’m sorry.”

“I know. We talked about it. It’s done. You’re here now.”

Carson hesitated. “I also said that I wouldn’t take another film job.”

Blake’s gaze sharpened. “Did you?”

“No.” She took a breath. “Not yet. But Kowalski offered me another job. A good one, with good pay. He told me I did an excellent job.” Her lips turned up. “That applied to my not drinking, too.”

Blake nodded slowly, his brow furrowing as though he wasn’t quite sure what she was getting at, but he knew he didn’t much like where it was going. “That’s what you wanted. Validation. Your self-esteem back. You succeeded.”

“Yes. And it feels wonderful. It’s like I got myself back.” Her hand touched her heart. “The strong, confident me. Feeling that again, I . . .” She took a breath. “I can’t go back to the way I was last summer. Lost, penniless, unable to get a job.”

“The way you felt last summer had a lot more to do with all that you learned about yourself than the job issue. You joined AA. That took a lot of personal strength. And your bond with your sisters. I like to think I was part of that, too.”

“You were. Of course you were. But learning that about myself and going out into the world, testing myself and succeeding, are two different things. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ll never be cured. The temptation to drink is present every day, and every day I have to have the personal strength to say no. To do that, I have to be centered and strong. Blake, I’m terrified of going back to that woman I was last summer—broke, wallowing, unemployed. So I’m wondering . . . why do I need to go through that when I was offered another job? One perfectly in line with my career, too. I know people who would kill for that job offer.”

Blake gently disentangled himself from her arms and rose to sit on the bed. He crossed his legs and looked out the window a moment, but she knew he wasn’t looking at the rain.

“How long would this job take you away for?”

“I’m not sure of the details, but probably two months.”

“Does that mean four?”

“Hey, a cyclone doesn’t usually hit while filming.”

“But there are delays.”

“Sometimes. Of course.”

Blake shook his head. “You said this was your last film job.”

“I know. At the time I thought it was. But I’m not sure now. I have nothing else here.”

Blake snorted derisively.

“I don’t mean you. You know that.”

“You haven’t looked.”

Carson scrambled to rise and sit across from him, unaware of, unconcerned about, her nakedness. “Yes, I have! Last summer. All summer. I had to take pity donations from Harper.” Carson shook her head violently. “I can’t do that again. And why should I? Why should I take a job I don’t love when I have a job that I do love?”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

She looked at him questioningly.

“We’ll be married. You’ll be my wife. You won’t be penniless. What’s mine is yours. That’s what a marriage is.”

Carson took a deep breath and turned away from the sincerity on his face. The room was half-dark with the lights off and the dark sky outdoors. “Please understand,” she began, trying hard to keep her voice calm and reasonable, “that I appreciate that. But I can’t sit back and let you take care of me. I need to feel I can take care of myself. You know how I grew up—my father took me away from Mamaw when I was a little girl and moved me to Los Angeles, where he was going to make his name and fortune. He was always trying to write or sell something. By then he’d given up on his dream to write the great American novel and got into screenplays, magazine pieces, ghostwriting, anything he could so that he could pay the rent. And when he couldn’t, he took what little money we had and got drunk. I learned pretty early to depend on myself. I had to hide his money to buy groceries. I cooked, cleaned, got myself to school. I was more the parent than he was. When I turned eighteen, I’d had enough and left. When he died a few years later, I was sad. But I also felt a little relief.” She shrugged, a physical effort to remove the guilt she carried. “It’s always been me, taking care of me. That’s all I’ve ever known.”

“First, I’m not your father. I come from a long line of steady, hardworking stock. Secondly,” Blake said with a hint of humor, “independence isn’t the key to a good marriage.”

Carson shivered, feeling chilled. She reached out to pull the sheet up over her shoulders. Carson knew that commitment of any kind, much less marriage, was difficult for her. She didn’t like long-term leases, jobs that kept her tied to one city, one place. In the past, whenever a boyfriend had started getting serious or mentioned the word ring, she’d run. Only with Blake had she found herself able to consider a pledge of commitment. For better or worse, through sickness and health, till death do us part. Blake never had any doubts, was steadfast in his belief in her. In them. But she was beginning to feel shackled by the promises she’d made last fall, bound not only to marry but to give up her independence.

Carson answered seriously, “I know you’re not my father. You’re as far from him as a man could be. But . . .” She looked down and tugged at the sheet, pulling it closer.

“But what?”

“But as for my independence, I’m worried.” She twisted the sheet in her hands, taking a breath, looked up, and met his eyes. “I’m not prepared to give it up.”

Blake’s dark gaze sharpened. “What are you saying?” Then, visibly paling, he said with caution, “Are you breaking our engagement?”

Chapter Two

It is always a stressful situation when the wedding of a daughter—or a granddaughter—brings together parents who are divorced. It is especially difficult when both families are bitterly estranged.

To Harper’s mind, planning a wedding was not much different from studying for an end-of-term exam. Considerable research had to be done—traditions, venues, music, cake designs, flowers, recipes, decor, goodie bags. Though she admitted to being surprised by how many books and magazine articles had been written on the topics. She’d always been an excellent student and felt up to the challenge. People had to be consulted, lists made, files kept.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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