“That was wrong.”

Atticus looked into Carson’s blue eyes and saw the truth in her statement. “Yeah.” He looked down, feeling shame burn his cheeks. “It was. I see that now.” He paused. “Lies are never a good idea. Trust me.” He looked at her. “Trust him.”

Carson listened. She held Atticus’s gaze a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, I will.”

After Atticus left, Carson headed back down the dock to collect the boards. As she walked back, from the corner of her eye she saw a movement at Girard Bellows’s house. She stopped short to peer at the house next door. Someone was coming out from the house. No, two people.

She could hear voices now, not loud enough to understand the words. But she recognized one of the voices as Mamaw’s. Carson raced off the dock, set the boards on the ground, and hid behind the wide fans of a sago palm. Stealthily, Carson peered out from her hiding spot and saw Mamaw and Girard walk out on the patio carrying plates and mugs. Mamaw was wearing her blue bathrobe.

Carson let the palm fan go. It snapped back with a noisy rustle. She turned and walked back up the slope to the deck stairs, one foot in front of the other, her mind in a quandary. It was one thing to see a friend—a contemporary—sleeping at her boyfriend’s house. No big deal. But one’s grandmother?

At the door of the kitchen, Carson turned to look out once more toward Girard’s house. The man they used to call Old Man Bellows until Mamaw made them stop. From here on the porch she couldn’t see anything behind the carefully landscaped border of shrubs that was planted just to block the view.

“I guess someone else is keeping a little secret,” she muttered to herself. Then she released a short laugh. She couldn’t wait to tell her sisters.

Chapter Fourteen

I realize you may perceive contractual agreements to be unromantic, but they work as intended. For individuals with wealth, a prenuptial agreement is necessary.

Harper carried a breakfast tray to Granny James’s room. She looked in the hall mirror and caught a glimpse of a young woman in tan linen ankle pants and a matching cotton sweater over which was a pink, ruffled apron. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Outwardly, she appeared to be the same twenty-nine-year-old woman she saw every morning. But Harper knew she wasn’t. A miracle was happening inside her. A new life. Harper realized that she was looking at a soon-to-be mother.

Grinning, she tapped the door with her foot.

“Come in!”

Harper angled herself so her hand could twist the door handle without spilling the tea. Inside, the drapes were closed, leaving the room half-dark. Only the bedside lamp was on, casting a warm circle of light over the French-styled bed on which Granny James sat, supported by many pillows. She wore a floral bed jacket trimmed with lace and tied up with long, slim pink ribbons. Harper recognized the old-fashioned jacket as what her grandmother wore on what she called her “mending days.” Those days she spent entirely in bed to read, sleep, watch television, and generally rest up. In her lap lay a small electronic pad.

Granny James looked up to peer at Harper over her reading glasses. “Goodness, darling. All this fuss over me. How silly! Put that tray down, put your feet up. We could use a good chin-wag.”

Harper, brimming with anticipation for a long overdue catch-up with her grandmother, obligingly placed the tray on Granny’s mattress. After Harper poured tea, they kissed, touching cheeks. Granny looked more rested this morning. Less pale and drawn. She must’ve been awake for some time. Her face was washed and creamed and she smelled of scent. Even her hair was in place.

Harper pulled a velvet-covered lady’s chair from the corner and scooted it closer to the bed. The lovely room had recently been redecorated by Mamaw especially for Dora. Done in the French style, it had wallpaper with broad pink and white stripes, ornate French furniture, and a creamy Aubusson rug that Mamaw had pulled out of storage. The room was delightfully feminine.

“There’s Darjeeling tea steeped in water brought to a roiling boil for five minutes. Crumpets, butter and jam, honey—from my own bees, I might add—and a slice of melon. Nothing fancy, but to your liking I hope.”

“A feast. You’re an angel.” Granny James picked up the cup and sipped. “If I were a cat, I’d purr” was her verdict. “It takes a Brit to know how to make a proper cuppa tea.”

“I’m a lowcountry girl now,” Harper quipped as she reached for the cup she’d brought for herself on the tray, for she enjoyed a sip of the dark brew.

Granny James sipped again, then set her cup on the tray. “You, my dear, have English history in your blood that is traced back farther than the reign of Charlemagne. Your family is in Debrett’s. Speaking of which, look on the bureau. I’ve a gift for you.”

Harper rose and went directly to the charming painted bureau. Lying beside Mamaw’s jewelry case was a wrapped parcel. She lifted it. “This one?”

“Yes. Bring it here.”

Harper did so and settled in the chair once again. Carefully she undid the pretty floral wrapping paper. Inside was a copy of Debrett’s Wedding Guide. Granny James had given her the Debrett’s Handbook, a weighty tome of advice with a beautiful red-and-gold embossed front, as a gift when she graduated from high school.

Harper gasped in excitement. “Oh, it’s perfect. Thank you, Granny. I’ve been reading Mamaw’s Emily Post guide to etiquette—but I know how much this will come in handy,” she hastened to add, not wanting to offend her other grandmother. Harper knew how competitive the two old biddies could be.

As Harper suspected, Granny James’s eyes narrowed and she sniffed haughtily. “That’s all very nice. But Debrett’s is the only wedding guide for British brides. Why, it’s the British etiquette bible! Guiding brides since the eighteenth century. You’ll find you won’t be able to make a decision without it.”

“But we’re having a beach wedding. That’s a far cry from an at-home wedding at Greenfields Park. I should think we must relax the rules and protocol a bit.”

“We might be personalizing the wedding by having it at the beach,” Granny James said archly, “but we will still maintain a proper degree of formality. We’re not having a luau, silly girl. No matter where the wedding is held we must apply the rules properly.”

A thought crossed Harper’s mind. “What does it say in your book about a pregnant bride?”


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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