What she had been unprepared for, however, was the emotional challenge of wedding planning.

Harper sighed and closed her laptop screen, then leaned back in her chair. It was no use pretending she was working. She’d spent the past hour searching the Internet for still more ideas for her wedding bouquet. Her wedding was only two months away and she hadn’t yet selected her flowers.

Harper’s venue was decided on, thank heaven. Charleston was the number one destination-wedding location in the country, an accolade that had venues booked two years in advance. This made it frustrating for local girls such as herself hoping to plan their wedding within a year’s time. Harper’s wedding was scheduled for late May—peak wedding season. She’d gotten lucky and scored a prime venue even though she was late booking. Some bride had canceled a May date at Wild Dunes Resort for a Grand Pavilion wedding the very day Harper’s grandmother had called. So Granny James immediately booked it and laid down her deposit—without consulting Harper. Harper’s fingers drummed the desk. Most of the wedding was being planned by Granny James, all the way from England. Harper sighed again. It was rather like studying for the exam and having someone else take the test.

Harper let her gaze wander across the room to the bookshelves. Dozens of wedding books lined them. Burgeoning manila folders were stored in the pale Tiffany Blue boxes, each neatly labeled and filled with clippings and photos. Her sisters teased her about her passion for organization and the pretty boxes she was always buying. Harper owned this was true. But what good were all those carefully filed ideas when no one was paying attention to them?

Granny James had been over the moon at the prospect of planning the wedding for her only grandchild. Harper’s mother, Georgiana, was Imogene James’s only child. Georgiana’s wedding to Parker Muir had been a hasty, impromptu affair in New York that had marked the marriage a disaster from the start. They divorced five months later, before Harper was born. Granny James had tucked away her visions of a formal wedding at the family estate, Greenfields Park in England, to save for her granddaughter.

Harper, however, became engaged to a lowcountry boy, moved into Sea Breeze as her home, and intended to live out her life on Sullivan’s Island rather than in England. She wanted to be married here, too. On that point she would not budge.

Granny James took Harper’s decision with disciplined good nature. Georgiana had prepared Granny James well for disappointment. With her dreams of staging a formal wedding unrealized, she had rallied and launched herself into the task of a beach wedding.

“We love the beach, don’t we, darling? Just think. It will be a destination wedding for all the family in England,” she’d exclaimed. “So different. We have to have it in the spring so they can escape all the rain. They’ll all come. You’ll see. What fun!”

A beach wedding was not what Harper had envisioned for herself. Still, knowing how important planning a wedding was to Granny James, she’d bitten her tongue and tried to remember all that Granny James had done for her. Her mother had distanced herself from Harper ever since the engagement. She strongly disapproved not only of the match but of Harper’s moving to the lowcountry. Georgiana had always been angry whenever Harper didn’t meekly obey her wishes, but when she’d revealed to her editor mother that she was releasing a book with another publisher, the line had been drawn in the sand, and it seemed neither woman was yet willing to cross it.

In contrast to Georgiana, Granny James had been there to wipe Harper’s tears all throughout her youth and, after a testy period of interrogation, finally welcomed Taylor into the family. And most significant, Granny James had adroitly engineered Harper’s inheritance so that she could purchase Sea Breeze when Mamaw had put the house on the market.

After all that, Harper didn’t have the heart to tell Granny James that what she really wanted was a small lowcountry-style wedding at one of the southern plantations in the Charleston area. She’d envisioned ancient oaks dripping moss, winding creeks, a long flowing dress and veil, flower-draped verandas.

The wedding that Carson was having, basically.

Her older sister had also gotten engaged at summer’s end. After a tumultuous love affair, the capricious Carson had finally said yes to Blake Legare. Just before she took off for a job as a stills photographer on a film being shot all the way over in New Zealand. Carson was supposed to have returned at the end of January. Yet here it was March, and her feet hadn’t touched the lowcountry. Not everyone was surprised. Money had changed hands with friends betting whether Carson would return at all. Not that Harper had placed a bet, but she had to admit that at almost two months late in returning, Carson had everyone’s teeth on edge. All except Blake, who’d maintained a stoic faith in his fiancée.

Oh, Carson, Harper thought with a shake of her head. Her heart pumped with affection. She adored her freewheeling sister. Envied her enthusiasm, her lust for life and fearlessness. Carson had taught Harper how to swim, to row a boat, to run wild along the coast of Sullivan’s Island playing pirates. But that very independence carried a streak of recklessness that could be annoying, too. Their weddings were to be a means to play new games together—choosing wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, bouquets and goodie-bag items, together.

In typical Carson fashion, however, she found herself too busy and had blithely left her wedding plans to Mamaw and her future mother-in-law. In an e-mail from New Zealand, Carson wrote, “Do whatever you think best. I know it will be beautiful!”

What normal young woman would hand over her wedding plans to someone else? Harper thought. Then, with chagrin, Harper realized she had done virtually the same thing.

But all that was the past. Carson was coming home now at last, and the wedding plans would kick into high gear.

Harper felt a fluttering in her stomach. Placing her palm there, she wasn’t sure if it was nerves, anticipation, or anxiety over what all was left to be done. Truth was, Carson’s return home after nearly six months signaled more than just the beginning of a blitz of wedding plans. Tomorrow night Harper was hosting the first family gathering at Sea Breeze since that mass departure last September.

She glanced at her watch and with some alarm saw that it was nearing five. Her mind stopped dallying and sharpened on the immediate. Taylor would be home soon, and so much was still to be done for the party. She rose quickly and strode across the thick carpet to the door. Harper took a final sweep of her office. The hearty pine-paneled floors, the walls of bookshelves, the Oriental rug, a painting of the sea. This had once been the house’s library, the male bastion of her grandfather Edward and her father, Parker, complete with hunting paintings, mounted rifles, and the air redolent with pipe smoke. When she and her half sisters began spending summers at Sea Breeze, the feminine accoutrements of dollhouses and pink toys chased the men from their cave. Soon after it became Harper’s makeshift bedroom. As years passed, the west wing of the house became known as “the girls’?” wing. Mamaw kept the paneling and books and the room was still referred to as the library, but everyone knew it was de facto Harper’s room.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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