“He’s doing so well at the new school,” Harper said, feeling genuinely happy for the ten-year-old boy who’d been so lonely before Dora had moved to Sullivan’s Island.
Dora nodded her assent. “The private school is costing me an arm and a leg, but it’s worth every penny.”
“How’s Cal taking it?” asked Carson. “Still complaining about the tuition?”
Dora rolled her eyes. “Of course. That man can’t utter a sentence without attaching a whine to it. But it’s in writing. You gotta love a good lawyer.”
The waitress returned with the toast for Harper and a basket of warm rolls for the table. The scent of biscuits lured Harper, suddenly ravenous, to reach for one immediately. She looked up to see Dora staring at the rolls.
“Oh, go ahead,” Harper told her. “Today’s special.”
Dora thought a moment, then shook her head with resolution. “Nope. I have to try on a bridesmaid gown. And I’m standing up there next to you two beanpoles.”
Carson chuckled and took another large bite of her sandwich. “You look beautiful, Sister mine. And happy. That’s what matters. How’s it going with ol’ Dev, anyway?” Carson and Devlin had been friends for years. She had prodded a reluctant, withdrawn Dora to go out to meet him the previous summer.
“Our professional relationship is fine. There were a few noses out of joint at the office when I first arrived. Some of them thought I was getting preferential treatment. Sleeping-with-the-boss kind of thing. Devlin put a stop to that right quick. By the way, Mamaw offered to introduce me to her friends, and we all know how important that is. So, I’m feeling hopeful there. And Devlin and I work well together. We’re like peas and carrots that way. Our personal lives, however . . .” Dora shook her head and twiddled her fork in her fingers. “All this marriage talk is making him testy.”
“Meaning he wants to get married?” Carson said, swirling her iced tea.
“Right.” Dora skewered an olive. “He doesn’t understand why we don’t join the fray.”
“Frankly, Sis, I don’t either.” Carson looked at Harper for agreement. She was busy chewing a roll and only nodded.
Dora abandoned her fork and instead reached for her white wine. “I just don’t want to get married right now. Should I feel guilty about that?”
“Hey, I have no problem with that,” Carson said, heading off an argument. “It’s Devlin who’s having the problem.”
“I can handle Devlin. Just lay off, okay?” Dora sipped her wine, frowning. “Sorry. I’m a little sensitive about that subject.”
“I understand,” Carson said.
“The thing that’s got me seriously worried is he’s made some noise about selling the cottage.”
“Technically it’s not my cottage. I rent it from Devlin, at a ridiculously low amount.”
“Ooh, that horrible man,” Carson teased. “Cruel and unusual, making you pay only token rent.”
Dora grinned and acknowledged the tease with a nod of her head. “We both understood from the beginning that I was doing him a favor by renting the house. I was taking care of the place until the market improved and a good offer came up.”
“And he was doing you a favor,” Harper pointed out.
“And you believed him that it was a real estate agreement?” Carson asked skeptically.
“Hell, no. I know I’m a kept woman, but it’s a good excuse, isn’t it?”
Carson burst out laughing.
“He loves me and I love him. I know we’ll get married someday, and this cottage bit is just business. That’s the deal. We flip houses to make money. I get part of the profit. But, shit,” Dora said under her breath, “I love that little cottage. So does Nate.”
“Can you afford to rent it for more money?” Harper asked.
“No.” Dora shook her head. “No way. I’m scared I won’t be able to afford rent for a crappy place off island as is. I won’t be able to stay on Sullivan’s, for sure. And no!” Dora said sharply, pointing at Carson, who was about to interrupt. “I’m not moving in with Devlin. He’s already asked and I told him no. I can’t live with him before I’m married. I couldn’t bear the gossip.”
Dora’s eyes widened as she realized what she’d just said. She swung her head around to face Harper. Her sister was sitting straight backed with an unreadable expression on her face, but her already-fair skin had visibly paled another shade. “Oh, Harper, I didn’t mean anything by that. I don’t care if it’s just me living with him. It’s Nate I have to think about. School and all. Kids can be so nasty.”
Harper shook her head. “Don’t be silly. I understand. Though frankly, I couldn’t care less about gossip.”
“Good for you.” Carson raised her glass of iced tea.
“Really?” Dora challenged with a cool gaze. “You’re not living with Blake.”
“Oh, I’d live with Blake, no problem. I just like it better at Sea Breeze.” Carson chuckled, then took a healthy swallow. “And if you tell him that, I’ll deny it.” After they finished laughing, she added, “Hey, Dora, I’m in the same boat as you are. Blake and I are undecided about where to live. We could stay in Blake’s apartment after we get married. We both love Sullivan’s and being close to y’all. But he’s hankering to move to John’s Island, closer to work. He wants to buy a house.” Carson shuddered. “And nothing says forever like buying a house together.” She grimaced. “It all sounds so permanent.”
“Sister mine,” Dora told her, leaning in, “that’s what marriage is. Permanent.” She lifted one shoulder in response to Carson’s questioning glance. “Well, it’s supposed to be,” Dora backtracked, acknowledging her own divorce. “Hey,” she suddenly said with excitement. “If Blake lets his place go, let me know. It’s one of the few affordable places on the island. I might be interested.”
“Sure, but hold your horses, Sister. I like it there, too.
“Okay, subject change. Can I just ask what our opinion of Reverend Green is?” Carson asked, eyes twinkling.