Dora guffawed behind her palm.

“Ah, good. So you have an idea of what you’re looking for?”

Carson shook her head. “Not a clue.”

Lauren’s face fell. Still, she was not dissuaded. “Let’s bring you on back to the fitting room and we’ll try on a few styles and see what you like.”

Carson shook her head. “Not today, thanks. I’ll reschedule.” She glanced down the line of chairs, nailing Mamaw and Granny James with a hard gaze. “I’d rather come alone.”

Chapter Seventeen

Being married means we’re in it together. Married couples ought to protect each other by being fair and generous in all ways, including financially.

The moon was rising over Sullivan’s Island, bringing with it an ethereal glow that rivaled that of the shimmering stars. Despite the glory of the night, however, not all was peaceful on the earth below.

At Sea Breeze, Harper stood at her bedroom window staring out at the Cove. She never tired of the way moonlight seemed to dance over the water. The sight usually calmed her, but tonight she felt as though the water were dark and stormy and she were being tossed about as helplessly as a piece of driftwood.

She closed the slats of the plantation shutters and let her glance take in the small anteroom that was attached to the master bedroom, the silver-framed photographs of the family on bookshelves and tables. When Mamaw lived here, this had been her sitting room. Harper fondly recalled the many heart-to-hearts she’d shared with her grandmother in the cushy upholstered chairs here. Mamaw had surprised Harper the summer before by redecorating the sitting room into a bedroom so that Harper would have her own room at Sea Breeze. Mamaw had put in sliding doors to separate the two rooms, effectively cutting off half of her own space, just for her granddaughter. And now, only a year later, the room was undergoing another change.

This was going to be Harper’s baby’s nursery. She was filled with butterflies whenever she thought of her sweet infant soon to be in this room. It was empty now, painted a soft gray and white. Harper walked across the soft white carpet, imagining where she would put the baby’s crib, the changing table. Would she highlight the room with the color pink or blue? She smiled, knowing they’d wait till the baby’s birth to find out.

Harper looked beyond the nursery to her bed. Taylor lay there reading a book, bare chested and wearing only flannel pajama bottoms, as was his way. He saved the matching tops for Harper—on her small frame they went almost to her knees. Her heart filled with love for him. That’s how she saw them, two parts of the same piece. How was she going to ask him for a prenup? Would he accept it without a care? Or would it be like a knife that cut the fabric that bound them? She sighed heavily and brought her hands to her face.

The bedroom was aglow with soft yellow light from bedside lamps on either side of the bed. She switched off the lamp on her side of the bed, then climbed in. Taylor absently reached out to slip his strong arm around her and tug her close. She nestled against his broad chest, her cheek against his skin.

Harper stared at nothing as she reviewed the events of the day in her mind. She’d hoped the visit to the bridal salon with her grandmothers and sisters would have been the springboard for the joy of the wedding season. She’d pictured them loving her dress, fawning over every detail of it as she had when she’d first put it on.

It’s not you, Carson had said.

It doesn’t fit the beach theme of the wedding was Granny James’s opinion.

And Mamaw’s old-fashioned ideas, straight from an ancient Emily Post’s Etiquette book, simply hurt.

Only Dora had been kind, clearly recalling how sensitive and vulnerable the bride could feel, posing in a dress with her heart on her sleeve. She’d never forget Dora’s support. When she’d tried to thank her privately after the appointment, Dora had kissed her cheek and told her it was simply payback for the kindness Harper had shown her the previous summer at a certain dress salon. Sisters, Harper thought. What would she do without them?

And Harper knew that Carson always had her back. Harper trusted her. The hard truth was that, after all the comments, Harper had felt uncomfortable in the gown she’d selected, as if she were wearing someone else’s dress. Someone younger, more naïve—the very word that Mamaw had used. Harper knew she was many things—smart, occasionally timid, reserved, and, yes, perhaps she did possess a certain innocence, but she was not naïve. Perhaps Carson had been right. The dress was not her. Harper could no longer see herself walking down the aisle in it.

Taylor shifted his gaze from his book and kissed the top of her head. “What’s the matter, honey? Can’t sleep?”

At the sound of his master’s voice, Thor stopped his sonorous snoring and abruptly lifted his head, ears alert.

“No,” Harper replied in a broken voice.

Taylor lowered his book and turned slightly to face Harper. With his finger, he lifted her chin to study her face. Harper tried to look away, but his hand was firm. He frowned when he saw the tears.

“What’s the matter?” he repeated, this time with intent. “More wedding woes? Because if it is, I swear, Harper, we’ll elope. I don’t want you upset by all this nonsense. It’s not good for the baby. I don’t care about how we get married. I just want to make you my wife. The sooner the better.”

Harper offered a tremulous smile filled with gratitude. “It’s not the wedding that has me upset. Well, not entirely.” She paused, remembering the afternoon. “We all went to the salon today. Me, the girls, and grandmothers. I showed them my dress.” She paused. “They hated it.”

Taylor seemed surprised, even angry. “Who the hell cares? You’re the one wearing it.”

“I know. But now, I hate it, too.”

“Don’t let them bully you. It’s your dress. I’ll love it no matter what.”

She didn’t respond. She appreciated his support, even expected it. But she didn’t want to discuss her wedding dress with him. Bless his heart, but he didn’t know the first thing about wedding dresses. She patted his chest idly, finding strength. Rather than get distracted by the dress, she wanted to bring up the topic at the forefront of her mind.

She moved from the crook of his arm to sit cross-legged beside him. The pajama top rode high up her thighs. Harper tugged at the sheet, covering her legs. Seeing that she was intending a serious discussion, Taylor marked his place in the book and put it on the bedside table, then turned to give her his complete attention.

Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance