The feminine chintz-covered chairs sat side by side near the fire. Atticus took one at Harper’s invitation. He squeezed in, but just. This was definitely a woman’s office.

“I’d like to begin with a silent prayer for guidance.”

Harper looked a bit surprised, but after a moment willingly nodded and bowed her head.

Atticus similarly bent his head and let his eyes flutter closed, silently asking God for the knowledge to help this young woman in whatever way he was able. Upon finishing, Atticus felt the cloak of calm that he always did when his prayer was heard. Looking up, he saw Harper sitting at the edge of her chair, having lifted her head, eyes wide open. “You seem a little uncomfortable with prayer. Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I believe in God,” she replied hastily. “I was raised in the Anglican Church. Granny James goes to church . . . on occasion.” Harper’s lips twitched. “I expect my grandmother feels she can commune with God directly.”

Atticus chuckled. “And you?”

Harper shook her head. “I never had that kind of relationship with God. I’ve always thought He wasn’t much concerned with what’s going on with us peons on earth.”

“Are you at all curious about religion?”

“I wasn’t before, but now that I’m pregnant I’m feeling more interested in finding out more. I’ve been doing some research. I’d like to raise my child with some spiritual foundation for his or her future. And, well, I definitely want to baptize the baby. I have this fear that if I don’t, well—” She paused and her cheeks colored fetchingly. “Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Promise.”

“I’m afraid if I don’t and the baby dies, it’ll go to limbo.”

“Limbo?” Atticus snorted in disbelief. He couldn’t help it. “You mean the place where babies who die without baptism go?”

“Yes, I suppose.”

“That’s an old Catholic teaching, and even they abandoned it.”

“Still, mothers think of these things. I read about it on the Web.”

“The Web,” he repeated knowingly. “Do you know what medical schoolitis is?”

Harper shook her head.

“It’s the phenomenon of medical students thinking they’ve acquired the many diseases and illnesses they’re studying. Happens on the Internet, too. Everyone self-diagnoses based on articles they’ve read. Sounds like that’s what you’re doing. Maybe you should lay off the Internet a little.”

Harper nodded and looked at her hands. “You must think me a complete idiot.”

Atticus reached out to take her slim fingers in his large, strong grip. “Quite the opposite. Listen, I don’t know much about pregnancy, but from what I do know, being curious about all stages of your baby’s growth and development—physical, mental, and spiritual—is natural.”

Harper smiled. “Thanks. I needed some support today.”

Atticus released her hand and bent to pick up his tea. “You know Charleston is called the Holy City? There are churches here from most every denomination. Why not check a few out? You never know. You might find one you like.”

“I will. I’ve always been curious. Taylor’s open-minded, too. My mother didn’t guide me in matters of religion. Let’s just say that was one more area of neglect. Speaking of Georgiana, the other day I called her to tell her my good news. I didn’t expect much, maybe a simple congratulations.” Harper paused. “She actually asked if congratulations were in order. As though I might not be happy about the pregnancy and might consider getting rid of it.”

That took him aback. “And what did you tell her?”

“In so many words, to stick it where the sun don’t shine.”

He smiled into his cup. “Can’t say she didn’t deserve it.”

“I’m back on my mother’s blacklist. She doesn’t approve of my engagement or my wedding. And as for my pregnancy, well”—Harper snorted in an unladylike fashion—“let’s just say she sees it in limbo. You know”—Harper looked out the window—“it’s hard, even at my age, to realize my mother has no concern or sympathy for anything that makes me happy.”

“I’m sorry.” From what Atticus was hearing of Georgiana so far, he was far from impressed. This was the same woman who had treated their father miserably and fired his mother. She seemed irredeemable. “I do understand, though. I had a distant relationship with my father. He wasn’t what you’d call an affectionate guy. First, he worked all the time. But even when he was home, he didn’t hug or share his thoughts. He cared, don’t get me wrong. Just . . .”

“You didn’t feel loved?”

“Not as a kid. He was a formidable personality with a big voice and staunch principles. He could be intimidating at home as well as in the courtroom. He was generous with charities, a deacon in the church, and took on a lot of pro bono cases,” Atticus added, wanting to round out his father’s character. “I admired him. When I got older, we communicated on a grown-up level. We had a few good moments. But that’s also the time I started getting in trouble.” Atticus sighed. “I was a constant source of disappointment to him.”

“That’s how I felt with my mother. No matter how hard I tried, nothing I ever did seemed good enough.”

Atticus felt a connection with this sister. She understood his loneliness and displacement. That something was missing from their lives.

“But now you have a chance to start fresh. You can’t change your mother. Maybe not even your relationship with her. But you’ve already changed your own life. You’ve created this warm and inviting home. You won’t make the same mistakes with your child.”

Harper shook her head, eyes filled with new hope. “No, I won’t,” she said with conviction.

He smiled, glad that he could offer her some consolation. He suddenly felt hope of his own that he could make a change in his life, as well. With Mamaw and his sisters.

Harper returned the smile, then bent to pour the tea. “How do you take your tea?”

“Cream and sugar, thanks.”

He watched her graceful movements as she poured, added milk, a teaspoon of sugar, then handed Atticus his cup. It was good tea, a blend of some kind, strong with a heady scent.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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