“But, you see”—Harper picked up her cup—“the phone call brought up a tough conversation I had with Granny James. This is what I really wanted to talk to you about.” She paused. “Granny wants me to get a prenuptial agreement.”
“A prenup.” Knowing Harper’s finances, Atticus wasn’t entirely surprised. “How do you feel about that?”
“At first I was against it. It’s hardly romantic and I’m worried drawing one up will cripple my marriage before it even gets started. But I can see Granny’s point, too. The James estate is vast, and it is her responsibility to ensure that the estate is kept in the family. It’s a unique situation.”
He set his cup on the table. It sounded to him as if she was trying to persuade herself out loud. “What does Taylor think about all this?”
She held her cup in front of herself like a shield. “He didn’t like the idea. He said it makes him feel like a lesser partner in the marriage.” She took a sip of her tea, then cast a glance at Atticus.
“Well, he is the one with the lesser money. You hold the purse strings.”
She set the teacup back on the table. Her huge diamond caught the light, brilliant as a giant star.
“For any guy,” Atticus said, “but especially for a southern male, that’s tough. And, the vow does say ‘for richer or poorer.’?”
“I do trust him.” She made a face. “It’s his future wife I don’t trust.”
“What?” Atticus laughed in disbelief.
“If I died young and he remarried, I don’t want her to get my money. I want it all to go to our baby. See, that’s Granny James’s point—keep the family fortune in the family line. It’s beginning to make sense to me.”
“Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
“That sounds horrible, but yes.”
“Harper, you’re the one who has to live with the consequences of your decision. You have to decide for yourself what you want and need and hope Taylor will understand no matter what. Because he loves you.”
Atticus remained silent as Harper sipped her tea and contemplated what he’d said. He sipped his tea and looked around the room, taking in the shelves of books.
“I’ve always wanted a library like this,” he said abruptly. “I love books. I’ve always been a great reader.”
“Me, too! My sisters used to tease me for hiding out in my room with my nose in a book. That’s how I got the nickname Little Mouse.”
“Did you always write?”
“Good heavens, no.” Harper laughed. “At least not openly. I suppose I always made up stories, but I was terrified my mother would find out. When I was eight, I finally worked up the courage to give her one of my silly stories to read, and she called me into her office and told me quite plainly that I didn’t have talent. Of course I believed her. She was the head of a major publishing house. I was groomed to be an editor, and I liked editing. I still do. I’m good at it. But it wasn’t until I moved here last summer that I truly explored writing, freely without fear. You might be surprised that this Little Mouse had a lot to say.”
Atticus cracked a wry grin. “So the mouse roars?”
“She damn well does.” Harper sipped her tea. Atticus saw her eyes sparkle over the rim of her cup. She lowered her cup to the saucer and returned it to the table.
Atticus leaned forward. His mother had worked for her father. She was pregnant with Atticus at the same time Georgiana was pregnant with Harper. They were both connected to the same damn novel. He wanted to know more about this father he never knew.
“Wasn’t your father a writer? Parker Muir.”
“He was. Never published, though. That’s how he met my mother. She never said so, but I think she was supposed to edit his book. There was only one. A lifetime’s work.”
“Did you ever read this book?”
She shook her head. “No. It breaks my heart that Carson lived with him all those years, but she never even picked it up. I can’t imagine not grabbing it and reading it under the covers at night with a flashlight. Anything . . . just out of curiosity. But Carson’s not much of a reader.”
“What happened to the book?”
“Parker destroyed it. Such a waste,” Harper said with feeling. “The only copy. He must’ve hit rock bottom.”
“That was the only copy?” Atticus asked, astonished.
“Yes. And it’s lost.” She sighed. “I would have liked to have read it. Good or bad.”
“Do you remember your father?”
“Yes, but we didn’t have many precious father-daughter moments. Mummy wouldn’t allow it. She hated him, you see. Still does, and the man has been dead for years. She never wanted me to so much as mention his name growing up. I couldn’t even keep a photograph of him. So you can imagine how she felt when I told her I was writing a book. She went nuclear, told me—again—that I had no talent. Mummy can be so supportive,” Harper said with heavy sarcasm. “Her hatred of him is positively pathological.”
“That sounds harsh.” Atticus was shaken by this description, knowing the facts of Parker’s affair.
Harper shrugged. “It’s the truth. Like I said, anything to do with Parker Muir was anathema to her. And by association, his mother, Sea Breeze, and the entire South. As I mentioned, we had a big argument on the phone, and the gist of it all is, she said she’s not coming to the wedding.”
Atticus knew that the mother-daughter relationship loomed large during the wedding process. And that children of neglectful parents were, unbelievingly, often all the more attached to them.
“How do you feel about her not coming?”
Harper’s mask of bravado slipped off to reveal a face of sorrow. “Sad,” she said in a soft voice. “There’s a part of me that still wishes she could be happy for me. Of course I want my mother at my wedding. I don’t have my father, either. Or a grandfather.” Harper sniffed so hard for a moment that he feared she might burst into tears. But she held herself together. She lifted one shoulder in a halfhearted shrug and said in a wobbly voice, “Who is going to walk me down the aisle?”
Atticus looked at her, and his steady eyes met hers. “Who do you want to walk you down the aisle? It doesn’t have to be a man,” he prodded gently.