Harper had such an expressive face. He knew the moment the answer came to her. There was relief and lessening of grief followed by a look of wonder.
“Granny James,” she said clearly, her mouth breaking into a wide grin. “And Mamaw. Can I have two women walk me down the aisle?”
“You can have whatever you want.”
“Then of course. I want my grandmothers.”
It is inconsiderate as well as impolite not to send a reply to a wedding invitation which includes R.S.V.P.
—Etiquette, Emily Post
The MacKenzies are a yes?” Granny James exclaimed, flabbergasted. “That old laird hasn’t left his castle in twenty years, but he’s coming all the way from Scotland for the wedding?” She shook her head. “If this keeps up, we will have to rent another tent.”
“At least they responded,” Harper said. “I can’t believe how many people haven’t yet. It’s so rude!” The two women were sitting together at the desk in Harper’s office, accompanied by a crackling fire and a tea service, sorting the invitation responses.
“What’s happening in a world where people don’t RSVP to something as important as a wedding? The planning involved, the cost . . .” Granny James sniffed haughtily. “Raised by wolves.”
“What do I do with all the ones we haven’t heard from yet?”
Granny James lowered the cards in her hand and looked up, her glasses slipping down her nose. “I suppose we can try and follow up with a phone call. But I tell you, my dear, if anyone waltzes into the wedding without having responded, they’ll be escorted out! I don’t care if they did fly in from Europe.”
“Watch your blood pressure, Granny,” Harper said with humor in her voice. Then, setting down her pen, she said with feeling, “I don’t know how to thank you for all you’ve done. I had no idea how difficult things must have been for you this past year. And you still finding time to plan my wedding. I’ve been so selfish, thinking only of myself.”
“Not at all, child. You weren’t meant to know.” Granny James smiled. “You’re the bride. Besides, the wedding has been the one bright spot in a long annus horribilis.”
“Granny James,” Harper began hesitantly, remembering the scene in Granny’s room the other day that had ended with the older woman near tears. “I know you’re not happy Mamaw is in the cottage. That you’d expected to be in there.” She added ruefully, “You’ve made that abundantly clear. But I hope you know that you are welcome here—for as long as you want. This is your home.”
“Thank you, dear. I appreciate you saying that. And Marietta and I seem to be managing just fine,” she said lightly, sifting again through the response cards.
Harper paused. “Do you remember you asked me to talk to Taylor about a prenuptial agreement?”
Granny James looked up, fingers stilled. “Yes, of course.”
“Well, he doesn’t want to sign one.”
“He doesn’t want to?”
“No. We had quite a heart-to-heart.” Harper gathered her strength. “And if he doesn’t want to sign, I won’t make him.”
Granny folded her hands on the table. “I see.”
“He also told me he feels uncomfortable living at Sea Breeze because it’s my house. Not ours.”
“Well, dear, the house is yours.”
“Actually, it isn’t. Not until I turn thirty when I pay back the loan. It’s yours.”
Granny looked at her sharply. “What are you trying to say?”
“I love Taylor, more than any house or any amount of money. If he’s not happy, I’m not happy. So, what I’m suggesting is that you make Sea Breeze your home. Taylor and I will move.”
“What?” Granny James’s voice was sharp. She whipped off her eyeglasses. “Don’t be silly. That’s not what I want at all.”
“But it makes sense. You need a place to live. You already paid for the house. Taylor has some money saved, and a nice income from his job, and I’ve made money off the book. Although not much,” Harper added with a laugh. “We can rent a place.”
“You’ll do no such thing. I realize you’re pregnant, but really, Harper, must you be so dramatic? We’re British. We don’t let our emotions rule. Let’s table this discussion for another time. Neither of us is going anywhere for the moment. Do I make myself clear?”
Harper sat back, unaccustomed to Granny’s sharp tone.
Granny’s face appeared contrite. “Forgive me. It’s that I’m quite flustered. Please, be a good girl and don’t mention this again. Sea Breeze is your home. If anyone should go, it will be me. Now”—she slipped her glasses back on—“tell me again how many yes responses came today?”
Harper hesitated, then lowered her gaze and resolutely began counting the list of names on the paper. Granny James took a breath, relieved that Harper didn’t notice her hands were shaking.
Later that afternoon Imogene was on her hands and knees in Harper’s garden, Harper’s wide-brimmed hat on her head and a sharp spade in her hand. She’d been attacking weeds with a vengeance. Her conversation with Harper had her so vexed she needed to get outdoors and put her hands in the soil. If the word soil could be applied to whatever she was digging in now, she thought wryly. As far as she could tell, it was all sand and mud.
Imagine, Harper telling her that she could live at Sea Breeze. She’d think her insolent if she hadn’t said it so sincerely. Imogene paused, leaned on her hands, and caught her breath. In truth, she did feel homeless. She missed her extensive gardens at Greenfields Park. Now that was soil, she thought wistfully. Her gardens had been her private sanctuary, which she’d tended carefully for more than forty years. If she closed her eyes, she could see the rows of perennials, touched by dew when she took her morning walk. This time of year the air would be crisp and fragrant.
Imogene opened her eyes and wiped the sweat from her brow. But she wasn’t at Greenfields Park, she reminded herself, shaking from her doldrums. She would never live there again. That part of her life, her life with Jeffrey, was finished. This was her new life, here in the lowcountry. She rested her spade and looked out over the Cove. The sun was shining in a sky a piercing blue. For as far as she could see, water and sea grass swirled together with as much color and energy as a painting by van Gogh. The view was so different from the rolling fields of England. Yet she would never tire of it. Of this she was certain. The mystery and magic of the lowcountry, unlike anywhere else, she found unusually comforting. She sighed and, with a half smile, thought she could use a little mystery and magic in her life now, after so many years facing harsh realities.