She heard a birdcall and looked up, her eyes darting about trying to spot the source behind the unique sound. She loved the variety of birds along the coast, especially now as birds migrated, choosing their summer range. She’d seen plenty of the winter residents—cardinals, sparrows, mockingbirds, and blue jays—but she was eager to spy a bluebird or yellow-throated warbler, a South Carolina wren, and most especially a ruby-throated hummingbird.

Instead of a bird, however, she spied Taylor. He was coming her way carrying a tall glass. Dear boy, she thought, feeling her thirst acutely. She tugged at her gardening gloves and looked up, smiling, as he approached.

“You are an angel of mercy,” she told him, reaching up to accept the glass.

“Granny James, do you have a minute? I’d like a word.”

Imogene drank the glass of tea to the dregs. She had an inkling what Taylor might want to discuss and suddenly wished this tea had some of Mamaw’s secret additive in it.

“Help me up, then,” she said briskly, offering Taylor her hand. “I’ll get a crick in my neck if I have to look all the way up at you.”

She offered her hand, and with an easy pull Taylor had her standing on her feet. They walked together to the porch, where she sat in a large black wicker chair under the welcome shade of the awning. Granny sank into the cushion with a weary sigh and fanned her face with her gloves. Taylor, she noticed, did not sit. He stood wide legged with his hands behind his back, his face completely unreadable. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was about to salute her.

“So, Taylor, what is so important that you pull me from the garden like some old weed?”

“I spoke with Harper the other night about the prenup,” Taylor said in an even voice, not mincing words. “I don’t like it. Just saying.”

Granny James tsked with impatience and opened her mouth to speak, but Taylor put up his hand to silence her. “Let me finish.”

Granny James snapped her mouth shut, but her eyes narrowed.

“The James estate means nothing to me. But I gave it a lot of thought, talked it over with Blake, and he helped me understand why it means a great deal to you. Back in the day, Blake’s family once held a large plantation here in the lowcountry. The Legares tried to hold on to it for generations, keeping the land in the family. It was considered a sacred trust. But in time . . . the war, it was sold off, bit by bit. Now it’s no longer in family hands.” Taylor looked out at the Cove. When he turned back, he met Granny James’s eyes levelly. “So I can understand you wanting to keep your property in the bloodline. Still, the balance of power shifts to Harper within this arrangement. She already owns the house.”

“You knew that going into this.”

“I did. I guess I figured we’d work it out between us. Despite what you might still think, I’m not interested in Harper’s money.”

“I never thought you were.” She paused and looked at him, searching for an honest answer. “Will Harper marry you if you don’t sign?”

“Yeah.” His face softened. “She’s got her heart in the right place. Which is why I want to meet her halfway.”

Granny James liked what she heard and cocked her head. “I’m listening.”

“I called a friend of mine, a lawyer, and he said we could isolate specific things, like the James trust and the house—and leave out the rest. That way after we’re married, any money Harper makes and any money I make we pool together and make decisions just like any other normal married couple. And I get to keep my balls in the process. If your lawyers can whip up a prenuptial agreement that spells that out, I’ll sign it.”

Granny James resisted a smile at the boy’s cheeky choice of wording and pursed her lips. She brought to mind Harper’s earlier suggestion that she and Taylor move from Sea Breeze. “To be clear, you’ll agree to live in this house with Harper? Even though it’s in her name?”

“Yes.”

Granny James refrained from revealing her relief. She chewed the tip of her glasses. “What made you change your mind?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “It’s simple. I love Harper. She loves Sea Breeze. I want her to be happy.”

Granny James slipped her sunglasses back on her head and rose with agonizing slowness to her feet. She keenly felt the past hour she’d spent on her knees. “Very well, young man. I’ll call my lawyers and it shall be done as you’ve requested.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Taylor turned to leave.

“Taylor!” Granny James called after him.

He spun on his heel to face her.

“You are a remarkable young man. And Harper is a very fortunate young woman.”

His stern face at last eased into a begrudging smile. “Thank you, ma’am.”

She watched him turn again and walk with long strides back into the house before she broke into a wide grin of her own.

Atticus slept in boxers with the doors of his bedroom wide-open, leading to the porch. Beyond the doors the great blackness of the ocean sky blanketed him, the gentle breeze better than any fan and the gentle roar of the ocean a soothing white noise. He had to hand it to Dora for finding this place. He’d never slept so well before in his life.

But in the morning he paid the price of open curtains. The sun rose smack outside his window and, like any star performer, demanded he rise to his feet and appreciate her glory.

Atticus rose with the sun and gave humble thanks. Then he headed for the shower. A short while later he took a last slurp of his coffee, laced up his running shoes, grabbed his sunglasses and ball cap, then headed outdoors.

Stepping into the morning air, he felt the moisture of the ocean on his face. He stretched and slipped his cap on, back forward, and headed toward the shoreline. This early in the morning the sand was smooth and undisturbed by footfalls. Shells and wrack littered the high-tide line, which formed a wavy dark line across the glistening, pristine beach. His spirits lifted as he caught his stride and he felt the truth in the old adage the world was his oyster.

He’d run nearly two miles and was approaching the southern tip of the island where Breach Inlet separated Isle of Palms from Sullivan’s Island. Up ahead he spotted two male runners heading his way. They were tall and fit, and behind them trotted two big dogs, one yellow, the other black as night. They made quite a sight, as testified by the two women in jogging attire who had stopped running and turned back to stare at them after they passed.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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