“Crazy day. My meeting finished early, so I headed up to McClellanville and got that shrimp you asked for.” He set down the large cooler on the floor, stretched, then slipped off his rain jacket. He stood a moment, shaking off water that splattered the floor. “Mama and Dad send their love.”
Again she felt fortunate that Taylor’s father was once a shrimper. Like many others, Captain McClellan had tied his boat up at the dock and looked for work on land. He couldn’t afford to stay in the business. Imported shrimp was priced too low and diesel fuel was priced too high. Shrimping was a vanishing southern industry. But he still knew the few shrimpers left and could always get his hands on fresh shrimp right off the boat.
Taylor hung his jacket on a peg and immediately crossed the room, slipping his arms around Harper’s waist. “How’s my girl?”
Harper leaned back against him, relishing the feel of his strong arms around her. Over six feet, his broad frame dwarfed her slender five feet two inches. From the moment she’d met him, Taylor had made her feel safe. It was a new sensation for a girl who’d never known security. She ducked away when he nestled his lips at her neck.
“Stop,” she protested. “I’m cooking!”
“I’m starved.” He leaned over her shoulder and sniffed loudly. “Smells good.”
“This isn’t for tonight.” She turned in his arms to slip her own around his neck. “It’s for tomorrow night. For Carson’s welcome-home party. I thought . . .” She laughed when he dove in for another nibble at her neck.
“I told you I was starved.”
She laughed again and pushed him, this time more firmly, away. “Bide your time, man. You’re going to make me burn my gumbo.” She turned again, this time successful in being released. “I thought tonight we’d have chicken salad.”
“Nope.” Taylor walked to the fridge. He tugged it open, pulled out a beer, and flipped off the top. “Salad isn’t going to do it. I need something that’ll stick to my ribs.”
“How about you order a pizza?”
While she stirred at the stove, she watched as he moved with easy familiarity to the kitchen drawer and drew out a wine cork, then walked to the pantry, where bottles of wine were stacked. Such a domestic scene, she thought contentedly. They could already be husband and wife. Taylor had moved into Sea Breeze last September after the papers were signed and Granny James returned to England, Carson flew off to LA, and Dora moved to her own cottage on Sullivan’s Island. Mamaw had promptly declared that she didn’t want to be a third wheel in the main house and had taken up residence in the guest cottage. Taylor had felt awkward at first, tiptoeing around as though he were a guest. She enjoyed seeing him comfortable at Sea Breeze now, accepting that this was his home.
Taylor’s large hands grabbed a bottle of wine from the rack. “Red okay?”
“Don’t pour me any wine.” Harper reached out to lift her mug. “I’m drinking hot tea. It’s so chilly.”
Taylor set the bottle down, then returned to the stove. He reached for a spoon and dipped it into the gumbo. He blew on the sauce, then tasted it, eyes closed. After a second he said, “Tastes good, baby, but it needs something. Not spicy enough.”
Harper trusted his palate when it came to lowcountry dishes. She picked up a pen and bent over the recipe.
“I’m still making adjustments on Lucille’s recipe. It’s trial-and-error. She was, shall we say, creative in her measurements.” Harper lifted the recipe and read aloud, “Toss in some oregano, basil, onions, garlic.”
Taylor laughed as he walked to the wooden kitchen table where a pile of mail sat. “Lucille probably learned these recipes at her mother’s or grandmother’s knee. Watching them toss things in. She wrote those directions for herself. There was no need for her to be specific.”
“I, however, have to make an educated guess. Thus lots of tasting.” Harper brought the spoon to her lips, tasted, then reached out to add a generous pinch of oregano. “I want everything to be perfect for tomorrow’s party.”
“It will be. You’ve been planning for weeks.”
“It’s the first time there’s been a gathering here at Sea Breeze since we’ve bought it.”
“Dora’s been here plenty of times.”
“Well, Dora, yes. Of course. She lives so close. But not Carson. She’s the one who’s most attached. And the one who had an issue with me buying it.” Harper stirred more rapidly as she felt the nervousness tighten her stomach. “She’ll want everything to have stayed the same.” Including Mamaw’s still owning it, Harper thought.
“Hey, it’s done. All water under the bridge now.”
“She can’t help but resent the fact that I own the house she loves. Me, the least likely candidate.”
“Why the least likely?”
“I was the least connected to the house. To the South for that matter. I only came here as a child for a few summers. I was the sister from ‘off.’ The Yankee from New York. Then I come barreling in last summer and buy the place right from under their noses.”
Taylor scoffed, “Hardly the scenario. You were the only one who could afford to rescue it. I figure they’re all thinking you came riding in on your white charger to save the day. Otherwise strangers would be living in this house right now. Carson has to accept that fact and be grateful.”
Harper didn’t reply. In her experience, emotions ran high in family matters and clouded judgment. “She’ll resent any changes I made. Think that it’s not my place, especially while Mamaw is still alive.”
“Maybe at first. It’d be only natural. But she’ll get over it.” Taylor reached in for a second taste. “Better. But it still needs a little more heat.” He put the spoon on the counter and reached for the mail. “She’s getting married, too, don’t forget. She’ll be moving into her own place with Blake. He was talking about buying a house. She’ll have enough on her mind.”
“Blake’s not moving. He’s keeping his apartment on Sullivan’s.”
Taylor stopped sifting through the mail and set the pile back on the table. He and Blake had become close friends since the engagement. Their shared interest in dolphins cemented a natural affinity.