“Yes, of course I remember it. O. Henry was an American short story writer,” Marietta added with smug pride.

“Whatever, the characters in this particular homespun play are our own Harper and Taylor. And the item being given up was Sea Breeze.”

Marietta became suddenly alert. “What about Sea Breeze?”

“Harper said she and Taylor were going to move.” Imogene was not too proud to admit it brought her quite some pleasure to see Marietta’s face pale.

“Move?”

“It was all a big misunderstanding. We sorted it out,” Imogene hurriedly added. She didn’t want Marietta to pass out on the floor. “You see, I suggested Harper get a prenuptial agreement.”

“You didn’t!”

“I did,” Imogene confirmed archly. “Surely it can’t be a total surprise to you, a woman of your property. Harper discussed it with Taylor, and, in his words, he didn’t like it.”

“I should think not.”

“Will you stop interrupting, you daft cow? Anyway, this morning, Harper tells me that she is not signing a prenup and that I should make Sea Breeze my home since I’d paid for it. And because Taylor feels that the house is not his, she declared that she and Taylor were moving.”

“Oh, dear Lord . . .” Mamaw put her chin in her palm.

Imogene skewered her with her gaze. “Anyway, yesterday morning, while I was digging in the garden, working up a lather, I might add, Taylor comes out and informs me that he will sign the prenup—although a more limited version than I would like—and that he will continue living in Sea Breeze.” Imogene was gratified to see Marietta’s eyes well at this conclusion to the story. “It seems,” Imogene said, her tone softening, “that those two are very much in love and would do anything to make the other happy.”

“Oh, Imogene, that’s just as sweet as sugar,” Mamaw crooned.

“I confess, it made me teary eyed to witness.” Imogene reached out for her glass. “God, I do love happy endings.” She took a hearty drink.

Marietta’s expression shifted to bewilderment. “But why would Harper think you would want to live in Sea Breeze?”

Imogene lowered the glass. “I might have mentioned something about the cottage. . . .”

“Oh, Lord, you’re not still nattering on about that?”

“I know, I know.” Imogene gave a sorry shake of her head. “I was acting like a spoiled child. But you knew very well my intention was to stay in the cottage. You were supposed to go to some”—she wagged her hand—“some retirement home.”

“Really, Imogene, you must let the cottage issue drop.”

“Easy for you to say,” Imogene muttered. Then she pointed her finger at Marietta. “You know, if they do still somehow decide to move, I could end up your landlord,” Imogene said smugly.

Mamaw merely shrugged and smiled beatifically. “Squatter’s rights. They hold firm stateside.”

Imogene reached for her sunglasses and slipped them on. “Careful, dear, your pirate’s blood is beginning to show.”

“It’s our heritage, you know. They called him the Gentleman Pirate. That’s because the story claims he never killed anyone.” Marietta smirked and wagged her brows with meaning. “But how likely was that?”

“I thought as much.” Imogene rocked forward in her chair, then reached out to tap the deck of cards with her nail. “Care to play for it?”

Marietta appeared taken aback. “Play for what?”

“The cottage, of course.” While Mamaw’s eyes widened with shock, Imogene picked up her glass and relished the moment, taking a sip. She leisurely set her glass on the table, then leaned toward Marietta. “You like to brag about your pirate’s blood and how good you are at gin rummy. Well, matey, put your cottage where your mouth is.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I’m always serious when I talk about cards. Here are the terms. If I win, I move into the cottage and you go to the main house. If you win, I’ll buy another house on the island.”

“Wouldn’t it be simpler if you just did that anyway?”

“No,” Imogene said succinctly. “Now don’t delay. Yea or nay?”

Marietta’s back stiffened and she reached for the cards. “Yea.”

Two hours later, Marietta lay down her discard and called out, “Gin!”

Imogene stared at the two of hearts on the pile for a moment, then tossed down her playing cards on the wood table. She leaned back and with her foot shoved the chair into a rocking motion. “That’s two out of three. You won,” she said glumly. “Fair and square.” She stopped rocking and looked at Marietta sharply. “Or did you? I’m a bit blitzed, to be honest,” she slurred. She pointed at Marietta. “How much did you have to drink?”

“Enough,” Marietta replied, trying hard to enunciate.

From the main house the relentless hammering that had been going on for the past hour picked up again.

Imogene put her hands to her temples in agony. “What in the name of all things good in this world is that unholy racket?” She turned in her chair to look back at the house.

Marietta waved her hand. “Oh, that’s just Taylor. He said he’s starting some project up in the attic. Bedrooms, he said.” Then her eyes widened and she burst out with a laugh. “Oh! Maybe for you!” She giggled again, then hiccuped. “Oops.” She covered her mouth with her hand. “Pardon me.”

Imogene smirked. “You Yanks. Every time you say that, we English have to laugh. We say pardon me when we burp or break wind.”

Marietta laughed heartily at that bit of knowledge, and Imogene joined in.

“Are you really looking for a place to live on the island?” asked Marietta.

“I’d already talked to my man Devlin after I saw that my cottage had been taken,” Imogene said archly, ignoring Mamaw’s eye roll. “In fact, he said he has a pretty little cottage on the creek he’s putting on the market. Great views. He owns it and can work out a special price.”

Mamaw stopped rocking and pushed herself forward. “Not Dora’s cottage? You can’t be saying you’d buy the house she’s renting right out from under her?” Marietta’s tone was accusatory.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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