“Marriage?” Mamaw was utterly floored.

“Of course. Unless you’d rather live in sin,” he added wryly.

Marietta laughed. Her heart felt infused with the moonlight, as though it could soar right from her body directly into the heavens. She smiled at this old friend who had reappeared as a gift to her in the later years of her life.

“Oh, Girard, my friend, lover, neighbor. I love you. With all my heart. But marriage? I don’t want some fool snickering about a triple wedding. At our age. As if . . .”

“Why not?” Girard said with a twinkle in his eye. “Apparently, you can wear white.”

She slapped his chest, blushing. “Oh, don’t remind me of what I said. I’m so ashamed.”

“Wear red, if you have a mind to. Just marry me, Marietta. I’ve loved you from the first moment I saw you all those years ago. You know that.”

Marietta nodded as a wry smile eased across her face. “I suspected. And I daresay Edward did, too. He loathed you. Kept a gun by the door in case he saw you sneaking around.”

“You’re kidding,” Girard said unsurely.

“Of course I’m kidding.” She paused. “Or am I?” Marietta laughed again, then looked up and cupped his face in her hand. “Dearest Girard, I don’t want to get married again,” she said gently. “It’s all so complicated at our age. Your children will be up in arms, claiming I’m after your money.”

“What money? I’ve given them just about everything already. The only thing they still have their greedy eyes on is the property in the Adirondacks.”

“What? You still have that gorgeous, virginal property up North?”

“Yes.”

“Girard, that land is priceless! Invaluable to the wildlife in that overdeveloped area. You know what you have to do. Tell me you do.”

“If you’re suggesting I put it into conservation, lock, stock, and barrel, like I did with my property in South Carolina, my children will disinherit me. They’ve been after me for years to sell it to developers. They’ll make a fortune. Though I have to wonder how much money do they need.”

“The little vultures.” She saw his brows furrow and was instantly contrite. “Did I say that out loud? Sorry.”

“Don’t change the subject. I believe I just asked you to marry me.”

“Must we get married? I’m inclined to go with your other suggestion. To live in sin.”

Girard barked out a laugh. “You’d do that?”

“Of course I would! I’m a modern woman, haven’t you heard? No more Emily Post for me.”

“I’m fine with that. If that’s what you really want.”

“It is.”

“You drive a hard bargain. You press me to offer a second proposal.”

“What proposal is that?”

“Oh, just something that might appeal to your pirate’s blood.” He tugged her closer against him and smiled leeringly. “A bounty.”

Marietta was intrigued. “I’m listening.”

“What would you say to a swap? My land in the Adirondacks for your consent to marriage.”

“What?” Marietta was stunned and confused. “What do you mean?”

“I will put the virginal land, as you so appropriately called it, into conservation if you say you will marry me. Call it my bride’s price.”

Marietta couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You’d do that? The land has to be worth countless millions.”

“You’re worth that and more to me. And”—he grinned wryly—“I’m no fool. It’s a good tax break.” He drew his face closer, so close she could feel his breath upon her ear. “Besides, don’t you know when I put all that land in South Carolina into conservation, I did it for you?”

Marietta gasped and looked into his eyes, as pale a blue as the wispy clouds crossing the light of the moon.

He smiled. “All for you.”

“Girard, you take my breath away. And all my objections. Yes, I will marry you. But,” she said with a gentle kiss on his lips, “not a word about this to anyone until after the girls’ weddings. Do you promise?”

His eyes kindled and he said with import, “I do.”

Chapter Twenty-One

For a bride, her wedding dress was the transition article of clothing that took her from girlhood to womanhood.

Harper struck a silly pose in the long gilded mirror, hands on her hips as she turned this way and that. She dissolved into giggles as she moved the delicate scrap of lace from where it was covering her eyes. She had returned to the LulaKate bridal salon with Carson and Atticus. The girls had been disappointed that the cheerful Lauren was off for the day, but they had a more than suitable replacement helping them decide on their gowns: none other than Kate McDonald, the designer of the beautiful dresses.

“Women still wear these?” Harper, disentangling the face veil from its perch on her head and handing it back, asked Kate.

“Some people think the face veil is old-fashioned. Back in the day, a very young bride might be shy to face the congregation and the young man she barely knew unveiled. Today, if a bride wants to wear a veil over her face, it’s more because she prefers the look of it, or wants to maintain tradition. In any case, the veil is taken off by the maid of honor when she gives the bride’s bouquet back to the bride at the conclusion of the ceremony.” Kate smiled guiltily. “Personally, I’ve always loved the face veil. I think it’s dramatic.”

Kate had appeared surprised and none too pleased when she’d seen Atticus walk in the salon with the women. Her eyes flashed and she tucked her long dark hair from her face. “It’s like bringing a fox in the henhouse,” she’d declared. But the brides had insisted, and there was no arguing with that.

Atticus tried to shrink into the background on this warm and breezy afternoon in the lowcountry. Taylor had called for a pickup game of volleyball, then razzed him when he found out Atticus would be stuck on King Street in Charleston surrounded by white tulle.

Kate suggested, “Girls, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s select the gowns before the veils.”

“Of course.” Harper became serious and turned to Kate. “You know our situation. We’ve run out of time. We all agree we’ll never get the dress I’d selected to look right with my baby bump.” Harper slid her palm around her belly, already considerably larger than on their last visit. “And Carson is at ground zero. What are our options at this late date?”


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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