“Not moving? I thought he was heading out to James Island. Closer to NOAA.”
“Carson doesn’t want to leave Sullivan’s Island. At least she’s firm about something.”
Taylor kept silent but his brows gathered.
Harper turned off the stove and lay the wooden spoon on the counter. She knew Taylor’s silences held back a lot of words. As quick as Harper had been to imply one of Carson’s faults, her defense of her sister came naturally. “It’s not like Blake doesn’t want to live on the island, too. It’s his apartment.”
Taylor took a long swallow from his beer. “When’s Carson arriving, anyway?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. Blake is picking her up from the airport, then bringing her here.” Harper chewed her lip. “Her room is all freshened up. I’ll put fresh flowers in tomorrow and some lowcountry snacks . . . benne wafers, pralines.”
“You’re doing a lot, honey. Is it really all necessary?”
Her face lit up as she caught his gaze. “I want to. Taylor, it’s beginning. The weddings.”
Taylor’s eyes kindled. “I only care about the one wedding. Ours.”
He leaned against the table and rubbed the back of his neck. Harper knew this as a signal that something was on his mind. She leaned against the counter, crossed her arms, and waited for him to speak.
“I was talking to my parents,” he began.
Harper said nothing.
“We were getting our ducks in a row. Do you know how long Granny James will be staying here?”
Something in his voice made Harper glance up sharply. No love was lost between those two when she and Taylor were dating, but peace had been made.
“She’ll stay until the wedding for sure. After that, as long as she cares to.” Her voice sounded more unyielding than she’d intended.
“Of course,” Taylor hastened to reply. He looked down, his fingers drumming the table behind him. “The reason why I was talking about dates with my parents is that my mother thought it might be nice for me to return home for a while. Before the wedding. Sort of a last chance to be with her boy again before I become your husband.”
Harper relaxed again and moved closer to Taylor to slip her arms around his waist. “I’ve always assumed you would go back home for a while before the wedding. It’ll be a flurry of estrogen and lace here. But I’ll miss you. How long would you guess? About a week?”
He looked down and his eyes caught hers. “Actually, I was thinking of leaving soon. Before Granny James arrives.”
“What? But that’s next week!”
Harper was stymied. “But . . . but why? There’s no need for you to leave that early. It’s insane. Getting to work every morning all the way from McClellanville will add hours to your commute.”
“It’ll only be for a short while.”
Harper released him and strode across the room for her tea, feeling a sudden need for its warmth. She closed her hands around the heated ceramic and stared at the dark brew. “I don’t understand,” she said softly.
“You remember how things were between your grandmother and me.”
“That was last year. She loves you now.”
“Love?” he said dubiously. “Tolerates, maybe. Accept, possibly. She raked me over the coals.”
“Granny James was just being protective. She didn’t know you and wanted to be sure . . . well . . .”
“That I deserved you.”
“Yes.” Harper’s lips twitched.
“And that I wasn’t after you just for your money.”
Harper shrugged. “That, too. And you passed with flying colors. So what’s the problem?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to stay here, living in this house, sleeping in your bed, before we’re married.”
“It’s no secret. She knows you’re living here.”
His eyebrows shot up. “She does?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. She’s no prude.”
“She is when it comes to you. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of her cool glances. That woman could kill a charging rhino with one look. I’d rather deal with hours of traffic. Or rent a room for a few months.”
Harper put her cup on the counter and crossed her arms against an irrational panic growing inside her chest. She felt her heart beating faster, and it felt as if all the worries she’d squelched deep inside were pounding to get out. “I can’t be left alone here! They’ll all be here—Carson, Blake, Granny James, Mamaw, Girard, Devlin, Dora, Nate. . . . They’ll be constantly in and out, asking for things, meals to prepare, laundry. Not to mention the wedding plans. How will I ever cope?”
“You don’t have to take care of everyone. They can take care of themselves. It’ll be the same as last summer.”
“But it won’t! This is my home now. It’ll be expected that I make the decisions. Plan the meals. Be the one in charge. I can’t, Taylor,” Harper blurted, tears springing to her eyes. Taylor came forward to put his arms around her. As always, she felt safe in his arms. She needed him now more than ever.
Taylor smoothed the hair from her face, damp with tears.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I got so emotional. I’m actually very happy they’re all going to be here. I just feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s just, I can’t do it without you here. I need you. Especially now.”
Taylor’s hand stilled. He slid back, holding her arms in his hands and studying her face. After a brief silence he said faintly, “Why especially now?”
Harper drew a breath and wiped her face with her fingertips. Her face broke into a smile. “Because”— a gleam was in her eyes—“we’re going to have a baby.”
Like any young southern bride, she had visions of being the perfect wife, the best mother, and a creative hostess worthy of the pages of Southern Living magazine.
The streets were collecting water on Sullivan’s Island by the time Dora made her way home. It had been raining like the Lord’s flood all afternoon without sign of stopping. It didn’t make her life any easier on a day Dora had to rush all morning arranging after-school care for Nate and squeezing in a few extra, much-needed final minutes of study. Now the day was done, the test taken, and she was on her way home. It felt as though all the energy she’d bottled up had spilled out on the test, leaving her feeling empty. All she wanted to do on this chilly, wet night was to change out of this constricting dress into comfortable clothes and slippers, drink a glass or two of wine, curl up on the sofa, and watch mindless television.