“What’s that?” Dora asked.
“Your father’s manuscript. My mother edited it. This was her copy.”
Harper let loose a squelched sob and rushed for the manuscript, holding it in front of her with disbelieving eyes. “This is his book?”
Atticus nodded. “Yes. I wanted to give it to you earlier, but I couldn’t without y’all knowing everything. So . . .” He let his explanation wither. They knew the rest.
Harper’s eyes were filled with tears. “Why didn’t you just tell me? I would have kept your secret. Didn’t you trust me?”
“Or me?” Carson asked, the anger in her tone betrayed by her trembling lips. “We shared so much. I bared my soul to you. And you held back. That’s what really burns me.”
Atticus was glad to hear the anger and the hurt. These were honest emotions he could deal with, much better than the cold silence.
“I couldn’t tell one without telling you all. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place with no salvation between. I’m sorry.”
“What bothers me is how you talked about being honest. And you weren’t being honest,” Harper said.
“I’m being honest now. I am Parker Muir’s son.” It felt empowering to say the words. Freeing. “This is the first time I’ve said that out loud. I am your half brother. Regardless of what you think of me, this is an immutable fact. I think each of you is a fine, remarkable, good woman. I’m proud to be your brother. You’ve brought a lot of happiness to my life. And meaning. You’ve made me feel part of your family. You know, I thought when I came here that I had a mission to help you. I see now I had it all wrong. You saved me. I’m only sorry that I may have destroyed my chance to continue being a part of your family. I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologizing.” Harper rushed forward to put her arms around him. “It’s all in the past. The future starts right now.”
Atticus felt a shuddering relief and hugged his sister without restraint. Dora came hustling around the cocktail table to wrap her arms around him in a sweep of emotion. Atticus looked over Harper’s shoulder at Carson. She remained seated on the sofa, slump shouldered. Their gazes met. Atticus saw in her eyes the fierce war raging within her. Carson, so strong, so tough. She, perhaps, had been hurt the most by his deception. They’d shared a deeper bond, bound by the inherited gene of alcoholism. If he should have told anyone, it should have been her.
I’m sorry, he mouthed to her directly, and held out an open arm.
Carson rose and, her face crumpling, came to his open arm.
For that brief moment of connection, wrapped in his sisters’ arms, Atticus felt whole again. When they separated, no shyness or awkwardness was between them, only a newfound happiness.
“So you’re my brother.” Carson wiped her eyes.
“Your half brother,” he corrected.
“Don’t let Mamaw hear you say that,” Dora warned. “She hates that phrase. She says blood is blood and there’s no watering that down.”
“So I guess we still have a minister for the weddings?” Harper asked him hopefully.
“If you’ll have me.”
“It’s either that or walk us down the aisle,” Carson told him. “You are the only surviving male Muir.”
“I’m still Atticus Green. That hasn’t changed.”
“No, of course not,” Carson amended. “But you’re also a Muir.”
“We have to tell Mamaw,” Harper said. “She’ll be so pleased. She didn’t tolerate us berating you in front of her.”
“Which of course we did freely and viciously,” Carson said.
“Nothing more than I deserved.” Atticus looked at the brides. “So the weddings are still on as scheduled?”
Harper looked at him suspiciously. “Of course. Why do you ask?”
“Well”—Atticus held his hands behind his back—“now that everything’s out in the open and being that I’m your brother and all, I figure I can voice my opinion openly, too.”
“Okay,” Harper replied warily.
“Since full and complete honesty is being called into question today, let’s all come clean. Like Harper said, the future begins today.”
They looked back at him, curious and mildly amused.
Atticus grinned and pointed his finger at Harper and Carson. “You two aren’t being honest about your weddings. In particular, about where your weddings are being held.”
Dora perked up, catching on. “Amen, Brother! I’ve been after them about this forever. You’ve been like two hens picking at seed. All you do is talk about each other’s wedding, not your own. Girls, be honest like Atticus said. Neither of you want the wedding you’re having. You both know you want to get married at each other’s venue.”
“What are you saying?” Harper’s eyes were wide with disbelief. “You aren’t suggesting we cancel our weddings?”
“No, not cancel.” Atticus held his arms akimbo and looked at her from under gathered brows.
In their prolonged silence, Carson and Harper looked at each other, neither taking a breath.
“Switch?” Carson asked in a whisper.
“Why not?” Dora asked.
“No!” Harper said, getting her back up. “That’s ridiculous. Everything is set. It can’t be changed now.”
“Of course it can,” Dora argued. “Stop being so rigid. You can do anything you want. You’re the bride! It’s about time you realized that. And with your efficient brain working on it, you’ll have new lists for us to start checking off in no time. This is your wedding, Harper. And yours, Carson. You’ve both been trying so hard to please everyone else you neglected yourselves. Now’s the time to be honest, right, Rev?”
Atticus chuckled at hearing Dora call him by that nickname. “Right.” He put on his serious face. He liked seeing this bossy side of Dora, playing the elder card. It suited her.
“Tell me the truth. Carson, do you want to get married on the beach?”
Carson blinked, took a breath. “Yes.”
Dora’s face flooded with satisfaction, even as Harper’s shifted to shock.
“Now you, Harper,” Dora said. “Do you want to get married at the plantation?”