“Go after him?”
“You love him. You want to marry him—then just do it!”
Dora burst into a wide grin, one of relief, he thought. And joy. Definitely joy. She fired up the engine, gunning it once with a laugh.
“Marry that man!” Atticus shouted. “Carpe diem!”
Dora beeped the horn twice and was on her way.
The parking lot was nearly empty in front of the white wood house with black shutters. A huge oak tree with thick boughs almost obscured the building from Palm Boulevard, but the large black-and-white sign that spelled out CASSELL REAL ESTATE and was shaped to look like a medieval castle was clearly visible from the street. Dora parked her car and went directly to the door, jiggling the keys in her pocket.
The door was unlocked. Inside, the six desks of her fellow agents were cluttered with paper and a few Styrofoam cups. The room smelled of burnt coffee. Her own desk in the last row was relatively neat, not because she was tidy but because as yet she had few clients. She walked to the back of the room to where one office was enclosed. The name DEVLIN CASSELL was on the door. She lifted her hand to form a fist, gathering her courage to knock. You can’t chicken out now, she told herself. She heard Atticus’s voice ring out in her head: Carpe diem.
She gave a cursory thump, but the door wasn’t completely shut and the force of her knock pushed it open enough for her to see Devlin sitting at his enormous desk, arms stretched out and hands around a cut-glass tumbler.
He looked up at the noise and, seeing her, leaned far back in his chair. The springs squeaked with the effort. He eyed her without surprise, indeed without any discernible emotion.
“What are you doing here?”
She stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. “Hello to you, too.”
Devlin scowled and took a sip of his drink. She heard the ice clink in the silence.
“Can I pour you one?”
His brows rose, seemingly surprised by her response. Over the past year she’d nagged him to cut back on his drinking, and he had. For her sake. Devlin obligingly rose to walk to the walnut cupboard and retrieve another cut-glass tumbler. He filled it with ice from the automatic ice maker, then returned to his desk and poured her a splash of bourbon. Devlin tilted his head and looked at her with question, bottle tilted over the glass.
“Just a scotch more.” Dora lifted her fingers to indicate a small amount.
Devlin poured in another splash.
“Maybe just a scotch more.”
Devlin almost smiled and poured her a liberal amount. He handed her the glass, his eyes studying her speculatively as he leaned back against his desk. “What’s the occasion?”
Dora looked at her glass, feeling her stomach tie up in knots. All her life she’d been told to act the lady. To let the man lead, to take charge. Her mother had instructed her countless times that no man wanted a pushy woman. But today she’d watched her sisters stand up for themselves and voice what they’d wanted. They weren’t pushy in the least, they would simply no longer be pushed around. She saw Carson and Harper as strong and honest women. Didn’t Atticus tell her she was strong? Didn’t she have the same right to speak her mind? she asked herself. She took a bolstering mouthful of bourbon, coughing slightly at the burn as it slid down her throat. Atticus’s words flashed again in her mind, as they had over and over during her drive here.
There is no someday, Dora. There’s now, or I’m guessing never.
Dora wasn’t looking for never. She wanted forever.
Taking a breath, she looked up into Devlin’s eyes. He was waiting, watching her closely.
“I’d like to ask you . . . Devlin, will you marry me?”
He froze for a moment, staring at her as one who wasn’t sure he’d heard quite correctly.
“You’re asking me to marry you?”
“Yes. Or rather, I am. I believe you’re the one who’s supposed to say yes in this scenario.”
Devlin’s eyes were sparkling with amusement blended with love. “Hell, yes!”
Dora smiled, embarrassed and happy and unsure what to do next. She looked at her glass. “Good. Real good.” She sighed in relief. “I wasn’t sure you were going to say yes.”
In silence, Devlin took her tumbler, then set both on the desk. Then he took her hands in his. “Woman, why in the world would you think I’d answer anything but yes?”
“You gave me a scare when you said you weren’t coming to the weddings. Set me to thinking. Really thinking. For a year I’ve been telling you what I needed in order to say yes to your proposal. And you kept waiting, helping me, helping Nate. I kept putting you off and you bore it as few men would. Never losing faith.” She paused, gathering strength for honesty. “I felt I needed to prove to myself that I could take care of myself and my son. Then I would feel worthy of being your wife.”
“Worthy?” Devlin said with disbelief. “Don’t you know I worked hard all these years, raised myself up from nothing, just to make myself worthy of you?”
Dora squeezed his hands and smiled tenderly. “What a pair we make. Devlin, it must’ve been hard with the two weddings coming, reminding you of how I’ve been making you wait. That was selfish of me. I’m sorry. I see now how I should have put your needs and wants first. That’s what love is. Selfless and unconditional. And it’s about trust. I was burned. We both were. But because of you I know I can trust a man again. I trust you.”
She stepped closer, placing her left hand on his chest. “Devlin Cassell, I love you. I always have and always will. So, if you still have that ring, I’d be proud to wear it.”
Two lowcountry weddings—one at the beach, one at a plantation. Each venue is as unique as the bride, yet each is equally bound by the traditions and values of the lowcountry.
It was a perfect night for a party. The temperature was balmy, with that moist, tropical breeze that smelled of night jasmine and a hint of the sea. It gently caressed her skin, heated after an evening of dancing and drinks.
Mamaw sat on the rocker of her front porch. Edward had always told her to leave the party at its height. And so she did, making her unhurried way down the front stairs across the gravel to her own sweet cottage. She was still fully dressed in her fancy silk underclothes, black silk nylons, the dreaded girdle that seemed tighter every time she put it on, and the stiff and constricting black taffeta gown with elaborate beading that caught the moonlight and shimmered with her every movement. The dress was an old warhorse brought out of mothballs for the party. That was the advantage of couture gowns, she thought. Vintage never went out of style. And at her age, she thought it unseemly to struggle to keep up with the latest fashions when classic always struck a dignified note.