She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling the love handles she despised. When she reached the library, she opened the door. Her eyes grew accustomed to the dim light and her gaze swept the room. The library was where Nate had slept when Mamaw owned Sea Breeze. It was Harper’s office now, filled with furniture Harper had brought over the pond from Greenfields Park. Papa Edward’s heavy desk had been replaced by an antique desk with feminine curves. Valuable side tables held a printer, scanner, and other office equipment. The bookshelves were filled with Harper’s books.

Dora’s gaze rested on her son, sleeping on the twin bed. It spoke of Harper’s infinite thoughtfulness that she’d kept the twin bed in the room so that Nate would have a place to sleep at Sea Breeze. Harper knew that any change in routine was difficult for Nate. Dora drew near her boy and reached out to sweep a lock of hair from his forehead. She could do this now, while he was asleep, without his shooing her away.

A voice came from the door: “Everything okay?”

Dora startled and stifled a yelp with her hand.

Harper laughed softly as she entered the library. “Oh, I’m sorry, Dora. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I saw the door open.”

Dora laughed, too, embarrassed. “I’ll bet you’re waiting for us to leave so you can go to bed.”

“Not at all,” Harper replied, but she couldn’t stop a yawn. “Forgive me, I might be a little more tired than I thought. But I won’t sleep for a while. I’ll be up remembering bits of conversations.”

“You’re a wonderful hostess. You make us feel so at home.”

“That’s because this is your home. I’m just sorry Devlin had to miss it.”

Dora stammered, “Ah, yes. Me, too. His work is keeping him busy nights now.”

“Should I pack up some gumbo for you to take to him?”

“No, I don’t think I’ll see him for a few days. Crazy busy . . .” Dora was glad for the darkness. It cloaked her lies. She’d told everyone that Devlin couldn’t come to dinner tonight as planned because he was working. In truth, he didn’t want to come. He’d said he needed some time to think, and that had terrified her.

Dora pushed on, plastering her face with a practiced smile. “I have to tell you, the gumbo you made was delicious.” She put her hand to her face in the manner of telling a secret. “I’ll deny I said this, but it was better than Lucille’s.”

Harper was pleased. “That’s high praise, indeed. I just added a little more of this or that. The recipes were, shall we say, loosely written.”

“Will you share the recipe?”

“Of course.”

Dora pursed her lips and shook her head. “Listen to us. I’m asking you for a recipe. Girl, you’ve really come a long way from the city girl who’d arrived last summer. Back then you needed my help with the garden, and you even asked me to teach you how to cook. Remember?” Dora shook her head. “Now look at you. Your garden is simply amazing and now I’m asking you for recipes. You never fail at anything, do you?”

Harper shifted her weight and looked at Dora with concern. The compliment had somehow morphed into something akin to an insult. “Dora, where’s this coming from?”

Dora looked away, embarrassed for her outburst. “Oh, Lord, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. I admire you. I do. I guess I’m just feeling a bit insecure.”

“Why?” Harper’s voice filled with empathy. “Everything is dovetailing for you. You passed your real estate exam. You’re a bona fide real estate agent!”

“Probationary,” Dora amended. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she said, sidestepping a discussion of Devlin. “I’m just a little nervous. New job and all.” She looked down at her sleeping son. Her heart bloomed with love for him. “Nate is my biggest success,” she said softly.

“Dora, is it so wonderful to be a mother?”

“Oh, yes. There are no words.”

Harper’s eyes grew wider and shining in the soft light. “If I tell you something, you have to promise not to tell anyone.”

Dora, always loving a good secret, perked right up. “I promise.”

“I’m pregnant!” Harper blurted out.

“What!” Dora squealed. She slapped her hand across her mouth and cast a wary glance at Nate. He stirred but remained asleep. She reached out to hug Harper. They rocked back and forth with sisterly joy in the shared moment.

The mood shot skyward as they walked to the two upholstered chairs and settled in, feet tucked under their thighs, leaning toward each other.

“Does anyone know?”

“Only Taylor. And now you. I’m so glad I told you. I have so many questions and you’re the only one I could ask.”

Dora felt smugly happy that she was the one Harper confided in. She felt the bond between them strengthen, and this helped her feel better about herself. She cupped her chin in her hand, eager to hear every word, her mind whirling with advice she could share.

Neither of them would go to bed for quite a while.

Chapter Seven

Weddings bring out the best and the worst in people. You can’t believe what people say and do—to their own family members—under normal circumstances. It’s not wise to expose a long-held family secret into the mix.

Atticus was on his way to the lowcountry. He had struggled with this decision ever since he’d read his mother’s cryptic letter from the grave. The terra firma of his life had been shaken, and a huge hole had been punched in his identity. He’d prayed on the subject, talked to his pastor, then, with his blessing, packed his truck and whizzed east to find answers to the questions. Pros and cons whirled in his head as he passed by the green fields and long stretches of white fences of the Augusta horse country, then crossed the Savannah River. Traffic was light and he was making good time. By the time he reached Columbia, South Carolina, and the signs heralded Charleston, his rationalizations had blown away with the light breeze. He began looking forward to his first visit to Charleston in years.

Though this was far from a pleasure trip. He had a lot of facts to dig up, people to meet, and soul-searching to do. He needed to learn more about this Parker Muir—a stranger to him. When his mother died, he’d thought he was alone in this world. Now he’d learned he had a living grandmother, Marietta Muir, and if the Internet was to be believed, three half sisters.

Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance