Harper made her way down the west hall, her gaze sweeping the rooms she passed to make certain all was ready. At the end of the hall was Carson’s bedroom, the largest of the girls’ rooms, with a spectacular view of the Cove. This had been Carson’s bedroom since she was four years old. Carson’s mother had died in a tragic fire, and Mamaw had stepped in to take care of the motherless girl. Mamaw had been more than a grandmother to Carson. She’d been the only mother Carson had ever known. Their relationship was uniquely special, and neither Harper nor Dora resented their bond . . . much. During the summers when the three young girls gathered at Sea Breeze, Carson naturally claimed her childhood room as her own. Harper had every intention of reassuring her sister that this hadn’t changed now that Harper owned Sea Breeze. Her sister would always have a place here.
Harper and everyone else were excited to welcome Carson home. But the elephant in the room that no one was mentioning was how Carson resented that her wealthy half sister could afford to purchase Sea Breeze—the only house that Carson had ever considered home.
Harper didn’t want any arguments or resentments to mar what she hoped would be a happy time for the family as the weddings approached. Satisfied that everything in the room was just as Carson had left it the previous September, Harper closed the door, reminding herself to add fresh flowers to the room before Carson arrived.
The second bedroom was smaller and faced the front of the house and the ancient live oak tree that shaded the house under its protective foliage. This was Dora’s room, one Harper had shared with her sister for a time. Pink and French in design, it suited their oldest sister. Now living in her own cottage on Sullivan’s Island, Dora didn’t need a bedroom at Sea Breeze. So Harper had decided she’d put Granny James here when she arrived in a few short weeks.
She entered the living room and paused. Carson would notice the changes here. The large, airy space with lots of large windows faced the front courtyard. Harper had freshened up the room a bit, making it younger in appeal with an icy-blue, and white-trim, palette. Mamaw’s Early American antiques had been placed into storage for Dora and Carson. Having assumed ownership of the house, Harper felt it only fair that her sisters receive the furniture. Besides, she was inheriting a boatload of antiques from her grandmother’s estate in England. More than Harper could ever use. She had selected a few favorites for Sea Breeze—the gorgeous secretary, several side tables, a dining-room table and chairs, and paintings. She’d purchased two new down-filled sofas. She’d spent a lifetime growing up with hard, creaky antiques and was determined to have a comfortable place to sit in her own home.
The thought never failed to take her breath away. Growing up, she’d been carted from one home to another depending on the season, complete with an assortment of faceless nannies. She’d never felt that any one of them was home.
Except for Sea Breeze. The historic house was so named because it sat perfectly situated, high and proud on the southern tip of the island, facing onshore Atlantic breezes from the front and the racing currents of the Cove in back. This house felt like home because of Mamaw’s consistent love and Harper’s sisters. And her ancestors. Memories were embedded in each nook and cranny of the house that went back more than a hundred years. Harper often felt the whisperings of the past when she wandered the halls, her fingertips delicately stroking the walls, the furniture, the glass.
This house—this place—had planted the seeds of her love for the lowcountry. A stirring passion that had bloomed with her love of Taylor. And, herself. Harper felt she belonged here. Here at Sea Breeze she’d discovered the strength of family. Continuity. Security. Harper was a wordsmith. And, as of last month, a soon-to-be-published novelist. She wanted to write books that shared her love of these words, their profound influences, and, of course, the lowcountry.
She caught her reflection in the large Venetian mirror. She saw the same slender, fair-skinned woman who had returned to the lowcountry the previous May. A clever but timid girl without direction. An obedient daughter seeking love. Her red hair was longer now, pulled loosely up in a clasp. Her eyes the same brilliant blue she shared with her sisters. But staring at herself Harper knew that she was not the same girl at all. She had grown up. She’d found her voice. And regardless of what Carson or Dora or anyone else might want or say or think, she was the mistress of Sea Breeze now. Soon to be a wife.
A short while later Harper was standing in the kitchen before the great Viking stove. A storm had blown in, coloring the sky a gunmetal gray. Looking out at the Cove, the choppy gray water mirrored the sky. A gusty wind whistled, rattling the windows. A cold front was moving fast over the island bringing with it icy rain. She shivered, feeling the damp to her bones. She looked in the nearby corner at Thor, Taylor’s behemoth of a black dog, part Labrador, mostly Great Dane. The dog would curl up on his cushion by the warmth of the oven in inclement weather.
“Don’t you worry, boy. The weather promises to be all blue skies tomorrow,” she told him. Thor raised his head to look at her with deep brown eyes, and his tail thumped the floor in a heavy staccato. “At least I hope so,” she muttered to herself. Carson couldn’t abide cold weather, either, and Harper wanted her sister to be in the best spirits possible.
Harper’s small hands moved quickly, efficiently, to add the sautéed okra, celery, bell pepper, garlic, onion, and chicken to the roux. She lowered her head and inhaled the scents, tracing a finger over the gumbo recipe on the counter. The old recipe was one of dozens created by the family’s former housekeeper, Lucille. They were handwritten on index cards and assorted sheets of paper. Yellowed and stained, some of the pencil lettering was so faint Harper could barely read them. She had spent months attempting to re-create the recipes as a gift to her sisters.
Thor’s head shot up, ears alert. In a leap he was on his feet, trotting to the door, his nails clicking on the hardwood floors. A moment later the door swung open and a gust of cold, wet air swept through the room.
“It’s colder than a witch’s tit out there.”
Harper turned at the sound of Taylor’s voice, a wide smile on her face. His tall, large frame filled the entryway. He carried a large green cooler in his arms. Thor whined with joy at his side, torn between greeting his master and sniffing the shellfish inside the cooler.
“You’re home late.”