He kept up his tour around the salon, idly looking at the veils, jewelry in glass cabinets, blingy belts, and other accoutrements while he waited. In the back of the salon, the door to an office was open. He peered in, more out of idle curiosity than anything else, and stopped short.

Hanging on a hook in the office was the gown he’d been wanting for Harper. Boldly he stepped into the office to look closer. The stunning, simply cut gown had pearls delicately beaded over Thai silk. A sheer bolero jacket of the same fabric buttoned at the neck and had an edged Peter Pan collar. The dress was very French. Very haute couture. Very Harper.

He picked it up, carried the dress to the fitting room in the back of the salon, and knocked gently.

Kate opened the door. Her eyes widened when she saw the dress in his hand. “That’s one of my new designs.”

“Can you show this to Harper?”

“I suppose.” Kate’s face was troubled. “It’s a sample, so it’s small and I don’t know if it can be altered. All that beadwork. But”—her eyes brightened—“it is a fit to flare. And Harper is small, even with her baby bump. It might work. What’s the point of being the owner if I can’t do as I think is best for my bride?”

Harper came to the door to see what all the discussion was about. When she saw the dress in Atticus’s hand, her face lit up. “Oh, I love it! I absolutely love it. That’s my dress!”

Several hours later, Atticus opened the door to Sea Breeze for Carson and Harper, then followed them single file indoors. The house was redolent with curry. His mouth watered as he followed the girls into the kitchen.

“Oh, Granny James!” Harper exclaimed. Immediately she launched into a vivid description of the dream dress that Atticus had found her, gesticulating wildly and pulling out her phone to flip through the dozens of pictures she’d taken.

“She’s one happy bride,” Carson remarked dully.

Atticus looked at her face. She was putting on a brave smile, but he wasn’t fooled. He’d known Carson wouldn’t find her dress at the salon today. What she was looking for couldn’t be found in any bridal salon.

“I’m going to go to my room for a while,” Carson told him. “I’m pretty tired. Stay for dinner, won’t you? It’s curry. Granny James is mad for it. She’s British, you know. Curry is mother’s milk to them. See you, then.” Carson turned and walked away down the hall.

When he was alone, Atticus turned and left the house to walk across the gravel drive to the cottage. Pansies filled pots by the door, cheerful and colorful. Two rockers sat side by side on the porch. Between them a book lay half-open on a small wooden table. Someone was home, he thought. He knocked gently on the door.

A moment later he heard footfalls and the door swung open.

“Atticus!” Marietta exclaimed, delight brightening her blue eyes. Her hair was pinned in a twist, as usual, and she was dressed for dinner with a blue linen tunic over tan pants. “Do come in. What a surprise.”

“Am I interrupting?”

“No, not at all. Girard likes to come over for a cocktail before dinner, so he might be by soon. You are joining us for dinner, aren’t you? Imogene has made curry.”

“I smelled it in the house and I can’t wait.”

“Can I offer you a drink?” Then, remembering, she added easily, “I have iced tea. I make it myself. With simple syrup, of course.”

“I’d love some.” He eyed the platter of cheeses laid out and his stomach growled. While Marietta went to fetch his drink, Atticus moved toward the cheese and helped himself to a thick slice of Camembert on a cracker. Chewing, he looked around the cottage. So this was the prize these two grandmothers were fighting for. It was nice enough, spare but cozy with its white-painted walls and white furniture. But hardly worth World War III. Over the fireplace he recognized the large, colorful painting dominating the wall as a Jonathan Green. Atticus was impressed.

“Here we are.” Marietta walked toward him with a glass of iced tea. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

He slid into a thick upholstered chair near the fireplace. Marietta poured herself a cocktail from the crystal pitcher. She came to join him in the chair opposite his.

“It’s a lovely space.”

“It is, isn’t it? Lowcountry on the outside, Santorini on the inside.” They shared a brief laugh. “The girls helped me decorate it after Lucille passed. It was very different when she lived here, chock-full of knickknacks. I probably would have left things the way they were, but those girls . . .” She shook her head. “Put them together and they’re a force of nature.”

“I’m beginning to understand that.”

“Are you?” she asked cautiously. She didn’t press the point. “I feel freer out here in my little cottage, detached from all the belongings I cared for all those years. Possessions can be a burden, you know. They distract from what’s important in life. Here I live like a monk. With certain privileges . . .” She hoisted her drink in the air. She laughed. “But I can walk across the drive to the big house and see everything in place, only now Harper has to tend to them. Big houses, like young children, belong to the young. It all takes so much energy.” She took a sip from her drink. “But I do go on. You’ve come here for a reason. I’m all ears.”

“Actually, I did want to talk to you about something. Do you know I went to LulaKate with Carson and Harper today?”

“No, I didn’t.” She clapped her hands together and laughed. “My goodness, dear, I’m afraid I just can’t picture you amidst all that lace and silk. Although, better you than me, I’m afraid. I made a rather poor showing in front of my granddaughters.”

“They told me about that. We all make mistakes, Marietta. I wouldn’t worry yourself over it. And the good news is, Harper’s found a new dress.”

“She isn’t keeping the other one? But didn’t she buy it already?”

“She’s going to sell it. Besides, I don’t think that’s an issue for her. She’s inside telling Imogene all about it. I’m sure you’ll get all the details over dinner.”

“That’s very good news. And Carson?”

Atticus paused. “Carson didn’t find anything there.”

Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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