Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(3)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(3)
Mary Alice Monroe

She propped the thick card up against the crystal vase of flowers on the marble breakfast table. Her mother insisted that all the rooms of their prewar condo overlooking Central Park always have fresh flowers. Georgiana had grown up at her family estate in England, where this had been de rigueur. Harper’s gaze lazily shifted from the invitation to the park outside her window. Spring had come to Central Park, changing the stark browns and grays of winter to an explosion of spring green. In her mind’s eye, however, the scene shifted to the greening cordgrass in the wetlands of the lowcountry, the snaking creeks dotted with docks, and the large, waxy white magnolia blooms against glossy green leaves.

Her feelings for her Southern grandmother were like the waterway that raced behind Sea Breeze—deep, and swelling with happy memories. In the invitation Mamaw had referred to her “Summer Girls.” That was a term Harper hadn’t heard—had not even thought about—in over a decade. She hadn’t been but twelve years old when she spent her last summer at Sea Breeze. How many times had she seen Mamaw in all those years? It surprised Harper to realize it had been only three times.

There had been so many invitations sent to her in those intervening years. So many regrets returned. Harper felt a twinge of shame as she pondered how she could have let so many years pass without paying Mamaw a visit.

“Harper? Where are you?” a voice called from the hall.

Harper coughed on a crumb of dry toast.

“Ah, there you are,” her mother said, walking into the kitchen.

Georgiana James never merely entered a room; she arrived. There was a rustle of fabric and an aura of sparks of energy radiating around her. Not to mention her perfume, which was like the blare of trumpets entering the room before her. As the executive editor of a major publishing house, Georgiana was always rushing—to meet a deadline, to meet someone for lunch or dinner, or to another in a string of endless meetings. When Georgiana wasn’t rushing off somewhere she was ensconced behind closed doors reading. In any case, Harper had seen little of her mother growing up. Now, at twenty-eight years of age, she worked as her mother’s private assistant. Though they lived together, Harper knew that she needed to make an appointment with her mother for a chat.

“I didn’t expect you to still be here,” Georgiana said, pecking her cheek.

“I was just leaving,” Harper replied, catching the hint of censure in the tone. Georgiana’s pale blue tweed jacket and navy pencil skirt fitted her petite frame impeccably. Harper glanced down at her own sleek black pencil skirt and gray silk blouse, checking for any loose thread or missing button that her mother’s hawk eye would pick up. Then, in what she hoped was a nonchalant move, she casually reached for the invitation that she’d foolishly propped up against the glass vase of flowers.

Too late.

“What’s that?” Georgiana asked, swooping down to grasp it. “An invitation?”

Harper’s stomach clenched and, not replying, she glanced up at her mother’s face. It was a beautiful face, in the way that a marble statue was beautiful. Her skin was as pale as alabaster, her cheekbones prominent, and her pale red hair was worn in a blunt cut that accentuated her pointed chin. There was never a strand out of place. Harper knew that at work they called her mother “the ice queen.” Rather than be offended, Harper thought the name fit. She watched her mother’s face as she read the invitation, saw her lips slowly tighten and her blue eyes turn frosty.

Georgiana’s gaze snapped up from the card to lock with Harper’s. “When did you get this?”

Harper was as petite as her mother and she had her pale complexion. But unlike her mother’s, Harper’s reserve was not cold but more akin to the stillness of prey.

Harper cleared her throat. Her voice came out soft and shaky. “Today. It came in the morning mail.”

Georgiana’s eyes flashed and she tapped the card against her palm with a snort of derision. “So the Southern belle is turning eighty.”

“Don’t call her that.”

“Why not?” Georgiana asked with a light laugh. “It’s the truth, isn’t it?”

“It isn’t nice.”

“Defensive, are we?” Georgiana said with a teasing lilt.

“Mamaw writes that she’s moving,” Harper said, changing the subject.

“She’s not fooling anyone. She’s tossing out that comment like bait to draw you girls in for some furniture or silver or whatever she has in that claptrap beach house.” Georgiana sniffed. “As if you’d be interested in anything she might call an antique.”

Harper frowned, annoyed by her mother’s snobbishness. Her family in England had antiques going back several hundred years. That didn’t diminish the lovely American antiques in Mamaw’s house, she thought. Not that Harper wanted anything. In truth, she was already inheriting more furniture and silver than she knew what to do with.

“That’s not why she’s invited us,” Harper argued. “Mamaw wants us all to come together again at Sea Breeze, one last time. Me, Carson, Dora . . .” She lifted her slight shoulders. “We had some good times there. I think it might be nice.”

Georgiana handed the invitation back to Harper. She held it between two red-tipped fingers as though it were foul. “Well, you can’t go, of course. Mum and a few guests are arriving from England the first of June. She’s expecting to see you in the Hamptons.”

“Mamaw’s party is on the twenty-sixth of May and Granny James won’t arrive until the following week. It shouldn’t be a problem. I can go to the party and be in the Hamptons in plenty of time.” Harper hurried to add, “I mean, it is Mamaw’s eightieth birthday after all. And I haven’t seen her in years.”

Harper saw her mother straighten her shoulders, her nostrils flaring as she tilted her chin, all signs Harper recognized as pique.

“Well,” Georgiana said, “if you want to waste your time, go ahead. I’m sure I can’t stop you.”

Harper pushed away her plate, her stomach clenching at the warning implicit in the statement: If you go I will not be pleased. Harper looked down at the navy-trimmed invitation and rubbed her thumb against the thick vellum, feeling its softness. She thought again of the summers at Sea Breeze, of Mamaw’s amused, tolerant smile at the antics of the Summer Girls.

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