“There has to be someone.” His dad held up his hands. “I know, I sound a little old-fashioned, but Summer deserves respect. I doubt she’s been afforded that for much of her life.”
Gabriel considered the few people Summer spent time with—Jemma Leigh, Blackbeard, her customers, and him. “The only person I can think of is Jemma Leigh. She’s been looking after her, and making sure that I get her home on time after every date, because a lady’s never out past midnight.”
His dad chuckled. “I like Jemma Leigh. She has a good heart.”
“She’s made it her mission to be Summer’s best friend, but more often than not acts like a mother hen.”
“There’s your answer, son.”
“What about Mom?”
“She loves weddings, and will be happy to help Summer plan—”
“The wedding will happen before the end of the month.” Gabriel mulled over his next words. “Summer and I have talked about getting married before, and neither of us wants a long engagement.”
His dad stopped rocking. “Gabriel.”
Oh, good grief. He gave his dad a look. “She’s not… I didn’t put her or us in that position.”
“You know what people will think.”
“Ah, but you’d be surprised how much it will matter.” His dad exhaled. “You’re a good man, Gabriel, but you do value your reputation too highly.”
The assertion hit a little too close to home for him. “With the exception of one time, I’ve done nothing but be a good son to you, to prove that you two didn’t make a bad decision when I was adopted. You’re a pastor, for goodness sake. My reputation is a reflection of yours.”
“That’s not your responsibility,” his dad said sharply. “Being a man of God who keeps his words and promises, loves his friends as well as his enemies, as well as lays down his life for the one he marries—that’s your responsibility. Your mother and I loved you from the start, and for you to suggest it was based on how good you were or are…Frankly, it’s an insult, and one a grown man shouldn’t give to the people who raised him.”
Immediately chastised, Gabriel settled back in his chair, scrubbing his hand over his face. “I didn’t mean to—I only meant to say that I don’t care what others think of me. The only opinion that matters the most is Summer’s.”
His dad smiled. “See that you keep thinking like that, and I’ll talk to your mother.”
“Talk to me about what?” Gloria asked as she stepped outside.
Gabriel could let his dad smooth things over, or he could be a man and tell his mother his plans. Besides, it wasn’t as if Summer would say no.
“I’m going to ask Summer to marry me and,” he swallowed, “if all goes well, then we would get married before the end of the month.”
“Oh.” Worry lines appeared on his mother’s forehead.
“Nothing elaborate. Just here, in the backyard, with family. I thought we could do something low-key.” Besides, weddings took time, and since they had very little time, the smaller the better.
“Absolutely not,” his mother exclaimed. “That girl will have a dream wedding, with the entire town invited. We won’t hide Summer in the backyard, like we’re ashamed of her. ”
“I’m not ashamed of her,” Gabriel snapped, then held up his hand and winced. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.” She touched his face and smiled. “Let us take care of everything, with her input of course.”
“She might not let you,” Gabriel pointed out.
His dad chuckled. “When has that stopped your mother?”
Gabriel stood. “I’ll let you know how it goes first, before you start planning.”
“Of course,” his mother said smoothly. “Then we can get started.”
Smiling, Gabriel shook his head. “Thank you.”
“It’s what family does,” his dad said softly.
Summer kept quiet as long as she could before she finally blurted, “What did you and Gabriel talk about at lunch today?”
Jemma Leigh took a sip of her coffee, her eyes sparkling. “A little of this and a lot of that.”
Summer sat back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest, and trying her best to pin Jemma Leigh with a dirty look, but she couldn’t keep it for long.
She and Jemma Leigh had made it a habit to meet each other at Muffin Top’s at least twice a week. At the rate they were eating muffins, Summer might have to buy an entirely new wardrobe in a larger size. To compensate, she took long walks, ate light lunches, and had her standard bowl of cereal for supper—unless Gabriel took her out on a date.
“You can stare at me until there’s a hole in my head, but I’m not saying anything.”
“At least tell me if it was a good thing or a bad thing.”
Jemma Leigh grinned. “That all depends on you, sugar.”
“I got your sugar,” Summer muttered as Jemma Leigh waved at a group of women. Every single one of them waved back. Was there anyone is this town she didn’t know? Then again, Jemma Leigh’s mother was the former mayor of Holland Springs, so it was probably her job to know who people were.
“I’ll be coming by tomorrow evening to get you ready. I’m thinking pearls and—”
“You don’t have to fuss over me like you do,” Summer said, thinking of all the time Jemma Leigh had spent away from her family to help her. All the times she and Jemma Leigh would talk and laugh… Okay, so Jemma Leigh did most of the talking and laughing, but, for once, Summer felt like she was part of a group, even if their group was only a duo.
“It’s fun, and you’re such a good listener, though I wish you would talk more, but like sister like sister, I guess,” Jemma Leigh sighed.
“You and Rose are really good friends?” Was she a substitute for Rose? Summer didn’t want to be a substitute for anyone. It was bad enough she had convinced Gabriel to marry her, when he should marry for love and to someone who deserved a man like him.
“Well, I wouldn’t call us really good friends. The only person Rose opens up to is Alexander, but since he’s her husband, I can’t be put out by that. You probably won’t believe me, but when I was growing up, I used to envy you Holland sisters.”
Summer’s mouth dropped open, even as she kept a firm grip on her coffee cup. She absolutely couldn’t believe that. “Envy us?”