After breakfast the next morning, Currie walked into the art class and found Ward Darrow sitting at one of the tables. Avery sat across from him, red-cheeked and shiny-eyed from the bird watching expedition that Saffron led each morning at sunrise. Two early risers. Currie had seen Ward outside working on the grill by the lake before breakfast. Okay, she’d looked for him, but it was only out of habit. She used to glance at her dad while she cooked breakfast for their guests.
She was surprised to see Ward in an art class. He didn’t strike her as the type. “Yesterday, we started drawing and working the pottery wheels,” she told him. “Is there anything special that interests you?”
“The brochure listed wood working, burning, and carving.”
“I teach those after supper tonight.” A short, blunt answer. What was wrong with her? But every time she was around Ward, she felt tongue-tied or stupid.
Blunt didn’t seem to bother him. “I thought if I could learn to make a few simple designs, I could carve them into benches and things I build, or burn them, whichever would look best.”
“Fair enough. Give me a minute to get the others started on their projects, and then we’ll find some designs for you.” She helped Trisha and Mandy arrange wildflowers in a vase to sketch and threw mud on the pottery wheel for Russ before asking, “Anything specific?”
“Show me a few and I’ll know more what I’m looking for,” Ward said.
She showed him stencils for curved Grecian style motifs, an ivy pattern, and a flowery design. Standing so close to him, she could smell the masculine scent he exuded. She could sense his strength. Her heightened awareness caught her off guard.
For his part, Ward seemed oblivious to everything but the stencils she showed him. “The ivy will work. I thought I could chisel a design on the mantel I’m building for the outdoor fireplace.”
“A mantel? You must have added to the original blueprint.”
“Why not? If I treat the wood, it should last a long time.”
Why not indeed? Her father loved working with wood. He’d built the benches and outdoor furniture on the patios. She gave Ward different sizes of chisels, and he practiced carving on an aged rectangle of pine. His concentration never wavered, even though he distracted her more than she liked. After class, Currie tried to push him from her mind while she and Thora made two quick soups, a big salad, and breadsticks for their guests’ lunch. By the time Currie was ready to teach her cooking class, she’d convinced herself that Ward Darrow was a sop for her grieving and nothing more.
Still, she would have been more than happy to see him in the kitchen, ready to spend another hour and a half with her. Instead, Avery came to the class and got underfoot again. She’d chosen a simple, quick lesson for the day. A good thing, since Brent came to hang around with Thora and turned into every bit as much of a nuisance as Avery. Between the two men, Currie was tempted to use her wooden spoons to whack them on their heads.
“We’re going to cook skinless, boneless chicken breasts,” she said, forcing herself to be pleasant as Avery breathed down her neck. “Half of you will make them with garlic, rosemary, and lemon. The other half will use chipotle, cumin, and cilantro. That way, you can see how much difference flavorings can make.” When they finished the chicken, she got them started on stuffed baked potatoes with ham, peas, and gruyere.
“No fish?” Teri asked. “I love eating it, and I’m determined to make Leann a convert, but I never know what to do with it.”
“Thora and I were going to cook it after class, but if you want to help me, Thora can start the Greek salad.” AND she had an ulterior motive. If Currie worked with the two women, she could avoid Avery. She felt a tiny bit guilty when he seemed so desperate for attention, but his clinginess got on her nerves.
“I’ll help Thora,” Brent said. And before she could protest, he started chopping romaine while Thora sliced cucumbers. Currie busied herself showing Teri and Leann how to make tilapia with diced tomatoes, onions, and black olives. Avery glanced over now and then, but Trisha, who came for her first cooking class, kept him busy with the potatoes.
“Hurry it up,” Trisha told him. “You’re as slow as my mom, and she’s almost eighty.”
Currie watched Brent and Thora tease and laugh with each other while they worked. There was nothing romantic about it. They were more like buddies. Nothing to worry about.
While Teri and Leann put the fish in a low-temperature oven to keep it warm, she glanced out the window and saw Emeralda working with Ward. The sprite tossed her long, dark hair and laughed at something Ward said, and for the first time, Currie saw Emeralda as a woman instead of simply as a friend. Currie glanced at Thora, whose stomach was beginning to bulge. She and Emeralda were about the same age. Was there a specific time when a sprite felt the urge to mate? When that time came, was she more attractive to males? Did they sense it somehow?
“Is that it?” Teri asked, looking around the kitchen.
Currie blinked back to the present. “Everything’s done. Dinner’s ready, thanks to all of you. Take a break and enjoy yourselves.”
“If you’ve finished everything, would you like to walk one of the nature trails with me?” Avery asked, coming up beside her.
“Sorry, Thora and I still have to make tonight’s dessert.” She gave a meaningful look to Brent. “We have to get busy.”
“I was hoping. . .” Avery started.
There was no use encouraging him. “If you’re restless,” Currie said, “Brie’s in the sewing room, supervising games.”
“Games?” He looked interested.
“Bridge, chess, mah jong--whatever strikes peoples’ fancies.”
“I love chess.”
“You won’t stand a chance against Brie. No one beats her.”
His eyebrow went up. “Is that so? We’ll just have to see about that.” And he strode off purposefully.
Currie sighed, and Thora laughed. “Shame on you, sicking him on your sister. Maybe you’re writing him off when you shouldn’t. Maybe he’s the perfect man for you.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You should blend into something and test it.”
“Come again?” Brent looked from Currie to Thora and back again.
Thora shrugged. “It’s a little test we girls use on the island.”
“I don’t want to,” Currie said.
Brent patted her arm. “Then he’s not the right one.”
Currie glanced out the kitchen window and saw Emeralda sitting close to Ward, both gazing across the lake. They looked good together with their dark coloring. As she watched, Price came to join them, and Ward got up to leave. Pretty soon, Emeralda left too. Price stayed on the grassy shore, but his back was ramrod straight. He reached for one small stone after another and skipped them across the water. When he got up to leave, he walked to the neat stack of rocks that Ward had collected and gave them a solid kick, toppling them over.
Thora and Brent watched the little tableau play out, too, and Thora gave a low whistle. “Somebody has a temper.”
“Somebody has an attitude,” Brent said. “It’s Price’s way or the highway.”
“What makes you say that?” Currie asked.
“Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to cross him.”
“He’s been rubbed raw emotionally,” Currie said. “That’s why he’s here.”
“Maybe, but you could even hurt yourself on the man’s smile, as far as I’m concerned,” Brent said.
Currie watched Price walk toward his cabin and disappear. She remembered his caricature--black and white. No grays. She was glad that she’d made a habit of sitting with him at meals. It would be easier to keep an eye on him.