Ward helped Currie carry a huge stock pot out to the beach for cooking class that day.
“You look like you’re feeling better now,” he said. “Did you work out what was bothering you?”
“No, but I have a better idea what I need to do.” She’d never had so many things go wrong, and they’d all happened at the same time. She’d lost her dad. Emeralda was miffed with her. One of their guests was dangerous. And every time she was around Ward, she liked him more.
“I get it. You’re not going to tell me, and that's probably good, but remember that I’m here for you if you need me.”
Her breath caught. How could Ward affect her so much? No mortal, other than her dad, had ever made that offer. “I appreciate it. I really do.”
“But you hope you don’t have to take me up on it.” His voice grew rough. “I hope everything works out for you, but if it doesn't . . .well, I'm here. You'll always have a shoulder to cry on.”
“I’ve already dumped on you enough.” She wrung her hands. “You’re supposed to be having a relaxing, wonderful month, and we’ve had one problem after another.”
"And I'm not Price."
She frowned. What did Price have to do with it?
“Sorry. Let's let that go. it’s a beautiful day. I’m with a beautiful woman. Let’s just drop it and enjoy ourselves.”
She searched for a new topic, something inconsequential. “Once you get the outdoor grill done, we won’t have to cart everything out here to cook. It’s fun to do a seafood boil once in a while.”
He visibly relaxed. “It’s getting there. The base is finished. You could probably use it now, but the chimney’s pretty short.”
“You had to interrupt your work to fix the ferry.”
He shrugged. He had broad shoulders. Currie was distracted for a moment. He noticed and smiled. “What else do you need, Currie?”
She gulped down a reply. No, she couldn’t go there. She looked out over the waves that lapped the shoreline. “A fire.” But one was already flaming inside her. “It’s a perfect day for the beach. Cooking class will start soon, and we need the flames to die down before we put the pot over the hot wood.”
Was she rambling? He gave her a long, steady look. Did he feel the flames, too?
They didn’t talk much while they piled wood in a circle on the sand and lit tinder under them. When they returned to the kitchen, Teri and Leann were cleaning clams, Mandy was working on a huge garden salad, and Thora and Brent were making miniature cheesecakes. Avery diced watermelon and cantaloupes with a dreamy look on his face, off in his own world.
Ward grabbed a bowl and motioned her to a far corner. He stirred while Currie threw the ingredients for cornbread together.
“Price and Emeralda have disappeared again. Are you going to be okay?”
“Okay?” She frowned at him. “I wish Em were a little more worried about her safety, but she’s not. I tried to talk to her, but that only made her mad.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
She blinked. What did he mean?
He blew out a frustrated sigh. “I’d rather not hear about it, but you’re not going to go all sulky on me again, are you?”
“Over Emeralda? I just hope she doesn’t get hurt.”
Ward frowned. “How damned generous are you?”
“Emeralda’s my friend . . .”
He didn’t let her finish. “You sound like Sheeley and me. Do you have any passion for Price or not?”
“What are you talking about?”
They stood glaring at each other. Ward finally spoke slowly and carefully. “I thought you were interested in Price.”
“Price?” How could he think that? Didn’t he know how much she was attracted to him?
“I was thinking that maybe you and I...I mean, sometimes it seems...” He hesitated. “I know we haven’t known each other very long. Everything’s happening sort of fast, and then you got so upset when you saw Price and Emeralda together, and Price told me that you were attracted to him, so I thought..” He stopped and shook his head. “I don’t know what I thought. Everything’s a jumble.”
She stared, every bit as confused as he was. “No. Not Price. He read me wrong. He’s not my type.” Had Price told Emeralda the same thing? That Currie had a thing for him? Was that one of the reasons that Emeralda blew up at her? And what in the world would make Price think that?
Ward poured the cornbread into a pan and pushed it in the oven. “Don’t you need some herbs for whatever you’re cooking? I could help you pick some.”
“Herbs?” Could she sound more like a parrot--or more dim-witted?
“From the garden, where we’d be alone…so we could talk.”
Alone? What did he need to tell her? “Oh, sure, I must need some kind of herb. Bring the scissors.”
Ward shook his head. “Don’t you ever listen to me about safety? Scissors could be used as a weapon, you know.”
She sighed with impatience. If she didn’t get to hear what he wanted to say, she’d explode. “Bring the small ones then, but let’s go.”
Ward made a big show of clipping herbs while she let Thumper play. “Okay, let’s start this slow. No more misunderstandings. If Price was wrong about you, what IS your type?”
“I’ve never really thought about it.”
“What kind of guys have you fallen for before?”
“Not one man?” He couldn’t hide his surprise.
“I compare everyone to my dad. If a man didn’t measure up to him, I wouldn’t be interested.”
“Tough competition. So, what was your dad like?”
“Strong in a quiet kind of way. Dependable. Kind. Wise.” Just like you, she wanted to say, but bit her lip to keep from sounding pathetic.
“Do you ever leave this island?” Ward asked.
“I could. We have a two week break between guests’ visits. I’ve gone to stay with cousins in Canada a few times, but not very often. I like it here.”
“Have you ever been to Michigan?”
“That’s where you live, right?”
“It’s wonderful there. I think you’d like it.”
Was this going where she thought it was? Was Ward asking her to visit his home? Pictures of meeting his parents and friends darted through her mind, but then she shook her head. “I’d probably love it, but I can never move away from this island.”
“It’s my life. It’s what I’m supposed to do.” She sighed. “That’s probably how you feel about Michigan and being a firefighter.”
“I felt that way when my brother was alive, that I needed to be there to help my parents. But now, things have changed. I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t do something that helped people, but that leaves a lot of options.” He stood and moved close to her. She wanted to reach out and touch him. She could feel his body heat, sense his passion. “I know you’re tied to this island somehow. I’ve gotten that. But does running the island mean that you need to be a spinster?”
Currie’s heart beat so fast, she felt lightheaded. “No, but if I met a man and wanted to be with him, he’d have to move here.”
Ward looked around at the lush landscape and blue sky. “That doesn’t sound like such a terrible compromise.”
“You’d really leave Michigan?”
“It would be a hard choice. I’d have to have powerful motivation.” He stepped closer to take her in his arms when Thora’s voice called from the kitchen.
“Hey, you two! Everything’s ready to take to the beach. Do you have enough herbs yet?”
Ward stepped back from Currie and let out a deep breath. “Damn it!”
“You were saying. . .” Currie coaxed.
“For the right woman, I could be motivated.”
“Should we go ahead without you?” Thora called.
“We’re coming!” Ward scooped up Thumper and stalked toward the kitchen. Currie followed, but she felt as if she were floating, like her feet skipped on thin air.