A grouchy, bleary-eyed Currie wobbled to the kitchen, grateful that she’d taken breads out of the freezer to thaw the night before--pumpkin, banana nut, and zucchini, along with two apple pork teatime pies. She put the pies in the oven to bake and downed a quick cup of coffee. Where was Thora? She was probably tired and overslept, just as she had.
By the time Currie finished making the fruit salad, she had to hurry into the dining room to start the coffee urn and set up drinks. She heard a blue jay calling, then more jays. Something was wrong. She dropped what she was doing and ran into the kitchen. She didn’t see anyone or anything outside the French doors. As she rushed into the garden, the birds quieted down. A false alarm? Currie waited a minute, listening, but the birds were still. Where was Thora???? Gruesome images filled her mind. She pushed them away, but they crept back again and again. What if her friend needed her? What if she were hurt? Bleeding? Dying? If breakfast was late, too bad! Currie ran to Thora’s cottage to check on her.
A wolf stepped from the bushes as she approached the cottage door and let her pass. When she knocked on the door, she sighed with relief when Thora cried, “It’s open.”
Currie stepped inside. The cottage was light and airy with white walls and cupboards, sofas and chairs--all complemented by blue accent pieces.
“In here!” Thora called.
Currie found her in the bathroom, kneeling over the toilet.
“It’s not morning sickness,” Thora said. “The clams didn’t agree with the baby. I never want to see a clam again.”
Thank goodness! Thora was sick, but all right. Currie leaned against the bathroom wall. “Can I get you something? Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No, I’m going to live, but I’m worthless this morning. Are you going to be okay without me?”
“Then leave me alone to suffer and go do your thing. Tell Brent he can bring me juice when he comes later. I hope I can drink it by then.”
Currie hesitated, and Thora turned her head to look at her. “You were worried about me, weren’t you?”
“I heard blue jays crying. . .”
“That’s so sweet.” Thora meant to say more, but her coloring turned a sickly greenish hue and she pressed a hand to her mouth. “Get out of here. Hurry! I don’t want you to stand over me while I heave.”
Currie said thank you prayers on her walk back to the lodge. She was so relieved that Thora was safe, it took her a while to realize that none of them had ever been sick before. Was it because Thora now had a mortal in her belly? Did mortals get sick often? She was following the curved path out of the lemon grove when she saw Price headed toward Emeralda’s cabin. Em opened her door and motioned for her wolf to leave. A little farther and Currie saw Saffron on the patio, chatting with a few people after her bird watching lesson. Mandy left the group to start work on the flower bed on the far side of the lodge. Alone. A blue jay sat on the stone wall, watching her.
Currie glanced at the clock as she slid back into the kitchen. Geez! She had to hurry. She started to grab food to carry to the buffet while she complained to Thumper. “Can you believe what a morning this has been?” But when she turned to look at him, his pen was empty.
Blood drained from her body. Her arms felt cold. She was hurrying out the French doors to look for him when Ward wandered into the garden with the rabbit in his arms. Trembling, Thumper nuzzled against Ward’s chest, his head pressed under his chin. Ward talked to him in a soft voice, stroking his fur over and over again.
Currie flew to them. “Where was he? I was so worried. I. . .”
Ward handed the rabbit to her, and she hugged Thumper close. “I was working on the fireplace by the lake. He came tearing across the meadow to me, scared half to death by the looks of him.”
“I brought him down with me this morning and put him in his pen.” She couldn’t help it. Tears streaked her cheeks, and she brushed them away. “I don’t know how he got out.”
Ward stooped to study the sturdy wooden structure. “No holes, no gaps.”
“Thora’s sick. I had to go into the dining room to set up the table, and then I heard the blue jays. I got worried about Thora, so….” Her voice was rising with panic. “Someone took him out of his pen while I was in the dining room. That’s what the blue jays were calling about.” And she hadn’t noticed. What kind of protector was she?
“Whoever took Thumper must have let him loose when the birds made such a racket,” Ward said. “They stopped calling when they knew Thumper was safe.”
Currie went to the knife rack on the counter top. The butcher knife was gone. Her legs felt rubbery, and she dropped onto the stool by the counter.
Ward was next to her in a second. “It’s all right. Thumper’s all right. The birds protected him. Your system works.”
Tears gushed, and Ward wrapped comforting arms around her. They didn’t say anything. He just held her until Saffron poked her head in the kitchen. “People are coming. There are still a few spots left empty on the buffet table. Is everything all right?”
“She’s had a bad scare,” Ward said. “Here. You stay with her, and I’ll finish breakfast.” He carried the rest of the food out to the buffet. “Is that it?” he asked on his last trip into the kitchen. He kissed the top of Currie’s head. “I love you, but you look a mess. Everyone will know that you’ve been crying. If you want to hide in here for a while, I’ll cover for you.”
A bubble of happiness expanded in her chest. Ward just said that he loved her.
“Stay with her a while, will you?” he asked Saffron on his way to the door.
“No sweat.” Saffron poured herself a cup of coffee. “Want to tell me about it?”
“I almost lost Thumper.”
When Ward stepped into the dining room, Currie heard Ted ask about her, and she heard Ward’s reply. “The clams weren’t kind to Thora last night. Currie’s checking on her.”
“He’s good,” Saffron said. “A keeper.”
“Are you going to meld with something to see if he sees you?”
She nodded. If Ward saw her, he was the one.
Saffron grabbed Currie’s hand and led her into the garden. “Okay, you’ve calmed down a little. What happened with Thumper?”
The words spilled out as Currie told Saffron about Thumper and the missing butcher knife. When she finished, Saffron went inside and came back with a handful of peanuts. She scattered them in the garden for the blue jays. “And you can quit clinging to that poor rabbit. You’re squashing him.”
Currie reluctantly let Thumper go. He hopped up and down the paths, but never strayed out of sight. When her own personal blue jay landed nearby to guard them, Currie put a few extra peanuts on her knee. “Thank you,” she told the bird.
It cocked its head and studied her with its bright black eyes, then took a peanut and hopped down to the ground to crack its shell.
Saffron gave Currie plenty of time before she led the conversation back to Ward. Then they talked about Brie and Avery. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for all of you,” Saffron said. “But I can’t help being envious too. I feel like I’m missing out. It feels like I’m doomed to be the one and only old maid on the island.”
“You’ll meet someone when you least expect to. I’m starting to think life likes to throw surprises at people.”
“Shows what we know. It felt like we had things under control for so many years, and then wham! All of a sudden, we’re blitzed.”
They both looked up to smile at Emeralda as she came toward them with a basket of apricots.
Em stopped and raised her eyebrows. “Are you two talking about me?”
“Yeah, and it was nothing good.” Saffron laughed.
Emeralda dropped the basket and put her hands on her hips. “So now you’re going to give me grief too? What is it with you nymphs? Do you all think you’re better than everyone else?”
Saffron stared. “I was teasing you. We were talking about Thumper and the problems we’ve had lately.”
“Sure you were. You were just wondering if Price is as good in bed as he looks. And the answer is, he’s better.”
“In bed?” Saffron shook her head. “That’s more information than I needed.”
“That’s what you’ve been dying to know, isn’t it? If Price and I have had hot, dirty sex?”
“Have you?” Saffron met her gaze. “Does that mean that he saw you when you joined with a tree?”
“I didn’t make him pass some idiotic test. I like him. I don’t care whether he sees me or not.”
“Then it will surprise all of us if we have another pregnant woman on the island, including you,” Saf said.
“Is that how you judge a man? By whether he can make a baby or not?”
“What’s your problem?” Saffron stood and faced her. Em was messing with the wrong sister. Her copper hair should have been a warning. “You’re just looking for a fight. You’re the one who got all defensive and accused us of talking about you when we weren’t. Someone took Thumper and stole a butcher knife this morning. THAT’S what we were talking about. Not you.”
“You can say whatever you want. You don’t approve of Price and me.”
“I’m not your mother. You don’t need my approval, but all of a sudden, you’ve got one heck of a chip on your shoulder. I’m your friend, and you know it. So give me a break.”
“That’s like saying I’m a twit, but you still like me. Thanks a heap.”
Saffron grinned. “You’re welcome.”
Em glared. “Don’t you think it’s a little pathetic that we all moon around on this island, waiting to enjoy life, because we’re supposed to be fulfilled performing some big, important mission?”
“No, I believe in what we do.”
“Well, Price thinks we’re downright pitiful, and he just might be right. What good is a paradise if you’re stuck in it?”
“I’ve never felt stuck.”
“Well, maybe I do.” Em turned and stomped away. The sisters looked at each other.
“I take it the island wasn’t what Price expected,” Saffron said. “But what’s wrong with Em? I pushed buttons I didn’t even know were there.”
Currie told her about her own run-in with her. “Thora thinks she’s jealous, that she wants a baby.”
“With just anybody?”
“I think so, but it doesn’t work that way with us. The man has to be right.”
Saffron shook her head. “I really stuck my foot in it, didn’t I, talking about her getting pregnant.”
“It’s a sore point right now.”
“But the rules were set up to protect us,” Saffron said.
The word “protect” made Currie think about her scare earlier that morning. “We usually don’t have to think about it. The island’s always been in balance, but Em’s been acting strange lately, and someone took Thumper and a butcher knife. He needed to kill again.”
“Or she,” Saffron said thoughtfully, watching Em disappear into the woods. “Maybe there’s a reason that Em’s not afraid.”
“No, a sprite could never harm something in nature.”
“A sprite isn’t supposed to sleep with a man who doesn’t see her either. Em doesn’t follow the rules.”
“Breaking rules and killing are two different things. A sprite couldn’t do it.”
“Don’t find yourself alone with Em,” Saffron said, getting to her feet as Ward came out to the garden. “And it’s time you melded with something and found out about you and Ward.”
“What if he doesn’t see me?” Currie asked.
“Then he’s not the right one.” She started for the kitchen. “Are there any leftovers? I’m starving.”
“I saved a plate for you. It’s on the stove.”
“You’re a good man.” Saffron hurried in for food.
“That looked serious,” Ward said once he was alone with Currie.
She studied him. “Saffron agrees with me that Thumper ran to you so that you’d save him. That means that you can’t be the person who took him. And that means that I can trust you.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” She bent forward and kissed him.
Ward took a deep breath. “But there’s more, isn’t there? There’s something else.”
“There’s one more thing, a sort of test you have to pass.”
“Does it involve bleeding or losing a pound of flesh?”
“No.” She looked shocked.
He grinned. “Then we’ll get to it when the time’s right. For now, I volunteered to help clean the kitchen. I could use two more hands.”
“Good. Thora’s still shaky and Em’s in a mood.” She followed him inside.
He went to the sink and filled it with hot, soapy water. “What needs to be done first?”
As they worked together, Currie’s spirits soared. Just being with Ward made her feel better. But Saffron was right. It was time she melded with something and knew for sure if Ward was the one. The sooner, the better.