While they fixed lunch together, Currie told Thora about Price’s comments to Mandy.
“Doesn’t surprise me that he showed his official Jerk colors.” Thora’s nimble fingers peeled boiled eggs for the Cobb salad. “Haven’t you noticed that nothing’s ever Price’s fault? His mother’s horrible, his sister’s a slut, his girlfriend had problems…”
“But all of those things are true.”
“I’m just saying that Price likes to point the finger at everyone else. Maybe his girlfriend was depressed because she lived with him.”
Currie gave a last stir to the cheesy salmon vegetable chowder. “Thora! Lyssa had a history of depression.”
“So why did she end up with Price--to punish herself?”
“Some people do that.” But it made Currie think. She decided to ask Brie to look up more information on Lyssa. When she brought up her concern about Mandy’s temper tantrum, though, Thora had an opinion about that too.
“Oh that.” Thora shrugged. “I bet Price made Mandy think he was interested in her, maybe even hitting on her, and then he landed his low blow the minute he didn’t get his way. It hurts more that way.”
True. Currie had to admit that rejection was never fun, but if a man gave you signals that he found you attractive, and then insulted you, you didn’t see the blow coming. “I’m probably reading too much into everything that happens lately. It makes every flare-up seem more serious than it is. But I still don’t think Emeralda is the one who killed the rabbits or the possum. That means whoever did it is still here.”
Thora thought about that. “It wasn’t Emeralda. She’s too volatile. She wouldn’t wait and sneak around. She’d grab a knife and chase you around the kitchen right then and there if she wanted to kill you.”
Currie blinked. “I hadn’t looked at it that way.”
“Whoever our sicko is, if he’s smart, he’ll lie low. He only has ten more days, and he can go home unnoticed.”
And then what? Currie wondered. Would he kill small animals in his neighborhood? Would that be enough to satisfy him? Or would he move up to people who bothered him? Eventually become a serial killer? She couldn’t talk to Ward about it during lunch while they sat with Ted and Price, but she decided to bring it up the first chance she got.
Her chance came sooner than she expected. Brent came to help Thora with cleanup in the kitchen and said, “Get out of here, Currie. We can handle this.”
Ward led her into the garden and, when they were out of sight, bent and kissed her. “I love you, Mrs. Darrow.”
She stiffened in his arms. Mrs. Darrow? She hadn’t thought of herself that way. She wasn’t sure she liked it. It was almost like losing part of her own identity.
Ward took a step back and watched her reaction. “You don’t have to change your name, you know. You can keep yours.”
She said the words out loud to herself. “Mrs. Darrow.” Then she shook her head. “No, it’s all right. It just didn’t occur to me, but I’m going to like it. I’m gaining part of you. It’s going to take a while to get used to, though.”
He quirked a dark brow. “Okay, since we’re sharing names, let’s share what’s on your mind. You have that look you get when there’s something simmering in there.”
“You know that look already?”
“It’s one of the things that attracted me to you. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface.”
She told him about Price and Mandy. “I’d like to know more about Price’s Lyssa.” She hesitated. “And I’d like to know more about Mandy too. Even if we get everyone off the island with no more problems, I don’t feel right sending someone back who might hurt other people. I’d feel responsible.”
Ward nodded. “Dad’s retired, but he has a lot of contacts. If there’s anything to find out, he’s the one who can do it.”
“Let’s go talk to Brie. Maybe we can start now.”
They walked to Brie’s office and caught her when she was returning from her games session with guests.
“You look smug,” Ward said, studying her.
Brie nodded. “Della and I just trounced Avery and Russ in bridge.”
Ward looked surprised, but Currie smiled. Her sister was competitive and would show no mercy when it came to winning or losing. She’d try especially hard to beat Avery, but Currie guessed the two were pretty much evenly matched. Luck would determine the victor.
“Hate to ruin your mood,” Currie said, “but we have a favor to ask.” When she explained her concerns, Brie asked Ward, “Are you good with computers?”
“I’m not a programmer, but I can use them.”
“Why don’t you use the one in my office and e-mail your dad to ask him to look into Lyssa and Mandy? You might want to tell him that you got married and you’re moving to the island too.”
Ward turned to Currie. “Can I tell my folks that we’ll visit them when this session is over? That they’ll get to meet you?”
“I’d love to meet your family and friends.”
That decided, Ward settled in front of the computer and Currie went to teach her cooking class. She hoped that Price would show up in the kitchen today. She wanted to have a talk with him, but as she passed the herb beds, she saw him in Saffron’s master gardening class, concentrating on every word that Saffron said. No wonder her sister was trying to keep a little distance between them. Price was trying his best to attach himself to her, just as he’d attached himself to Emeralda.
Ward looked particularly happy when he joined Currie and Ted for dinner. Price had defected to Saffron’s table, taking Mandy’s spot. She looked bummed and looked around for a minute before she came to join them.
“Do you mind?” she asked.
“Take a load off.” Ted patted the empty chair.
“The leech has found another blood donor.” Mandy’s glance at Price sizzled.
“He’s not going to have any luck,” Ted said. “You never find the right match when you’re so desperate you’ll attach yourself to anyone and everyone.”
“It’s pretty pathetic,” Mandy agreed.
“I’d call it sad.” Ted shook his head in sympathy.
“So why doesn’t he wise up?”
“It’s too soon,” Ted said. “He’s still at that desperate rebound phase. It’s not a happy place.”
“Sounds like you’ve been there,” Mandy said, surprised.
“Not me, but my younger boy followed the same girl around all through high school. Spent every penny he made on her, fixed her car when it broke down, pretty much asked how high when she said jump.”
“And they lost touch when they went to different colleges?” Ward asked.
“That would have been too easy,” Ted said. “No, she invited him to her homecoming party, and when he got there a day early, he walked in on her and her new boy hunk.”
“Ouch.” Ward grimaced in sympathy.
“You’d think he’d have learned, but not my boy. He attached himself to the next girl who’d give him the time of day.”
“Desperate,” Currie said.
“Pathetic,” Mandy repeated.
Ted gave her a level look. “You have some issues when it comes to romance, don’t you?”
“It’s overrated,” Mandy said.
He shook his head. “My son eventually learned. Both boys ended up marrying nice girls, and they’ll make me nice grandkids someday.”
“Well, aren’t you the lucky one?” Mandy pushed her plate away.
Ted shrugged. “You’ve been pricklier than a porcupine the last few days. Just remember, Teach, that when you’re on the defensive, you make everyone else out to be your enemies. And what does that accomplish?”
“It keeps me from getting hurt.”
“Does it?” Ted glanced over at Price. “It hasn’t done much for him. I wish the boy would learn not to lash out. He thinks if he attacks you before you hurt him, he’ll be safe, but it doesn’t work that way.”
“Did you talk to him about it?” Currie stacked her silverware on her plate.
“I tried, but he’s sick of listening to me. Now, I just sit and make small talk so that he has someone around.” When they finished their meal, Ted nodded at Mandy. “Come on. I’ll teach you how to play golf.”
“Teach me? I already know my way around a course.”
“Prove it. We have three holes.”
When they left, Ward followed Currie to the kitchen. “Finally,” he said. “I can tell you about e-mailing Mom and Dad.”
“You looked happy. Were they okay with us getting married?”
“Better than okay. LOTS better than okay!” He swept her into his arms and swung her around. “They’re so happy that I finally met someone, they wouldn’t care if you were pink with green polka dots.”
“Did it bother them that you’re going to live on the island?”
He set her down. “I think it was a relief. Dad retired from the department last year, and he’d like to move to Seattle.”
“That’s close by. It would be easy to get to.”
“Exactly. Dad’s sister moved there with her husband when they retired. Dad and Mom have been tempted, but they thought they’d be deserting me when I was having problems, and I’ve always been there for them while my brother was sick.”
“Guilt isn’t good,” Currie said.
“No, but it happens.” Ward broke into a grin. “The thing is, this is going to work out for everybody. Dad promised to stop by the precinct and chat up some of his old acquaintances to see if they could dig up anything on Lyssa or Mandy, and then I think Mom and Dad will fly to Seattle for a short vacation. We can meet them there when the guests leave.”
Currie gave a big sigh.
“Is that a happy sigh, or are you worried?”
“I’m happy. I’ll get to meet your parents. And relieved--it’s nice of your dad to help us.”
“My parents are the best. You’re going to love them, and they’re going to love you.” He hesitated. “Which reminds me, what’s YOUR mom like?”
“You already passed her test when you could see me. She knows you’re the perfect man for me.”
It was his turn to sigh. “I don’t think I’d want to see Gaia angry.”
After supper, Ward and Currie sat with Price and Ted on the patio. They were making relaxed, small talk until Price said, “Do you mind? You two exude happiness, and it’s sort of sickening. I lost Lyssa and I drove Em away. I know I need to work through some junk, but I’m not up to watching you two preen like a poster for happy couples, okay?”
“I understand,” Ward said. He took Currie’s hand and they started toward the kitchen.
“Why don’t you two just call it a day?” Thora called. “Brent and I can handle the rest of the evening.”
“Go on, you two,” Della said, joining in. “You look so cute together. Go bake cookies in your new kitchen or something. But be gone.”
Russ laughed. “Cookies? Come on. But Della’s right. You have better things to do than sit with the likes of us.”
“We like spending time with you,” Currie said.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Russ waved them off. “We’ll be here in the morning. Get out of here!”
“Thanks.” Ward took Thumper from his pen, and he and Currie made a quick getaway. They decided to stop at the animal nursery on their way home and check on the fox. When they left the meadow and entered the woods, Fang joined them and stopped to sniff the rabbit. The wolf had learned that Thumper was a part of the family and was starting to keep an eye on him. The rabbit, for his part, seemed to like the idea of a bigger, more threatening friend to protect him. They raced back and forth, playing with each other, until they reached their destination.
Trisha was at the nursery, refilling food bowls.
Currie shook her head. “You’re alone. We’ve asked all of you. . .”
Embarrassed, Trisha looked away. “I know, we’re supposed to stay in groups of three. You’d think a fifty-four-year-old, nursery school teacher would follow the rules, wouldn’t you? But I enjoy spending time here.”
“So where are the other two people?” Currie scolded.
“Where they’re supposed to be, working on their quilt, but I heard about the fox, so I snuck out to see him by myself.”
Fang padded to the pen and nuzzled the fox’s nose.
“Isn’t that sweet?” Trisha cried. “See? Your wolf understands that you’re helping the fox. I’d have missed that if I’d stayed with Teri and Leann.”
“But you’d be safe,” Ward pointed out.
Trisha avoided the issue. She motioned instead toward the splint on the fox’s leg. “Saffron says he’ll be in good shape in no time.”
Currie took a deep breath. Trisha felt guilty enough, as was--not that it had deterred her from coming here alone. But Currie felt that she and Ward had made their point. “How’s your fawn?” she asked, searching for a new topic of conversation.
Trisha’s round face crumpled as she glanced at the young deer in its pen. “I brought him back here. The wolves won’t let anything happen to him, and he’s almost perfect.”
“And that’s bad?” Ward asked.
Trisha looked more pained than before. “I’m so selfish, I’m ashamed of myself, but I love him so much, I like having him with me. He’s almost well enough to leave, and I can hardly stand the idea of watching him go.”
“Even if you helped Saffron train him to live and be happy in his natural habitat?” Currie asked.
“I could do that?” Trisha went to pet the fawn’s smooth forehead. “He’s so young. Will he be safe?”
“Saffron and you can help him return to his herd. He’s strong enough to survive now, and they’ll try to protect him from predators.”
“Sort of like getting my nursery school kids ready for life,” Trisha said in a small voice.
“And sort of like caring for your mother,” Currie said. “You do everything you can for the people and things you love, and then you have to let go.”
Trisha pressed a hand to the fawn’s nose. “And he’ll be all right?”
“Work with Saffron and see for yourself. When you leave, you’ll know that he’s safe and where he should be.”
Trisha nodded. “I’ll go find Saffron now and ask her about it.”
“You shouldn’t walk back alone,” Ward said. “We’ll have Fang take you to the meadow, then he can catch up with us.”
“But my fawn. . .”
“Can stay here. The nursery’s guarded.” Currie’s voice was firm.
Trisha chewed her bottom lip. “If you insist.”
“I do.” Currie watched Fang lead Trisha’s plump, cuddly form back toward the lodge before she and Ward left to go to their cottage.
“That woman has a real thing for animals,” Ward said.
“Animals and kids, she’s a softie inside.”
They were halfway home when Fang raced back to join them. He and Thumper chased each other on the climb up the steep hill, and by the time they reached the cottage, both animals flopped down on the front stoop to rest.
“They wore themselves out.” Ward stooped to stroke Fang’s thick fur.
“I could use some quiet time too. Want to have a drink out here and watch the sun set? It’s gorgeous.”
“Works for me.” Ward walked to the patio chairs that overlooked the water and sank onto one. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching the waves.”
“I haven’t.” Currie went inside to fetch a beer and a glass of wine. When she joined Ward, they simply sat, enjoying each other’s company for a long time. No need to think about tomorrow’s problems. They’d be here soon enough.
When the silence finally soothed them, Ward reached for Currie’s hand. “Now that I know about you and your sisters, you can tell me what it was really like growing up on the island. How does all of this work?”
“My mom has lots of mates in lots of different parts of the world.”
“And your dad knew that?”
“He used to say that it was a good thing that he lived longer than most men, because then he’d get one mortal lifetime of marriage with Mom if you added up all of her visits.”
“What about when you were a baby? Who took care of you?”
“Your mom didn’t even stay for a couple of years?”
“Mom can’t take child-rearing leave each time she has a baby. She has responsibilities.”
Ward took a sip from his beer. “So your dad did both mom and dad duties.”
“He sort of adopted Brie and Saffron too. He was always there for them, for all of us.”
“It’s an odd setup.”
“It worked. What about your family?”
“We’re going into deep waters here. I need another drink.” He went to the house and returned with a second glass of wine for her and a bottle of beer for himself. “My dad was a cop, so he put in lots of hours. My mom was a teacher, so her schedule was a lot like ours once we started school. She had summers off to be with Darryl and me. When Darryl got worse, she quit teaching to stay home with him.”
“What was Darryl like?”
“He had muscular dystrophy. It didn’t hit until he was about five, so he was a rough and tumble kid until then. Then his calf muscles started getting big, but his legs got weaker and weaker. I remember getting yelled at for playing too rough with him, and then we couldn’t rough house at all, until finally, around twelve, he had to give up and use a wheelchair.”
Currie rubbed her chest. A dull ache of sympathy made her heart feel tighter. “How awful.”
“Oh, you didn’t know Darryl. The chair might have slowed him down, but he was still a force to be reckoned with. He’d play all kinds of pranks on me. They were never mean, just funny. He put a garter snake in my bed once when I was getting a little full of myself, and he put my bike way up in the maple tree after Mom got mad at me for throwing it in the front yard one time too many.”
“How did he do that in a wheelchair?”
Ward grinned. “He designed a rope and tackle getup and spent all afternoon at it.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Did you start putting your bike away after that?”
“You’d better believe it. Darryl had a wicked sense of humor. He super glued my baseball to an old mitt when I made fun of a kid on my Little League team.”
She smiled. “So you didn’t want to make Darryl mad.”
“He didn’t get mad very often. Most of his jokes were to make a point. He’d been great at sports when he was strong enough. He wanted to remind me that we’re all at different levels and the important thing is to do your best.”
Currie looked out over the water, savoring the bits and pieces of the brother that Ward was describing to her. What a wonderful spirit. What a fabulous human being. “I bet he hated not being able to play anymore.”
“He missed it, but he never felt sorry for himself. Mom explained exactly what the stages of the disease usually are, and Darryl said that he didn’t have enough time to sit around and complain. He said that most people don’t know how long they have here, but he did, and he intended to make the most of it.”
Currie’s eyes misted, and Ward reached out to pat her hand. “He was one of the neatest people I’ve ever met. We were all lucky to know him.”
“How long did he live?”
“He was twenty-seven when he died.”
“I can see why you were so devoted to him and your family.”
Ward nodded. The sun hovered on the horizon, and he drained the last of his beer. He slid an arm around Currie’s shoulders. “Do you know what I need right now?”
“I bet I can guess.”
Hand in hand, they went into the house and climbed the stairs to the bedroom. And this time, when they made love, for Currie it was slow and satisfying and felt like they were melding, as if she was becoming one with Ward the way she became one with the waves or the wind.
When they finished and lay in each others’ arms, Ward said, “We haven’t used protection. Do you want to start a family right away?”
“Nymphs only have a child when a new sprite is needed. Most of us only have one daughter with each mortal we join with. The world only needs so many nymphs and sprites.”
He pushed her thick, chestnut hair away from her neck and kissed the curve of her shoulder. “I disagree. I think the world should be overrun with nymphs and sprites. It would make this planet a better place.”
She almost choked with happiness. “We’re here to protect and nurture the Earth for mankind, not to compete with them.”
“That’s a shame. Every man could use a nymph in his bed.”
“Will it bother you to have only one daughter?” she asked.
“No son?” He thought about that. “If our daughter’s anything like you, I’ll be happy.”
How could Currie have been so lucky to find someone as wonderful as Ward? She fell asleep in his arms, happy and content.