After supper that evening, when the others went to the patio, Currie set up her easel in the kitchen. Sketches from a distance weren’t as good, and she didn’t get the same feel as up close, but she started to draw Price. When she colored him in this time, huge, knotty tendrils of black were strangling the white half of his picture. The wolf’s body grew sharp claws and the muscles stretched into a lean, hungry pose.
How had they failed him so miserably? What could they have done for him? Could a person be past help? She didn’t like to think so.
When she finished, she put the sketch away to show to the others later that night, when the guests were in their cabins. Then she went out on the patio to join the others.
“I’m going on an evening bird walk,” Saff said, pushing herself out of her chair and stretching. She cocked an eyebrow at Price. “Come keep me company. Anyone else?” When no one volunteered, Saff smiled. “Then I’ll see you later, slackers. I’ll be back in time for our yoga and meditation class, so be ready.”
Everyone visibly relaxed when Price left the patio. His foul mood dampened any happy chatter, but Ted had bravely sat with him, and Price seemed to genuinely appreciate his company. With Price gone, conversation flowed freely and easily. When he came back, Avery moved to sit with Della and Russ and Ward joined Trisha, Leann, and Teri. Price sought out Ted, and Brie went to the kitchen, grabbed three beers, and came back to join the two men.
“There’s nothing like relaxing on the patio,” she told them. “Are you two up for a game of cards?”
Time meandered away the lazy minutes until the sun dipped lower to the horizon. Then Saff said, “Stretch time. Come on, people. We want you limber and relaxed before bed.”
Teri and Leann, Trisha and Sara went to do yoga while Frank joined Price, Ted, and Brie for cards. The horizon burned a blazing orange and then dimmed to a soft rose. The yoga class ended, and the women headed to their cabins. Frank went to his Sara to call it a night, and Ted said, “Come on, kid. It’s getting late. I’ll walk back with you.”
It made Currie nervous, watching Ted and Price stroll away together. Nervous enough to join the air and follow them. When they were both tucked in their cabins and the wolves guarded the doors, she zipped back to the others.
She showed them the caricature of Price.
“He’s carried his bitterness around for a long time. When Lyssa threatened to leave him, he lost it. He’s letting his anger and hatred kill anything good in him,” Saffron said.
Ward folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t care about him. I just don’t want him to hurt anyone else.”
“I care.” Currie could see his hurt in the drawing. “He’s trying to fight the darkness. He could have put a poison mushroom on Frank’s plate. He didn’t.”
Brie sighed. “He’s losing the fight, and I don’t know how to help him. Maybe if we confronted him? Told him we know he killed Lyssa?”
“And have him go ballistic?” Ward shook his head. “What will you do if he grabs a butcher knife and goes after whoever’s close?”
Saffron nodded agreement. “It’s too risky. We’ll keep doing different variations of what worked tonight. We’ll spend time with him and try to keep him on an even keel. We’ll never leave him alone with a guest.”
When they separated for the night, Saff went to sit under the willow. Brie and Avery climbed to their suite, and Currie put her hand in Ward’s to walk to their cottage. His hand felt good. His presence felt wonderful.
When they entered the cottage and closed the door behind them, she pressed herself against him. “It’s been a long day.”
“I thought you might be too tired.”
“I need comfort,” she said.
“Comfort means hugs.”
“I need more.”
He quirked a brow.
There was something life affirming about making love with Ward. She stretched on tiptoe and pressed her lips to his.
He picked her up and carried her up the stairs.
Their lovemaking wasn’t soft and sweet. It was a grinding of hips, a clinging, sweaty tussle, and when they finished, Currie gave a deep sigh.
Ward sighed too and stretched his length against her back. Currie let herself drift to sleep. Her last thought was about Price. He constantly craved sex. So did Emeralda. Being with Ward tonight had been about filling a need. Was that what sex was for them? And how big was the ache they were trying to ease?
On Currie’s way to the lodge, she saw Saff stop at Price’s cabin to invite him on her morning bird walk. He smiled when he saw her, and they headed toward the patio in companionable silence. He looked so happy, Currie thought. Why wasn’t that enough for him? Just sharing happiness with another person? Why did he have to feel in control?
While Currie worked with Thora to prepare breakfast, she glanced out the French doors and saw Mandy, Teri, and Leann join Saff. They headed west along the rougher terrain of the island, probably in pursuit of a bird that liked its solitude. Not too much later, Brent came to help Thora set up the buffet table.
Currie was filling coffee carafes when she saw the small group return. Della and Russ came to join them on the patio. Currie had opened the French doors to let in a breeze, so she could hear Della’s excited chatting about a flock of goldfinches that had come to the feeders, the variety of butterflies in the gardens, and a hummingbird that zipped from one foxglove to another.
Currie was sliding chuck roasts in the oven when Ward sauntered toward them from the citrus groves. He was carting a box of oranges and lemons to the kitchen.
“Those are a little late for breakfast, aren’t they?” Russ asked.
“I think they’re for later this afternoon, something about stuffing them inside chickens. Currie wants to keep the meal simple tonight so that the class can start planning your big, last feast for Friday night.”
Della reached for Russ’s hand. “Then it’s back to the real world for us. No more lollygagging around.”
“I’m ready to go back,” Teri said. “I miss my husband, and I want to move ahead on the paperwork to get our new baby.”
Leann nodded. “I’m ready too. I’m ready to dig into my business again and relieve my poor assistant. My batteries are recharged. I feel like a new person.”
“No husband waiting for you?” Russ asked.
“Divorced and much happier.”
“And you? Are you ready?” Della asked Trisha as she joined them.
“As soon as I help Saff let my fawn go. She’s been training him. He’s almost ready. But yes, I feel like I’ve lived in a fairytale long enough. I want to see my husband and get ready for nursery school this fall. I even want to see Mom again. I’ve started thinking of her as a pre-toddler. I can deal with her moods and tantrums that way.”
“And you, little lady?” Russ asked Mandy.
“You know me. I like ‘real.’ This island has been the perfect break, but it almost feels surreal.”
“So you’re ready to leave?” Della asked.
“Yeah, it’s done its job. I’m okay now with the idea that I’m not the easygoing type. I don’t even expect life to be smooth sailing anymore. I like who I am--warts and all, and I feel like I can face anything life throws at me.”
Brent poked his head out the door. “Enough already. Quit patting yourselves on the back and get off your duffers. It’s time to eat.”
Della chuckled. “I’m going to miss that.”
“I’m going to miss the food,” Russ said. “At home, it’s Meals on Wheels for me.”
“Then go out and meet someone for lunch,” Della scolded. “And invite your grandkids out for supper.”
“Or give them money to bring supper in?” Russ asked.
They trickled into the dining room and settled in their usual spots. When everyone was seated, Brie stood and announced, “This Friday is your last full day on the island. If you have your assigned chores finished, let me or one of my sisters know. We’ll check you off, and you’ll only owe half price for your stay.”
Voices hummed as people talked about their tasks and the end of their stay. Energy pulsed through the room, and Currie soaked it in. It was always nice to see the new guests come, grateful for a respite from the world. But it was even better, watching them leave, invigorated to leap into their lives again.
Once breakfast was over, Ted grabbed Currie’s hand. “Come on, gal. Take a look at our golf course, and then maybe you’ll let us open it and start using it. I want to trounce the kid here and show him who the master is.”
Price grimaced. “I make a lot of sales on golf courses. Clients are more receptive when I treat them to a free game.”
“Golf isn’t business, boy,” Ted said. “It’s concentration and challenge. It’s whacking the heck out of a little white ball and taking your mind off everything.”
Price shook his head. “Come on, Currie. Let’s get this over with so that I can put the old man in his place.”
Avery came to join them. “I love a good game of golf. Count me in.”
And when Currie saw what Price and Ted had done, she had to admit, the three-hole course was lush and green and beautiful. “You’ve done a great job.”
“Have you ever played?” Ted asked.
“Then you only get to watch. We’re itching for a real game. No patience to teach a beginner which club does what.”
“Fine by me.” She sat under a tree and leaned her back against it. “May the best man win.”
Ted grinned at Avery and Price. “No more Mr. Nice Guy. Eat my dust.”
And his warning proved true. Ted won by two strokes, Price came in second, and Avery finished last. But it didn’t seem to matter. When Currie joined them at the last hole, they were laughing and talking.
“We should celebrate with a beer,” Ted said. “What do you say?”
When they reached the lodge, Currie played waitress and brought them their drinks.
“Since you’re here, you can check us off for our bird feeder skills,” Della told her. She motioned to the cluster of feeders not far from the patio. She smiled. “It was a hard job, but Russ and I rose to the challenge.”
“Damn right,” Russ said. “Even better, I made new gourd feeders, and Della painted them all fancy.”
Currie nodded. “They’re beautiful. Consider yourselves checked off.”
Mandy, Teri, and Leann nabbed her next. “Since that’s done, why don’t you look at the gardens with us? If you find a weed, we’ll eat it.”
Currie hesitated. If she left with them, Avery would be alone with Price and Ted, but Avery nodded. “Go on. We’re fine.” He motioned toward Ted, so that she wouldn’t worry.
“If you’re sure.” The vegetable gardens were close enough that Avery could call if he needed her.
She couldn’t believe how beautiful Mandy had made the landscaping at the base of the patio wall. Roses, forsythia, and lilacs mingled with groupings of perennial flowers. Blooms jostled against one another. She followed the three women to the other side of the lodge and stopped in amazement. “I don’t think the herb and vegetable gardens have ever been this clean.” Every plant was mulched. The paths between the rows were hoed smooth. “They’re perfect.”
Teri and Leann grinned at each other. “Now, if we just finish the last corner of our quilt, we’re in good shape.”
“Do you have much more to do?”
“We can finish it tomorrow,” Leann said. “And it’s gorgeous.”
Teri’s grin widened. “If we do say so ourselves.”
Currie laughed, then looked at the sun, edging higher in the sky. “Thora probably wonders where I’ve gone. I’d better get things ready for lunch.”
The women nodded and headed toward the patio. “You can keep an eye on us from the kitchen,” Mandy said.
Good, they were taking Brie’s rules seriously. Currie relaxed. There were more than enough people to keep an eye on Price.
When she reached the kitchen, Thora and Brent were already shredding the chuck roasts that Currie had started earlier. “Still warm,” Brent said, popping a piece in his mouth. “Boy, is this good!”
“They’re going to make great burritos.” Thora pushed stacks of tortillas to Currie. Refried beans simmered on the stove. Currie started stuffing and wrapping, and soon a pile of burritos filled the serving plate. Between those and chips with guacamole, lunch was well on its way.
“Today’s just sort of gotten away from me,” Currie said.
“It’s always like that at the end,” Thora said. “When are you going to come and see the nursery Brent and I did?”
Currie wasn’t the only one who trotted to Thora’s cabin after they ate. A group of them went, and they oohed and aahed at the appropriate times when they saw the landscape painted on the walls, the handmade cradle and baby bed, and the rocking chair sitting in the corner.
Thora beamed. “Brent, Ward, and Ted made that rocking chair from branches somehow. I love it.”
Della had crocheted a baby blanket, and tiny booties that matched lay on the dresser. Russ had carved a wooden pull toy--a horse on wheels--that sat on the window sill.
Thora rested her hand on her belly. “Who could want more?”
Brie went to hug her. “It’s beautiful, perfect for a beautiful baby.”
When they turned to leave, Currie realized that Price hadn’t come. She looked across the meadow to the back patio and saw Ward and Saffron snapping green beans with him. A wise decision. Price didn’t need to think about a nursery and babies. Ward had thought about that. Her husband was a wonder.