At lunch time, everything fell back into its regular pace on the island. After people finished their meal, Saffron led them outside and assigned a magpie or a blue jay to each guest.
“Can we feed them?” Della asked.
“No, they’re not pets,” Saffron explained. “I’ll feed them peanuts and corn for their help, but I’ve warned them to stay away from you. One of you killed animals before.”
“True, I wouldn’t want to put my pretty bird in danger.” Della couldn’t keep her eyes off her blue jay.
“Will we be able to at least see our wolves?” Price asked. “I’ve always had a thing for them.”
Currie remembered that Price had chosen a wolf’s body for his caricature.
“I doubt it. They’re pretty private.”
“Even if we try to lure them with scraps of meat?”
“I’d rather you didn’t do that. The animals are NOT pets,” Saffron repeated.
“What about the animal nursery?” Trisha asked. “Could we move it closer to the lodge or my cabin, so that those animals are safe?”
“No need to worry. The nursery will be guarded too.”
“By a wolf?” Trisha looked alarmed.
Saffron looked to Currie for backup. “The cages will be locked,” Currie said. “Wolves can’t pick locks. Neither can birds. Your sick animals will be protected, but safe.”
“But my fawn isn’t in a cage. She’s in a pen. A wolf could jump it if he really wanted to.”
Saffron gaped. “How high do you think a wolf can jump?”
“Even if he doesn’t jump the fence, he could scare the poor thing to death.”
Currie smiled. “You’re fond of it, aren’t you?”
“What if. . .?”
Saffron threw up her hands. “I give up! You can take the fawn to your cabin if I can figure out a way to make a pen for it there.”
“I’ll help build one,” Ward said.
“I guess that means that we’ll help too,” Ted said, looking at Price.
Price shook his head. “YOU’LL help. I’ll sit and watch.”
“Fair enough,” Ward said.
“Good, that’s settled.” Brie, all business as usual, stepped forward. “Now we can all get back to whatever we should be doing. You each have your bird, and hopefully, you’ve decided how to stay in groups of three. See you at lunch.”
Currie glanced at the clock. There was no point in going to her art class. There wasn’t enough time, so she followed Ted, Price, and Ward on their way to the ferry instead.
“Glad you’re coming. If we need something, maybe you can show us where it is,” Ted said.
They followed the path to the small cove, and the men started work right away. “This isn’t going to be a quick fix,” Ted warned. “Whoever did this just ripped and tore.”
When Ted needed a socket wrench, Currie went to the work shed to find one. When he needed a smaller screwdriver, she fetched one.
“You don’t have to be our gofer,” Ward said, “but we appreciate it.”
She was sitting on the dock, feeling the sun warm her skin, when Brent and Thora came with a cooler of lemonade.
“Thought you might get thirsty.” Thora looked at Currie. “I didn’t bring glasses. Can we use some from your dad’s cottage? I’ll go with you to get them.”
The two women climbed the slope to the stone house, and Currie took a deep breath before she pushed open the front door.
“How long has it been since you’ve been here?” Thora asked.
“Years. Since I was a little girl. He always came to the lodge. I thought of this as his private getaway where he stayed with Mom when she came for visits.” It felt odd to go inside without yelling out, “Hey, Dad, it’s me!” But there was no one to answer. Dust coated the fireplace mantel, the cherry tables and shelves. It hadn’t been that long since her father’s death, but someone should have come and cleaned his house. She knew that, but she hadn’t been able to make herself. She promised herself she’d come and tidy up as soon as she could. Right now, she went to the oak kitchen cupboards and took out six glasses. She handed half to Thora.
Thora looked around. “It’s so cozy here. It’s sad to see it empty. I wonder who’ll live here next.”
“Whoever Mom picks as a mate to run the ferry.”
Thora gave her a sideways glance. “Does it have to be your mom’s mate? I mean, what if you or one of your sisters chose a partner? Couldn’t he run the ferry?”
Currie’s gaze swept over the pine floors and stone fireplace. “It would make a wonderful home. Maybe Brie and Avery…”
Thora cut her off. “Maybe. It was your father’s home, though.”
“For me?” Currie’s eyes went wide.
Thora laughed. “Just something to think about, but right now, we’d better get back to the dock or the men are going to wonder what happened to us.”
Currie pulled the cottage door shut behind her and glanced back one more time before they took the winding path to the beach. What would it feel like to live so far away from the others? To leave the lodge and come home to a husband?
She pushed the thought from her mind. She was having enough trouble fighting distractions as it was. First things first. The ferry needed to be fixed. Then, they needed to keep their guests safe and help them heal. Then… She’d better stop while she was ahead. One thing at a time.
Thora and Brent stayed for half an hour, visiting and passing out drinks, before they headed back to the lodge. Currie was going to leave with them, but Ted said, “Your dad didn’t have any needle-nosed pliers, did he?”
“Probably. I’ll get them for you.” She had a little more time before she had to teach her cooking class, so she resumed her duty of go-for on site.
When she got back with the pliers, Price came over and sat down next to her on the dock.
“Okay, I’m going to sound nosey, but when’s Thora due? She’s just starting to show, so we’ve been talking. We’re putting her at four or five months.”
“Five months,” Currie said.
“When I first got here, if Brent wasn’t decorating a nursery for her, I’d have just thought she was a little on the pudgy side,” Price said. “She didn’t look pregnant. Now, though, she’s getting a roundness to her.”
Ted turned his head and laughed. “I think women are prettier the bigger they get. My wife got huge, and she was sexier than hell. I couldn’t keep my hands off her stomach.”
“You?” Price shook his head. “You’re the last person that I’d think of as a baby geek.”
“Love the little critters,” Ted said. “Can’t wait till I’m a grandpa.”
“So when did the charm wear off?” Ward asked, half-listening to their conversation while he worked. “You and your sons don’t quite get along, do you?”
“We did great until they turned into adults. Then they thought they should have a say in the business. Since I’ve been here, I’ve figured out that I might have a little bit of a problem giving up control.”
“That’s an understatement,” Price muttered.
“I’m doing better,” Ted said. “I might be a tad thick in the head, but once I get the idea, I sink my teeth into it and do my best to fix it. I’m not quite there yet, so it’s probably a good thing I’m still cooling my heels on the island.” He looked at Price. “How about you, boy? How are you coming?”
“It’s like this place was made to push me through therapy,” Price said. “First, Emeralda reminds me so much of Lyssa. And then Thora…”
“They don’t look at all alike,” Currie said.
Price took a deep breath. “No, but my Lyssa got pregnant, and that’s pretty much when things started going downhill for us.”
Ward and Ted stopped what they were doing to listen.
“Why?” Currie asked.
“It freaked her out. First off, we weren’t married, and she thought that I’d be mad.”
“Were you?” Ted asked.
“No, I wanted to marry Lyssa and start a family. I didn’t care what order we did it in.”
“Did she lose the baby?” Ward asked. “That’s hard on a woman. Look at poor Teri.”
“She had it aborted.” Price’s voice was bleak. “I came home one night, and she was curled on the end of the couch, crying.”
Ward picked up a rag and wiped the grease off his hands, his work forgotten. “She didn’t tell you?”
“No, she asked me for three hundred dollars before I left for a two-day business trip. I thought she was going to buy maternity clothes or baby stuff.”
“Why did she do it?”
Price folded his hands together and squeezed them tight. “She was worried the baby would be like her.”
“Like her?” Currie asked.
“She kept fretting, ‘What if it’s genetically unable to stay happy--like me? What if I’m not a good mom? I can’t take care of myself. How can I take care of someone else?’”
“So she was afraid,” said Ted.
“Scared to death. At first, I was mad. She never once considered that maybe I’d be a good dad. But then I sort of admired her. At least, she was trying to think about what was best for the baby, not just about herself like my sister. Gina considers her duty done once she pushes the kid out. So I got over it and was okay with it. But it was the beginning of the end for us.”
Ted wiped a hand across his forehead. “Why? Did she blame you?”
“No, Lyssa didn’t think she could have babies, so we didn’t worry about it.” Price watched the waves hit the rocks and form eddies. “But after the abortion, we had less and less sex. When we did, it was awful--like making love to a board. I thought she was worried about getting pregnant again, so I volunteered to have myself fixed. That really upset her.”
“Why?” Ward sat Indian-fashion on the deck and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees.
“She said that I just wanted to protect myself so that I could cheat on her. I tried to convince her that she was the only woman who interested me, but the last time we made love, she had to jump out of bed to throw up. That did it for me. No more.”
Ward shook his head. “Grief. Guilt.”
“You left her?” Currie asked.
“No, I loved her, but she was right. I wasn’t ready to give up sex for the rest of my life, so I cheated on her when I went away for a business trip. I decided I’d go home to Lyssa and love her and get my sex on the side.”
“Couldn’t you have given her a little more time?” Ward didn’t try to keep the critical tone out of his voice. “The girl suffered from depression and had an abortion. Couldn’t you have given her a few months to even out?”
“Don’t play judge, okay?” Price demanded. “If I didn’t act like I wanted sex with her, she thought I didn’t find her attractive. If I did want sex, she felt pressured.”
Ted let out a deep breath. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. So what happened? Did cheating on her work?”
“A woman I slept with called our place and said that she was in town, was I free?”
“Oh, Lord. I bet the shit hit the fan.” Ted drummed his fingers on the engine he was working on.
“It was awful. Lyssa wouldn’t look at me, wouldn’t talk to me. It was worse than hell.”
“Was that when it happened?” Ward asked.
Price nodded, still staring at the water. “I drove her to it. It was my fault.”
Ted gently laid a hand on Price’s shoulder. “Kid, it’s easy to point fingers. None of us knows what he’d do in your spot. Your girl was on a downhill slide to begin with. Most guys would run. Once her hormones got crazy, it had to make things worse.” He pushed himself to his feet. “It’s time for a break. I saw some fishing gear in the boat cabin. I think it’s time we try it out.”
Ward pulled out heavy lines and hooks. “What did your dad fish for? These look serious.”
“We’re an island. The ocean’s past the bay. If you get lucky, you can surprise yourself sometimes. Frank caught a halibut.”
“You’re not going to try your luck?” Ted asked.
“No, I need to get back to the lodge. Watch your time,” she told the three guys. “Head back at noon.”
She thought about Price and his Lyssa as she took a more rugged shortcut home. Once in the kitchen, she told Thora about the conversation they’d had.
“I hope he catches a whopper then,” Thora said, as she put shrimp out for Leah and Teri to grill. “We’re making shrimp and vegetable tortillas, right?”
“I hope they catch a marlin.”
“No one’s ever caught a marlin here. The water’s too cold.” Currie put out the ingredients to make smoked chicken focaccia. For red meat lovers, she put out skirt steak to grill for fajitas. They were admiring their handiwork when Price, Ted, and Ward knocked on the French doors that led to the patio.
Price was grinning from ear to ear. When Currie and Thora turned to look, he and Ted hoisted a halibut for them to see that was almost as long as Price was tall.
“He caught it on his first try,” Ward said, nodding toward Price, “but it took both of us to pull it in.”
People were drifting into the kitchen to start class. They ogled Price’s prize.
“Look at the thing!” Leann said. She glanced at Teri. “We’re the fish girls, but we just cook them, right? We don’t have to clean it.”
“That’s what markets and stores are for,” Teri said.
“I don’t mind a few fish guts,” Ted said. “What about you, Ward?”
Ward quirked a brow at Currie, who was about to say a reluctant yes, but was saved by Emeralda. She’d crossed the meadow with a load of morel mushrooms and stopped to look the fish up and down. “Looks like somebody got lucky.” She shot a sizzling look at Price. “Maybe your luck will hold. I’ll clean it. Want to help?”
Currie watched in surprise as Em and Price spread newspapers on the grass and set to work. Price had hurt Em’s feelings when he wanted to leave. How could Emeralda go from angry to flirty so quickly?
Cooking was momentarily forgotten as people stood on the patio to watch them work.
Price took a knife from the kitchen and sliced the fish open. Currie felt a chill zing through her body and rubbed her arms. She glanced at the kitchen to reassure herself that Thumper was in his cage.
As they worked together, Currie noticed that Price kept glancing at Emeralda. He could hardly keep his eyes off her as she expertly filleted the fish and cut it into slabs.
When they finished and started to the lodge to clean up, he asked, “Are you going to stay mad at me? Or will you eat dinner with me?”
Em stopped beside Currie and crooked her head. “I don’t think he’s suffered enough. Will you share my table today?”
“Go ahead and sit with her,” Price said with a knowing smile. “But she misses me, I can tell. An island of women must get a little old once in a while.”
Emeralda looked anything but pleased as she watched him walk away. “That man is way too sure of himself.”
“He really hurt your feelings when he was going to leave the island, didn’t he?” Currie asked.
Emeralda shrugged and tossed her thick, black hair. “He’s only a man. Men come and go.”
Big words to hide wounded pride. “But it bothered you.”
“I had hopes for him, but he’s proved undependable.”
“Price is a mess. You remind him of his Lyssa. Things are complicated enough for him without adding that into the mix.”
Emeralda laughed. “You sisters and your rules! Don’t you know that rules are made to be broken? And sometimes, sex is therapeutic. Lyssa cut him off, made him feel less than a man. Price needed a good romp in the sack. It’s done wonders for him. And for me.”
Too much information. They’d already had sex? “Won’t you miss him when he leaves?”
“I’m a sprite. Men are diversions, not mates. I’m not expecting forever, but I don’t like rejection.”
Currie was too confused to argue any more, so they let the subject drop for the moment. Emeralda washed up and joined Currie, Della, and Russ for supper. The four made pleasant small talk and then Emeralda slipped away to help Thora with kitchen cleanup. By the time Currie went to join them, Emeralda had made a quick getaway. She wasn’t about to find out if Currie had thought of any new reasons against her getting involved with Price.