Currie was up early the next morning. She carried Thumper out into the gardens to play and sipped coffee while she watched him. Thora strolled across the lawn and came to join her.
“I saw Brent after your class last night. He gushed on and on about Claire and her boys.” She sighed. “I miss that part of it, the having a partner to share your life with, a real family.”
“There aren’t any rules set in stone, are there?” Currie asked. “Why couldn’t you keep a man while your baby grows up?”
Thora laughed. “Because that’s how I feel today after listening to Brent. Tomorrow, who knows? A man underfoot day and night won’t sound as appealing. I’m a sprite. My attention wanders faster than a bee darts from flower to flower.”
Currie saw a movement near the edge of the woods and saw Price following Emeralda into the trees. “So much for asking everyone to be careful.”
“Emeralda can blend with a tree if she needs to.”
“He’s a man. He thinks he can take care of himself. He’s not thinking about safety right now anyway.”
“I thought Em was interested in Ward.”
“She was, but that one’s a slow mover--nothing spur of the moment there. Price, on the other hand, is more her speed.” Thora grinned. “Besides, Ward’s attention seems to be on a certain nymph I know.”
“I aggravate him.”
“Good, that’s a sure sign. I’d say things are moving along better than expected.”
Currie frowned. “He got really frustrated with me last night. He can tell that none of us are just normal humans, and he asked me about it. What could I tell him?”
“That made him mad.”
“He got up and stomped out of class.”
“Terrific!” Thora gave Currie a small push. “Come on. Let’s start breakfast. You’re thinking too much.”
Maybe Thora was right. Currie called Thumper and went inside. It didn’t matter how much she fretted. It didn’t change anything. Once she got busy, she’d feel better. She and Thora flew through frying steaks and eggs,
dicing fruits for salad, and toasting bagels and English muffins to have with butter and preserves or cream cheese.
When it was time to eat, Currie was surprised that Ward waved her over to join him and Ted.
“Truce?” he asked.
He cut her off. “If the time’s ever right, you’ll tell me.”
Ted looked from Currie to Ward and decided to change the subject. He nodded across the room to Price. “Look at our boy over there with Emeralda. He needs a bib for his drooling.”
“More like a mop,” Ward said.
Ted laughed. “I thought you were interested in Em for a while. You’re not suffering from a broken heart, are you?”
“No, she’s nice, but we don’t have anything in common.”
“I wasn’t asking if you were going to marry her, but she’s a damned pretty girl. Thought a little romance might lighten your mood.”
“I’m doing better.” Ward looked at Currie. “Besides, I’m not much good at romance. It’s not my style. This time, when I fall for a girl, it’s all or nothing.”
“Sounds like a story to me. Fess up, kid. What happened?”
Ward shrugged broad shoulders. “Not much. I dated Sheeley for two years and we were engaged two more.”
“Four years?” Ted shook his head. “Good grief, I pegged you for the slow and steady type, but if you couldn’t make up your mind by then, something was wrong.”
Ward shrugged. “We were both busy with other things and it was nice to have someone special, but there was never a desire to take it to the next step--for either of us. It was just convenient.”
“Pitiful. So are you still engaged?”
“No, she got an offer for a big promotion if she’d move to the west coast. She asked me to come, too, but we both knew it was a nice way to call it off.”
“How long ago was that?”
“And you haven’t met anyone else?”
“Things got complicated.”
“Oh, sorry--your brother and the little girl.” Ted looked flustered. He looked at Currie for help. “Come on, kiddo, save me. Throw me a line.”
“How did you meet your wife?” she asked him, taking the attention off Ward.
Ted broke into a grin. “A buddy of mine threw a big party at his lake cottage. This was back when I was still wet behind the ears, thought I’d swim a little, drink a little, have a good time. I walked into the kitchen to get a beer, saw Meg, and my heart did a flip-flop. I was hooked, landed, and happy. All I could think about was her. We got married four months later.”
“Sometimes, you just know,” Ted said. He gave Ward a long look and then narrowed his eyes at Currie. “Your gut’s smarter than your head sometimes.”
After breakfast, Ward, Price, and Ted headed off to work on the ferry. “It’s about ready to go,” Ted said. “We’re close to getting everything connected again. It’s a patch up job, and you’ll want to take it to a marina when you get to the mainland, but it will chug you across the water.”
Currie doubted that anything Ted did was a patch up piece of work, but that wasn’t what worried her. “Do you still want to leave once you get it running?”
“No, seems like you gals have everything covered. Might as well stay and finish the golf course.”
“And you?” Currie asked Price.
He glanced at Emeralda. She’d volunteered to play gofer this morning for the men. She gave him a sly smile. “I’d just go back to work if I left now,” Price said. “I’ve never had a month off since I started delivering newspapers when I was a kid. Might as well enjoy it.”
“Good, then that’s settled. Everyone’s staying.” They parted to do their different jobs. After Currie taught her art class, though, she made a pitcher of iced tea to take to the men and see how the ferry was coming. When she reached the dock, Ted said, “Bless you, girlie. I’m parched.”
Ward stopped wiping down the boat’s engine and grabbed a glass to take a break, too.
“Where’s Price?” Currie asked. He was nowhere to be seen.
“He got bored with us and went to help Em dig for clams. Heard you were doing a clambake for supper.”
“But there are supposed to be three of you….”
Ted sidestepped her. “Never had a clambake before. Barbecues are the thing in Indiana. Never been much on shellfish. Is there anything a Midwest boy can eat in that bake?”
She gave him a look, but followed his lead. “It’s not really a clambake. I’m doing a country boil with corn on the cob, potatoes, sausage, lobsters--the works.”
“Now that’s more like it!” When Currie glanced down the beach, Ted said, “You know, we could really use a few more rags to clean things up. The ones we have are too greasy to do much good. Look at this old girl.” He motioned toward the ferry. “She’s in tiptop shape now. All we have to do is clean her up.”
“You’re trying to run interference for Price,” Currie said.
Ted grinned. “I’m doing a decent job too. So, are you going to get us the rags?”
“You’re not worried about being left here with Ward and no one for backup?”
Ted laughed. “Can you picture Ward as a knife-wielding loonie? I can’t.”
Currie grimaced. “Okay, I’ll get your rags, but if people don’t follow the rules…”
“Relax, kid. If it were someone besides Ward, I’d be careful. Honest.”
Ward frowned at her. “How come you’re not worried that I’m in danger? Once you’re gone, Ted could flip out and attack me.”
“You can take care of yourself,” Currie said. “Look at you. You’re big and strong and…” She couldn’t say tall and muscled, dark and sexy, desirable and maddening. She bit her bottom lip. More than that, she couldn’t say that nothing could happen to Ward, because if it did, she wouldn’t be able to bear it.
A grin split Ward’s face. “You’re blushing.”
“No, I’m not. I sunburn easily.” She turned toward the path. “Don’t you two have something to do? I’ll go get your rags.”
Ward’s soft laugh followed her down the dock. It was a deep laugh. Appealing. Everything about Ward was attractive.
She stomped up the slope to her father’s shed and grabbed a handful of rags. Before she returned with them, she went to the edge of the cliff and glanced toward the water on the other side of the shoreline, trying to compose herself. Instead, she saw Price and Emeralda stretched on the secluded beach there, Price sprawled on top of Em. Their kisses looked passionate even from this height. Currie jerked away. She felt like a voyeur. She clutched her rags to her chest and hurried away.
When she reached Ted and Ward, all she wanted to do was get away and hurry back to her kitchen, her sanctuary. She tried not to look flustered, but Ward noticed right away.
“Are you all right?”
She didn’t want to talk about it. “I’m running late. I need to get back to start lunch.” She only stayed a few more minutes, then took the empty pitcher and made her escape. On the walk back to the lodge, she tried not to think about anything at all. Not about Em and the risks she was taking. Not about Price. And especially not about Ward, and how it would feel to have him pressed on top of her, sharing kisses in the warm sand.
Thora took one look at her face when she got to the kitchen. “Right then. Let’s start cooking.”
It sounded like a theme, Currie thought. Keep Currie busy so she’s not such a mess. She sliced cucumbers with a vengeance for a cold soup. Instead of sandwiches today, she and Thora had decided on a huge taco salad. They had the buffet nearly set up when Emeralda came with two buckets of clams.
“Where’s Price?” Currie asked.
Emeralda made her voice casual. “He stopped at his cabin for a quick shower.”
“You were alone with him on the beach. Not a tree in sight. Don’t you think that was a little risky?”
“Did you follow us so you could watch?”
“I went to Dad’s shed to get rags for Ted and Ward. You should have gone some place a little more private if you didn’t want to be seen.”
Thora stopped chopping tomatoes to listen.
“What about Thora and Brent?” Emeralda hissed. “They’re always alone. Or you and Ward with your meetings late at night in the kitchen? You’re just jealous.”
“Of what? You and Price?”
“You’re jealous that I have someone and you don’t. Ward hasn’t come around yet, has he? Even your ice queen sister has the guy you passed over.”
“I thought Brie was too frigid to ever find someone, but she has Avery. Bet you wish you’d kept him as backup in case Ward doesn’t come through.”
“This isn’t about men. It’s about...”
“Isn’t it? Usually, you’re oblivious to men. Now you want one, but it’s not happening. No surprise. You have NO sexuality. You’re not even romantic. What do you have to offer a man? A breakfast muffin?”
Her words stung, and Currie blinked back tears.
“What’s the matter with you?” Thora said, coming to Currie’s defense. “That’s just plain mean.”
“She’s not my mother.” Emeralda stood, hands on hips, glaring from one to the other of them. “No one tells me what to do.”
“She’s worried about you, that’s all.”
“She can quit worrying. I’m having fun, and she’s not. That’s her real problem. She doesn’t even know how.” Emeralda turned on her heel and stalked from the kitchen.
Currie gripped the edge of the sink counter to steady herself. What had just happened? Why had it happened? Emeralda’s words made her feel completely inadequate. Had she meant them to?
Thora came and wrapped an arm around Currie’s shoulders. “Don’t pay any attention to her. SHE’S the one who’s jealous.”
“A little. She knows Ward’s a keeper and Price isn’t. Ward’s interested in you, not her. But mostly, she’s jealous of me. For a long time now, men haven’t been able to see her when she melds with trees, so she’s made love to mortals that she knows are unworthy. The men on the beach in her own country--none of them have seen her. She’s selling herself for cheap, and she knows it. Price didn’t see her either.”
“Did she meld, and he walked past her?”
“Didn’t even glance in her direction.”
“Why doesn’t she just wait?” Currie asked. “Until she meets the right one.”
“Because she needs to feel loved, and she knows she’s not getting the real deal. She’s never attracted to the men who might be able to see her. She thinks they’re dull, and the men that she wants are the wrong ones. She’s being an idiot, and she knows it.”
“But why now? Why is it bothering her so much now?”
“Because I not only met a man who saw me in the water, I met the man who was meant to father my baby. She’ll never get pregnant the way she’s carrying on. And she’s beginning to worry that she’s made herself so trashy that no one’s ever going to see her or make her a mother.”
Currie looked out the French doors at Emeralda’s retreating back. “We’ve been so blind. We bring guests here all the time to heal them, and we didn’t even know that Em had a problem.”
“How could you? So far, we’ve all been happy here. She has her flings when she goes home.”
“She told me. She wanted to know why men could see me, but they didn’t see her. It made her feel like she has some fatal flaw.”
“I know that feeling.”
“She made me promise not to tell anyone, but things are getting out of hand. You need to know what you’re dealing with.”
“We should have felt it. She’s been suffering, and we didn’t have a clue.”
Thora gave her a gentle shake. “You can only help people who are looking for help. Em’s not ready yet. She’s miserable, but she still thinks she has all the answers.”
Currie nodded. “When she wants us, we’ll be here for her.”
“If we still even like her by then,” Thora warned. “Em’s the type who’s going to get a lot meaner and strike out before she walks into our open arms.”