Currie and Saffron had a quick meeting with Brie before they went to teach their classes, and after lunch, Brie held the guests for a few extra minutes. “I need to remind everyone to be extra cautious,” she said. “The island makes you feel safe, and for the most part, you are IF you stay in groups of three. We had an incident again this morning, though. Someone stole Thumper from his pen…”
“Is he all right?” Trisha asked.
“He’s fine, but a butcher knife’s missing from the kitchen. If the blue jays hadn’t called out warnings, Thumper wouldn’t be here. Were any of you with someone else before breakfast? Because if you were, we could rule out some people.”
“Can you be a little more specific?” Avery asked. “Right before breakfast, or an hour before?”
“Saffron had come back from her bird walk,” Currie said. “I was setting up drinks in the dining room.”
Ted grimaced. “I stayed in my cabin until it was time to come to the lodge for chow. I was on my own.”
“I went on the bird walk,” Mandy said, “but then I split from the others to work in the garden.”
“I slept in,” Teri said.
“Me too,” said Leann.
“Was ANYONE with someone else?” Brie asked.
Not one hand went up.
“Well, we’ve learned that the blue jays are a good deterrent,” Brie said, “but I have to ask you all to be more careful from now on.”
“What if we can be seen from the lodge?” Ward asked. “I’d like to work on the outdoor grill.”
“You can see me from the patio and windows. And I’m not planning to wander off on my own or be lured into the trees.”
“But you’re not easy to see on the beach.” Brie waved to the view from the windows. “You’re too far away.”
“What if Price and I help you after lunch if you help us with the golf course in the morning?” Ted asked.
Ward nodded. “That’s fair.”
“What about us?” Brent asked. “The nursery’s not done yet.”
“We’ll come with you, Brent.” Della nudged Russ. “The feeders are full, and I can crochet something for the baby.”
Teri looked at Leann. “I trust you. I don’t mind being partners.”
Brie shook her head. “We want you to stay in groups of three.”
“I trust Mandy,” Trisha said. “What if we team up, too?”
“I’m not very good company,” Mandy said. “I’m no good at small talk.”
“I don’t mind. You can take one side of the garden and we’ll take the other.”
That settled, Brie looked at Frank. “You haven’t teamed up with anyone.”
“I’ll go to the hatcheries with him,” Saffron said. “The island can spare me for a few days.”
“I’ll go too,” Avery said. “I haven’t cataloged that part of the island yet.”
Brie looked at Em.
“I’m not worried,” Emeralda said.
“My blue jay’s always with me, and my wolf guards my cottage at night. I’ll be okay.”
It wouldn’t make any difference if they argued with her, so Brie let it drop. “We all matched up in groups before,” she reminded them. “And then we got sloppy. We can’t afford to do that again.”
People filed into groups of three to go to their classes and activities. Brie sighed and looked at her sisters. “Do you think it will last this time?”
“No. We’ll have to remind them every once in a while,” Saffron said. “Maybe once a week.”
Brie nodded. “We’ve done all we can. Let’s go teach our afternoon classes.” She headed to her office. Saffron went outside to teach her master gardening class, and Currie went to the kitchen for her cooking class. LeAnn and Teri had already looked at the recipe she’d laid out and started searing the tuna. Mandy was shredding greens and vegetables for a chopped salad, and Brent and Thora were busy making the torte. It was easy to drop into her routine, and life almost felt normal again. Currie could understand how the island lulled people into a sense of security, but someone was watching and waiting, and he’d strike again. They couldn’t forget that.
Thora joined them at supper time. She looked pale, but healthy. People were in good spirits during their meal and the majority of them drifted out to the patio when they finished.
Brent and Ward worked on the cradle again. They’d assembled it and engraved the alphabet on its headboard. Thora wanted it stained a blueberry color to go with her white and blue décor, so the men started sandpapering the wood to a glossy smoothness before applying it.
Della crocheted blue baby booties while Russ tried to knit a small afghan. “These damn needles keep going in the wrong direction!”
“It’s not the needles,” Della said. “You’ll get the knack of it soon enough.”
Mandy looked up from the book she was reading. “Aren’t knitting needles sort of like weapons in Russ’ hands?”
“Once he learns how to use them, they’ll help him relax. They’re good for keeping your joints supple too.”
Mandy watched Russ knit a row and shook her head. “Hopeless.” She went back to her book.
Price and Ted stood on the edge of the lawn and hit golf balls into the meadow. “It will be a miracle if we can find them,” Ted said, “but this is sure fun. You should give this a try, Russ.”
“Now that’s a scary thought,” Mandy grumbled. “Give him something longer and bigger to whack with.”
Currie looked around the patio, mentally counting the number of people in sight. “Where’s Frank?”
Saffron pointed. “Picking apples from the trees over there.”
“That man doesn’t know how to sit still,” Della said. “He always has to be busy.”
Saffron started to answer, but hushed in surprise when the phone in Brie’s office rang. Everyone stopped and stared. No one had heard a phone since they came to the island.
Brie got up and hurried to answer it. She came back, frowning. “Would someone get Frank?”
Frank’s shoulders were hunched when he approached. He was prepared for the worst, Currie realized. He looked as though he’d been expecting it, waiting for the disaster to strike.
“I’m sorry,” Brie said. “Your family called. Your son tried to commit suicide in prison, and he’s in the hospital. Your daughter’s with your wife, but this has been too much for her. She’s falling apart. Your doctor put her on medication, but your daughter wants you to go home.”
Before Frank could answer, Saffron said, “I have a better idea. What if we bring his wife here to the island to be with him?”
“And have thirteen people?” Brie asked.
Avery smiled and patted her hand. “Frank and his wife would share the same cabin. There’s always more than enough food at meals. It could work.”
“Then his wife could heal too,” Della said.
Brie sighed. “We don’t usually treat two people from the same family at the same time. It changes the dynamics having a couple here.”
“I understand the principle behind that,” Avery said, “but this time might be an exception.”
Brie threw her arms up in exasperation. “Oh, why not? Nothing else has gone according to plans this time.”
“Good girl,” Della said.
Frank blinked his eyes, and Currie was sure that he was fighting tears. “Thank you,” he said. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”
Brie’s face softened. “You deserve happiness. I hope you and your wife find it here.”
Price put his golf club away. “I’ll go find Em. When it’s time, I’ll go with her on the ferry. That will make three of us.”
Brie looked around the group. “Since we’re making a crossing, is there anyone who’d like to leave the island early and return home?”
No one spoke up.
“Okay, then I’ll go make arrangements for Frank’s wife to meet Emeralda on the mainland.” She looked at the sun, hovering above the treetops. “It’s time for evening classes. Saffron, do you have a nature walk scheduled? And Currie, you have a woodworking class to teach, don’t you?”
Currie and Saffron exchanged grins, but rose to their feet. Their sister had bent the rules and needed to restore them and feel in control again. Routines provided a sense of security, and that’s why people came to Verdanta.
Currie couldn’t settle until Emeralda returned with the others, so she went to the kitchen. Cooking kept her busy enough that she couldn’t fret. Ward gave a quick knock and stepped inside to help her. “The ferry’s back. I was sitting by the willow and saw Frank and his wife go straight to his cabin.”
Currie bit her bottom lip. “It would have been nice if Emeralda had let us know.”
“She had other things on her mind. She was with Price.”
No excuse. She knew she, Brie, and Saffron were waiting to make sure everything went well.
Ward glanced at the three blenders filled with batter. “What are you making?”
He was trying to distract her, and she was grateful. “Dutch babies. You make the batter the night before, then pour it in hot pans so it will rise in the oven like puffy pancakes.”
“Sounds good.” He looked at the strawberries. “And these?”
“I’ll clean and slice them to make a fruit filling.”
He grabbed a knife and got to work. “With these done, Thora can sleep in tomorrow morning. She’s at the tired phase of her pregnancy.”
He finished the strawberries and started on peaches. Currie joined in. When everything was in the refrigerator and the kitchen was clean, he looked out the French doors. “There’s a crescent moon tonight. It’s golden. Worth seeing.”
Currie hesitated. When she was alone with Ward in the gardens, he was way too tempting. And under moonlight? Her pulse quickened.
“I’d like to talk,” he finally said.
They walked into the garden to let Thumper play before bedtime. Shadows stretched across the paths, and Ward said, “About this test. What happens if I fail?”
She stayed her distance. Proximity made her want to touch him. “Then we’re not right for each other.”
His voice turned husky. “That would be hard to believe. I’ve never been around anyone who felt so right.” He crossed the distance between them, pulled her close, and gave her a long, deep kiss.
She fought for self-control, but lost the struggle. Every inch of her body tingled, even her toes. She wrapped her arms around him, hungry for more. Ward’s lips traced her jawline, then slid to her neck. Her treacherous neck—who knew it was so sensitive? He tugged at her scoop-necked tee so that his lips could skim the tops of her breasts. Her breath caught in her throat. Sparks sizzled up and down her. A need awakened she didn’t know she had. She wanted him, was desperate to have him. His hands moved under her blouse, and she stopped thinking completely.
A wolf howled, and they both froze. They stepped away from each other. Currie’s body ached with need, but both turned to look for Thumper. The rabbit raced toward them, and Currie grabbed him to her.
“It came from the other side of the lake.” Ward took a deep breath to steady himself, then ran toward the willow tree on the bank. Currie rushed to follow. When they reached the tree, they stopped, out of breath. They waited for another howl.
It came from farther away this time, a long, mournful note that hung in the night air.
Ward’s wolf stepped from the shadows and nuzzled his hand. It was agitated, and Currie reached to stroke its thick fur. “He didn’t answer his friend, but he didn’t rush to protect anyone either. I’m not sure what that means.”
“Was it some kind of warning?”
“Yes, but no one’s in danger, or the wolf would call his pack.”
“Should we try to find where it is?”
Currie shook her head. “Whatever was happening, the wolf must have stopped it, or he’d call again.”
Ward frowned. He shook his head. “The mood’s broken. I don’t think I can get it back. I’ll stay here a while with Fang.”
He grinned. “I read too much Jack London when I was a kid, but we’ll watch you go back to the lodge. Make sure you lock up when you get there.”
She nodded, shaken not only by the wolf’s howl, but by the intensity of her earlier passion. She’d never realized there was this side of herself. As she turned to go, Ward said, “And Currie? About the garden. . .make the test soon, will you?”
“I will.” Her voice was as deep and husky as his. She was struggling with her desires as much as he was.
She hurried across the meadow and up to her room. What was wrong with her? Why did her inhibitions and logic disappear the minute Ward touched her? She’d always taken pride in her ability to stay in control, to think things through. If the wolf hadn’t howled, how far would she have gone tonight? She was grateful she hadn’t found out. But the minute she got the chance, she was going to meld with something when Ward passed. She had to know if he’d see her. And if he didn’t, she’d have to tie herself to the kitchen stove and stay away from the man.