Currie went through the motions, but her heart wasn’t in it. After supper, when everyone wandered to the patio to relax, Ward joined Ted and Price while they hit golf balls. Brie looked from him to Currie and said, “You told him, didn’t you?”
“Told him what?” Avery asked.
“Currie and Ward had a discussion that you and I have to face sometime soon,” Brie said.
“That sounds serious.”
Avery pushed himself to his feet. “I think you sisters need to huddle for a conference. I’ll make myself scarce.” He went to sit with Della and Russ and got them started on a discussion about birds, so that the girls’ conversation wouldn’t be overheard.
Saffron scooted her chair closer to Currie’s. “Did you meld?”
“And?” Saffron prodded.
“He saw me, but mating with an immortal didn’t thrill him. He asked for time to think about it.”
Saffron stared. “I thought mortals always wanted to live longer.”
“It was a shock.” Brie reached to pat Currie’s hand. “I’m sorry, but he’ll come around.”
Currie wasn’t so sure. “I don’t get it. He saw me. That’s supposed to mean that he’s the right man, so what went wrong?” Her eyes misted with tears and she blinked them away.
Emeralda, sitting on the half-wall that surrounded the patio to be near Price, glanced at Currie and frowned. “Are you all right?”
“No, I melded, Ward saw me, and it freaked him out.” She sighed. “I understand what you’re going through, Emeralda. Romance sucks.”
Emeralda came to sit with them and took Currie’s hands. “Don’t give up. At least, he saw you. I haven’t had that happen, not once. I’m losing hope. But you could do what I do. If you really want him, go for it.”
Currie shook her head. “I can’t handle it. It hurts too much. But now I understand how emotions can overcome logic. When Ward kissed me, I didn’t stop to think at all.”
Emeralda grimaced. “Romance isn’t all fun and games, but if he’s your one true mate, I’d go for it.”
Currie shook her head. “I’m done. No more. I was happier without it.”
Emeralda looked at Brie. “What about you? Are you next?”
Brie looked uncomfortable. “I’m afraid. I thought I was ready until Ward saw Currie and still turned her down.”
“That’s part of it,” Emeralda said. “But you really like Avery, don’t you?”
“Maybe I’ll just keep things as they are. We’ll be friends while he’s on the island, and I’ll forget him when he leaves.”
Emeralda shook her head. “That doesn’t work. Trust me. I’ve tried forgetting some of the men I’ve been with, and it hasn’t happened.”
Brie sighed. “I’m not sure he likes me as much as I like him.”
“Are you nuts?” Saffron gave Brie’s shoulder a small push. “He’s hooked.”
“That’s what I thought about Ward.” Currie closed her eyes, remembering how he’d dropped the stone she was in and jumped back. “He asked me to marry him.”
Brie looked stricken. “We’ve lived long and happy lives on this island without mates.”
When Price came to plop down beside Emeralda, she gave him a cold stare.
“Are you mad at me again? What did I do this time?”
Em glanced at her friends. “He called me Lyssa three times yesterday while we were in the woods.”
Price looked stricken. “I’m sorry. It’s just that you remind me so much of all the good things about her--the same coloring and figure, the same dry sense of humor--“
She turned on him. “Is that the only reason you’re attracted to me?”
“No! You have all of her good traits, but you’re independent and strong. You’re a survivor, and you’d never grow needy and clinging.”
Emeralda quirked an eyebrow and stood. “It sounds like I’m living in her shadow. That’s not exactly romantic or complimentary.” She headed toward her cabin. “Think I’ll call it an early night. I need some sleep.” She gave Price a hard look. “That’s ALL I’ll be doing tonight--sleeping.”
Price watched her walk away. She strode past Ted, who gave up his search for the last golf ball and came to join them on the patio. The driving range closed, Ward walked to his usual spot under the willow tree and sat looking out over the lake.
Ted dropped into Emeralda’s empty chair. “In trouble again, boy?”
Price nodded. “It keeps feeling like the island’s helping me, that the hurt’s going away, but then Em gets mad at me and it comes back.”
“Is it only Em’s coloring, or does she look that much like Lyssa?” Saffron asked.
“Different features, but the same thick, wavy black hair. Same green eyes and olive complexion. Same soft mouth. And the same unspoken pressures.” Price clenched the arms of his lawn chair. “I hate women! Lyssa tricked me. She was gentle and beautiful, but she was broken. She pretended to be whole, but she was really a leech who lived off my strength.”
“Why are you mad at Em?” Saffron asked.
“She pretends to be something she’s not, too, a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em girl, but she wants a lot more. Every woman does!” He pushed himself to his feet and stomped toward his cabin.
Saffron rose to go after him, but Ted stopped her. “Leave him alone. The anger’s good. He needs it to get past his problem.”
Currie looked at Ted. “How are you doing?”
Ted grinned. “This island’s done the trick for me. When I go home, the boys can run the business. I can get used to having more fun, less work. Think I’ll take the old lady on a cruise and hang out with her more.” He glanced at Frank as he and his wife crossed the meadow from the hatchery and stopped to join Ward at the banks of the lake. “I’m glad you girls went and got her. Frank can’t really heal unless she heals with him.” His voice dropped. “There’s a family with a son who has a REAL problem. My boys, they’re gonna do all right.”
“Good for you.” Currie was happy for him.
Ted nodded. “You can cross me off your list, girls. I’m fixed.”
Currie and Brie looked at each other. Maybe they could use the extra time to fix their own problems.
Currie was surprised to see Ward walk into the woodworking class that evening. Brent was right behind him.
“Ward volunteered to help me put the finishing touches on the cradle,” Brent said. “I thought maybe we could carve the baby’s name into the head piece.”
Really? Currie looked at the letters of the alphabet carved there. “Won’t that be a little too busy?”
“That’s why we brought it to you.” Brent ran a loving hand over the cradle. “How can we make it work?”
Damn, if she knew. “Has Thora picked a name?” “Josh. She said that’s the father’s name.” Brent grinned. “I gather the baby was made in a hurry, but at least they exchanged first names.”
She was surprised they did that much. She had an image of water and passion. “I’ll get the tools for you.” She handed Brent a chisel. “Do you want to stencil the design first?”
“Nope, I didn’t drink any beer tonight. My hands are steady.”
Ward snickered. “I thought beer unleashed your creativity.”
“I’ve decided to give up drinking,” Brent told them. “I like it a little too much. It’s not a problem now, but Claire’s boys don’t need to be around alcohol. Their dad didn’t drink, didn’t believe in it. Why change a good example like that?”
Ward’s dark brows rose in surprise. “Does that mean that you’re going to be spending more time with the boys?”
“Why not? My leg might be gone, but there are worse things in life.” Brent looked at Currie. “Guess you can go to your chart and put a line through my name. I believe I might be on the road to recovery.”
“You’re the second person who’s told me that tonight.”
“But everyone’s doing better, aren’t they? Della and Russ look as happy as two peas in a pod.”
“They healed each other,” Currie said.
“And Teri and Leann are a good match.” Brent nodded toward Ward. “I’m not sure about this guy. Can’t tell if he’s healing or not. He keeps things pretty close.”
Ward looked at Currie. “I’ve found what I need here.”
She looked away. He meant the island, not her.
“You’re sure about that?” Brent asked.
“Are we talking about a girl?”
“A beautiful one.” Ward didn’t take his eyes off Currie.
“Thank God, I don’t have to ruin this nice cradle. It looks good, as is, but it’s the only way I could think of to get you two in the same room together.”
Ward stared. “Do you mean when you asked me to help you, it was a setup?”
“Yeah. I’m pretty proud of myself too.” Currie’s face flushed with embarrassment, and Brent burst out laughing.
Ward’s scowl deepened. “I’m never taking you seriously again.”
“You can thank me later. Bring the cradle back to Thora’s, will you? I’m out of here. We both know you want Currie to yourself.”
The minute he closed the door behind him, Ward jammed his hands deep into his pockets. Currie took a deep breath and started for the door.
She interrupted. “I don’t want things to be awkward between us. You came to the island to heal, and I interfered with that. It’s our job to. . . ”
It was his turn to interrupt. “I’ve been a dunce. I should have known--the willow tree, the wolf. This island is different. I just couldn’t put all of the pieces together.”
She shook her head. “Look, you saw me, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with something you don’t want.”
“But I do.” He crossed the space between them and pulled her into his arms. “I love you. I don’t care if you’re a nymph or a sprite or a shape-shifter. I came to this island to heal, and I found you. It’s what I needed.”
“But. . .”
He silenced her protests with a kiss. She squirmed for a minute to escape, but the kiss deepened and Currie’s knees felt like jelly. Her nerves tingled with new sensations. Footsteps sounded in the hall.
Ward pulled away. “Kitchen,” he said. “When you’re finished for the night. . .” He let the rest hang.
The footsteps passed the door. “No.” Currie pushed away from him. “Dad never hurt Mom. The whole idea of the island and being immortal bothered you…”
“Hey, you’re not the only one who got hurt.” He sounded angry. “You wouldn’t let me get close until I passed your stupid test. How do you think that made me feel?”
What else could she have done? “It’s not my rule.”
“Well, the rule sucks, but I’m willing to make new rules.” When she didn’t say anything, he demanded, “Do you love me or not?”
“Yes.” She loved him with her entire being.
“Then let’s figure out how to make this work.”
“Can we make it work?” She leaned into him.
“I saw you, didn’t I?” They went down the hallway, holding hands. Currie needed the connection for balance. Her head and heart spun in a dizzy whirl. They didn’t talk when they reached the kitchen, just got busy in their own rhythms, anxious to finish up. Currie was so happy that she had to force herself to concentrate so that she didn’t slice off a finger. What happened now? Would they go outside? Under the willow? And . . .
They were nearly finished when the French doors flew open and Emeralda staggered into the room. She was sobbing so hard, she could hardly catch her breath.
Ward dried his hands and gave Currie a quick kiss. “She needs you. We have hundreds of years . . .” And he disappeared.
Emeralda’s tears came faster. “He’s bonded with you. That’s wonderful!”
Currie wrapped Em in her arms. “What happened?”
“I melded with a tree by Price’s cabin. When Price came, I reached out for him with a branch. He turned, looked right at me, and didn’t see me. He’s never seen me, only Lyssa!”
“I’m sorry, Em. I really am.”
“I can’t be around him anymore. I just can’t. I have to leave.”
“I can’t stay here and see him every day. I need to go home, to talk to my mom and get my head together.”
“What do you want me to do?” Currie asked.
“Take me to the mainland on the ferry. The sea nymphs there will give me a ride home. I’ll be back before the next guests come.”
Currie was happy to help her. Now, she understood Em’s misery. “Let me tell the others.”
Her sisters sympathized with Em and when Currie started on the path for the ferry, Ward stepped out of his cabin and joined them. “You’re leaving?” he asked Em.
When she nodded, he said, “What if I steer the boat? Will that help?”
Currie was relieved. She’d dreaded the trip back by herself. “I’ll blend with the waves and guide you past the rocks, then I can join you in the ferry.”
But Ward didn’t need her help. The ferry found its way through the waves and rocks, just as it had done for her father. Once she knew that they’d be safe, she joined Ward and Emeralda on the boat.
It was a beautiful night. Stars twinkled in a brilliant canopy overhead, and the ocean swelled and ebbed in a steady rhythm. The sea breeze cleansed the world’s palate, invigorating and fresh. When Emeralda stepped ashore on the mainland, she hugged Currie. “I feel better already. I’ve kept the same, old, tired pattern too long. I’m ready for change, for a new me.”
“You couldn’t have said anything that would make me happier,” Currie said. “Will you be okay?”
“Yes, but it’s going to take a while.”
“Healing does. Be nice to yourself, Em.”
On the trip back, halfway between the mainland and the island, Ward idled the engines and turned to Currie. “The water likes me. We won’t wreck. We’re all alone under a starlit sky. I can’t think of a more romantic setting.”
Neither could she. She leaned into him. “I’ve melded with the waves and air, even the earth, but I haven’t melded with you.”
“Then let’s make it official.”
They reached for each other, groping and fumbling to taste and feel. Their kisses strayed from lips to necks and shoulders. Hands skimmed over smooth skin, taut muscles, and stopped to explore. Currie’s blouse dropped to the deck, followed by her bra and skirt. Ward’s jeans followed. The clothes formed a bedding for them to lie on. Ward lowered himself over her, his lips moving farther down her body. She arched her back, moaned. When he kissed the inside of her thigh, an orgasm shook her.
“Slow down,” Ward said. “We’re just getting started.”
But there was no slowing down. Everything he touched shot pleasure and need through her. She wrapped her legs around him and tipped herself against him. When he entered her, she gasped with pain and pleasure. She met his thrusts with her own so that when he came, she was flushed and sweaty and spent.
Ward rolled off her and took a deep breath. “I thought I’d have to go slow for a woman who’s a few hundred years old. A virgin. I thought wrong.”
She turned toward him and nuzzled against his shoulder. “I love the feel of you.”
He chuckled. “It’s mutual, believe me.”
They stopped the boat a few more times on their way home. Currie looked at the moon and laughed. “We’d better get going. It will be morning soon. But first, I need a quick rinse.” She jumped off the side of the ferry into the waves.
“Stop! It’s not safe to swim at night. There could be sharks or …”
Her laugh sounded again, interrupting him. “Nothing in nature would hurt me. You either. Come on.”
He hesitated a minute. “Me, too? Are you sure?”
“The water’s beautiful.” She dipped under the waves and came up smiling. He took a deep breath and plunged in too.
“The water Is wonderful.” He sputtered and swam to her. They played in the waves to rinse off their passion. Finally, Currie sighed. Even nymphs couldn’t stop time. “We need to get dressed and get home.” The sun was painting the horizon a soft pink when they returned to the island.
Ward tried to hide a yawn. “I’m beat.”
Currie gave a smug smile. If she had her way, the man would drop into bed every night, totally depleted.
He let out a long breath. “Think I’ll skip breakfast and catch some sleep, unless you need me. This is the best tired I’ve ever been.” He grinned and bent to give her a quick kiss.
Currie yawned too. “Thora will help me. I’ll be fine. Get some sleep so that I can visit you again tonight.”
“Tonight?” He looked surprised. “The saints help me. See you later.”
Currie went to the kitchen to find Thora already bustling around.
“What happened to you?” Thora asked.
Currie explained about taking Emeralda to the mainland.
“I can’t blame her,” Thora said. “And Ward went with you?”
“To steer the boat.”
Thora grinned. “The water’s a great aphrodisiac, isn’t it?”
When Currie blushed, Thora laughed. “Good for you! It’s official, but you’re not going to make it all day on no sleep. Go get a quick nap, and I’ll cover for you. Brent and I will teach your morning art class.”
Thora laughed. “Okay, we won’t teach, but we’ll hang out with whoever’s there. They know the drill by now anyway, don’t they?”
Currie decided that everyone could cope for one morning and took Thora’s advice. She longed to go to Ward’s cabin, but knew that wouldn’t be wise. She still wouldn’t get any sleep, so she climbed the steps to her suite. And the minute her head hit the pillow, slumber claimed her.