Price was not an easy patient. He complained about his pain. He complained about the island. He complained because he was stuck with a bunch of losers until he healed. Everyone did their best to ignore his foul mood. They brought him drinks. They tried to soothe him. Ted tuned out his ranting and raving and visited more during the day than the others. He’d work for a while, then sit with Price for a while. And as usual, the island somehow worked its magic. By the end of the day, Price had calmed a little, and things felt nearly restored to normal. Normal was different now, though. At the end of the day, Currie went to Ward’s cabin. And Currie couldn’t keep her mind off that.
When dinner was over, she wanted to grab his hand and pull him away, but that would be too obvious. Instead, they did their best to avoid each other on the patio. Ward played five-card stud with Price and Ted, and Currie sat with her sisters and Thora. She was sure Ward was trying to preoccupy himself, just like she was. If she was anywhere near him, it would be torture not to touch.
Saffron’s dark eyes danced as she looked from Ward to Currie and back again. “Are you going to teach Ward and Brent any woodworking tonight, or do you have other lessons in mind?”
“Stop that!” Brie said. “Currie’s been through enough lately.”
Saffron’s lips curved into a smile. “I don’t think she’s experienced everything she should.”
“Will you be good?” Brie turned to Avery. “Saffron was always the naughty one out of the three of us.”
“Was she?” Avery gave her a considering look. “Is she going to give us a hard time when she finds out?”
Saffron’s eyes went wide. “Finds out what?”
“Your sister makes a beautiful orchid.” Avery couldn’t hold back a smile.
Saffron’s jaw dropped. “You melded?”
Brie nodded, her face flushed.
“And he saw you?”
“So you two are bonded now?” Saffron was so excited, she couldn’t sit still. She jumped to her feet and went to hug Brie. “I’m so happy for you!”
Brie relaxed. “It’s all right with you?”
“It’s better than all right! We’ll have two men who stay on the island now.”
“Will Avery move into the lodge?” Thora asked.
Saffron plopped back into her chair and leaned forward. “My room’s next to yours. You should use it as a living room. I can move into Avery’s cabin.”
“I have a better idea.” Thora turned to Currie. “Why don’t you give them your room? It’s on the other side of Brie’s, and you and Ward can move into your father’s cottage.”
Saffron thought a minute and said, “That’s a great idea. Someone needs to live there, and it would feel right that it’s Currie. He was her dad.”
“Is it all right with you, Brie? Or would you and Avery rather have a place to yourselves?” Currie asked.
“I like being in the lodge,” Brie said. “All of my stuff’s here--my office, the library, the music room.”
“We like it here,” Avery said.
“Good, that’s settled.” Thora nodded authoritatively. “Currie and Ward can move out tonight.”
“Tonight?” Currie stared.
“The cottage is already furnished,” Thora said. “You can pack anything personal you need later, and Brie and Avery can move into your place once you’ve cleared out.”
“All we need to do is put some pocket doors between the two apartments, and we’ve doubled our space,” Brie said.
Currie’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “You’ve already been thinking about it.”
“Maybe I have,” Brie admitted.
Saffron breathed a contented sigh. “It will be fun to have some place to go besides the lodge. You can invite us to the cottage for parties and suppers when we’re on our two-week break.”
“YOU’RE going on vacation,” Thora informed her. “You’re visiting some other place and looking for a nice man.”
“By myself?” Saffron hugged her arms to her chest.
“If I can visit my mother, so can you. And your mother travels all the time, so you should have lots of places to choose from.”
Saffron thought about that. “You know, you’re right. It could be fun going to some of her other sanctuaries.”
“You could visit Em too. Whatever, but you’re not staying here.”
Saffron gave a mock salute. “You’re getting sort of bossy lately, aren’t you?”
“More like a drill sergeant,” Brie said, laughing.
“No, that’s your job,” Thora teased.
“And don’t think just because I have Avery, I’m going to slack off.”
While they were laughing, Brent came to sit by Thora.
“It looks like I’m missing all the fun.”
“What have you been up to?” she asked.
“I was bothering Della and Russ, making them look at pictures of Thad and Timmy.”
“You brought pictures?” Currie asked.
He passed them to her, obviously proud. “Yeah, and Della’s going to knit them both winter scarves that look like Harry Potter’s in the movies.”
“How neat is that?” Thora said.
“They’re going to love them.” Brent nudged Thora and said, “You know, your cradle’s all done. I don’t think I need any woodworking lessons tonight, so I thought maybe I’d hang out with you in the kitchen and get things started for tomorrow morning.” When Thora frowned, Brent nodded toward Currie. “I don’t think either Currie or Ward should be around sharp tools right now. Neither should Avery. He has other things on his mind. So if we jumpstart breakfast, Currie can have an early night.”
Thora’s eyes went wide. “I never knew you were such a schemer!”
“I’m a stockbroker, for God’s sake. It’s part of the job.” He flashed a wicked grin.
Thora jumped to her feet. “That means Currie can pack her things and move them to her dad’s cottage.”
“A love nest? I bet some of her stuff is heavy. Ward should help her.”
Currie blushed. “You two! I get the idea, already, but it’s my job to...”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Brent cut her short. “Let us do you a favor already.”
“I appreciate it…”
Brent put a hand over his heart. “It will help me heal, to feel better about myself.”
Currie laughed. “You’re incorrigible!”
“So I’ve been told.” Brent looked smug.
She glanced in the kitchen at Thumper.
“I’ll bunny sit tonight,” Thora offered.
“Oh, all right. Thanks. You two are the best.” Currie stood to get Ward. “We’ll take you up on it.”
“Then get out of here,” Brie said. “The sooner you clear out of the lodge, the sooner Avery and I can expand our apartment.”
“Thanks again,” Currie told Brent. She tugged Ward to his feet, and they disappeared into the lodge.
“We’re doing what?” Ward asked as they climbed the stairs to Currie’s apartment.
“Avery saw Brie when she melded with an orchid, so they’re bonded. I’m moving into my dad’s cottage, and Avery and Brie will knock out part of the wall between our apartments so they have more room.”
Ward hesitated for a second. “I’m thinking Avery wasn’t such an ass about seeing Brie. He didn’t freak like I did.”
“You had legitimate concerns.”
“Not really. The immortal part is what stopped me, but I’m thinking three hundred years with you might not be enough.”
She pressed against him. “I can’t think about losing you. I just can’t.”
He cleared his throat. “We’ll concentrate on the here and now, and get back to business or Brie will come up to check on us. Do you have much to move?” He looked around in surprise when he entered her apartment. It was simply a spacious bedroom with a sitting area at one end. Vases overflowing with flowers provided most of the adornment. The rose and yellows of the flowers matched the flowered print on the two armchairs near the fireplace. “Guess not. You’re not very into ‘stuff,’ are you?”
“I don’t spend much time in here and I hate clutter.” She went to her closet and tossed clothes and shoes in a pile. A few pictures from her nightstand joined the clothes. “That will do for now. You grab some, and I’ll take the rest.”
“We’re leaving now?” He stuffed as much as he could into a bag.
“The sooner we leave, the more time we’ll have at home.”
He stared at her, surprised. “You mean, you don’t have to cook. We’re not coming back?”
“Not until tomorrow morning.”
“In that case . . .” He scooped up a huge pile and jammed it into a second bag. He tossed a bag over each shoulder and headed for the door. “Come on. What’s keeping you?”
“I’m right behind you.”
Ward’s wolf fell into step with him as they crossed to the cottage. It was a twenty-minute walk and when they reached it, Ward stooped to pet the wolf and thank him. Then he tossed Currie’s clothes onto the closest chair, shut the door, and crushed her to him. “Lord, I thought today would never end.”
In answer, she unzipped her sundress and let it drop to the floor. He groaned and bent to kiss the curve of her neck. Her body trembled, and her breath came in short gasps. By the time his lips moved to the tops of her breasts, her entire body strained for more. He scooped her up and carried her up the steps. There were two large bedrooms and a bath. He chose the closest room, tossed the comforter on the floor, and lowered himself over her on the bed. Her hands gripped the spindles of the headboard, and her legs came up around his waist.
“Slow down,” he said, but she pulled him onto her. Her fingers fumbled with his zipper until he yanked off his jeans and T-shirt. When her hand slid under his briefs to stroke him, he shook his head. “Not now. I’ll go off.” And he took control, kissing her breasts, licking the inside of her thighs, and finally, easing himself into her. Currie kept pace with his thrusts, pushing for more, until they were both spent.
He pressed himself against her back when they finished. “Everything about you is beautiful,” he breathed.
She turned her head for a kiss. “My parents never gave me the talk about the birds and the bees. Guess they thought I’d figure it out for myself.”
“You’re a quick learner.” He nuzzled her neck and cupped a breast. Absently, he rubbed a finger over her nipple. Her body trembled and she turned toward him for more. “Already?” he asked.
“I’ve waited a long time.”
He laughed and straddled her once more. This time, they took things slower, but Currie still rushed the finish. Ward sighed. “I can see that I’d better keep my strength up.”
“No worry, you’re my mate. There are perks that come with the job.” She grinned. “For both of us.”
It was a long time before they fell asleep, exhausted. And when Currie woke in the morning, she stretched and smiled. She’d never felt so good.
Currie didn’t get up right away. Instead, she savored the feel of having Ward on the other side of her bed. He lay, facing away from her, but the heavier weight on that side felt like a secure anchor. She listened to the steady rhythm of his breathing. Steady--one of the qualities that she loved about him. She looked around the room. Worn, stone walls and deep window casements felt solid and comforting. The wooden ceiling was painted white to brighten the room. She felt at home.
Currie tried to quietly slide from under the blankets, but Ward turned. “Want some help in the kitchen this morning?”
“No, you’ll just distract me. I’ll slice off a finger or hand. Sleep in a while.” She took a quick shower and tossed on a white tee and a flowered skirt. Ward had pushed himself too hard bringing Price back to the lodge last night. He needed time off, time to adjust to the island, to adjust to his new home. When she left the cottage, blue jays called to her as they took up guard positions outside the house. Ward’s wolf fell into step beside her. She reached down and patted his head. He liked human company now.
It felt odd, somehow, to walk to the lodge to make breakfast. She’d spent her whole life in the suite next door to her sisters. Everyone together, under one roof. She smiled. So much had changed so fast, but it was good change.
Fang stopped to sniff at a groundhog’s hole before running to catch up with her. She scratched him behind his ears. He was so beautiful. EVERYTHING was beautiful today--the sky, the island, her life. She realized that in a week and a half, when the guests left the island, she and Ward could wake in the cottage and eat breakfast together, just the two of them, in their own kitchen. The thought made her even happier.
When she reached the lodge, she gave Fang a final hug. “Go join your pack. Your friends must miss you.”
He turned and raced away, but he headed back toward the cottage. When Ward woke, he’d find him curled at the front door, like she had. When she stepped into the kitchen, Thumper hopped to her for attention.
“Your rabbit’s spoiled.” Thora bent to pet him. She grinned. “You look glowing this morning.”
They talked about the cottage and Thora surprised Currie by saying, “It’s pretty rustic, set up for a guy. When everyone leaves, you and Ward will want to work on it to make it your own.”
“I think it’s perfect the way it is.”
Thora gave a knowing smile. “You haven’t even really looked at it yet. You’ve been too busy with Ward. But it’s not sacred. You can change things.”
They let the subject drop and Currie said, “I can’t believe this set of guests leave soon. Everything’s gone so fast, it doesn’t seem like it’s time.”
“But they’ve blossomed here. They’re ready to go, all but Price. Even Frank and his wife look like they’ve pulled themselves together and will be okay when they hit the real world.”
Currie had to agree. She hadn’t really spent any time with Frank and Sara, though. They made a habit of disappearing to the fish hatchery. She decided to join them there after breakfast to check on their progress.
Brie must have been thinking the same thing, because when the guests came to the dining room, she went to stand before them. “I just want to remind you that after this weekend, you only have one more week on the island. You need to finish any projects you’ve started by then.”
Russ asked, “How many days do we have left?”
He shook his head. “I’ve had trouble keeping track of the days ever since I retired and stayed home, and I don’t have a clue since I’ve been here.”
“No newspaper,” Ted said. “No evening paper. Everything blends together.”
“No five days a week grind and trying to cram everything fun into the weekend,” Brent said.
Russ sent Brent a knowing smile. “That’s going to change for you, boy, once you settle with that nice girl of yours. You’ll be playing with kids in the evenings, helping them with their homework.”
“But the pattern’s the same,” Ted said. “Work during the week, have a life on the weekend.”
“You’re going to change too,” Della said, pointing a wrinkled finger at Ted. “You, young man, are going to start working less and enjoying life more.”
“Damn straight.” Ted nodded, then looked at Price. “What about you?”
“Me? I’m going to work and network seven days a week. I’m going to keep busy. I don’t want time to sit around and think on the weekends.”
The room went quiet.
“You’ll heal,” Saffron said. “You’ve seen that it’s possible, but you have to make time for it.”
“How’s that?” Bitterness tinged his voice. “Enjoy my own company on Sundays? Talk to a shrink? Or maybe I should visit my slut of a sister and her three brats? Or see if my mom’s sober after her Saturday night drinking bouts?”
“Don’t you have ANY friends?” Teri asked.
“I lost touch with them over the years, never bothered to make new ones.”
“Then it’s time you did.” Ted gave him a pat on the back. “Come on, kid. Let’s get our food and take a seat. We have ten days to make a game plan for you. It’s time you learned how to lighten up.”
“And I’m going to learn that from you?”
“Hey, I’m two steps ahead of you. We’ll sit down and figure out how to make a decent personal life for you.”
“You don’t even know how to get along with your own kids.”
“Kids are a different matter. It gets complicated. But a social life--that I can handle. And that’s what you need.”
Price looked around the group and met Mandy’s eyes. “You’re my age and single. What do you do? How do you entertain yourself on the weekends when there aren’t any students to distract you?”
Mandy flinched, but gave a direct answer. “I used to run errands on Saturdays and watch all the happy couples and families and resent their happiness. I sat in my apartment on Sundays with the damned newspaper and I’d fester, fester, fester.”
“What are you going to do now that you’re a happier, better person?” His words stung with sarcasm, but Mandy shook her head.
“I’m going to quit throwing myself a pity party every chance I get. No more lists of how my mom didn’t really love me, my dad didn’t understand me, and my sister used me as a stepping stone to get more glory. I’m a grown-up, for God’s sake, and if I’m unhappy about something, I’m going to change it. If I can’t change it, I’m going to deal with it. It’s that simple. And I’m going to quit thinking about myself all the time and start to get out in the world and DO something.”
“Do you want to sit at our table?” Mandy glanced at Teri, Leann, and Trisha. “We women won’t coddle you like Ted does.”
“Hey! I like the kid.” Ted tried to defend himself, but Mandy shrugged.
Price turned his back on her and started to the buffet table. “You remind me too much of my mom.”
Mandy’s lips curled. “I didn’t think you could handle honesty.”
Brie raised her voice to get their attention and end the feeling of disquiet. “Okay, since that’s settled, let’s get our breakfasts and start our day. You have ten days. Make the most of them.”
People grouped together and murmurs buzzed around the room. Ward had slipped in the room and came to stand beside Currie.
“That was interesting.”
She nodded. “Maybe it will make Price think. It might help him.”
“Maybe.” Ward sounded doubtful.