The next day, Ward and Currie walked to the lodge together. Thumper and Fang raced back and forth, circling them before dashing ahead. When they reached the patio, Ward stooped to pet Fang and send him home.
Fang turned to trot away, but not before Price stepped out of the French doors and saw him.
“Is that a tame wolf?” Price asked. “Can I touch him sometime?”
“Not tame. He’s a free spirit,” Ward said. “He does what he wants.”
Saffron stepped outside behind Price. Currie thought her sister looked especially beautiful this morning with the early, slanted light shining on her wild, copper hair. Her face was freshly scrubbed and rested, showing off her dewy complexion, and her black eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. “You look great today,” Currie said.
“What do you mean today?” Price looked Saf up and down.
Saf was dressed in jeans and a faded, blue T-shirt that suited her. “I got a great night’s sleep. Makes all the difference.”
Mandy and Trisha joined Teri and Leann as they walked toward them from their cabins.
“Morning.” Saffron gave them her brightest smile.
Mandy looked uneasily at Price as he hobbled forward to be part of the bird-watching group.
Price colored, embarrassed. “I need to apologize to you. Ted gave me a talk last night, and I’ve been an ass lately when people are being nice to me. I got myself all worked into a funk and took it out on everyone else, but that’s no excuse. I’m sorry.”
Mandy looked surprised, but pleased. “Hey, I have moments too. We all do. Let’s let it drop.”
Saffron gave Price an appraising look. She seemed impressed. But just as Saf started to turn her attention back to the group, Currie caught a small, smug look on Price’s face that disappeared as quickly as it came. It made her wonder if Price had apologized to Mandy only to impress Saf. Currie could tell by the look in her sister’s eyes that she’d caught that brief look, too, and was wondering the same thing. For his part, Price didn’t seem able to read subtleties at all, so he missed their reactions. He appeared to be quite satisfied with himself.
“It’s the perfect time for birding,” Saffron told the group. “Let’s do it.”
Currie and Ward watched them leave and then Currie went to the kitchen and Ward took off for Brie’s computer. Currie found Thora and Brent sipping coffee at the granite counters while Brent chopped fresh mangos, papayas, and strawberries and Thora measured ingredients for crepe batter.
“I see Price is interested in the birdies now,” Brent said, glancing out the wide window. “Or maybe it’s just a gorgeous, red-headed chick that’s caught his eye.”
“Saffron’s got his number.” Thora bent to whisk the batter and winced.
“Is he kicking again?” Brent asked, putting a hand on her stomach.
“He’s shifting around in there, trying to get comfortable.”
As Currie got busy, sautéing chicken, spinach, and mushrooms for the savory crepe filling, she watched Thora press her hand to her back. Carrying a baby must be more work than she thought.
Brent leaned down and kissed Thora’s stomach. “Be nice in there, kiddo.” He smiled. “I wonder if Claire would ever like to try for a little girl.”
“Would you?” Thora asked.
“If she’d want to. If not, two boys will keep me plenty busy.” He looked at Currie. “What about you? What’s your preference?”
Before she thought, she said, “I can only have girls.”
Brent stared. “Why? Do you have some rare hostile chromosome that wipes out male genes?”
“It’s a family predisposition. No boys allowed so far.”
Brent shook his head. “You girls must have strong hormones. Ward had better watch his step.”
“Ward looks like the type who can hold his own.” Thora poured the crepe batter into a small, hot pan and swirled it around.
While she made crepes, Currie started a large pot of oatmeal. A timer buzzed, and Brent drained a pan of boiled eggs and rinsed them with cold water. “Can any man hold his own with the women on this island? I get the idea that you girls are almost invincible.”
The two women glanced at each other. “We’re pretty independent,” Thora said.
Brent started peeling the eggs. “You know, everything about my Claire is wonderful, but she’s not especially a good cook. It might be fun if we signed up for some classes together.”
“You’re turning pretty domesticated,” Thora teased.
“Yeah, I can’t wait.”
Currie frowned. “You’re sure that Claire will say ‘yes,’ right? You haven’t waited too long?”
“She pretty much let me know that I’d better make my mind up about her and the boys while I was here. If I came back with a proposal, she’s ready to move in with me. If I couldn’t decide, it was goodbye.”
“Then I’m happy for you.”
Brent gave a huge grin. “Me too. I didn’t realize how much I wanted Claire until I came here. Claire AND her boys. I can hardly wait.”
Ward and Currie joined Brie and Avery in the dining room for breakfast. The dining room was noisier than usual with everyone chatting. Ward, keeping his voice low, said, “My dad dug up a little information about Price’s fiancée, Lyssa Wagers.”
Brie scanned the room and decided that it was safe to talk. “Anything interesting?”
“Lyssa was an artist whose career was just taking off. Her paintings were beginning to be shown in some of the bigger galleries, so she was in a good, happy phase of her career. But she’d suffered from manic-depression her whole life. When Dad talked to her doctor, he thought that she’d stabilized with the right medicines. He didn’t know that she’d gotten pregnant, wasn’t surprised when told that she’d aborted the baby.”
“Because of her instability?” Brie asked.
“Because mental health is hereditary, and she wouldn’t want that for a child.”
“That’s what Price told us,” Currie said.
“The doctor was seriously upset when he learned she’d committed suicide. When Dad called him, he said that it’s always a worry with a patient who’s depressed, but he thought that Lyssa would come to him for treatment if she needed it.”
“A lot of patients don’t, though, do they?” Avery asked.
“It’s a constant struggle. The doctor said that a lot of patients stop taking their meds once they feel good. They think they don’t need them anymore. And a lot of patients get too depressed to care when their meds don’t work.”
“So it’s common,” Currie said.
“Yes, but Lyssa had been through all of those stages and knew the results. He thought she was past that. He said she was usually very responsible about treating her mood swings as a disease, a chemical imbalance--like diabetes or high blood pressure--instead of being ashamed of them or trying to ignore them.”
“She’d never been pregnant before,” Brie said. “That shoots your hormones all over the place, doesn’t it?”
“It can, I guess, but Lyssa didn’t try to hide her problem. She said it was a health issue, like any of the other diseases. She might not be able to cure it, but she could find ways to live with it.”
“Even if she decided to abort a baby?” Currie asked.
“Well, that’s the big question, isn’t it?” Ward said.
Avery let out a deep breath. “Isn’t it sad that just when you think you’re coping and handling one problem in life, another can come along and broadside you?”
“No one said life was easy.” Ward shook his head. “Anyway, Dad wants to keep digging, if that’s all right with you. And he even offered to do quick background checks on the rest of the guests.”
“Tell him we’d appreciate it,” Brie said. “I do background checks to get enough information to help the people who come here, but I don’t know how to dig for anything else.”
When breakfast was over, Ward didn’t head back to the office, but made a list of the things that Emeralda usually gathered and went in search of them. “I’m ready for some fresh air before I hit the computer again.”
“But you’ll be alone,” Brie worried. “That’s not safe.”
“Fang comes whenever I’m out of sight of the lodge,” Ward said.
Brie sighed. “Mom’s going to pull her hair out.”
“We didn’t try to tame him.” Ward spread his hands in a helpless gesture. “It just happened.”
“Hopefully, that counts.” Brie and Avery left to spend time with Russ and Della.
Currie went with Brent to help Thora with cleanup before it was time to teach her art class.
The lithographs moved along well, and the paninis that Currie served for lunch were a big hit, so she was pleased with herself when she went to her cooking class. She planned on making that special too. Frank and his wife had brought baskets of crabs to cook--a wonderful treat, but Teri and Leann hesitated, frowning at the pinchers and showing no enthusiasm to drop live crabs into boiling water.
“I don’t mind sautéing and baking fillets, but this is different,” Teri said. “It’s like murder.”
Price shook his head in disgust. “But I bet you order crab cakes at restaurants.”
“I don’t have to look at them,” Leann said. “I can’t order lobster at restaurants, either, when they have them staring at me in tanks. It’s like the lobsters look at me and know that I’m the one who hired their hit man.”
“For heaven’s sake!” Price threw down his dishtowel. “Look, I’m supposed to do the lamb chops, but what if we trade?”
The women didn’t argue. They stepped to the stove and left Price to do the crab cooking. It was a fair trade-off. Teri and Leann happily dredged the lamb chops in Dijon mustard, garlic, and breadcrumbs while Price, for his part, had no problem grabbing wriggling crabs and sending them to their deaths. Currie got Mandy started on a panzanella salad, and Thora and Brent worked on a cobbler. Everyone seemed comfortable in their routines, working easily together.
Currie moved around the room, checking to see if anyone needed help, and when she reached Price, he leaned closer to talk to her. “It looks to me like each one of you girls on this island has a specialty. You’re the cook and creative genius, Brie’s the brainiac, and Saf’s the nature girl, right?”
“Is Saf only interested in guys who hike and bird-watch?”
“That helps. Those are her interests, and it’s nice to find someone who shares them.”
Price scooped another load of cooked crabs from the pot and tossed them in a huge colander. “That sort of leaves out anyone who’s focused on their careers, doesn’t it? I mean, what’s a salesman going to have in common with you girls?”
“An interest in nature, I guess. Ward was a firefighter, and we have a lot in common. You don’t have to do the same things to have common interests, but haven’t you had enough trouble with romance here? Wouldn’t you be better off trying to concentrate on yourself right now?”
“You guys never give up on that theme, do you?”
“You have to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else,” Currie said.
“I want to break out of myself. I want to find something new.”
“All I ever hear you talk about is sales.” Currie scooped the cooked crabs into tin pails. Each table would be lined with butcher paper to throw the crabs on and crack open. “Sales is your job, not your whole life. What are your other interests and hobbies?”
Price frowned. “That’s sort of a luxury, isn’t it--having interests and hobbies?”
“What are you saying? That all you think about is work?”
“You make it sound like a sin. You put in a lot of hours here. What’s wrong with that?”
“Life is about more than a job and money.”
“Really? You girls have lived on this island too long. That’s not the way it works in the real world. You put in the time, or you don’t get anywhere.” He reached for a crab, it pinched him, and he cussed. “Die, bastard!” He tossed it into the pot.
Currie turned to face him. “Lyssa was an artist. What attracted you to her? Do you collect paintings?”
“I don’t have that kind of money. I like going to museums, though, and I’d see Lyssa at galleries off and on.”
“So you have an interest in art. You like museums.”
“When I have the time.”
“Why not make the time and go to museums and galleries on weekends?”
He shook his head. “Not anymore. They’d make me think of her.”
“How did you finally meet and end up going together?”
“I saw her at a private art gallery, alone. Usually, she was with a group of friends--the deadbeat, hippie type. I went over and introduced myself.”
Price smiled. “She wasn’t one bit interested. I asked her for coffee, and she said she was busy. I pointed to a painting on the wall and said, ‘That’s the one that keeps pulling me to this place. I can’t look at it enough.’ Pure luck. It was hers. After that, she showed me the paintings that were her favorites. We talked for hours and ended up going to a little Italian restaurant for dinner.”
“That sounds pretty romantic.”
“It was, but it was hard work too. She was skittish, so I went to one gallery opening after another that I thought might interest her, and we kept bumping into each other. I planned my whole life around ‘accidentally’ meeting her, and it finally paid off.”
“So you waged a campaign.”
“More like a siege. It took months.”
“You must have been pretty hooked.”
He grabbed a dishrag and wiped his hands on it, avoiding Currie’s gaze. “I’ve never wanted anything so much in my life.”
“Why? What pulled you to her?”
He sighed. “For one thing, she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, but she was totally unaware of it. She didn’t care at all about her looks--usually wore her hair pulled back at the base of her neck, no makeup, long flowing skirts and loose T-shirts. That was a real turn-on to me. And then she was smart, and she took her art seriously, worked really hard at it. And she never put on airs.”
Currie nodded. “A beautiful person.”
“Inside and out.”
“So what finally did the trick and helped you win Lyssa over?”
“Not money. She wasn’t impressed by that.” Price tossed in the last of the crabs and stopped to think. “I’d like to say that it was because I was persistent and cared about her art, but her friends lived in that world. They were all sculptors and painters and stuff. A good support group for her. Close-knit. The truth is, I think she felt sorry for me and knew that I needed her, and she liked being needed.”
Currie stopped what she was doing and studied him, surprised that he shared something that personal. “You needed her?”
Price nodded. “I had a great job, lots of money, and I was angry most of the time because I wasn’t happy. Lyssa knew how to be happy when everything was stacked against her. At least, she did back then. She was good for me.”
“And you were good for her?”
His shoulders sagged. “I tried to be, but I’m not so sure.”
“Were you two happy until she got pregnant?”
“I think we were, but since she hanged herself, I keep analyzing all the phases of our lives.” He started to run a hand through his hair, sniffed at the crab scent, and thought better of it. “I just don’t know anymore. Were the happy times really good, or did I just think they were? Was I driving her away like I did Em? Maybe I’m no good for anyone, not even myself.”
“You’re being pretty hard on yourself.”
“Yeah, well, what if it’s true? What if I was the worst thing to happen for Lyssa?”
“I’ve listened to people who come here after divorces, and it seems to me that two people can love each other and be totally wrong together. It happens, but it hurts. You learn from it and do a better job next time.”
He stared at her. “That’s it? It’s a learning experience, even if you drove someone to their death?”
“You loved Lyssa, right? You did your best to make everything work between you. That’s all a person can do. Just like Ward, you have to accept that sometimes our best isn’t good enough. If Lyssa was really unhappy with you, she could have just left, walked out. She didn’t have to kill herself.”
Price ran a hand through his hair. He glanced around the kitchen. The others had finished and quietly left, giving him privacy. “That seems like an easy cop-out, like you’re being awfully easy on yourself.”
“So what are you supposed to do? Punish yourself for the rest of your life? What good does that do? If you screwed up--and I’m not sure you did--then you’re sorry. You learn from it and don’t screw up again. What else is there?”
“I still hurt. I still need someone to make me feel better.”
“That’s where you went wrong the last time. First, you fix yourself. Then you have something to offer to someone else.”
“Maybe I don’t have anything.”
“Then you’re not ready until you do.”
He shook his head and turned to leave. “Can’t someone else save you, just once in a while? Do you always have to save yourself?”
“Why not save yourself?” she asked.
“Because I don’t think I can.” He stalked out of the room. Currie watched him cross the meadow to his cabin. A little alone time might be good for him. He could come to grips with his hurt and guilt before joining everyone in the dining room for supper.
That night, Ward and Currie separated and sat with different people on the patio after supper. They’d agreed that they wanted to stay at the lodge and talk to her sisters and the others when the guests went to their cabins.
“Oh, Lord, is the honeymoon already over?” Currie heard Ted joke when he dealt Ward in for five-card stud.
Ward laid down three aces to beat Ted’s three Jacks and Price’s pair of Kings. “Nope, it hasn’t officially started yet. We’re saving ourselves so it’s special.”
“Yeah, right!” Price scooped up the cards and, glancing over at Currie, gave them an extra shuffle. “Let’s see if we can end your lucky spell.” But Ward won the next three hands.
“Let’s play another game,” Price complained. “How about Black Jack?”
Ward shrugged. “Doesn’t matter to me.”
It mattered to Price, though, when Ward won at that game too. Price shoved the cards away. “Forget it. Our golden boy can’t lose these days.”
“Let’s give it a rest,” Ted said. “How about hitting a few golf balls to work off some steam?”
Ward stayed behind and went to sit with Della and Russ. He raised his eyebrows at Currie, and she shook her head. Ward had tried, but Price wasn’t done feeling sorry for himself. Mandy pulled up a chair at Ward’s table.
“Someone needs to grow up.” Russ motioned toward Price.
“The boy’s suffering from being lovesick,” Della said.
“You can’t be lovesick when you weren’t in love,” Mandy said.
“He misses his Emeralda.”
“He might miss her, but he didn’t love her. All he thinks about is himself.” Mandy sent a dark look Price’s way.
“Now, now, dear, or you’re going to sound as grumpy as he does.”
Mandy shook her head. “I’m not grumpy. I love it here, and I love everyone on the island, with one exception.”
“Then it’s a good thing that you two don’t have to play together,” Della said.
“Play?” Mandy grimaced. “Okay, I get it. I can do my thing, and he can do his.”
“Smart girl.” Della steered the conversation to a new bird she’d seen that day-- “a big woodpecker, absolutely beautiful.” And the rest of the evening passed pleasantly.
Currie sat with her sisters and waited until people finally drifted off to their cabins. Then they climbed the stairs to her old suite. When Brie opened the door and invited the others in, Currie blinked in surprise.
“When did you make this into a kitchen and living room?”
Avery motioned around the room with pride. “Why do you think you haven’t seen much of me? I’ve been spending every minute I could up here, getting our rooms ready.”
Saffron turned in a slow circle. “Did you do the plumbing yourself?”
“Ted helped me when Price was off following you around,” Avery said. “That man’s handy at everything. He convinced me to make Currie’s old room the kitchen since it’s right over the plumbing for the kitchen downstairs.”
“And the cabinets?” Thora walked to the white, open shelves that lined one wall.
“Russ helped with those. He has a woodworking shop in his basement at home. We still have a little bit of woodwork to do, but the room’s almost done.”
“It’s beautiful,” Currie said. “It’s perfect for you two.”
Brie glowed. “We wanted it to be completely finished before we invited everyone up, but this seemed like a good occasion.” She went to pour everyone a glass of wine. “To fresh beginnings!”
After their toast, they settled around the table for a serious discussion, and Currie told them about her conversation with Price in the kitchen.
Ward shook his head. “I’m surprised Price had anything good to say about Lyssa’s friends. My dad phoned one of them and met him for coffee. He said that none of Lyssa’s friends liked Price, that Lyssa was in a good place in her life when she met him, but he was jealous of anything and everything that took her away from him. Price was pressuring her not to see any of her artist buddies anymore. He wanted her to be part of his world.”
“What is his world?” Currie asked. “All he ever talks about is business.”
“Exactly. Price wanted Lyssa to start traveling with him, to go with him on business trips. And she did sometimes, but she didn’t want to give up her art, so sometimes she’d stay home. That’s the only time she got together with her friends, when Price was gone, or Price would get angry and sulk.”
“A control freak,” Avery said. “Look how he treated Emeralda.”
Ward nodded agreement. “According to this guy, Lyssa got more and more unstable the longer she was with Price.”
“So did Em,” said Thora. “I’ve never seen her so messed up.”
“This guy claimed that Lyssa was going to leave Price. He was too overwhelming for her. He says that she aborted the baby because she was worried about her mental health and didn’t think she was strong enough to raise a child by herself, and she didn’t think she could survive staying with Price.”
“Didn’t she have parents, any relatives?” Avery asked.
“She told her friends she’d worried her parents her entire life. She wouldn’t bring more worries to their door.”
Thora laid a hand on her round stomach. “I feel so sorry for that girl.”
“Her friends aren’t just sorry. They hate Price. They think that when Lyssa told Price that she was leaving him, he made her feel so bad, she couldn’t handle it. They think that’s why Price is having such a hard time dealing with her suicide. They feel like he drove her to it.”
“No wonder he’s blaming himself,” Currie said. “She didn’t want to get involved with him in the first place, and he kept after her until she gave in. He told me that she fell in love with him because he needed her.”
Saffron shook her head. “Not need. It’s more than need. Price wants to OWN you. It’s more like possession. He almost suffocates you.”
Brie pushed herself to her feet and went to the cupboards for a box of chocolates, a sure sign that she was upset. “That’s what he did to Emeralda.”
“And he’s trying to do it to me, but it’s not happening. What Price wants isn’t healthy.” Saffron studied the candies and chose a square one. “Hope this is a caramel.”
“Dad did a quick check on all of the other guests.” Brie offered Ward the box of candies, but he shook his head no, immune to temptation, and passed the candies to Avery. “Mandy’s got a little bit of a background.”
Brie sighed and reached for another soft-centered goodie. “I didn’t find anything on her.”
“That’s because minor offenses aren’t made public. They’re supposed to be erased once the person hits legal age, but Dad found stuff in her file.”
“So what did she do?” Avery asked.
“She ran away two times when she was in high school.”
“She never got along with her family.” Currie studied the diagram on the box’s lid and dug for a nougat. “So I guess that’s not surprising.”
“Did she tell you that she got picked up for shoplifting and was probably involved in some burglary, but no one could prove it?”
“She was hanging out with the wrong crowd,” Ward said. “One of the kids got caught and sent to juvie, but he wouldn’t rat on the others.”
“That was a long time ago.” Avery put the lid on the box, ending the chocolate frenzy. “She was an angry teenager.”
“She was a troubled teen. Her dad paid big bucks to send her to a college as far away from home as possible.”
“That’s why she was troubled in the first place!” Brie went for her chocolates again. “Her parents didn’t want to deal with her.”
Ward raised a hand to calm her. “It’s probably part of their family dynamics, but Mandy had quite the temper when she was younger and was a rebel with attitude. We haven’t seen much of it here, but everything’s perfect, isn’t it?”
“And she’s still had a few outbursts,” Avery said. “She and Price go along fine until something hits a nerve, then they blow. They can’t keep it together when something ripples the waters.”
Brie gnawed her bottom lip. “We need to keep an eye on both of them. Ward’s right. Price and Mandy have made progress, but there’s a lot of anger there.”
“Was there anything else on any of the other guests?” Avery asked.
“Dad’s still looking. Let’s hope he doesn’t find anything. Two people to watch are enough.”
Saffron nodded, her expression sober. “There are only eight more days for this session, and I think the pressure’s building for Price and Mandy. They’re nervous about how they’re going to cope when they leave the island.”
Brie put the lid on the box of chocolates, cutting herself off. “The more pressure, the more problems.”
They separated for the night, and Currie knew that all of them, not just her, worried about what would happen in the next week.