The next few days were filled with guests proudly sharing their accomplishments. Mandy, Teri, and Leann took people on a tour of their curved and winding flower beds, happy to discuss each bush and flower. Brie and Avery helped Teri and Leann hang the quilt they’d finished on the high wall of the main room. Currie’s art students carried paintings and lithographs to their cabins to take home when it was time. Every person completed their task. Finally, when Frank and Sara brought a stack of cleaned and filleted salmon to the kitchen for the cooking class, Frank said, “You can come and look at the hatchery, but this is really what we’ve done. You’re looking at our finished product.”
“We’ve been enjoying each and every bite of it,” Teri said.
“And we’ve learned how to cook it,” Leann added.
“All of us got to enjoy your chore,” Brent chimed in.
Frank beamed at his wife, and they got busy in the kitchen along with the others--a nice surprise. Currie had planned simple, fast dishes for the evening’s meal so they could start to prep for the final feast tomorrow night. The only person who stayed to himself and brooded, skewering lamb chunks with black olives, cubed feta cheese, and cherry tomatoes for Greek brochettes, was Price. His face looked like a thunder cloud. He tried several times to take Currie aside, to ask her cooking questions on the pretext of leading into personal topics, but they got interrupted over and over again. He finally gave up, rammed food on the metal skewers, and stewed in his own, little corner.
“What are we having for the main courses tomorrow night?” Teri asked, ignoring him. She and Leann drizzled olive oil over the salmon, then covered it with thin slices of lemon and fragrant sprigs of dill.
“Lobsters. Lobster thermidor. And beef tenderloins. An unofficial surf and turf.”
“Heaven. Just like the island.” Mandy licked her lips as she put the finishing touches on her Greek salad. “And look at this!” she said, nodding at her creation. “I can’t believe how many salads I’ve learned to make.”
“Brag, brag, brag,” Leann teased.
The more jovial the others’ moods, the unhappier Price’s expression grew. Currie motioned to Ward, and they both kept an eye on him. Ward, for his part, was busy assembling a huge cornucopia out of wire netting and dough that the class would bake for the centerpiece tomorrow night. He cursed under his breath as he struggled to get it right.
“Having problems?” Frank asked.
“I can’t get the damn thing shaped right,” Ward grumbled.
Sara came to help. “Men are all thumbs when it comes to centerpieces.” She pushed and formed the netting into the proper dimensions.
“Show off,” Teri jibed.
“Thank you.” Ward’s tone was sincere. He frowned at the dough. “This seems like a lot of work for something that won’t last. Why not just carve one out of wood and use it every year?”
“It doesn’t have the same feel,” Sara said.
Frank and Ward exchanged looks. It was a fine point lost on them.
The cooking class spilled over its usual time until finally Teri and Leann said, “We want to go back to our cabins and clean up before dinner. See you guys later.”
The others followed suit. When Price was the only guest left in the kitchen, Ward gave her a look. “What now?”
She nodded them off. “You two take a break. I’ll be there in a minute.” Price couldn’t hurt her. And if she kept him busy and away from the others, so much the better. When the door closed behind them, she got straight to the point. “What’s the deal? You look like the kid who got grounded. Today was supposed to be fun.”
Price moved toward her, crowding her personal space. “Ward and Avery don’t have to leave the island, do they? They’re going to live here forever.”
His question caught her off-guard. “I thought the island didn’t suit you. You’re always talking about how secluded it is, how we’re cut off from the world.”
“You girls are. You’ve never known anything else. I’ve been in the real world, and I’ve paid my dues. I don’t want to go back.”
Currie shook her head. She hadn’t expected this, but maybe she should have. “You don’t strike me as a nature boy. Staying would be an avoidance issue, not out of love.”
“What’s wrong with avoidance? I’m not ready to go home yet. I haven’t healed.”
“The island gives people the solitude and serenity to heal, but it hasn’t worked for you. It might even have made things worse.”
“So what am I supposed to do? How do I get better?”
“Keep so busy for a while, you can’t think. Put the pain behind you, then try coming here again.” Part of Currie cringed at the thought of Price going about his everyday business, free and clear. It didn’t seem fair to Lyssa, but no one could prove anything, and if Price got better, at least he wouldn’t hurt anyone else.
“So I’ll heal by working myself to death. That’s what I did before.”
“I’m just saying that you seem MORE upset since you got here, not better.”
“It’s Em’s fault.” Currie remembered Thora telling her that Price always pointed the finger at someone else. Nothing was ever his responsibility. He went on, “Em reminded me of Lyssa, and she sure couldn’t keep her hands off me. Not very professional.”
“We’re not professionals,” Currie reminded him. “We invite guests to come to the island for a retreat. We give them time to work through their issues. We don’t heal them. They heal themselves.”
Price let out a sharp breath. “Oh, hell, who am I kidding? Maybe I’m past healing.” He took a step closer, trying to intimidate her. It worked, but she refused to let it show. “You’re right. The island and you girls haven’t helped me. Maybe I want to give in to temptation and drown in my anger, tap into the darkness.”
He even made a threat sound as if she’d brought it on herself. That irritated her. “You’re smarter than that. That’s admitting defeat. It feels good short-term, but it makes everything worse, and you know it. You lose in the long run.”
“I’m losing anyway!” Now he was aggravated. “What do you know about darkness? You’ve always been a Pollyanna, living in paradise.” He stepped closer, almost touching. She refused to back up, to step away. She stood her ground and raised an eyebrow.
“Your mom succumbed to her temptations, didn’t she? And your sister? How happy are they?”
He jerked away from her, as if she’d punched him. He turned and stalked to the French doors, staring out into the garden. “I’m not like them.”
“Aren’t you? A person can feel sorry for himself and make excuses, or he can dig deep and fix the problem.”
“My mom didn’t make any effort to better herself at all. Neither did my sister. They always took the easy way out, only cared about themselves.”
“I bet your mom’s mother wasn’t anything to brag about either, so your mom could blame it on someone else too.”
Price whirled to confront her. “So you’re making excuses for Mom and Gina because they didn’t get enough love and attention?”
“Isn’t that what you’re doing?”
“No. I hated them. I have no respect for either of them. So I decided to be a self-made man. And I did it too. I’m a success. But I had to fight for every scrap I got.”
“Okay, so it wasn’t easy. But you did it. Lots of people can’t.”
“You just don’t get it, do you? It cost me bits and pieces of my soul. I don’t trust anyone anymore. They all want something from me. All but Lyssa, and she turned against me, too.” He put a hand against the door to steady himself.
Currie walked to him, put a hand on his arm. “Leann’s here because she raised a son, mostly by herself--and then that son was in a car accident, and he’s gone. Teri’s lost one baby after another. Frank and Sara’s son is in prison because he can’t kick his drug habit. Every person who comes here is dealing with something too big to cope with. You’re not alone. Life is hard, and it can hurt us. But you can heal. If you want to.”
His pale eyes burned into hers. He opened his lips for an angry retort, and then pinched them together. “I just keep thinking that I’m so smart and clever that I should never have gotten hurt in the first place, but it doesn’t work that way, does it?”
“How do you guard yourself, so that it doesn’t happen?”
“You can’t, not completely.”
“Then it wasn’t my fault.”
“But it wasn’t Lyssa’s fault either. She wanted it to work. She was hurt too.”
His face crumpled, and for a minute, she thought he was going to cry. But he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “I blamed her, and she couldn’t help it. I’ve never really talked to anyone about this. It helped.”
“Do you want to talk more?”
“No, not right now. Think I’ll go out on the patio and clear my head.”
She watched him go to sit with Ward and Ted. Ward turned to him. “So, is supper almost ready? Did you and Currie put the finishing touches on it? I’m starving.”
Price shrugged, didn’t answer.
“Someone said it’s Greek tonight,” Ted said. “What the hell is that?”
When Price didn’t respond, Ward said, “New to me, but I bet it’s good.” He looked relieved when people started into the dining room. “Guess we’ll find out. Let’s go.”
Brie and Avery joined Ted and Price for dinner, and when the meal was over, Avery went to play three holes of golf with them. Brie went to watch.
Currie was glad her turn with Price was over. An event-filled day tomorrow, she reminded herself, and the big feast tomorrow night, then, after a quick breakfast on Saturday, Ward would take the guests back to the mainland on the ferry. And hopefully, everyday life would consume Price’s time and energy, and his wound would scar over. She doubted it would ever heal, but maybe it would only fester beneath the surface.
When everyone finally went to their cabins for the night and the wolves stood guard over each guest, Currie slid an arm around Ward’s waist as they walked back to their cottage. “Only one more day,” she said. “I always have mixed feelings when the guests leave, we grow so fond of them. This time’s different, though. I can’t wait until Price is gone and the guests are safe.”
“The guests haven’t noticed,” Ward said. “It’s been a great stay for them.”
“Maybe it was wrong to let romance into the mix. It changed things this time.”
Ward stopped walking, looked up at the myriad of stars overhead. He glanced at the rabbit, fox, and wolf playing together on the trail home. “If I remember right, when Price killed Thumper’s family, he and Emeralda weren’t involved yet. I think he was losing it before he ever slept with her. He started losing it before he killed Lyssa.” He pulled Currie to him. “And I’m eternally grateful that romance was part of my package.”
“But you’re healthy.” She laid her head against his chest. The steady rhythm of his heart eased her tension. Like the tide, she thought. A primeval force.
“Price would have lost it anyway,” Ward said. “He has too much bottled up inside. You girls have done a great job of keeping him contained.”
His praise pleased her.
When he felt her body relax, he said, “Come on. Let’s go home. In two more days, it’s just you and me. We can throw routine out the window.”
A happy thought.