Sonya stood in the middle of her grandmother’s – now her – living room. Boxes surrounded her in organized chaos. She thought that she should probably have sold or donated all her belongings since her beloved Gram left her everything when she passed the month before. Sonya found it difficult to think of the place as hers, however. After eighty-four years, Cordelia Desmonda McKenzie’s spirit was strong. Sonya hoped replacing a few of Gram’s things with her own would help. At the least, she hoped it would help her work through her grief.
Memories assailed Sonya from the moment she set foot on Stargazer Island. Earlier, actually. Sonya stood at the bow of the ferry as it crossed the Atlantic from mainland Rhode Island remembering countless trips to see Gram, her bright emerald gaze starving for that first view of the high plateau of Stargazer Rock. As a child she loved waving to the fishing boats the ferry passed. The islanders always waved back, but then, they all knew who she was.
Sonya had always been a happy child. Until That Day. Sonya never thought of it in any other terms. Certainly not as her eleventh birthday. Birthdays were supposed to be happy. That day was anything but.
Sonya ruthlessly suppressed the grief that always rose when she thought of that day. Her father murdered. Her mother’s fury. Sonya lost her Gram that day as surely as she had lost her father. Her mother had always hated the island. She latched onto her husband’s death as reason to never return, or allow her daughter to see her Gram again. She left Sonya isolated. Then she remarried less than a year later.
The best Sonya could say about her stepfather, Albert – never Al – Westin is that he was her motivation to graduate high school early and move far away for college. The man’s house was cold. It had certainly never felt like home.
Attending college at sixteen had brought her Gram back into her life, however. She had to hide those visits from her mother to avoid the woman’s tantrums, but it was well worth it. That was when Gram taught Sonya her legacy. And now, at twenty-six years old, Sonya was finally back where she belonged.
A knock on the front door brought Sonya back from the past. Weaving through the maze of boxes, she studied the shape of the man through the stained glass. He was easily half a foot taller than her own five foot, seven inches. Broad shoulders tapered into a trim waist. Something about the way he held his head slightly tilted struck a familiar chord.
Opening the door, she took in the rugged face, square jaw darkened by stubble. Tan, weather-toughened skin sat beneath medium brown scruff. Intense, cobalt blue eyes warmed as he studied her in turn, and Sonya recognized those eyes immediately.
He shot her a lopsided grin and opened his arms. The shy uncertainty faded from her face. She leapt into them. Laughing, he spun her in a circle.
“Does this mean I’m forgiven for the boardwalk incident, Pixie?”
The fifteen years since she had last seen Liam disappeared as if they had never been. No longer uncertain of her welcome, at least with him, Sonya fell back into their normal interaction. She put her hands on her hips and glared in mock rage.
“I’ll have you know I am now too tall to be a pixie, and you’ll only be truly forgiven once you buy me a replacement cone.”
Liam chuckled appreciatively and swept her a bow. “Your pardon, my fairy queen. Please allow your humble servant to buy you an ice cream cone.”
Sonya’s laughter pealed sweetly as she nodded. She grabbed her ID and cell off the table by the door. Liam stopped her before she joined him on the porch.
She raised a brow in question. The islanders rarely, if ever, locked their doors. Liam grimaced.
“Your mother didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
He wondered at the change in her tone of voice the moment he mentioned her mother. “Someone broke in a week ago.”
Sonya stared at him, in shock. Liam saw her emerald eyes change to a silvery sage as she frowned, clearly upset. She remained silent as she grabbed the keys, shut and locked the door. She did not speak until they reached the front gate. That was something new. Sonya had always been an open sort, talking out whatever she was thinking without hesitation. At least, with him and their friends.
“I’ve spoken to my mother every day this month. She never mentioned a break-in.”
“We didn’t notice anything missing when we investigated, but you would likely know better than we would.”
Sonya noticed his “we.” She glanced sideways, taking in the tan uniform of the island police.
“Is Ed Simons still chief of police?”
“He is.” As they turned onto Main and walked toward the south shore, away from town, he added, “This will be his last year, though. Ed received some bad news from Doc. Not exactly life threatening at the moment, but it was enough that the Council approved his early retirement. He and Cora want to spend more time with their grandchildren. They’ll likely spend their winters as snowbirds since their daughter lives in Georgia. They’ll all come back here over the summers.”
“Let Ed know if he or Cora need anything, I’ll be happy to help,” Sonya told him quietly. Then she glanced over. “Abby has children?”
Liam grinned quickly. “A little girl and twin boys. I haven’t met the twins yet, but the girl, Mayelle, is adorable. She’s three, and as wild as any of us ever were.”
Sonya laughed softly again. This time, there was a note of sorrow in the sweet sound.
“I can’t wait to meet them. It’s been so long since I’ve seen anyone.”
Frowning, Liam asked the question that had been bothering him for years. “Why didn’t you come back?”
He fought to suppress the hurt, and the grief. The last time he had seen her had been at her father’s funeral. Forced to stand beside her mother, Sonya’s tear-filled gaze had sought him out, clinging to him like he was her lifeline. And after everything they had been through, he felt the same way about her.
Once the funeral ended, Liam ran through the woods between his house and Miz Delia’s in search of her. Only she was not there. Her grandmother told Liam that Sonya and her mother had left for the ferry directly from the cemetery. They had not even had a chance to say goodbye. Liam waited, summer after summer, but the little girl with blue-black hair and huge emerald eyes never returned.
Recalled to the present, Liam remained silent in the face of that flat statement and took her hand. The look in her eyes, and that somewhat emotionless, robotic voice, left him no choice. She needed some physical connection to the world outside her memories. Liam had sworn an oath when they first met that he would protect and stand beside her. He might only have been five at the time, but no way was he going to renege now.
Liam remembered Eleanor McKenzie well. The woman left nearly as big an impression on the island children as her daughter, though not in the same way. Both were physically beautiful, but where Sonya was warm, kind and full of life, Eleanor was cold and disapproving. Coming from an upper-class background, she made no secret of her belief that the islanders were beneath her. What truly made Liam furious, though, was how she treated her own daughter. He had seen Eleanor’s harsh words cut through Sonya’s smile, driving her to the brink of tears. It made his blood boil.
After a moment of silence, Sonya sighed. “She refused to allow me to come home after dad…”
Liam squeezed her hand, still missing Connor McKenzie after all these years. Unlike his wife, Connor was always ready with a friendly smile and words of advice or praise. How he had come to marry such a cold woman as Eleanor was a total mystery.
Sonya sent him a small smile.
“She remarried quickly. Albert had a large household staff. Enough to ensure I could not contact anyone mother disapproved of.” Sonya grimaced. “I wrote letters from boarding school, but never heard back.”
“No one ever received a letter from you,” Liam answered her unasked question.
Sonya nodded, unsurprised. “I believe the school staff stole them. I was always watched. It was like being under house arrest.”
Honestly, it had been much worse, but Sonya did not want to worry Liam. He had always been extremely protective, and willing to avenge any wrongs done to someone in his circle. It might have been fifteen years since she last saw him, but she doubted that had changed. Besides, she was finally free of both Albert and her mother. Now that she was back on Stargazer Island, Sonya wanted to put the past behind her.
They reached the Ice Cream Shack at the edge of the beach, just before the line of large boulders separating the stretch of sand from the wharf. Once a small cottage, it had been transformed into a hotdog and ice cream stand back in the fifties. Ice cream, hot pretzels and hotdogs were still served from a window on the covered front porch. The familiar flower beds were full of colorful May blooms. Aside from the fact that it sported a new coat of bright blue, green and pink paint, it still looked much as it had the last time Sonya had been there.
Both smiled as a tourist couple tried to control the chaos of their multiple children as they waited impatiently for their cones. Sonya’s eyes danced with suppressed laughter at Liam’s smirk. Some things never changed.
Once the children had their treats, their parents herded them toward the beach. Liam and Sonya stepped up to the window. Glancing over, Liam raised a brow.
Sonya grinned appreciatively, though whether because he remembered her preference or at the thought of her favorite dessert, Liam could not be sure.
“You know it.”
He placed her order and asked for the caramel coffee ice cream. Cones in hand, they meandered toward the picnic tables nearby. Once settled, Liam resumed their conversation.
“Your grandma said you graduated early and got accepted to Boston U.”
“That’s right. It got me out of that house, but sadly not out from under Albert’s control. I received an academic scholarship that covered my tuition and housing, so mother decided I did not need any further financial assistance. Albert made a large donation to the college. It allowed him to have the college refuse my applications for work-study. I also had no transportation, so off campus work was nearly impossible to find. I struggled just for money to eat, let alone pay for a trip back here.
“Things did get better once I received my Bachelors’ Degrees. I got a job at a museum, which gave me the contacts to start an online research and translation company while I took a few business courses at night and taught at a community college. It was still a struggle, but my roommate and I were able to afford an apartment together. We could even scrape together enough to have a night of fun once a month.”
“It must have felt good when you finally broke free of Albert and your mother,” Liam observed.
“Sadly, I was not as free as I had hoped. Albert had someone monitoring me, even after I graduated. I was good at saving money by that point and had enough to pay for a trip to the island. Someone broke into our apartment and smashed everything. The cost of repairs and replacement took every last cent. Another time, I had already bought a bus ticket when the professor I worked with at the museum suddenly informed me he was taking a sabbatical and needed me to teach his summer class. Not doing so would have cost me my job. Since the bus ticket was non-refundable and non-transferrable, I lost the money.”
She did not mention the time she had been mugged on her way to her apartment. Medical fees for her concussion and broken leg had taken her savings once again. Sonya shoved the encroaching memories of everything that happened after her Gram’s death back forcefully. No way was she going there. She sighed.
“Whenever Gram tried to buy me a ticket or help me out, something would happen to prevent it. Every time. Finally, Gram began visiting me in Boston. Mother pitched a fit when she found out, but it was a lot easier to ignore that when she lived on the opposite side of the country.”
Liam laughed. “I’ll bet. So, I heard you got degrees in history and language.”
He had a feeling Sonya was downplaying the incidents she told him about. He could read between the lines well enough to build a picture of her life after her dad’s death. It chilled him. So did the haunted look in her eyes, which was why he changed the subject. She needed to focus on the positives for a while.
Sonya smirked. “What would be smart is figuring out how to make a living here on the island.”
“You planning on sticking around then?”
“Absolutely. This is home.” Finishing her ice cream, Sonya looked expectantly at Liam. “How about you? What have you been up to?”
Liam stood with her and grabbed her hand again as they headed back up Main. Sonya’s heart warmed at the familiar gesture. Memories of him doing the same stretched back as far as she could remember, when she had begun playing with the island children at the age of three. Nothing had ever made her feel more included, or safer, than that. Before reaching town, they turned east, following Little Dipper Road toward the McKenzie house, which sat on Cassiopeia Drive, where Little Dipper ended.
“After high school, I went into the navy,” Liam told her. “I got out last year and came home. That same day, Chief Simons was pestering me to join the force. His two officers both needed leaves of absence, and the others had retired and left the island only a couple weeks prior. Budget issues and red tape kept the county from sending him full time help. It was a mess.”
Sonya stopped and turned to face him. “Thank you for your service, Liam.”
Looking up into his eyes, Sonya saw those years, the fighting, devastation, sacrifice, comradery, and loss, reflected in the intense blue. The last fifteen years had clearly affected him as much, if not more, than they had her.
Going onto her toes, she reached up and kissed the corner of his mouth. She began walking again, a blush rising to her cheeks. Sonya had not expected to feel a spark at that tiny kiss, and certainly not such a strong one. She cleared her throat.
“So are the other officers you mentioned coming back?”
Still feeling a tingle where Sonya’s lips had touched, Liam fell into step beside her again. Given the attraction he felt the moment he laid eyes on her, it was no surprise her kiss would cause sparks. The sudden fire he had to fight to contain? Yeah, that was unexpected. He would have to watch it, or he could find himself jumping ahead too many steps. For now, he should focus on something else. Like the question Sonya was still waiting for an answer on.
“George Addison already is. He had to take care of his mother on the mainland. He’ll be the next chief of police once Ed retires. Town Council already approved his appointment. Rowan Ellis will be back in a month or so. He was in a pretty bad car accident. It’s taken multiple surgeries, but he’s almost fully recovered. Just finishing therapy.”
“I’m glad to hear Rowan will be all right. Gram told me about the accident, but not how bad it was.”
George was eight years Sonya’s senior, so she never really spent much time with him. Rowan had been a year older than Liam, making him three years older than Sonya. But the island was a small community, so she did know them both. George was good at stopping the younger kids from fighting. Rowan had always been a team captain along with Liam. They made sure the youngest children were included.
“So, you were Ed’s only officer for quite some time then?”
“Actually no,” Liam shot her a quick grin. “One of my squad mates was discharged with me and came here too. Ed hired us both.”
They reached Sonya’s gate. Liam nodded toward the house. Following his gaze, Sonya saw a man lounging on her front porch steps. She let Liam lead her up the walk as the man stood. An inch shorter than Liam, this man’s shoulders were even broader, reminding her of a linebacker. Completely bald with skin the color of coffee and hazel eyes, he was undeniably handsome. Especially when he smiled.
“I was wondering where you were, Merlin.”
Liam and the man exchanged that one-arm, back slap hug men seemed to favor and grinned down at Sonya.
“My nickname in the navy,” he explained. “Sonya, this is Sam LaSalle, aka ‘Voodoo’. Sam, meet Sonya McKenzie.”
Sam took her hand, surprising Sonya by pulling her in for a hug.
“It’s great to finally meet you, sugar. Liam’s told the team so many stories, I feel like I know you already.”
Sonya heard the slight accent in his deep, rich voice. Given that, coupled with his nickname, she figured he was originally from Louisiana. She quirked a brow when he called her “sugar,” but found herself grinning anyway. She had not missed Liam’s quiet groan at the endearment.
“It’s nice to meet you, too, teddy bear.”
Her grin grew as Liam snorted his amusement at his friend’s stunned expression. Then Sam threw back his head and roared with laughter. Sonya and Liam joined in. Sam’s easy nature was infectious.
When they quieted down, Sonya asked, “Have you been waiting here long, Sam?”
“Only about five minutes. Once I heard you had come in on the ferry, I knew Liam would be here as soon as his shift ended.”
“I was,” Liam acknowledged. “But I had to atone for childhood sins and buy the fairy queen ice cream.”
“I thought you called her a pixie.”
Liam shrugged. “Apparently, she’s too tall to be a pixie now.”
“There’s a height requirement?”
Sonya responded absently as she unlocked the door. “Pixies are between four and six inches tall. Fairies are human-sized. Technically, I’ve always been too tall to be a pixie, but I used to be a lot shorter than the other island kids, so he got away with it.”
She and Liam exchanged small smiles, both remembering the same day. At seven years to Liam’s nine, Sonya had earlier that spring been forced to attend a feminist rally with her mother. Looking back, she found it kind of laughable, given her mother did not have a feminist bone in her body, but back then, the rally was being supported by the who’s who in their town, so mother felt she needed to be seen. Sonya picked up a few things from the speakers.
That summer, after listening to her lecture about how commonly used, generic nicknames were boys’ way of taking a girl’s individuality, and therefore her power, Liam promised never to call her by one of them. She even forced him to argue his case for why she should allow him to call her “pixie.” His defense was that, since she was the cutest girl on the island and being much smaller than the other island children, it was a fitting description of her, personally. Plus, she often talked and played with the tiny Otherkind who dwelled in the woods, but she was too young to be called the fairy queen yet. Sonya magnanimously agreed to allow the endearment.
Sam blinked and looked at Liam. “She’s like you.”
“Who do you think I learned it from? The McKenzies are the island experts on all things Other.”
The two men followed Sonya inside. Their gazes swept the boxes strewn over the floor. Liam shook his head.
“I know I said you would know better than us if anything is missing, but now I’m not so sure.”
Sonya sighed. “I’m trying to figure out the best way to make this place feel like mine. Gram’s spirit is really strong. Right now, I feel like I’m just visiting, and Gram will walk out of the kitchen with a plate of cookies any minute.”
Liam wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her close, kissing the top of her head. “Miz Delia made the best cookies. Oatmeal butterscotch.”
After a second of fond memories, Sonya led the men toward the kitchen. “I might not see anything missing, but I know who will.”
The two men watched as Sonya pulled out a jug of cream and poured some into a saucer. She took the saucer out the back door, crossed the yard, and entered the forest that stretched north. Only a minute later, she carefully placed the cream on the ground in the center of a ring of mushrooms. She stepped back and sat cross-legged on the mossy ground. Sonya felt Sam and Liam join her and motioned for them to sit.
“No matter what you see, be still. We don’t want to scare them.”
Sam met Liam’s gaze over Sonya’s head and mouthed, “Them?”
Liam shrugged. The three waited, sitting in comfortable silence in the dappled shade of the forest. Both men had to fight the urge to move, feeling slightly ridiculous, but Sonya remained relaxed, her gaze on the ring of mushrooms.
Finally, the trio noticed movement amidst a cluster of ferns. The men held their breath as the plants twitched. A tiny nose poked out first. Expecting a rabbit, Sam stared in shock as a small, human-like figure cautiously left the ferns. Dressed in a way that reminded him of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, the being scampered to the saucer, nose twitching as it sniffed the cream. It jumped atop a mushroom and studied the three humans. Sam blinked several times. Yep, still there. He wondered if he had been overcome by fumes. Maybe hit on the head.
Sonya began speaking quietly in a language Sam had never heard before. Okay, he was pretty sure he would not be hearing a totally foreign language if he was hallucinating. Or maybe he would, but shouldn’t he be able to understand what she was saying? That was the way delusions worked, right? Then he heard her say Liam’s name. His squad mate spoke softly.
Then Sonya spoke Sam’s name. Taking his cue from Liam, Sam haltingly repeated the same phrase while surreptitiously pinching himself to see if he was dreaming.
At least, he thought that was the pronunciation. Hopefully, the tiny creature would still be able to understand him, even with his southern accent.
The creature chattered in a squeaky voice. When he fell silent, Sonya began speaking again. Two more beings, both female this time, crept out of the ferns, listening intently. The male atop the mushroom replied to Sonya and all three scampered to the saucer. Sam watched in amazement as they rapidly drank the cream. Once it was gone, they rushed past the humans.
Sighing happily, Sonya stood and picked up the saucer, careful not to step inside the mushroom ring. Sam and Liam rose, and the trio started back toward the house.
“I should have guessed you’d ask the brownies, ‘Nia.”
Sam looked at Liam. “Brownies?”
“House elves. They move into homes and help with the housework in exchange for cream and cookies. This is the first I’ve ever seen any though.”
“Wait, so you saw those things too? I’m not suffering from delusions? Oh shit, maybe we’re all suffering from mass hysteria brought on by swamp gas. Or maybe our neighbor, old Mrs. Merriweather, finally put a gris-gris on us.”
Liam snorted. “Pretty sure Mrs. Merriweather isn’t a practicing Voodoo priestess, Sam. And there’s no swamp on Stargazer Island, so your swamp gas theory is out. Look, you believe in Voodoo. You were born and raised in the heart of the bayou and cut your teeth on stories of vampires and rougarou. Consider brownies to be just a more benign version of them.”
Sonya nodded in agreement. “If you’re going to find out Otherkind truly do exist, Sam, wouldn’t you want your first encounter to be a friendly one? Brownies are very shy. They usually only come out when their human family isn’t around. I’ve met these brownies twice. Gram introduced me when I was about four, and then when I was ten, the older two introduced us to their newborn daughter. They adored Gram and are willing to help. I just need to bake some cookies in repayment.”
Sam shook his head. “You know, Merlin, for all your talk about fairies and magic, we always kind of assumed you were…”
“Full of shit?” Liam grinned, not in the least offended.
Beside him, Sonya laughed. “He likely was, Sam. Just not about Otherkind.”
Liam nudged her in good-natured retaliation, knocking her into Sam. Laughing, Sam steadied her.
“Not that so much as entertaining us with tall tales.” More quietly he added, “There were times we needed it.”
Sonya grabbed both men’s hands and squeezed when they fell quiet. After a few moments, Sam cleared his throat.
“So, if those… brownies?” His companions nodded in confirmation. “If they live in human houses, why were they in the forest?”
“Brownies only move into stable family homes. They dislike upheaval, chaos, and discord. They thrive on positive energy. Happiness. Love.” Sonya grimaced. “They tended to disappear whenever mother was around. After Gram died, they left the house. I promised I’d do my best to make it into a good home again.”
“I doubt it’ll take you long to accomplish that, ‘Nia.” Liam wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they neared the kitchen entrance.
“Accomplish what?” A voice came from around the side of the house.
A man approached. As tall as Liam, though with a leaner build, the man’s darkly tanned skin, black hair and chocolate eyes proclaimed his Romani heritage.
Sonya rushed forward, though she restrained herself from throwing her weight against him. That uncertainty was suddenly back, making her doubt her welcome.
Pulling her into a tight hug, Rowan rocked her back and forth.
“Sonya. Welcome home, girl.”
Sonya pulled back, grateful that he did not seem to hold her lengthy absence against her. She gently touched a scar cutting diagonally across his right brow from his hairline. Rowan grabbed her hand and kissed her fingertips.
“I’m fine, rinkeni.”
“I’m glad. Gram told me, but not how bad…”
Rowan hugged her again. “It’ll take more than a drunken idiot to send me off to the ancestors. Miz Delia visited a couple times and helped speed my recovery a bit. So did Sage, but I didn’t want any other company.”
Sam and Liam joined them. Rowan shot a look at Liam over Sonya’s head. Liam grimaced in response. Yeah, something had happened to change Sonya from the fearless, openly demonstrative child they had known into a quiet, somewhat cautious, almost fearful, woman. Hopefully, her return to Stargazer would help her overcome the damage of those years away. She just needed to know everyone on the island was happy she was finally home.
“Rowan’s ego wouldn’t allow anyone to see him at less than his manly best,” Liam teased.
“Not ego, panam,” Rowan shot back with a grin. “Just didn’t want you lesser mortals embarrassing yourselves trying to knock this king off his hill.”
Sam snorted, eyes twinkling with mirth. “Papa Fortuna, the only reason you’re still on your hill is because the rest of us are afraid you’ll break a hip when we push you off.”
Rolling her eyes, Sonya turned toward the house. “The testosterone is getting a bit thick here.”
The men followed her, laughing. “Lead on, rakli.”
“Papa Fortuna?” She glanced from Sam to Rowan, who grinned.
“When I first met Sam, I had a vision of him standing on the lighthouse with a gorgeous young woman with big russet eyes and a four-year old girl. I may have mentioned it to him without thinking.”
“Stunned me stupid,” Sam shrugged with a grin of his own. “Of course, I haven’t had a chance to visit the lighthouse, either alone or with someone else, so I’m pretty sure Rowan was just hopped up on pain meds. Or he’s a couillon. Then he explained that he was Romani and had several powerful seers in his family. Papa Fortuna just seemed to fit. Though I still say it was more the pain meds talking. Told him I’d buy him a six-pack if his vision came true.”
Sonya hummed noncommittally. “Not all strange things can be explained away by drugs, teddy bear. And Rowan’s never been crazy.”
The fact she knew what Sam’s Cajun French meant surprised him. He wondered if she had ever been to New Orleans. Before he could ask, she continued speaking.
“Though I’ve got to say, ‘Papa Fortuna’ is pretty hysterical.”
Rowan grabbed her from behind, tickling her sides until she squirmed away, laughing. “Better watch it, rakli. You know what I’m capable of.”
Sam shook his head. “I really need a pocket translator on this island. I know ‘panam’means brother, but that’s it.”
“’Rakli’is a non-gypsy girl. ‘Rinkeni’ means pretty,” Rowan explained.
“Fitting,” Sam said, causing Sonya to blush. “Is that the same language you spoke in the forest, Sonya?”
They entered the large kitchen. Sonya put the saucer in the sink and began pulling canisters out of the cupboards. She waved the men to the stools at the kitchen island.
“No. Most forest-dwelling Otherkind speak the old Celtic language. Drinks?”
“I’ve got it, ‘Nia.”
Liam raided the refrigerator with the ease of one long assured of his welcome. He grabbed four bottles of root beer and passed them around as Sonya began measuring ingredients into a bowl.
“Why were you speaking Celtic?” Rowan asked.
“Sonya asked the brownies to check the house to see if anything is missing,” Liam explained. After a short hesitation, he added, “Her mother never told her about the break-in.”
“Same old Eleanor McKenzie,” Rowan muttered.
Sonya efficiently began dropping dough onto a cookie sheet. “Eleanor Westin now. She and her second husband were made for each other.”
Once again, her voice took on that emotionless tone that so bothered Liam. All three men exchanged a glance while she put the cookies into the oven.
“Hell. That must have been tough on you, rinkeni.”
Sonya shrugged. Rejoining the men, she took a long drink of her root beer. After a moment of silence, she decided to get it out into the open. Better they knew now than later. At least, if they suddenly rejected her now, she had a chance of recovering. If it happened after she was fully immersed in the Stargazer community again, Sonya knew she would be left devastated.
“I tried to get here immediately after Gram passed. Suddenly I received a visit from the Boston police. They told me I had multiple complaints about my behavior, and I was being taken to a hospital for psychiatric testing.”
She shuddered at the dark memories. “It was brutal. I had to have my roommate find an attorney to get me out. They tried to put me on all sorts of medications and force me to sign myself into their long-term care.”
All three men stilled. Something was seriously wrong with what happened to her. Sonya’s next words confirmed their suspicions.
“I’m positive Albert had something to do with it. Both the officers, the two supposed complainants – both of whom were students in my business class - and the doctor and two nurses at the hospital were driving brand new BMWs. They, at least my classmates, hadn’t been before the accusations. The license plate holders were all from a dealership Albert owned.”
Liam swore. “If he had that much clout, it’s no wonder you couldn’t get away from them sooner.”
“Before I came here, I spoke to multiple doctors from other hospitals and clinics and allowed them all to examine me. They each wrote a notarized affidavit stating that I am of fully sound mind and have no psychological problems. It’s the only thing I could think to do to protect myself. I know every lunatic probably says this, but I swear I really am sane.”
Rowan and Liam each hugged her hard. Sam did as well. He might have just met her, and had an entire discussion about elves or fairies, or whatever they were, but there was no way in hell Sonya was insane. Not dangerously so. And given he had seen those brownies with his own eyes, well, if she was crazy, so was he.
Liam had been watching Sonya closely as she told her story. No wonder her eyes looked so haunted. Being held against her will at some hospital? Subjected to who knows what kind of invasive, dehumanizing treatments? That was the stuff of nightmares. Even if she had been suffering from some sort of mental illness, she did not deserve that. No wonder she looked half afraid the three of them would turn on her. It would take time for her to realize she was safe on Stargazer. Liam would do everything he could to ensure it.
“It was smart of you to get other doctors’ opinions on record, ‘Nia,” he told her. “If you can get copies, we’ll file them with the island court, just to be safe.”
Sonya turned to the oven as the timer went off. The smell of butterscotch filled the kitchen.
“I think that would be a good idea. Especially since I refused to sign the house over to mother.”
“Seriously? She hated this place!” Rowan and Liam looked shocked.
“Yep. I was expecting them to demand I sell it. But give it to them? It does make me wonder.”
The men watched her plate three cookies and put them on the floor near the door. She then brought the rest to the island. Several disappeared immediately.
“As good as your Gram’s, ‘Nia.”
Sonya smiled at the compliment as the men each inhaled a second cookie. Their appreciation and treatment of her as if she had never left, went a long way in easing the knots her return to the island caused. Especially once she told them about that nightmarish time in the hospital.
After fifteen years away, she had been terrified Stargazer would not be the place she remembered. Even more frightening was the thought that the people she had run wild with as children would turn a cold shoulder to her when they saw her again. It was something she heard from her mother all too often. Sonya’s anxiety had been lessening from the moment Liam smiled at her on the front porch. Baking chased away the last remnants of it. Cooking for people she cared about always made her happy.
Sam groaned at the flavors. “Ca c’est bon! I think I’m in love. Marry me, sugar.”
Laughing, Sonya shook her head. “Sorry, teddy bear. It’ll take more than a sweet tooth to win me.”
Before anyone could reply, a chittering drew their attention toward the door. Two of the brownies were busily devouring the cookies while the third faced Sonya. She knelt gracefully on the floor and spoke softly in Celtic. Liam and Rowan only understood a few words of the ancient tongue, and Sam none at all. As the brownie spoke again, however, they saw Sonya pale and knew something was seriously wrong.
They remained silent while she thanked the brownies and stood. She turned to the men then, a stricken look clouding her emerald eyes.
Liam spoke first. “What did they say?”
“Nothing is missing.” Sonya took a deep breath. “But something has been left behind.”