The Wraith’s Return

by

Raemi A. Ray

Some secrets are safer lost at sea…

London based lawyer Kyra Gibson returns to Martha’s Vineyard and the beach house she inherited for an extended summer holiday. Still reeling from her father’s brutal murder and the role she and the handsome detective, Tarek Collins played in uncovering it, Kyra is hopeful for some peace and quiet. But when a summer squall reveals the wreckage of the pirate ship, Keres, rich with rumored treasure, all hopes of peace are dashed. Conservationists and treasure hunters descend on the exclusive island to lay claim to the ship. When two of the salvagers are killed, Kyra and Tarek’s friend, pub owner and amateur historian, Gully Gould is arrested for murder.

Determined to prove Gully’s innocence, Kyra, Tarek, and reformed playboy Chase Hawthorn team up to clear their friend’s name. But someone wants the treasure for themselves. And with someone willing to kill for it, there is more than just danger lurking along the island’s caves and coves. There is death.

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Chapter One

“Flight attendants, prepare for landing.”

Kyra Gibson jerked awake, startled by the pilot’s staticky voice over the comms system. She hadn’t meant to doze off on the short flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Martha’s Vineyard. She peeked out her window, hoping for a glimpse of the tiny New England island that would be her home for the next several months, but she could only see miles and miles of the Atlantic Ocean’s white-capped waves.

A pathetic mew drew her attention to her travel companion, crammed into the largest cat carrier she could find. His bottle green eyes stared up at her. Kyra reached down to scratch his snowy ears through the carrier flap and was awarded a toothy yawn.

“We’ll be there shortly, Cronkers,” she crooned, trying to soothe the hell spawn she’d inherited from her father along with his island home.

The plane gave a shudder as the landing gear descended. Kyra straightened in her seat. She gathered up the items she’d pulled from her carry-on before stowing it in the overhead bin—a New York newspaper and a thick folder embossed with her law firm’s name and logo.

Assaf Maloof, a managing partner at her law firm in London, and Kyra’s boss, had nearly had an aneurism when she told him she was taking a leave of absence. He’d been rendered speechless for so long Kyra had pulled out her phone to call 999. Despite his threats to sack her immediately, Assaf eventually agreed she could use her holiday time to take the rest of the summer “off,” but only if she made herself available whenever needed. She knew she’d be working full days from the house, but summer on Martha’s Vineyard, even working, was better than staying in London.

The plane dipped and banked. Kyra sucked in a breath and clutched the armrests. Bloody hell, I hate flying. In truth, flying didn’t bother her much, but she found the taking off and landing parts … unpleasant. Her stomach flip-flopped. She unfolded the paper and scanned the headlines in an attempt to distract herself from the turbulent descent. She’d purchased it at a stand in LaGuardia, an old habit. Even now, years after her father’s retirement, and months after his death, she found herself looking for his byline.

No good news. There never is. Political disruption, Russia being Russia, stock market volatility, a violent environmental protest in Florida. A blurb caught her eye and her lips stretched into a soft smile. It was an article in the climate section about the return of a rare bird to Cape Cod and the Islands, and the influx of bird watchers. Her gaze fell on the article just below and her smile fell away.

Phil Hawthorn Senate Hearing Scheduled. She grimaced. Apparently, the newly reopened investigation wasn’t going so well for the senator. It felt like a lifetime ago when she’d first come to the island and stumbled upon the mystery of her father’s death, and deciphered the clues he’d left behind, exposing a corrupt senator, and a conspiracy to commit bribery.

“Are you here to see the petrels?”

Kyra’s head jerked up. Her seatmate appraised her with curious brown eyes behind wireframed glasses. She’d barely registered his presence during the flight. She blinked, confused. The man gestured to the paper she was holding, her thumb next to the title of the birdwatching article.

“Ah, uh, no. Just a holiday,” she said, a little unnerved. Americans loved chatting with strangers.

“Oh.” The man adjusted his glasses. His watch face glinted in the sun, making her squint. “Well, if you get a chance, I recommend it. They’re spectacular.”

“Right, I will. Thank you for the tip,” she said, at a loss for what else to say. She knew nothing of birds, American or otherwise. He closed the magazine he was reading and slid it into his bag. Dive USA.

Before she could ask him about it, the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac. She stuffed the paper into the seat back’s media pocket and switched her phone out of airplane mode. Immediately, it began vibrating, earning her an annoyed side eye from the birdwatcher.

The small screen filled with texts—from Assaf, her aunt Ali in England, and her friends from the island. Nothing from Tarek Collins. She wasn’t surprised, but she was still disappointed.

The seatbelt sign rang off. Her seatmate gave her a curt nod goodbye and moved out of the way so she could access the overhead. She pocketed her phone, pulled her bag from the bin above and, with Cronkite’s massive cat carrier slung over her shoulder, Kyra disembarked.

She followed the signs to the baggage claim area, barely a two-minute walk from the airport’s two gates. With one eye on the world’s laziest luggage conveyor, she scrolled through her texts and missed calls. After an endless train of golf bags, her battered suitcases finally appeared. Cronkite screeched his protest at being jostled as Kyra wrangled them through the automatic doors.

She wheeled her bags out onto the sidewalk and was assaulted by the steamy humidity of July on the island. She paused and took in a deep breath, the first taste of fresh air in nearly fourteen hours. The shrubs buzzed with the sound of the cicadas. Birds chirped and cawed from the trees. She stood on the sidewalk, a little overwhelmed by the sensory overload, so different from the eerie sound muffling mist of the island in April.

Kyra squinted against the late afternoon sun and rummaged in her bag for her sunglasses. She didn’t notice the man barreling toward her. Her surprised squeak was stifled when a muscular chest smashed into her face. Strong arms wrapped around her shoulders, crushing her against him. He laughed into her hair. His T-shirt smelled like sunshine and hay. Kyra struggled halfheartedly against his hug.

He pushed her back, his hands still on her shoulders. “Kay!” Chase Hawthorn’s grin reached from ear to ear.

“Ugh!” She batted him away, her own smile matching his. His striking blue-green eyes sparkled with amusement. “You scared Cronk.” She feigned a chastising look, biting her lip to keep from laughing.

Somehow, Chase’s grin widened. “Is this all your stuff?” He turned to her bags, reaching for them. “Hey there, buddy.” He took Cronkite from her shoulder and peered at the disgruntled fur ball. “How was the flight?”

“Are you asking me or the cat?”

“The cat. He says it was terrible. The car is over here.”

“I thought Grace was coming to get me…” Kyra’s voice trailed off, but she followed Chase as he led her to the parking lot.

“I volunteered. She’s stressed herself out preparing for Charlie’s birthday party tonight. Something about the caterer? Julia took another job at the last minute.” Chase shrugged. “I told her Charlie would be happy with a cake and a bottle of wine. But you know Grace.”

Kyra did. The small gathering she’d agreed to attend at her neighbors’ house six weeks ago was shaping up to be quite an event. One she’d rather avoid, if she were honest, but she’d promised to be there for her neighbors-turned-friends. To be there for Charlie.

“How many people did she invite that Charlie actually likes?”

“There’s you and me, so at least two.”

“And your date?”

Chase always had someone, or he used to, before. She’d begun to think his debauchery was all part of the part he played for the public.

He shook his head. “No date.” Chase stopped behind a new but very dirty Ford Bronco and opened the trunk. Making it look easy, he lifted Kyra’s giant suitcases, sliding them in one after the other.

“New car?” She raised an eyebrow at the borderline practical vehicle.

“Yep.” He popped his lips on the p and closed the trunk. He placed Cronk’s carrier on the backseat. Chase slid on a pair of black wayfarers, making him look like a movie star in “incognito” mode. “I traded in the Porsche a few months ago.”

“Traded in?” Kyra hopped into the passenger seat and looked around. The SUV was indeed new, but already bore the markings of hard use. Dirt and straw stuck to the crevices, and the floor was littered with paper napkins and crumpled coffee cups.

“This seemed more appropriate for the farm. Since I’ll be staying year-round now, I needed something that can get around in the snow and mud.”

Kyra looked over at her friend and studied him through her mirrored glasses. He’d gained some weight in the last few months, lost the gaunt, haunted look from when they first met. His dark blond hair was lighter, bleached by the sun, and longer, flopping stubbornly into his unique eyes. His previously pale skin was tan in that bronzy, healthy glow of someone who spent all their time outside. He looked really good, and she said as much with a big smile that grew bigger when Chase Hawthorn, notorious playboy, actually blushed, a soft pink creeping up his tan neck.

“Thanks, you don’t look terrible, either.”

“You flatter me,” she deadpanned and resisted the urge to pinch him. “Thank you for picking me up.”

“Of course.” He glanced at her, his eyes moving behind his glasses. “I missed you.”

“How?” she asked, laughing.

Kyra pushed her sunglasses into her hair and flipped down the sun visor to check her face in the mirror. Red-rimmed eyes looked back at her, made more obvious by the dark circles below. She sighed and snapped the visor back into place. Months of poor sleep had taken their toll. She had been functioning in a state of half exhaustion. Her skin had turned wan and dull. A seaside holiday is just what I need. It was what she’d been telling herself for weeks.

She pulled her glasses back down. “We talk every day.”

They did. After she’d returned to London, she’d sent him a gift basket of English snacks as an inadequate but sincere thank you for saving her life. He’d called her appalled with the selection of potato crisps she’d included. They’d talked for hours. From there, they’d fallen into the easy habit of talking or texting every day and through many nights. He was the rode, connecting her to the island. It was Chase who ultimately convinced her to come back. She still wasn’t certain whether she’d finally agreed for him or for her, perhaps both.

“I’ve missed you, too,” she relented. “How’s Mander Lane?”

“The farm is good. The restaurant is packed most days. According to Sara, it actually turns a profit.” He sounded like it surprised him. “And with my parents staying in DC this year, the staff is much happier.” A crease formed above the frames of his glasses.

She knew he struggled with the reality that everyone, including him, was much happier with Senator Hawthorn and his wife’s extended absence. Thankfully, his parents, or their lawyers, had had the good sense to keep the farm in a trust, so despite his family’s legal troubles, Chase’s home was safe. In Kyra’s opinion, the best thing to have happened to Chase was the complete implosion of his toxic family.

“And Adele?” Last Kyra had heard, Chase’s half-sister had agreed to testify against her stepfather, in exchange for a sentence reduction, but she’d still be serving many decades in prison for the murders of Kyra’s father and Chase’s boyfriend.

Chase’s smile melted away, and he shook his head. “The judge accepted the plea bargain just yesterday. She’s being transported to a high security prison sometime this month.”

“How’s the halter training going?” Kyra asked steering the conversation toward less fraught territory.

“Barbossa is a horse prodigy.” Chase’s smile returned. He’d been helping train up the foal born on the farm last spring and had been sending Kyra nonstop photos and videos of the little horse, all tufty mane, and bobbin tail.

“Barbossa?”

“That’s what I named him. He’s a right wee bastard,” he said in a terrible Brummie accent, eliciting another laugh from her. “You’re going to love him.”

“After the Disney movie?”

“The character was named after real pirates,” he said dryly, lifting an eyebrow, and then under his breath, he muttered, “I think.”

Kyra grinned and turned to look out the window.

The trees that had been bare in April were all filled out. Leaves danced in the gentle sea breeze. The hydrangea and rhododendron that seemed to grow wild on the island were in full bloom, splashing the landscape in paint splats of blues and pinks.

“It looks so different.”

“Yeah, the island in the summer is a totally different vibe. And crowded.”

Now that he mentioned it, she noticed that there were more cars on the road. As they made their way closer to South Beach, and Kyra’s house, the congestion increased, and not just on the road, but on the bike paths that ran alongside the roads, too. The traffic flowed in the opposite direction, visitors returning home from the beach in the late afternoon. Chase turned off the street, and the tires crunched on the gravel of her driveway.

Kyra peered through the windshield and took in Ed’s—her—house. The white colonial with black accents was a stark contrast to the lush greenery and bright blue sky. Chase was watching her, and with a steadying breath, she stepped out of the car.

Kyra worried her bottom lip. A million emotions ran through her—anxiety for what the next few months would bring, grief for her dead parents who’d loved it here, joy and trepidation to be back on the island, to be here in front of her house once again. It was all too much to process, leaving her mouth feeling dry and her palms damp. She tried to swallow, but her tongue felt too big.

She had never had a real home before, not really. The apartment her parents rented in New York was a postal address, a place to stay between her father’s assignments. Then, after her mother passed from breast cancer, Kyra was sent to live with her aunt in London. From there, she hopped from her aunt’s rowhouse, to her college dorm, to law school and her associateship, and then finally her drab flat in London. Each place was meant to be temporary, until she finally found what she wanted with more permanence. At some point, she’d stopped looking. This house was the first thing that could be entirely and truly hers. If she wanted it, for as long as she wanted it.

Using the keypad Detective Tarek Collins had insisted she install; she unlocked the front door and pushed it open. Kyra held her breath, uncertain what she’d find in the house she’d left three months ago. The tingly feeling that settled in her chest, though, when her gaze swept the room, was the comfortable, relieved feeling of finally coming home. Her body felt lighter. The stress and uncertainty about returning that had plagued her over the last few months sloughed off, as she stepped into her foyer.

It was the same.

The back wall was entirely made of glass. The furnishings were contemporary and minimalist, highlighting the view of the sloping backyard and Crackatuxet Cove below. Only now, she could barely see the water through the thick vegetation surrounding it.

Something beeped. It beeped again. Kyra spun around.

“The security system,” Chase said, dropping her bags on the floor. “Charlie showed me.” He pressed in the code, showing her how to enable and disable the alarms.

They had been installed after she left, again at the detective’s insistence. Chase went back to the car and returned with the cat carrier. He set it down and opened it. “Freedom, buddy!”

Cronk took a few tentative steps into the room, gave the humans a withering glare, and with his signature tail flick, trotted away.

“Nice cat.”

Kyra watched her pet saunter off to become reacquainted with his favorite spots.

“Charlie had the place cleaned and made ready for you.”

“Of course she did.” Kyra made a note to thank her.

“Where do you want your bags?” Chase asked, pulling on one of her rolling suitcases.

“Oh, I can take care of it.”

Chase looked down his nose at her, peering over his sunglasses.

“Fine.” She grabbed her carry-on from the floor. “I’ll take the primary bedroom. It’s upstairs at the back of the house. I’ll show you.” She led Chase up the stairs and into the largest bedroom that had once been her father’s.

Detective Collins had moved her into this room after rescuing her and Charlie from the Hawthorns’ sailboat last spring. Now that she’d sort of decided to not sell the house, at least not right away, it made more sense to stay in the primary suite with the view and the walk-in closet.

“The bags can go in here.” She opened the doors to the walk-in, not much smaller than her old bedroom in London. Chase dropped off her suitcase, then ran downstairs for the second one. He deposited it next to the other before flopping down lengthwise on one of the two sofas making up the bedroom’s sitting area.

“Get cleaned up. Then we’ll walk over to Charlie and Grace’s.” He waved toward the en suite bathroom and folded his hands behind his head.

“What?” She looked up from her bags, her hands on her hips.

“Don’t unpack now. Grace said that unless I walked you over there myself, you’d probably just ignore us and stay inside all night.”

Kyra frowned. I do want to do that. Again, her emotions bubbled uncomfortably, simultaneously annoyed Grace interfered, and a little pleased she knew her well enough to know to.

“It’s Charlie’s birthday party. Of course, I wouldn’t miss it.”

Chase made a coughing noise that sounded an awful lot like bullshit. “If you don’t show up, you know Charlie will leave her own party to hide away here with you.” The way he said it, Kyra suspected he found the idea appealing, too.

“She would. She hates these things. Why does she let Grace talk her into them?” Kyra opened her bags. “What do I wear?” She sighed.

“I don’t know. Clothes?” he said and waved to his own T-shirt and shorts.

Kyra glared in his direction. To be fair to him, Chase didn’t need to worry about improving his appearance. He could wear a trash bag and still turn heads.

“Charlie was trying to get out of it this morning. Said she was sick.” Chase mimed coughing and put the back of his hand to his forehead with an over dramatic sigh.

“Grace didn’t fall for it, I take it?” Kyra unearthed her toiletries bag and headed to the bathroom. “Telly remote should be on the table. If you can’t find it, call Grace,” she called over her shoulder and stepped into the bright white bathroom.

She turned on the shower, but her gaze fell to the oversized soaking tub. Embarrassment heated her cheeks at the memory of the last and only time she’d used it. She’d had two broken ribs, and a torn shoulder. Tarek, Detective Collins, had to help her take a bath and get dressed. It had been mortifying. That he’d stayed with her to help her when she was injured made his sustained silence sting that much more. Turning her back on the tub, she stepped into the shower.

The water cleansed her of the grime of travel. She took her time scrubbing away at her airplane-dry skin. The door cracked open, and she let out a little squeal.

“Kay, hurry up. I’m staarrving,” Chase whined from the other side of the door and slammed it shut.

Grumbling, she turned off the water and grabbed one of the plush towels. She emerged from the bathroom and squatted down in front of her bags. She chose a minimally wrinkled white sundress and slid on a pair of sandals. Her still-damp dark hair fell down her back in tousled waves and Kyra prayed her anti-frizz hair product worked miracles. She checked herself in the mirror, smoothing her dress.

“You look great. Let’s go. I’m soooo hungry!” Chase called from the couch; his eyes glued to the sports news broadcast on the television.

Wanker. Kyra pressed her lips together and gave him an epic side-eye he couldn’t see.

“I’m ready.” She yanked her denim jacket from the bottom of one of her suitcases, spilling all its contents on the floor. “Fucking hell,” she mumbled.

She tried to stuff it back in, but gave up, leaving it where it fell, a future nest for the white house demon who’d assuredly find it.

Chase jumped up and spun around with a flourish. He moved with surprising grace for someone so tall and lanky.

“Will we know anyone there besides Charlie?”

“Umm.” Chase rubbed his jaw. “Grace?” He shrugged and gave her a look that said he knew exactly what she was thinking. Who she was really asking about. Kyra’s heart sank, but she wasn’t sure what she’d expected.

When Grace had called a few weeks ago about the party, Kyra had wanted to ask whether Grace was inviting the detective. She knew he talked to the Chamberses in her absence. Chase had told her that when he was on the island, Tarek made a point of checking in on Charlie, and the two had struck up an easy friendship over their shared enthusiasm for Boston sports. Only two weeks ago, Chase had watched a baseball game with them at the Chamberses’ house. But, she reasoned, if he was planning on attending, someone would have mentioned it to her. It was also possible he wasn’t invited or available. Tarek lived on the mainland, and his work with the state police investigatory unit required him to travel all over the state.

When she’d last been on the island, she’d thought she and the detective had become friends. With the perspective of hindsight, she realized she’d had bouts of madness thinking they’d formed a team of sorts when they’d uncovered the conspiracy her father had been investigating before his death and then solved the murders. She’d even thought something more was growing between them. He’d driven her all the way to Boston for her flight back to London because he knew how much she hated the tiny propeller planes that serviced the island in the off season.

When she returned to England, they’d spoken a few times, mostly about the case and her answers to the prosecution’s interrogatories. Then, when the case was turned over to the Department of Justice, Tarek had gone silent. She’d texted at the end of June about her plan to return in July, but it had gone unanswered. Whatever she’d thought they had started last spring, she’d been mistaken.

Kyra followed Chase outside and across the yard. They slipped through the brambly hedgerow, taking her father’s old shortcut. While both her and the Chambers’ properties backed up to Crackatuxet Cove, their addresses were on different dead-end streets. The fastest route between the houses was a trampled down path through a narrow no-man’s-land.

Grace and Charlie’s house was like the older sibling to hers, nearly identical, but grander. Kyra’s house was charming and quaint by comparison.

A Jimmy Buffett song was playing from a speaker in the backyard and Chase chuckled, his eyes sparkling.

“Charlie’s deejaying. Want to take bets on how often Grace clutches her pearls tonight?” Chase mimed grabbing at his neck, his eyes going to the sky.

“No bet. Grace doesn’t wear pearls.” Kyra grinned, picturing Grace’s frustrated face, her lips pursed, and those perfectly penciled eyebrows furrowed.

They rounded the house into the backyard, where the party was already in full swing. Buffet tables had been set up along the perimeter of the patio, decorated like a tablescape-spread in a hosting magazine. Pillar candles and flower arrangements had been set at varying heights for visual interest. Strategically placed garlands surrounded platters overflowing with food. A temporary bar had been set up on the far side of the patio where a young woman wearing a tie was vigorously shaking a cocktail shaker. Despite the summery warmth, a low fire burned in the giant bluestone hearth, adding to the casual, elegant ambiance.

“She doesn’t do anything by half, does she?” Chase murmured in her ear.

No, Grace certainly doesn’t. Kyra hummed her agreement. A server walked in front of them with a tray of hors d’oeuvres. Chase let out a noise that sounded a lot like a whimper and her mouth tugged into an amused smirk. Charlie was standing in front of a table staring at a Bluetooth speaker, phone in hand, a wicked gleam in her eye. From a few feet away, Grace glared at her wife, her painted pink lips pursed just so. Chase saw them at the same time and raised his eyebrows in delight.

“Look who I found!” Chase shouted above the blaring music. Kyra bit back her giggle when she recognized the song. Nineties novelty rap. Grace is going to strangle her. Grace spun around. Her grimace smoothed out and she opened her arms welcoming them. The music volume plummeted.

“Kyra!” Grace grabbed Charlie’s arm and yanked her toward Kyra and Chase. “Char, look!” Grace beamed. “Our dear girl is home!”

“It’s so good to see you.” Kyra hugged her friend, careful not to rumple Grace’s linen pantsuit. “Happy birthday, Charlie.” She met Charlie’s warm brown eyes.

“Welcome back!” Charlie gave Kyra a kiss on the cheek. “How was the flight?”

“It was fine. Just long.” She made a show of looking around at the well-dressed guests. “How’s the party?”

“Wonderful!” Grace singsonged at the same time Charlie barked, “Boring.”

“Char,” Grace admonished. “It’s your birthday. You’re having a lovely time.”

“I will now. Drinks?” Charlie rubbed her hands together.

“Chase, how are you, dear?” Grace asked, turning her back on Charlie.

“Very well, thank you. And you?” He dropped a kiss on her cheek and winked at Charlie over Grace’s shoulder.

Kyra caught Charlie’s mischievous grin. She shifted her gaze between them. Charlie looked too pleased; Chase’s smile too smarmy. They’re up to something. Kyra felt a pang of sympathy for Grace. Chase pulled a pristine envelope from his pocket.

“Happy birthday, Charlie. From Kay and I.” Kyra read the logo and pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. International Beer of the Month Club.

“What? For me?” Charlie tore the envelope open with a screech. “Beer from every nation?! Look, Grace! We can have lager from Lichtenstein, pilsners from Palau!” Charlie hopped up and down, her wild curls bouncing.

“Lovely. I can hardly wait.” Grace frowned, her eyes narrowing on Chase. She took the envelope between her thumb and pointer finger and passed it to a server. “Michelle, can you put this in the kitchen, please?”

“Thanks, guys! I can’t wait until the first shipment comes. Grace, what do you think it’ll be?” Charlie beamed and hugged them both.

Chase nudged Kyra with his elbow and shut his left eye in an exaggerated wink. She let out a breath. This is going to be a long night.

“Come, dear. I’ll introduce you to the other guests.” Charlie rolled her eyes as Grace linked her arm through Kyra’s and steered her toward the party. Chase disappeared into the crowd, reappearing a moment later to press a champagne glass into her hand. He gave her a jaunty salute before disappearing again.

The sun inched closer to the horizon, stretching the shadows on the lawn, and the guests shifted closer to the hearth as much for light as warmth. Kyra was glad for her jacket and pulled the sleeves down over her palms.

“Excuse me, I think I need a refill.” She raised her empty champagne flute and excused herself from the dullest debate over the proposed renovations to Fenway stadium between two gentlemen from Grace’s pickleball club. Where has Chase gone? She scanned the crowd. A server walked by with a tray of fancy-looking chicken wings, and she pounced on him when he paused. She heaped a pile onto a napkin and received a judgmental frown that would have rankled her if she wasn’t so hungry.

She was just biting into one of the saucy drumettes when someone tapped her shoulder.

“Kyra, I want you to meet my childhood BFF Lisa,” Charlie said, her hand on the arm of a blonde woman. “Lisa, this is Kyra Gibson, our new neighbor. Kyra, Lisa Mackey.”

“Oh, hello.” Kyra hastily dropped her snack on a table and wiped the sauce from her lips and fingers.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” Lisa said and gave Charlie a one-armed hug. “Charlie’s told me so much about you.”

“Nice to meet you, too.” Kyra watched with dismay as a server picked up and disposed of her snack. “Childhood friends? You must have grown up on the island, then?”

“I did. Charlie and I met in grade school and quickly became best friends over cats’ cradle, I think.”

“Wasn’t it that ball and chain toy? The one that wrapped around your ankle, and you had to skip around?” Charlie tilted her head and pressed her lips together. “I’m pretty sure we met because I had the pink one and you had blue, and I wanted blue.”

“Oh, you may be right. I can’t remember.” Lisa laughed. “We couldn’t have been more than seven or eight.”

Lisa wore pressed green cotton shorts and a complementary short sleeve pale blue blouse with mother-of-pearl buttons. She’d thrown a lightweight cream sweater over her shoulders, tied at the neck. With her neat platinum bob and bright blue eyes, she looked like she’d stepped out of a Vineyard Vines catalog. Standing next to Charlie, who was dressed in a faded Red Sox sweatshirt and utility shorts, Kyra couldn’t help but think the two an unlikely pair.

“What were those things called again? A hopper?” Charlie frowned. “No, that’s not it. Whatever. Anyway, Lisa, Kyra is spending the summer on the island, and, Kay, Lisa teaches seventh grade in West Tisbury.” Charlie beamed at her friend, like teaching preteens made her a superhero.

I suppose it does.

“West Tisbury? Is that where you live?”

“No.” Lisa shook her head. “My husband and I live in Chilmark, but I grew up in Tisbury, same as Charlie. I moved up island when I got married.”

“We all went to high school together. Her husband and his family run a fishing company, Mackey Fishing, Co. Speaking of, where is your other half tonight? I haven’t seen him.” Charlie swiveled her head, looking around the crowd.

“Oh, he’s at the Raven’s Nest or at home in front of the television. Sox game.” Lisa lifted her hand and let it drop. “What can you do, right? He said if we’re still up, he’d stop by after the game.”

Kyra shook off Lisa’s apology. The New Englander’s love for their local teams bordered on the fanatical.

“Oh, we’ll be up. Won’t we, Kyra?” Charlie asked, finishing whatever cocktail had been in her glass.

“We’ll see.” Kyra forced a yawn behind her hand.

It wasn’t a total lie. The long day of travel was catching up with her. Charlie looked like she was going to argue when Grace’s voice pierced the din from behind them.

“Ida! There you are. You made it. I’ve been dying to ask. Do you have news about the discovery?”

Kyra turned around. Grace was on the couch, next to a Black woman with close-cropped hair. Colorful chandelier earrings accentuated her long neck. Kyra caught Charlie’s eye and nodded toward the woman.

“That’s Ida Ames,” Charlie whispered in Kyra’s ear. “She’s head of the Martha’s Vineyard Community Council, a quasi-political organization. She knows everything worth knowing.”

Kyra could almost hear Charlie’s eyes rolling.

“What discovery?” Kyra whispered back.

“Oh, yeah.” Chase appeared as if out of nowhere.

He handed Kyra a glass of champagne and reached over Grace’s shoulder to grab two mini lobster rolls from the platter sitting on the table.

He handed one to Kyra and shoved the other into his mouth. “I heard something about that. That storm that hit Gay Head a few nights ago. It caused a microburst,” he said around chews. “Disrupted the seabed of the ravine next to the Devil’s Bridge shoal. Uncovered something. Jimmy said they thought it looked like a wreck.”

“Devil’s Bridge shoal?” Kyra repeated.

“Mmhmm. It’s a shallows bordering a deep ravine in the Vineyard Sound. The lighthouse up at Gay Head warns boats away from it.”

“A wreck? Like a boat crashed? Was anyone hurt?” The pitch of Charlie’s voice rose.

Kyra wondered if she was thinking of their own narrow escape from a boat lost in a storm.

“No, Charlene.” Ida shook her head. “The council received the preliminary images earlier this morning. It looks like whatever is down there is old.” Ida waved her hand. Her rings glinted in the firelight. “There have been no unrecovered salvage contracts in the Vineyard Sound for over fifty years. So, the Coast Guard estimates it’s at least that old. Likely just flotsam or jetsam, or something from World War II. We’re waiting on the experts. Mr. Hawthorn, that Jimmy knows better than to spread rumors.” Ida pressed her lips together and gave Chase a stern look that wavered somewhere between annoyance and affection.

He flashed his paparazzi smile, all white teeth and playboy charm. Ida huffed and turned back to Grace. Kyra raised an eyebrow at him. Chase’s lips dipped into a smirk, and he hopped over the couch back, sliding into the seat next to Ida. He slung his arm around her shoulder. Ida went rigid. Then she let out a honking guffaw.

Soft coral spots bloomed on her cheeks. “Oh, you’re still trouble, Chase Hawthorn.” Ida shook her head, her heavy earrings swaying.

Chase grabbed another mini lobster roll from the table, looking very pleased with himself. “I’m thinking of sailing out sometime this week for a closer look. Any interest?” Chase glanced around at the crowd. “Charlie?”

“Absolutely fucking not,” Charlie spat.

The vehemence in her tone shocked Kyra, and the rest of the surrounding group fell quiet. The music from the speaker blared loud in the sudden silence. Someone cleared their throat.

“I’ve had enough sailing for a lifetime after the Neamhnaid.” Charlie glared at him.

Chase froze, his hand halfway to his mouth. Even in the shadows, Kyra noticed the anguish flicker behind his eyes. Despite the many times she’d told him that it wasn’t his fault, that neither she nor Charlie blamed him, she knew he felt responsible for what had happened to them on his mother’s sailboat. As quick as it appeared, he shuttered it away, settling his features into a mask of boredom. He raised one shoulder in a lazy shrug and stuffed the lobster roll into his mouth.

“Anyone else? Ida?” His smile was all teeth this time. “What do you say?”

“Hell will freeze over before you get me on that death trap you’ve got anchored in Menemsha.”

“Suit yourself.” Chase huffed.

Kyra thought he almost sounded hurt. She moved closer to the fire and sat down in the empty seat next to him.

“Hold my seat. I’ll get us more drinks.” Chase stomped off.

She pulled her jacket tighter and shivered. She was only half-listening to Ida explain in tedious detail the plans for a new hotel that was to be developed in the fall. Weariness settled on her shoulders. She yawned for real this time. I’m ready to go home, she thought and her chest warmed when she realized she meant the house just a few yards away. She didn’t want another drink, just her bed.

Where is Chase?

As if hearing her thoughts, “Kay!” he hollered from in front of the speaker.

He was holding a mic. Charlie was standing next to him. She was holding one, too. Kyra froze. Oh, no. No. He motioned for her to join them while Charlie scrolled through her phone. Music started playing.

“Happy birthday, Charlie Chambers!” Chase crowed, swaying to the music.

“Thank you, Chase Hawthorn.” Charlie bowed and started singing, “They say we’re young and we don’t know…”

Kyra slipped off the couch and strode for the house as fast as she could without breaking into a run. She glanced over her shoulder at Chase’s mock disappointed pout. Without missing a beat, he turned to Charlie and sang, “Well, I don’t know if all that’s true…”

Sonny and Cher? Kyra couldn’t suppress her chuckle as she slipped inside. They’re children. Charlie’s voice was getting louder and more off key. Chase was laughing so hard his own lyrics were unintelligible. Shaking her head, Kyra stepped into the Chamberses’ kitchen.

Two people were standing close together in front of the sink. Kyra’s sandals clicked on the hardwood floor, and they sprang apart.

“Oh. Pardon me,” Kyra mumbled, hovering in the doorway.

The man stepped back as if to put distance between himself and the woman.

Oh, that’s Charlie’s friend… Lisa, was it?

Kyra glanced between them. The man cleared his throat.

“I was just looking for the loo? Sorry, restroom?” Heat creeped up her neck, and she made to step around them.

The man rubbed the back of his neck and peered at her from under his lashes before stuffing his hands into his pockets. “I’m Andrew. Andrew Mackey.” Kyra glanced at Lisa, who also looked embarrassed. “This is Lisa.”

Lisa attempted a weak smile.

Oh, the husband.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Kyra, Grace and Charlie’s neighbor.” She waved in the general direction of her house.

“The restroom is through there.” Lisa pointed and raised an empty glass to her lips.

“Right, thank you.” Kyra ducked into the powder room.

She leaned against the sink and peered at her face in the mirror. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her dark circles had become more pronounced. She checked her phone. The battery was barely hanging on. It’s gone 3 a.m. in London.

She rubbed her forehead and splashed cool water on her face, trying to wake herself up.

Kyra returned to the backyard, taking care to avoid the kitchen and Lisa and Andrew Mackey. She found Grace and Charlie sitting next to the fire, talking, their hands entwined.

“I’m going to head home. It was a lovely party, Grace. Happy birthday.” She pressed her cheek against Charlie’s. “I’ll talk to you ladies tomorrow?”

“Go on, dear. Get some rest. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thank you for the present. I love it.”

Grace rolled her eyes in a perfect imitation of her wife.

Kyra snuck away, avoiding drawn-out goodbyes with Grace’s friends and headed toward the path. She had just stepped through the break in the hedgerow when she heard a noise behind her and whirled around, her heart in the throat.

“Leaving without me?” Chase put a hand to his heart.

“Do not sneak up on me! Jesus!” Her hands fisted at her sides.

“Calm down. I’m ready to go, too.” He grinned and pushed his long blonde hair out of his eyes. “How can you see out here?”

“I barely can, but my phone is dead.”

Chase pulled his phone from his pocket and shined the light on the ground, so they could walk back.

Kyra stepped on the first tread of her front porch and turned around to say goodbye, but Chase pulled her into a hug, flattening her against him.

“I’m glad you’re back,” he whispered into her hair.

“I’m glad to be back.” It was the truth. She pressed her cheek against his warm chest and wrapped her arms around his waist. Chase rested his chin on her head and gave her a gentle squeeze. Kyra let herself lean into him.

She remembered a late-night phone call weeks ago when he boasted about giving the best hugs. She’d assumed he was full of shit, but no, Chase Hawthorn gave excellent hugs.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, pulling away.

“Count on it. G’night.” Chase waved and climbed into his car.

Kyra dragged herself through the front door. She barely made it up the stairs and into the bathroom to brush her teeth. Dropping her dress on the floor, she didn’t bother searching for pajamas before sliding into bed. Her eyes were closed before her head even touched the pillow.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping August 22, 2024

The Wraith’s Return is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-33-6

August 22, 2024

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