“Listen, there’s a mist—“ the squealing of iron bars sliding against metal shut down Hapta’s protests as the iron gate of the holding cell in the Vieux Fort Police Station closed on the face of an astounded Hapta.

A police chief stood on the other side of the cell, a furious woman who had replaced the hat atop her head now glaring at the men standing in the jail. “What is the mistake, Mr. Hapta?” Chief Francis replied, arms folded across his chest as he regarded the three men occupying the once empty cell.

Hapta shook his head. “This woman has made the mistake. We did not steal any car.”

The woman snorted incredulously. “Even here you will lie in the face of a police man?” She placed her hands on her hips. “Have you no shame?”

“You can’t lock us in here,” Hapta said firmly, focusing his glare on the immovable police chief. “We’re Americans.” He reached inside his pocket and just as quickly as he did, the police chief whipped out his weapon of choice.

“Put down your hand, Mr. Hapta!” Chief Francis bellowed in the room, holding up his baton.

Marcus and Jonathan barely noticed Hapta’s distress as the police chief refused to listen. They couldn’t stop staring at the woman glaring at their friend. Marcus shook his head, still bewildered to see his wife’s fiery expressions displayed so clearly on this strange yet familiar face.

Jonathan swallowed the hardened lump in his throat, his face tingling as he stared at the woman who now jutted a finger through the cell, throwing insults at Hapta. He couldn’t believe how similar yet strange this woman was compared to his Hannah. A cold shiver skittered down his spine and to his feet, his knees weakening at contact. He found himself leaning against Marcus who steadied his shoulders.

“You alright?” Marcus muttered, holding up the taller man. They stared openly at the furious woman that they’d come to identify as Hannah Holden, Jonathan’s missing wife.

The woman in question snapped her glare to them and they jumped instantly, straightening their shoulders as she narrowed her eyes at them. Then she jutted her index finger in their direction. “Ask them! They’re just as guilty as he is.”

Chief Francis peered at the quiet men standing on the other side of the cell and with another glance at the black and white clock to his right, he heaved a sigh. It was almost ten o’clock and he was about to give a lower officer the night shift. Why was this woman bringing him trouble, again? “I do not think these men meant any harm.” He scanned their faces, raising a brow as two of the men gaped openly at her.

He didn’t blame them. Ameya was one of the most outspoken residents of Vieux Forte when it came down to crime. She either marched down young delinquents to the station, almost pulling their ears as she pushed them into the cell herself or she called the station weekly with sight reports of petty crimes in the city. She was their vigilante and most times, he appreciated it. Today, he could only tolerate so much. “It’s late.”

She sighed impatiently. “Francis, I know you have to go home… and so do I. But these men cannot be free to just go stealing people’s property, even if they are tourists.”

The man leaning on the front of the cell scoffed openly and was rewarded with a searing glare from Ameya.

Francis rubbed his eye. “I understand.” He peeked down at her. “Now that they are here and I will have someone to watch them till we can figure out their punishments tomorrow.”

“This is ridiculous!” Hapta scowled loudly, gripping the rods of the cell gate. “We’re not thieves!”

Ameya rolled her eyes. “What do you call someone who steals someone else’s property?” She narrowed her glare at the men still gawking openly at her and she clenched her jaw, forcing herself to keep her eyes on the driver of her truck.

Francis cleared his throat just as Hapta opened his mouth to speak and with a knowing look at the man, he turned to Ameya. “I am sure you have to head back to your family… Please let us handle this.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and offered a smile despite the fatigue he was currently feeling in his bones. “I will take care of this matter. Thank you for your help, as always.”

Jonathan’s ears were ringing. Family? He repeated the police chief’s words and knowing that Marcus was now looking at him, he kept his eyes on the woman standing on the other side of the cell. This woman, his Hannah, had a family, without him? He swallowed the painful lump lodged deep in his throat and blinked against the stinging in his eyes.

As if hearing his thoughts, she glanced once at him and for a brief moment, their eyes met. Jonathan averted his gaze, not wanting her to read what he was thinking and he heard her sigh.

“Fine. I will put my trust in you, Francis, to do the right thing.”

“Trust me,” Chief Francis muttered in a low tone.

He waited until her footsteps shuffled away from the door and then closed his eyes.

“Oh man…” Marcus whispered. “This is bad.”

Chief Francis cleared his throat and approached the gate slowly. “Now gentlemen, would you like to explain why two American police officers in my jail?” The rustling of keys and the squeaking of metal pulled the gate open and ensured their release.

Hapta sighed, stepping out of the cell. “Long story…” He managed a smile. “Thanks Francis.”

Jonathan looked up to see the two men exchange a smile and frowned. “You two know each other?”

Francis glanced over at Jonathan and grinned. “Sure. Hello, Marcus.”

Marcus nodded a greeting and Jonathan frowned at his brother-in-law. “He knows we’re here for missionary work.” He led the bewildered man out of the cell and reached over to shake the police chief’s hand.

“I apologize for the trouble… She’s one of our vigilante members.” Francis chuckled softly and shook his head. “Hopefully she won’t be back tomorrow.”

“She sure is a firecracker,” Hapta muttered begrudgingly.

Marcus cleared his throat when Jonathan narrowed his eyes at him. “How long has she lived here?”

Chief Francis raised a brow but easily answered. “For as long as I can remember. It’s been a long while.” He grinned. “She’s very stern towards crime.”

“A little too stern,” Hapta shoved his hands in his pockets. “Throwing accusation without investigation.”

“We did take her truck,” Marcus replied, glancing over to the exit door of the police station.

Francis chuckled good-naturedly. “It’s an honest mistake. Sometimes, Sunrise Tours offers some of their vehicles for rent…”

“Hmm,” Hapta shrugged his shoulders. “It doesn’t matter now. We’re out of a vehicle.”

“I’ll drop you off at the hotel,” Francis replied easily with a grin. “Where are you staying?”

Jonathan quickly glanced over at Marcus and the other man nodded before turning to face the expectant police chief. He cleared his throat again. “Francis, is it possible for us to get a few rooms at the Skyway Inn?”

—-

Neville pulled his truck into the dark passageway leading up the hill to a small cottage. Once he put the car in park, he peered through the windshield and smiled at the lit windows. Grabbing the wrapped package sitting on the passenger’s seat, he stepped out of the car and ambled up the grassy hill, pushing hanging leaves in his path.

As he approached the front door, the sounds of giggling and chasing feet stomping on the wooden floorboards behind the door compelled him to move forward. Pausing for a few moments, he stood and took in the sounds of joy until his heart twisted painfully, longing to join in.

He lifted his hand to knock when he heard a delightful squeal from the other side. “Uncle Nevie!” a voice called and hurried steps bounded close to the door. Neville stepped back just in time for the door to push open. A small face with wide eyes peeked out. “Uncle Nevie!” The young boy barely clad in a pair of shorts stepped from behind the door toward him.

Neville bent and caught the boy in his arms, lifting him up to embrace him tightly. “Hey kiddo…” He kissed his cheek and glanced down at the boy’s eager face. “I’ve missed you.”

“Miss you more,” the boy echoed, wrapping his small arms about the man’s neck.

As the two embraced as if they had not seen each other in a while, Neville noted the soft padding of feet approaching them. He peeked over the boy’s head, already feeling his heart stir within as he took in a very petite, slender woman wearing a pair of slim-fitted shorts and a large t-shirt. He grinned. “Bath time?”

She sighed, pushing tendrils of thick black hair from her face. “Trying to…” she narrowed her eyes at the boy snuggling in the man’s arms. “Tomas, let go of Uncle’s neck and come here.”

Neville chuckled lightly when the boy ducked his head and tightened his hold. “Now, Tomas, you don’t want to miss what I brought for you…” He waggled the bag in front of the boy and grinned when he peeked suspiciously at it.

A little whine from the boy and Neville bent to his knees to allow the boy to slide back on his two feet. The two adults watched with hidden smiles as the boy shuffled back into the house. Then he straightened to his full height when the woman regarded him suspiciously. “Hmm?” he held back a chuckle.

“You’re the cause of all his cavities…” she muttered, stepping into the house, allowing him to smile appreciatively at the view as he followed her inside. “I’ll be back. Let me prepare him for bed.”

“Uh-hmm,” Neville replied half-distractedly and winked when she glanced over her shoulder at him.

She scoffed lightly at his roguish grin and quickly shuffled around the corner to retrieve her son for his night bath. “When did you get back?” she called from the bathroom, the sounds of her son gurgling making Neville smile as he opened the package and pulled out a wrapped plate of sweets.

“A few hours ago… Had to stop by the clinic first and then check on Dad.” He unfolded the paper glued to the top. “How was your week? Did you miss me?”

When she didn’t respond, Neville chuckled, lifting up one of the many thin wafers inside. “I’m sure Tomas missed me.” He popped it into his mouth and rubbed the powdered sugar from his fingers.

“We’ve been too busy to miss you,” she said, hearing his footsteps behind her as he stepped into the bathroom. She sighed when the boy grinned widely at the man standing by the door. “Close your eyes,” she instructed, pouring the warm water over his curly head. “How was the trip?”

“Fine… Long.” Neville crossed his ankles and folded his arms, watching the woman’s narrow shoulders clench and loosen with each move to bathe her son. He pursed his lips, wondering how many times she’d had to wrangle a very hyper Tomas, who hated baths, before he came. “How was he?”

She shrugged her shoulders and Neville wanted to wrap his arms about them, to turn her around and see in her beautiful eyes what exactly she meant. He remained standing where he was, knowing full well that she would not appreciate his concern.

As she stood to her feet and pulled Tomas to stand, Neville stepped forward with the towel open.

With a grateful smile, she reached for the towel and wrapped it around the boy before he ducked away as he usually did, bare-bottomed around the house. Silently, she watched as Neville carried her son out of the tub and placed him back on his feet. “I’ll take care of it,” she said, training her voice to hold back the edge and led her son hand-in-hand to their shared bedroom, leaving Neville to stare after them in the middle of the bathroom.

Tugging the hem of the cotton shirt over her son’s head, Ameya couldn’t help but sigh again, causing her son to peek quizzically at her. She smiled and rubbed his warm cheek. “Don’t worry…” she whispered gently and spontaneously wrapped her arms around him.

Tomas whined softly but didn’t wiggle in her embrace, merely stroking her head like she did whenever he couldn’t sleep or was hurt.

Her heart skipped a beat at the rhythmic motion of his hands against her hair and she smiled against his ear. “You’re my smart, beautiful, wonderfully-made son… aren’t you?” she whispered, her voice shaking slightly, betraying the tears she held at bay.

A few minutes later and Ameya perched on the edge of the mattress, watching her son’s pouting lips parted in sleep. She smiled gently, her gaze stroking his downy curls pressed against his scalp. Tears clouded her vision and she quickly blinked them away before he woke and worried that she was crying again.

Studying his small face, his pert nose and his long lashes splayed on high cheekbones, Ameya couldn’t help but smile wistfully. What a beautiful child he was. So precious, so small. Her fingers lying just an inch from his curled fists twitched to touch him but she couldn’t or he would wake. He was such a light sleeper like her. Thankfully, the storm was over and he wouldn’t need to wake up crying because of the lightning and thunder. Not that she blamed his spells; she too had just gotten over her fear of storms.

Pushing back the hair from her face, Ameya took one longing look at her son before she slowly stood to her feet and started for the door. One look at the tote bag leaning against the wall near the door caused Ameya to stop and stare blankly at it, although her thoughts shifted to the three strange men she’d encountered earlier that day.

When her languid footsteps approached him, Neville turned around and extended a cup he’d retrieved from one of the cupboards over the sink. “I brought you something you asked for.”

Ameya managed a weary smile and held up her cup as he poured a thick, pink liquid into it. “Guava juice…” she said softly, lifting the cup to her lips. Noting the glint in his eyes, Ameya lowered the cup to the countertop. “You wouldn’t believe the day I had.” And without waiting for him to probe, she ranted about the car chase and the ingrates from America who soured her mood indefinitely.

Neville laughed, shaking his head. “I bet they didn’t know what hit them. Why did they take your car?”

“I wish I knew,” Ameya took a long sip of the sweet juice and licked her lips, catching his intent gaze on her mouth. She pressed her lips tight and lowered the cup to the counter. “You should get back home…” She took a step back and swallowed a gasp when he grabbed her arm. “Stop it,” she said half-heartedly.

Neville tugged her toward him and she found herself plush against his chest. “I’ve missed you.” He lowered his face to hers and tamped down a sigh when Ameya averted her face. “What’s the matter?”

Ameya glared up at him. “Can’t you see I’m no mood for this?” She pushed against his chest but he held onto her waist tightly.

“You never are…” He loosened his hold and let her step out of his arms. Staring quietly as she moved safely around the counter, Neville eyed her.

Pushing back the hair from her face, Ameya sighed. Then she turned to face the fridge. “I made some tonics…”

His brow furrowed as she pulled the door open and lifted a large basin of jars, filled with dark liquids. “When did you make all these?” He helped her place the heavy bucket onto the countertop and peered down at the numerous glass jars. “What time did you have for all these?”

Ameya smacked his hand when he reached out for one jar. “It doesn’t matter. Will you do what I asked?” She lifted one and turned the bottle in her hands.

Neville merely stared at the dark-green liquid swirling inside it.

“You promised,” Ameya started to speak, her voice low.

He sighed and looked up at her face, his heart skipping a beat when she narrowed a glare at him. “Ameya, you know I can’t legally dispense this out to my patients… You’re not a doctor or a pharmacist.”

Her lips tightened, gripping the jar she held carefully.

Neville cleared his throat and glanced back down at the bottle. “You know I would be the first to acknowledge that your gift with natural remedies. Still it wouldn’t be honorable—”

“Honorable?” Ameya forced out stiffly. “Is it fine to give your patients drugs that have fatal side effects or may not even work at all, when there are natural remedies that have been proven to work?”

He rubbed the back of his neck, hating when her tone was reinforced with anger rather than sheer desire for him. Neville groaned sullenly. “Look, Ameya…”

“Forget it,” she snapped quickly. “I’ll find a way.” She replaced the jar back into the basin and glared down at it, her jaw set.

Neville licked his lips, not knowing what else to say to her and frustrated that he always had to disappoint her like this. “I wish you’d just let me help you with him.”

Ameya clenched her jaw.

“If you’re doing this for the money he needs, I can help.”

“We… I don’t need your help.”

Neville narrowed his eyes at her, feeling the sting of her cold tone. “I know you don’t want it but it can help. Taking care of Tomas’ needs… it can’t be easy.”

Ameya snapped her head up and scowled at him. “Who asked for your help? Did I ask you?”

Neville lifted both hands, palms facing her in surrender. “Calm down, Ameya. I’m just trying to help.” He swallowed hard when her eyes flashed angrily at him. He shook his head. “Alright, for now, I’ll let you get some rest.” He gently pushed the plate toward her. “Please share these bakes with Tomas when he wants them… Bonne nuit, Ameya.” With that, Neville turned and trudged out of the house.

Ameya’s lips trembled as he softly closed the door behind him and his slow footsteps shuffled down the hill. She waited until the tell-tale rumbling of his car engine sounded in the night amid the croaking bullfrogs before letting the tears flow without caution or care. Pressing a hand to her mouth for fear that her son would hear, Ameya wept bitter tears into the night.

<<Part 5 || Part 7>>

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