By: Juliana Stone

Chapter One

The lake had always calmed him.

Without fail, it had been the one thing Teague Simon could count on. The sound of the waves as they lapped against the boathouse. The echo of a distant motorboat. The fall of night rain against the window or the song of a morning dove. All of these things used to soothe his mind. They used to fill up the space inside his head and erase the images that haunted him—the things he’d seen and witnessed.

War. Famine. Genocide. The endless brutality that only humans could inflict upon one another.

And then there were the things he’d done…

Teague reached for the bottle of whiskey and tipped his head back, emptying the contents as he stared out at the new sun rising across Lake Muskoka. Vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange stretched across the dark sky and the calm water told him it was gong to be a hot one. With only one week of June left, this piece of northern paradise was already heating up.

He squinted against the burgeoning sunlight, settling deeper into his favorite worn Adirondack chair, and ran a hand over the week old stubble on his face. Shit. He needed a shower and a shave.

He eyed the empty bottle.

Or he could just hit up the liquor cabinet, find another friend, and spend the day drinking.

Teague stared at the empty bottle until his eyes blurred and he swore, tossing it aside with a frown. What the hell was he doing? Was he really going to become that guy?

With a sigh, he closed his eyes and rested his head. He was damp and shivering from the early morning dew and yet it didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.

Teague groaned and buried his chin against his chest. Damn, but he was tired. Too many sleepless nights filled with too many thoughts and images he wanted to forget had taken their toll.

If only he could forget.

He must have dozed off because when he opened his eyes the sun was full-on shining, and several boats dotted the lake. Warmth spread through him and he shrugged out of his blue plaid, thermal jacket, enjoying the sensation of sun on skin. He was bare chested—hadn’t thought past grabbing the jacket when he’d wandered out to the deck the night before. It wasn’t as if there was anyone around. Most of the cottagers came up for the July 1 and July 4 celebrations and that was nearly a week away.

Stretching out his long legs, Teague was content to just sit for a while. He probably should eat, but the thought of eggs was a turn off. He’d had them every way that you could make them this past week. Scrambled. Poached. Hard-boiled. Sunny-side up. With a scowl he leaned forward, knowing he’d have to head to town to stock up or he’d be eating eggs for lunch and dinner. Right about now a steak sounded great.

He eyed the empty whiskey bottle that had rolled to the edge of the deck and smiled darkly. Right about now—

“Why are you in your underwear?”

What the —

Teague jerked his head to the side and spied a little girl staring at him with the biggest blue eyes he’d ever seen. She was small, with long dark hair (one side braided the other loose). Dressed in shorts that looked more suited to a boy and a Spiderman T-shirt that had seen better days, she looked as if she’d taken off before whoever she belonged to was ready to let her go for the day.

Not that he cared about any of that. He didn’t particularly like little kids and this one didn’t belong on his deck.

“Who are you?” he asked, voice a little hoarse from misuse. He’d not spoken to anyone since his brother Jack called a few days back.

She didn’t flinch. Heck, she took a few steps closer, those big blue eyes of hers taking in everything as she gazed up at him. Seriously. Half dressed, with his grown-out hair and unshaven face, he knew he looked like a damn mountain man, so this kid had some balls.

For a girl.

She took another step closer and then her little nose bunched up. He noticed a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge. A small dimple on her right cheek. And she rubbed her forefinger against her thumb.

“You smell,” she said.

For a second Teague had nothing. What the hell did you say to that? He shrugged, hoping she would disappear back to wherever she’d come from. “Wasn’t expecting company.”

So he smelled like a brewery.

She kicked out her foot and he realized she had no shoes on. Every single toenail was painted a different color.

“Is that why you’re not wearing clothes?”

“Why do you care?” he retorted. Was he really having this conversation with a little girl who looked no older than…

“How old are you?”

She swung her foot back. “I’m almost six. How old are you?”


“That’s old.”

“No shit.”