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Teague

By:Juliana Stone

Teague
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?"

"Thirty-five."

"That's old."

"No shit."                       
       
           



       

Her eyes widened and she shook her head in pretty much the same way Teague's mother used to do when he was in trouble. "That's a bad word."

His eyebrow lifted. "Not in my book," he replied, getting to his feet.

"My mom would make you put a fiver in the swear jar. She made my brother put in all of his coins yesterday because he said … ." She paused and shrugged. "I promised my mommy that I wouldn't say what he said ‘cuz it was bad. He called me, TUBID but with a S in the front."

Wow. There were more of them?

He took a step forward. "And where exactly is your mother?"

The little girl turned around. "She was coming over here but then Bingo ran up the trail and I think her and Harry took off after him."

Did he even want to know?

"Bingo?"

"Our puppy."

Just then a small bundle of fur raced around the corner like the devil was on its heels and attempted to get past Teague. But he was too quick for the animal and scooped the darn thing into his arms before it fell off the deck into the bushes below.

It squirmed like crazy and it took a bit for Teague not to drop the dog. Just when he thought he had it under control, the puppy decided to lick every inch of Teague's nose and a considerable amount of his beard. He liked dogs, but man, he didn't want to think about what it had been licking a few minutes ago.

"Damn thing," he muttered, finally getting hold of the dog and lifting his head toward the little girl.

But the little girl was no longer alone. By her side was a boy who looked to be about the same age as she was, except his head was full of golden curls and his eyes were a light golden brown, like aged tobacco.

This must be the brother, Harry.

For a second something familiar about them tugged at Teague's memory but it was gone just as quick.

The little guy poked his sister and whispered, though it was loud enough for Teague to hear. "Why is that man in his underwear?"

She whispered back, equally unconcerned with actually whispering. "I don't know but I don't think Mommy is going to like it."

Teague had had enough. He strode forward and held out the wiggling bundle of fur, avoiding the licking tongue as he did so. "Take your puppy and go home."

"His name is Bingo," Harry offered with a half smile.

"For Christ sake," Teague growled, annoyed, exhausted, and in need of some damn food.

"Wow," Harry said, poking at his sister. "That's way worse than what I said. Mommy wouldn't like that at all."

"I don't give a flying fu-" He stopped himself just in time but not before the little girl clapped her hand over her mouth in horror.

He took a moment. Hell he took two. He tried to get his shit together, but man it was hard. His head was now pounding, his quiet long gone. And he was still holding on to the damn dog.

He was done.

"Take your dog and go back to wherever the hell it is that you came from." He winced at the sound of his words because they didn't sound nice. If his mother were here, she'd give it to him but good and damned if he didn't deserve it.

"You're grumpy," the girl said, reaching for the dog that miraculously settled into her arms like an angel.

"Morgan Anderson Campbell. I told you not to come over here by yourself."

Finally. The mother.

Wait a minute. Teague turned with a frown. Campbell?

He had to shield his eyes to see her properly as the sun was way too bright, but eventually she came into focus. Small. Dark hair that just touched the tops of her shoulders. Big eyes, the same shade as her daughter's. Slight frame. Not a lot of curves but the woman had great legs. Toned and tanned.

And every single toenail a different color.

Teague stared at her for a long time, his mind slowly assembling the information that his eyes had just taken in.

He knew this woman-not well-but he had met her the last few times he'd been up to the cottage. It had been years ago. He glanced at the children. Hell, years before kids. What was her husband's name again?

"Teague," she said slowly. "I don't know if you remember me." She nodded to the smaller cottage perched in the trees off to the left. "I'm Sabrina. That's our summer place."

Again, the name rang a bell but her story wasn't one he was familiar with.

"How long are you here?" he asked roughly, running his hands through the mess of hair at his nape. He wasn't in the mood for pleasantries. Did that make him a bastard? Probably. Did he care? Not at all.

For a moment she didn't answer. He watched as her eyes took him in, pausing briefly on the scars that laced his shoulder and the ones low on his abdomen. They were nothing compared to the ones on his back.                       

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