Book Four: The Family Simon
The lake had always calmed him. 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 brutality that only humans could commit against their own kind.
And then there were the things he’d done…
Teague Simon reached for the bottle of whisky 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 under full body shower head 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.
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 over a week away.
Stretching out his long legs, Teague was content to just sit for a while. He supposed he 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. Sunnyside 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 whisky bottle that had rolled to the edge of the deck and smiled darkly. Right about now—
“Why are you in your underwear?”
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. She 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 had 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 past 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.
“You smell,” she said.
For a second Teague had nothing. He stared at the girl and then shrugged, hoping she would disappear back to wherever she’d come from. “Wasn’t expecting company.”
She kicked out her foot and he realized she had no shoes on. Every single toe 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?” he shot at her.
She swung her foot back. “I’m almost six. How old are you?”
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 books,” 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?
Just then a small bundle of fur raced around the corner running like the devil was on its heels, and attempted to get past Teague, but he was too quick for the puppy and scooped the darn thing into his arms before it fell off the deck into the water 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, the little thing had probably been licking his butt 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 the man in his underwear?”
She whispered back, equally unconcerned with actually you know, 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 f—“ He stopped himself just in time but not before the little girl clapped her hand over her mouth in horror.
He took a moment. Tried to get his shit together. 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 you came from.” He winced at the sound of his words because they didn’t sound nice. Man, if his mother were here she’d give it to him but good.
“You’re grumpy,” the girl said, reaching for the dog who 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. Eventually she came into focus. Small. Dark hair that just touched the tops of her shoulders. Big eyes, the same shade as her son’s. Slight frame. Not a lot of curves. Toned, tanned legs.
And every single toe 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, thought 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. I live over there.”
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.
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.
Nothing compared to the ones that were invisible. The ones that laid just beneath his skin.
She cleared her throat and motioned to her kids. “We’re here for the summer.”
“The entire summer,” he replied, not bothering to hide his displeasure.
Wariness crept into her eyes and he could tell that she didn’t like his tone. “Is that a problem?” she asked, chin high as she gazed up at him.
Damn right it was.
“No,” he said, glaring at the trio that now stared at him as if he had a third nipple or something.
“Well, that’s a relief.” Her sarcasm was heavy and Teague’s scowl deepened. The whisky was looking better and better.
“Look, I’m here for some R&R. That’s all. So if you and your husband could keep a lid on your kids I’d appreciate it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
“My daddy’s in heaven,” the little girl blurted.
Her brother nodded vigorously. “He’s an angel and mommy says he watches over us all the time. Like every single second so he always knows when we do something we’re not supposed to.”
Startled, Teague didn’t know what to say. He watched the woman warily as she gathered up her kids and took the puppy from her daughter.
“Don’t worry about me or Morgan and Harry,” Sabrina said. “I only came over to check up on you because Jack asked me to. I won’t be back.”
She was upset. He could tell.
She nailed him with a look that was as cold as hell. “Sabrina.”
Right. “Sabrina. I ah…your husband.” Wow. He was making a mess of this. “I’m sorry about…”
Okay. He should just shut the hell up. Teague took a couple steps back and swore when he nearly fell over the side of the stupid Adirondack chair he’d vacated moments earlier.
He was tired. Anxious. And he sure as hell didn’t want to deal with any of this. Not the kids or their damn dog, and certainly not their mother. He glared across the deck at the invaders. He wanted to be alone. That was it. End of story.
Once more Sabrina Campbell nudged her kids in the opposite direction, but paused before following them around the side of the house and the stairs leading to ground level.
“I’ll make sure the kids don’t bother you again.”
“That’s not what I meant.” But his reply was weak and he knew it.
“Yes it was but it’s fine. I get that you’re going through stuff. I get that you need to be alone. I get that you don’t want to hear my kids or the dog. I get it. I’ve been there. But you don’t have to be rude.”
She took another step away from him.
“Also? We wear clothes up here and those boxers don’t really cut it. I don’t need my daughter telling my mother about the half naked man living beside us because trust me, if she comes up here you’ll never get any of that peace and quiet you want.” She shook her head. “And neither will I.”
Sabrina disappeared from sight and for a few moments Teague was silent, his eyes staring into space before dropping down to the white sports briefs he wore.
With a sigh, he headed inside. Sabrina Campbell wasn’t a fan of his choice of underwear. Huh. For whatever reason that thought brought a ghost of a smile to his face.
Though the smile faded almost as soon as the thought fled. Teague stripped and walked into the shower, letting the water slide over him until it ran cold.
And for a few moments at least, he forgot about everything.