Home > When August Ends

When August Ends
Penelope Ward

CHAPTER ONE

* * *

HEATHER

“Have you met the guy who moved into the boathouse yet?”

I’d just returned home to our lakehouse after accompanying my mother to a doctor’s appointment this morning. My friend Chrissy had done me the favor of meeting our new tenant to give him the keys while I was out.

I shook my head. “No.”

Chrissy was grinning from ear to ear.

“What’s that look for?” I asked.

“He’s…interesting.”

I lifted my brow. “In what way?”

She snickered. “I think you should discover it for yourself.”

That could only mean one of two things: either he was extremely good-looking, or maybe we had a psycho living among us.

For the past several years, my family had rented out our converted boathouse on Lake Winnipesaukee—New Hampshire’s largest body of water. Located at the foothills of the White Mountains, it’s a popular destination for tourists looking to escape the city. As the locals say, “When you’re here, you’re on ‘lake time’.”

It was just my mother and me at home now, and Mom didn’t work, so the income from the boathouse was a necessity to keep up with our bills. While it sometimes remained vacant in the winter, it was booked pretty consistently in the warmer months and even into the early fall. Sometimes people would rent it for a week and other times longer. It wasn’t really that big, so it was usually single people who stayed there, rather than families. This latest guy had booked it for nearly three months, until the end of August—the entire summer. That had never happened before.

“So everything is all set with him?” I asked.

“Yup. Seems like a decent guy overall. Didn’t say much, but he was polite. He was wearing sunglasses, so I couldn’t get a feel for his eyes. They usually tell a lot about a person, you know?”

I knew his name was Noah, since I’d taken down his credit card information and run a quick background check. But otherwise, I didn’t know much about him—Noah Cavallari from Pennsylvania with a Visa card and a clear record.

I never really mingled with our guests. When I was younger, my mother had strictly forbidden me from interacting with anyone staying in the boathouse—you know, just in case they weren’t good people. So even as an adult, I tended to keep my distance out of habit.

As part of the deal in renting the boathouse, tenants got housekeeping services—courtesy of me. I’d go in, usually in the afternoons, make the bed and provide fresh towels, much like in a hotel. Guests also got access to the washing machine and dryer in the basement of the main house, which they could access with a key to the laundry room’s external door. So they never had to come inside our place at all.

The inside of the boathouse featured a small kitchenette, allowing tenants to cook their own meals. The space was one room, plus the bathroom. There were several windows on all sides, though, which let in lots of light and a view of the surrounding lake.

“How’s Alice doing today?” Chrissy asked.

“The doctor is going to adjust her meds again. Overall, not her best, not her worst day.”

That was as good as could be expected when it came to my mother, who’d been in and out of mental hospitals for years, depending on the severity of her episodes.

Mom suffered from clinical depression. She’d struggled with it throughout her life, but it had been particularly bad since my older sister’s death more than five years ago. Opal had been a decade older than me. She was mentally unstable and had run away from home. During the years we’d been out of touch with her, she’d gotten deeper into her own mind and eventually took her own life.

Losing my sister was by far the hardest thing I had ever experienced. Mom was never the same after that. Until Opal’s death, my mother had been able to keep her depression in check enough to be functional. Not anymore.

Chrissy left for her nursing shift, leaving me alone in my bedroom. I looked out the window over at the boathouse. While the structure was on our property, it was set back from the main residence, closer to the lake. You had to walk down a gravel driveway to get there.

Aside from his shiny, black truck parked outside in the distance, I hadn’t seen evidence of our new guest at all. And that was fine by me. I would wait until tomorrow afternoon to venture over there for housekeeping. Usually occupants left in the afternoons.

During the day, I took care of everything around here. Then, five nights a week, I waitressed at a local pub called Jack Foley’s. That was the extent of my mundane life as it had existed since my mother’s depression got really bad. Someone had to run things, and I was the winner of that responsibility by default.

The lakehouse—our main residence—and the smaller boathouse had been in my mother’s family for years. After my grandfather died, he’d left everything to Mom, his only child. Since everything was paid off, there was no mortgage. That was a good thing, given the fact that I was the only one with a job. As it was, I could just manage to keep the house running, and there were a lot of things waiting to be fixed.

I don’t mean to be a downer when it comes to my life. I have a lot to be grateful for. Living on the lake is one of those things. Even though some days I feel like Cinderella, minus the evil stepsisters, the serene beauty of this place often makes up for it.

***

The following day, it looked like the coast was clear. The tenant’s truck was gone, making it the perfect time to grab some fresh towels and visit the boathouse to clean.

My Saint Bernard, Teddy, thought I was taking him for a walk, so he followed me out the door. I figured I would let him come with me.

The afternoon air was sticky. Hazy sunlight partially blinded me as I made my way over with three towels of varying sizes tucked under my arm and a bucket of chemical supplies hung over my wrist.

Upon entering the house, I immediately smelled his cologne. Masculinity hung in the air. A black men’s jacket was draped over the desk chair, and a large, unpacked suitcase was open on the floor. An expensive-looking watch lay on top of a laptop.

His bed was already made. Perhaps he hadn’t seen the part of my confirmation email that explained our courtesy housekeeping service, or maybe he was just a neat person and couldn’t wait.

The dog jumped up on the bed.

“Get down, Teddy!”

The next thing I knew, the door to the bathroom burst open. Everything after happened so fast. My bucket fell to the floor as I took in the Herculean man standing there wrapped in nothing but a small white towel. My jaw dropped.

Teddy started barking.

Noah’s deep voice sliced through me. “What the hell is going on here?”

His hair was wet. I swallowed as my eyes trailed down the length of his body, then up again. I’m not quite sure why I lost my ability to think. I was just completely shocked to see him, let alone like this: mostly bare with water dripping down his sculpted torso.

He isn’t supposed to be home.

He broke me out of my trance. “Is there a reason you’re staring at me instead of leaving?”

Um…because you’re hot as fuck?

I abruptly turned around to face the door. “I just came to clean. I’m so sorry. I’ll come back later.”

Stumbling, I ran out so fast I left the cleaning supplies behind that I’d dropped all over his floor. I thought I’d left Teddy behind, too, but thankfully he’d followed me out the door.

I’d seen the man for only a matter of seconds, but I now knew why Chrissy had been snickering yesterday. He was drop-dead gorgeous with classic, chiseled features and perfect facial hair. He was really tall, too, and probably the most manly man I’d come across in a long time.

He’s also rude. That was very clear. But hot. Dark hair, ripped body…he looked like he was maybe in his early thirties.

My mother was in the kitchen making herself a sandwich when I returned to the house.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “You seem flustered.”

I was panting a little. “I just made an ass of myself in front of the new tenant. His truck wasn’t there, so I thought it was safe to clean.” Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath to calm down. “He came out of the bathroom half-naked. I scared the shit out of him. And instead of leaving, I froze, stood there staring at him. He wasn’t happy.”

Teddy’s tongue hung out as if he, too, was reeling from this experience.

My mother stopped buttering her bread and started laughing—the first time I’d heard her laugh in a long time. Even if it was at my expense, that made me smile. It almost made what had happened worth it. Almost.

Later that night, I opened my front door to walk Teddy, only to find the bucket I’d left behind in the boathouse on the steps outside. All of the cleaning supplies were back inside. Noah was a bit of an asshole—but apparently he was a courteous one.

***

I had no further run-ins with Noah for the next few days. I knocked loudly on his door each afternoon to confirm he wasn’t home before entering the house to clean.

On my nights off from work, one of my favorite things was a dip in the lake at sundown. I probably loved that most about having waterfront property. There was no better place to clear my head than in the water.

The lake was also where I exercised. I could never get into things like running or fitness classes. But in the water, it felt like I was weightless, like I could do anything. So, I’d developed my own little water aerobics regimen. Exercises included things like jumping up and down into squats under the water or dancing like a maniac while waving my arms around. There was no rhyme or reason. I just did what I wanted. Anything to get my endorphins going.

This evening I was off, so I was in the lake. I had my headphones on, rocking out to old-school hip-hop while bouncing around doing my thing, when I noticed something charging toward me. Before I knew it, his hands were on my shoulders.

My heart raced.

It took me a few seconds to realize it was Noah.

CHAPTER TWO

* * *

HEATHER

“What are you doing?” I shouted, my heart beating out of my chest.

He let go of me abruptly. His breaths were heavy as he said, “You’re not drowning…”

I took out my earbuds. “No! Why would you think that?”

“You were flailing your arms around like a lunatic. From my damn porch, I thought you needed help.”

My pulse was racing. “I wasn’t drowning. I was dancing.”

He gritted his teeth. “Dancing…”

“Yes.”

“For fuck’s sake…” he muttered.

He then turned around and trudged back through the water, headed to land.

I stood in shock, gazing at his large frame as he slogged away. I’d encountered this guy twice and managed to piss him off within seconds each time.

Then it dawned on me: he’d thought I was drowning and ran in to save me. He’d jumped in with his clothes on. Oh my God. I hadn’t been in any real danger, but I still needed to thank him.

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