Crystal Lake was a tiny town tucked into a mountain valley. Blocked in on all sides by majestic peaks, it was as though the rest of the world had forgotten about the little city.

And that's just what Luke Dowers wanted; to be forgotten.

He had bought a house, a cabin with his own personal dock and a small motor boat that he had no idea how to operate. He had two neighbors that were in comfortable walking distance but his property was isolated by tall wooden fences, so neighborly visits didn't seem likely.

This was it; his own little piece of heaven, whether he deserved it or not.

By his reckoning, he probably didn't. But in his line of work, people didn't often get the opportunity to retire and now that he had the chance to, he was going to run with it.

His father always said he'd die young. This was one of those times that he was glad to disappoint the old man.

...

Penny was staring at the canvas skeptically, a paintbrush between her teeth as she held the painting up against the late afternoon sunshine.

She set it back down again and, grabbing the paintbrush in her hand, she tried squinting at it.

"What do you think?" she finally asked of her companion.

He was laying in the tall grass, soaking up the last of the day's heat. When he heard her speak, he raised his radar-scoop ears and whined.

"I know. Something's missing," she sighed and pushed her blonde bangs out of her face. Penny swished the brush in the glass water jar on her work table and dried it off. "Want to go for a walk? I'll come back to it later."

Her friend tilted his head slightly at her. "I know, I don't have much time left. But I need a break and some food. Come on," she coaxed. She stepped onto the porch and grabbed the leash dangling from the railing.

Shadow got up slowly, feigning disinterest, and stretched.

Penny clipped the leash to his collar and led him around the house and to the road. Though technically it was named Main Street, almost everyone knew it as Shady Water Road, or 'Ole Shady" as the old men who coagulated in Crystal Lake's only diner called it. It was renamed partly in an attempt to modernize the town during Crystal Lake's brief and only spike in summer tourism in the 90s.

The road was lined in pine trees that offered a cool reprieve from the unusually hot summer day. Penny and Shadow meandered along the side of the blacktop, enjoying each other's company. Except, that is, when Shadow saw a squirrel and tried to dislocate Penny's shoulder in an attempt to give chase. It was at these times that she wished he had been born a chihuahua and not a dog roughly the size of a moose.

When Penny and Shadow got to Sharon's Diner, they had barely missed the dinner rush (in as much as a town with a population of 901 can have a dinner rush) and went inside. Shadow sat down politely by Penny's side as she unfolded the menu.

Martha, one of the diner's three waitresses, came over when she saw them. She scratched Shadow behind one ear with red lacquered fingernails, and he let out a doggie moan.

"Hey guys!" she greeted them enthusiastically. "How's the book coming?"

Penny had been working on the illustrations for a children's book. She hadn't made it past the cover, and with only three months left, the deadline was approaching like a freight train.

She grimaced. "Don't ask."

Martha laughed. "That well, huh?"

"Yep. So how did your date with wotshisname go?"

Martha scowled. She had been trying her hand at online dating for some time now as she had run out of potential suitors in Crystal Lake several years previous. "Let's just say he looked nothing like his picture."

Penny made a face. "I'm sorry."

"The search continues. Now that Roger is out of the picture, you should join one of the sites too! maybe!"

Penny frowned at the mention of her ex. "No thanks. It's been hell getting him out of my house and I'm not looking for another one of those."

Martha looked appalled. "He's still not out?" She tossed her bouncy red hair over her shoulder.

"Technically he is. But he left a box of his junk and it feels like he's going to pop up at any minute to get it. It's like I'm waiting for the axe to drop all day." It made it hard to concentrate.

Martha snorted, her pretty nose wrinkling. "He's doing it just so he has an excuse to come over. He thinks you'll take him back once you've cooled off."

"You're right, he does. But not this time." She said it with finality and Martha smiled in approval. It was a known fact, according to the town's grapevine, that Roger was an irresponsible fool. But now he was also a cheater and although Penny's tolerance for his idiocy was fairly high, that was one thing she wouldn't put up with.

Penny could still remember going through her screen door, hearing moaning drifting into the living room from down the hall...walking on numb legs into her own bedroom and witnessing the mass of naked, tangled limbs that was her boyfriend and Courtney Spencer.

The fact that Roger was cheating with Courtney sent the town's gossipers into a frenzy- because she was the sheriff. Courtney, who grew up and went to school with Penny, was mortified at being found out. She was avoiding Penny at all costs, which basically ensured that Penny would never again be pulled over. She had a tendency to speed, so at least there were no tickets in her foreseeable future.

She wasn't sure how Courtney felt about Roger, but as far as she was concerned, Officer Spencer could keep him.

"I warned Roger that if he showed up unannounced, I'd let Shadow eat him," she said as she pretended to mull over menu over.

"Why are you looking at that? Nothing's changed." Martha snatched the laminated folder away.

"I'm trying to count calories," she said indignantly. Penny had a love hate relationship with food: she loved eating it, and hated what it did to her hips.

"Not this again," the redhead rolled her eyes.

"You don't understand," Penny said, looking longingly at her friend's waistline. Penny had always fallen into the category reserved for curvy women, but she was four years away from being thirty now. With age came weight gain, at least in her mother's case, and since she had similar DNA, she was expecting the same fate to befall her. She was concerned about going from "curvy" to "full figured" and then into the scary no-man's-land of "just plain chubby", so she was attempting to nip it in the bud.

"Fine. Since I'm experiencing peer pressure, I'll have the chocolate chip pancakes," she declared. The diet could start tomorrow instead. At least she hadn't buried her woes in a carton of fudge ripple iced cream like she would typically do. "Shadow will have the Salmon burger."

He nudged her in the side with a wet and very cold nose. "Okay, better make that two."

Martha nodded."So have you met your new neighbor yet?"

"Someone finally bought the Culliver house?" Penny had been too wrapped up in the catastrophe that was her current existence to notice. But she had loved the elderly woman who had lived in that house. Mrs. Culliver had taught her how to draw and paint when Penny was a little girl and she felt the loss of her friend daily.

"Yes!" Martha seemed excited. "Ida tried to take over a pie but he practically shut the door in her face."

Ida was the nosiest woman alive.

"Good for him."

Martha snickered and went off to put in their order.

They ate their dinner and left just as the sun was starting to sink behind the clouds, fingers of pink and orange playing across the sky.

As they walked home, Penny noticed that, true to Martha's word, there was indeed a moving truck in the driveway of the Culliver house and several lights from within broke the evening darkness.

Shadow noticed it too, and started barking in the direction of the house.

"Stop that!" she admonished. "He's going to dislike us before he meets us."

When they got home, it had started to rain lightly. Penny loved the rain; the smell of damp earth and even the ominous rumbling of thunder in the distance. Shadow, on the other hand, was not a fan so she took him inside.

...

Penny woke to Shadow whining near her head.

She grumbled and pulled a flower print pillow over her face. "If you want to go outside, let yourself out." Shadow knew how to open the screen door with his nose if it wasn't locked.

His nails clicked on the hard wood floor as he left her bedroom and headed to the back door.

Penny stretched and yawned. The only good thing she saw about morning was coffee and the machine that made it was an unfortunate two rooms and a hallway away.

Groggily, she stumbled into the kitchen and flicked on the button.

Sitting down at the kitchen table, she let her head hit the oak surface with an audible thump.

And then she heard Shadow barking. Hysterically. Squirrel, she thought. Why was there a blood feud between canines and climbing rodents?

The coffee maker beeped and she pored herself a mug, the glass of the pot clinking on the porcelain of her cup.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Adrenaline shot through Penny and instantly, she felt grudgingly alert.

Roger.

It was just like him to show up early in the morning; he knew how she felt about the wee hours before noon.

She straightened her oversized tee shirt, adjusting her shorts. Penny took a deep breath. She was prepared for the battle ahead.

She swung the door open. But it wasn't Roger. Instead, there stood a very big shirtless man, looking equal parts angry and tired. Shadow stood next to him cheerfully, tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. They were both caked in mud. Penny's jaw dropped.

"Did you lose something?" the muddy man asked.

"Ummm," came her intelligent reply.

...

Luke always had trouble sleeping. Every noise was a possible indication of a threat, an occupational hazard, and this old house creaked and groaned whenever the wind blew. And it was so damned hot. He opened his window as wide as it could go, not caring that the rain was soaking the carpet underneath the sill, and peeled off his sweat soaked t shirt. He wondered if there was a place in town that installed central air.

By the time he finally gave up on sleep, the rain had stopped and dawn was creeping in over the horizon. He stayed in bed though, staring at the ceiling and noting that there was no traffic to be heard. A city boy born and raised, the silence slightly unnerved him.

And then, suddenly, a heavy mass of mucky fur landed directly on his solar plexus, causing the air to whoosh out of him. He flailed in shock as a giant tongue slurped across his face.

By the time his brain caught up with him, he realized he was nose to nose with a very muddy German Shepherd.

What the hell?

"Who are you?" he asked the pair of big brown eyes. He pushed the big dog off and sat up. His entire bed was covered in muck. "Gross," he chastised. The goofy dog just laid there, grinning at him and panting.

It was then that he noticed the dog had a tag. Shadow, it read, along with an address.

This beast belonged next door. "You're in the wrong house," he informed his guest.

He got up, pulled on his shoes, and went outside. The dog followed him happily.

His gravel driveway was fraught with murky potholes and he carefully avoided them. And then, across the yard, a squirrel darted from the bushes and up into a nearby pine tree. The dog reacted immediately, knocking Luke's legs out from under him and sending him sprawling face first into a muddy puddle. He stood up slowly, wiping the muck out of his eyes.

Shadow was obviously aware of what he'd done and slunk back, head down and ears tucked against his head.

"Come on," said Luke through gritted teeth.

He walked up the packed dirt drive way of his neighbor's home. It was built in an old Victorian manner, chipped white shingles and vaulted roofs so sharply angled that it looked like they pierced the sky. The wrap around porch had potted plants on every surface, spilling over with colorful flowers.

He rapped his knuckles against the stained glass in the door and stepped back. Shadow sat next to him, expectantly.

He was surprised to see a young blonde woman open the door, her pretty blue eyes widening when she took in the scene.

"Did you lose something?" he asked as he folded his arms across his muddy chest.

"Ummm." She looked fairly perplexed. But then she seemed to pull herself together. "What did you do to my dog?" She dropped to her knees and began inspecting him.

"Pardon?" he asked incredulously. "This oaf jumped through my window, got mud everywhere and then nearly killed me!"

The look she shot him was almost sharp enough to cut. "He's not an oaf!"

"Why isn't he on a leash?"

"Why do you keep your window open?"

They stared at each other for a minute in mutual disdain.

"Keep him off my property," he growled at her and marched down the stairs, leaving muddy footprints in his wake.

...

Penny watched the angry man leave. "Well he's definitely not one of those neighbors we can borrow sugar from." She frowned at Shadow. "What were you thinking? You can't just jump in people's windows."

He gave her the doggie equivalent of a shrug and went around her to get inside, obviously in search of breakfast. Penny sighed and shut the door.

Some time later, Penny was at the diner, a freshly washed Shadow sitting nearby, while she recounted the events of that morning to Martha.

"...and he called Shadow an oaf! Can you believe that?"

The redhead was scratching the chin of the dog in question. "Well," she said carefully. "He is a little bit of a oaf. A good natured one."

Penny harrumphed but Shadow didn't look offended.

"Anyway, tell me that he looked like!"

She was quiet for a minute. "I don't know. He was covered in mud. He's sort of huge. But who cares? He's a jerk."

Ida Macyntre was leaning so far over in her seat in order to catch the conversation that she was precariously close to falling off her chair.

Martha sent her a glare, which the other woman ignored.

"I heard he was a movie producer from California," said Ida, butting in.

"He divorced some Hollywood actress and came here to recover."

Penny snorted.

"Well, she was a smart woman to get away from him."

The door chimed and the entire diner turned to see who it was.

A tall, slender man walked inside. His brown eyes searched the room and settled on Penny.

Roger. She swallowed hard. The room was silent, save for the humming of the ancient deep freeze in the kitchen.

He walked over to her, seemingly oblivious to the dozen pairs of eyes on him. His brown hair fell into his face and he ran a hand through it to push it back in his trademark Roger move.

"Penny. Can I talk to you outside?" he asked.

From the other side of the table, Shadow growled and showed his white teeth threateningly.

"No." Her heart was thudding in her ears. Two years she wasted on this man.

Roger reached out to touch her arm, and Shadow let out a sharp bark, which caused him to jump back and throw his arms up in surrender.

"Okay, well I'll call you later." He turned to walk out, and then stopped. "I miss you," he said over his shoulder. And then he was gone.

Shadow still looked ruffled, so Penny pet his head reassuringly. Shadow had never liked Roger.

Her mom always told her that dogs could see into a person's soul.

She must have been right.