Chapter One

"No, no, no!" Emma kicked the flat tire for the seventeenth time and then cringed as she stubbed her toe, the imminent pain and following hopping around being the only result of her five seconds of rampant anger.

She gritted her teeth, and willed back tears. This couldn't be happening to her. It simply couldn't. Karma didn't work this way. She'd already been dealt about a thousand cards of bad luck, which meant that life was supposed to give her a break now. A flat tire, after everything that had happened in the past two weeks, simply wasn't an option. That would mean that someone up there, literally holding a bowl of popcorn and a cup of soda to boot, was staring down and laughing at her joke of a life and pressing the rewind and play button.

She sniffed, refusing to let the hot tears spill down her cheeks. Instead she levied herself against the back of her 2004 Outlander Jeep and simply dropped her head down in order to force herself to breathe. Her life had literally fallen apart, in countless different ways, but she wasn't still standing for no reason. She'd figure this out, just as she had everything else.

After she was sure that she wasn't going to have a mental breakdown in the middle of a deserted highway at two in the morning, she steadied herself again and then went to the backseat to find the flashlight she'd kept stashed in there for emergencies like these.

She'd forgotten how cold it got up here, having spent the past twelve years of her life in sunny California. Her mother had left her father when she was ten, and it was the last time she'd ever driven down highway 92, tucked away on the edge of the north eastern shore of Canada. Her father had stayed behind in the small town that she'd grown up in; Harbordale, Nova Scotia.

And now she was back. She couldn't believe it, but she was back.

With a God damn flat tire.

She found the flash light and went back to the rear of the jeep, crouching down to see the damage. It was even worse than she'd initially thought. The tire had a long puncture wound ripping through the rim, almost all the air completely deflated. She'd driven over debris from a recent rock fall a few kilometers back and had refused to believe that the wheezing sound of failing rubber was coming from her own car.

She didn't even have a spare tire.

Emma bit her lip, and then went back to her car. She was probably a forty minute walk from the borders of Harbordale, and had it not been for the creepily overarching forest on both sides of her or for the completely empty road that stretched on both ends, she would have happily walked the rest of the way.

The other alternative was to camp out here for the rest of the night, until the sun broke out or until another car passed by – which she wasn't confident would be anytime soon. She could run the heater for a while, but the last thing she wanted to do was kill the car battery so that meant spending the rest of the night in agonizing, bitter cold. It was November, and to no surprise, the tips of the grass on the forest floor on either sides of her were already iced with early frost.

Emma stood there for a while, debating what to do. It was either walk into town now, and find a place to camp out for the night. Or it was camp out at night, and be productive in the morning.

Staring at the cold, uninviting jeep that was over ten years old with a shotty engine and uncomfortable seat padding, the decision was made in an instant. There was no way in hell she was going to try to sleep in the Jeep, not when she could be in town within the next forty minutes. She'd dress up as warmly as she could, and take the flashlight with her.

She simply had to force out images of werewolves, and ghouls and things that went bump in the night from her head, and she'd be fine.

Grabbing her winter jacket, she looped her purse around her chest, heaved her duffel bag full of clothes and belongings over her shoulder, shoved her hat and mitts on, and then locked her car. She'd come back for it first thing in the morning, hopefully with a spare tire in hand. With that, she steeled her courage, told herself not to look into the woods, and began her walk.

Even though it'd been ten years since she'd been here last, Harbordale's reputation had stayed the same. A quiet town by the seaside, where nothing happened and nothing changed. You grew up, grew old, and then chose a plot in which to retire to for the rest of your days. It was a place that she never thought she'd come back to; it had been buried away in her mind, just like all the pictures of her childhood that stood as proof of her ever having lived here.

Had her life not literally fallen apart in front of her eyes, she'd never have come back here. The company she'd been working for had been served with a class action law suit, gone bankrupt and she'd been laid off. All of her savings had gone into paying for her mother's medical bills, and then the following funeral. She was drowning in debt from her student loans, and after her landlord had slammed her with an eviction notice, she quite literally had nowhere to go.

She'd been bumming it off on her ex-boyfriend's couch, which had been even a lower low than all that had transpired prior, when she received a call from an old acquaintance from Harbordale. The man had been her mother's divorce lawyer, and had found Emma's number from an online directory. Her father, whom she hadn't spoken to in over a decade, had passed away. Having no other friends or family, he'd left all his possessions to the only blood relative he had. Her.

And that's why she was back. Miserable, broke, with her entire life in a bag over her shoulder. She'd borrowed money from an old colleague in order to pay for the flight, and had bought the run down jeep for less than two-hundred dollars from an ad on kijiji.

She'd never really known her dad, and even when she'd lived here as a kid, he had never been home. Hearing of his passing had only given her a strange sensation of loss, of saying goodbye to the minute possibility of ever getting to know the man she was meant to call her dad. So it was only stranger to hear that he had left her his house, including all his possessions. Maybe it was his way of saying sorry, but she didn't linger on it long. She'd never know, so it wasn't worth pondering.

At first, she'd simply accepted the information and then forgotten about it. But it hadn't taken her long to realize that this was her best chance to get her life back on track. Her father had built his house from the ground up, which meant she didn't have to pay rent. She could spend the winter working on various art projects that she wouldn't have the time or liberty to by living in the living room of her ex's, and try to make some sort of profit by selling them online. And she could actually find some sort of part-time job so she could begin repaying her student loans.

She needed to come here. It was her only hope of salvation.

An hour later, and she still hadn't reached Harbordale and she was shivering despite having walked 5 kilometers. Shaking, her nose pink from the cold, and her ears twinging with pain from the chilly wind, Emma paused, pulling out her phone to see if maybe she had taken a wrong turn somewhere. She didn't know how that was possible – she was literally following a straight road, getting lost was impossible.

No wi-fi.

Of course.

She rolled her eyes, and continued walking, hating her decision more and more. She should've just camped out in the jeep. Walking to town had been irresponsible, and she wasn't sure how much battery life she had left in her flashlight. The last thing she needed was to be walking down the road with only the moonlight to guide her way. Clouds were bunching up above, which meant that a storm was due within the next 24 hours, and she was pretty sure that meant without her flashlight, she'd be stranded in pitch black darkness.

Her teeth had begun to chatter when she first saw it. A light up ahead, like a soft, flickering electric lamp.

Praying and hoping to God that it was a gas station or motel, she picked up her speed and began walking faster. The wind was biting through her winter jacket, which she was beginning to realize was no match for Canadian winters. How was she supposed to know? She hadn't experienced a proper winter in over a decade. The concept didn't exist in California.

To her relief, she passed a sign that read 'Welcome to Harbordale – the heart of Canada's shrimp county.'

She was twenty-two, and moving into the heart of Canada's shrimp county. Wow, her life really was in shambles.

Emma walked for another fifteen minutes, the forest giving way to steep slopes and cliffs. The town was on the coastline, protected by jutting mountains and thick forests which meant that road began to twist and turn, and she began to calm down even more when the ground began to decline sharply. She hadn't taken the wrong turn after all. She was definitely almost there.

It was only when she'd begun to doubt that she'd seen a light at all, that she saw it again. It was off the road to her left, up a mountain that was only reached by following a divergent pathway. Its source came into view the closer she got, as more lights came into her line of sight.

It was a house, nestled in the green mountain, and tucked away on the outskirts of town. The porch was lit with lamps, and from where she was, she could spot a car in the driveway which meant someone was home.

She hesitated, not knowing what to do. She didn't know how much further the town was. Her legs ached from walking in such cold, and she was sure her earlobes were going to burn from frostbite any time now.

"I'm going to get killed," she muttered, trying to breathe some warmth into her hands. She couldn't believe she was actually considering walking up to a random house, tucked away in the middle of the mountains, on the outskirts of town. This was literally the stuff that horror movies were made of.

But this was Harbordale. The juiciest thing to ever happen in Harbordale, from what she'd read on the plane ride over, was a robbery at the local bakery in the summer of 1998. The man had held the woman at gunpoint. Another article had come out a few days later explaining that the man had been the woman's husband, and she'd been cheating on him for a few years so there was more to the robbery than just the lemon cakes and donuts. Murders and kidnappings didn't happen in Harbordale. The population was literally a few hundred. You noticed if people went missing, which is why nobody went missing.

With that thought, she told her subconscious to can it, and then walked up the pathway. It was a few ways up, and her face was red from exertion when she finally reached the driveway. From up here, she could actually see the town in the distance. It was at least another half a kilometer away, which was far enough for her to go through with what she was about to do.

Steeling her nerves, and driven by a sense of desperation, she walked up to the door and took a deep breath before ringing the doorbell.

She heard it chime inside, echoing a few times before quieting.

Waiting there, she folded her arms across her chest and rubbed her arms in order to generate some heat. The house was fairly large, looming three stories high with an attic on top. The lights in the driveway only made it appear a little ominous, casting shadows where there needn't be any. It was the kind of house she probably would've been scared of as a kid, having read too many gothic novels and period pieces where the age-old vampire or Dracula lived alone solitarily, in wait of his next victim. Heavy curtains hung in the windows from what she could see, and the wood creaked under her feet as she stood on the porch. Thankfully for her, she'd forgotten about her fantasies early on, when life made itself clear to her. Fairy tales didn't exist, which was a shame, because real life was a lot scarier.

A few minutes passed and nobody answered. Feeling slightly apologetic for being so persistent, she rang the doorbell again, and then knocked too. She needed warmth, a bed, and blankets.

This time, she hear some movement. A door creaking from inside, and hurried, heavy footsteps.

And then the front door opened.

She found her tongue went dry as she found herself staring at him.

This was not what she had been expecting. She was expecting some sixty-year old grandmother of sorts, but not this.

He was older than her, that was for sure, but not by that many years. She'd say he was twenty-eight or twenty nine, tops. If he was thirty, she'd be surprised. His face, currently set in a scowl with crossed eyebrows, was firm and sharp and devilishly, dangerously handsome. A five-o-clock shadow covered his jaw line, and his eyes –an eerie shade of blue – glowered angrily down at her. What was most distracting, however, was that he wasn't wearing a shirt and his demi-godlike torso, with its sculpted abs and chiseled chest was demanding attention. A pair of dark trousers hung from his hips, that he had clearly just thrown on in a last minute hurry.

Seconds passed, in complete silence.

"Who are you and what the fuck are you doing at my house at three in the morning?"

She blinked, coming out of her momentary lapse of sanity. "My car broke down on the highway and I need a place to stay the night."

He looked at her as if he'd lost her mind, "The town's a fifteen minute walk from here," was all he gruffly said before making a move to close the door.

She spoke before he had the chance, "I've already walked an hour, and I'm absolutely fucking freezing. I'll pay you for the night, and I'll sleep on the floor."

"This isn't a hotel."

"I know," she took a breath, trying to regain her footing in the conversation. This was going terribly. "Look, I'm sorry for waking you up. I know this this is an ungodly hour and I swear I wouldn't do this in normal circumstances. I'm on the way to Jacksons Street, and I've been walking for over an hour, I'm freezing and every part of my body is aching. I just -."

"Follow the road and you'll be by the Riverside motel in twenty minutes," was all he said before slamming the door shut in her face.

She closed her eyes and sighed, cursing every part of her being. She took it all back. Karma didn't make sure all the good luck balanced out with the bad luck. If life wanted, it just shit bad luck on you for days. She leaned back down and pulled the bag back up, hoisting it back up over her shoulder. Ok. It looked like it was going to be her, hypothermia, and a twenty minute walk for the next little while. She really hoped she could do this.

Ignoring a tremor that passed through her because of the cold and exhaustion, she turned around and began to tread back across his driveway.

She was so distracted by how cold she was that she didn't even hear him open the door again.

"Jacksons street?"

She stopped, his voice catching her off guard. She turned to see him leaning against the door again, a sliver of curiosity peeking through his gaze.

"Yeah, what of it?" she was feeling a little defensive. He was clearly a bit of an asshole, and the last thing she wanted to do after being turned away at his doorstep was have any sort of conversation with him.

"You're John Callaway's kid?"

It was her dad's name, a name that nobody had spoken of in literally years. "I'm not a kid," was all she said in response, dryly so.

"Clearly," he replied smugly.

She shifted. Did his eyes just flicker down her legs or was that her imagination? "Well, nice meeting you." she muttered, before turning around again. She was in no mood for this conversation and she didn't want to waste another single minute standing out here for no reason.

"Wait," he called out, and she heard a tinge of amusement in his tone. "Fifty dollars, and you can have my sofa."

She raised an eyebrow, and looked at him in exasperation. Was this man for real? "You just said you weren't a hotel."

"I've changed my mind."


"I knew John. He fixed my generator last winter when it broke, and I owed him. The least I could do the guy is let his daughter crash here for a few hours. God knows why you're back in town though."

And she'd tell nobody the truth either. The last thing she needed was to be looked at like a charity case. Not that this situation was helping matters much. "Twenty dollars."

"Twenty five."

"I don't have change. I only have the twenty dollar bills I got from the ATM."

He smirked, "Forty dollars then."

"Forget it," she made a move to turn around again but she heard him laugh.

"Fine, twenty dollars but no coffee for you in the morning. It's not included in the package."

She looked at him guardedly, wishing that he'd at least throw on a shirt so that it would make her think a little more clearly. He was clearly, on some level, a sociopath. A recluse. An asshole; a smug one at that.

But he was offering a roof over her head, a soft place to sleep, and a place that didn't currently feel like it was -50 degrees Celsius. Granted, he was only doing it because he'd known her father, and in an odd, strange way, here was dead, absentee dad again, helping her out when she needed it most. Life was truly, and honestly, messed up.

"Okay," was all she said, before walking back towards the house. "I'm Emma by the way," she muttered as she passed him, trying to look at anything but his naked, flat, body. "And you?"

He shut the door behind him, turning on the lights to the hallway and living room to cast the space in a warm glow. She held back a sigh of relief as she stepped into the hallway, the warmth immediately surrounding her.

"I'm Hunter."

She raised an eyebrow, glancing at him briefly. "That's a name I haven't heard in a while."

He didn't comment, and only walked right by her. "I'll show you to the couch. Basically every room in this house is off limits, and don't feel free to make yourself at home. I head off to work at 7.30 in the morning, and I expect you to be gone by then."

She rolled her eyes as she followed him into the living room, unabashedly admiring his lean back as she did so. Wasn't he just Prince Charming? Or rather, a ragged wolf in a lean, lion's clothing.