Spellbound, book 1
By Melissa Bourbon
Eight years ago…
Whiskey Creek, Texas, wasn’t far from Austin, but to Reid Malone, it might as well have been light years away. Thank God for the lake. No matter how much he hungered for city life, this place—especially on a day like today—was his solace.
He parked on the bluff in between the trees near the old haunted fishing cabin, popped open a beer, and readied his fishing pole. Maybe it was college life and worrying only about himself that he missed when he was stuck in his hometown. Back here he had his dad and the bar to worry about. He needed to earn a little cash over the summer, but he was already counting the days till he could get back to the city and put his newly minted diploma to use.
Dark clouds pooled in the distance. A storm was coming in, and it made him breathe easier. There was nothing like the vast Texas sky. In the distance, loud rolling thunder cracked and flashes of lightning streaked through it. Before long, the sky would open, the rain would fall, and the temperature would drop twenty degrees in a matter of minutes. Being here helped put things in perspective for him. The big sky and the power of the storm helped him to not take things so seriously and made the long summer months ahead seem manageable.
The thunder cracked again, and that’s when he saw her.
She tore over the dirt road in her daddy’s beat-up old truck, the tires kicking dirt until she skidded to a stop not a hundred yards from him. But she never looked his way. He cast out his line, just watching her. She had to be twenty years old now. What was she was doing here by herself?
It took her a good while to get out of the cab, but when she did, he nearly dropped his pole. He’d seen Storie around town a few times and he knew she was pretty in an offbeat way, but now? In her cutoff jeans and white T-shirt knotted below her breasts—luscious, beautiful breasts, from what he could see—she was all curves and flesh and bronzed skin. Her hair, like no color he’d ever seen, shimmered in the fading afternoon sunlight. The coppery tint was almost otherworldly, he thought, leaning forward in his lawn chair.
He’d heard tales about her strange behavior and quirky habits, but all he could think was that she was a damn siren. A girl next door who could bring a man to his knees with one crook of her finger.
She released the tailgate and climbed into the back of her daddy’s truck, standing on the edge, raising her arms like she was trying to harness the thunder that was slowly rolling in. At first he thought she was just trying to capture a breeze and stay cool in the humid July heat, but then the clouds moved faster and turned in the sky in time with her rotating hands. He couldn’t tell what she was up to, but a silent alarm sounded in his head. “What the hell?”
He was so enthralled that he finally gave up trying to fish. He tossed what was left of his beer into the garbage and moved into the shadows of the trees. She might need help, he reasoned. What woman came out to the lake in this kind of weather unless something was wrong?
His attention never wavered as he got closer. God, she was beautiful. And now he had the best view he could get out here in the open. He didn’t know her, and certainly wouldn’t act on his attraction for her, but hell if he didn’t want to memorize every last detail of her face and body now that he was seeing it spotlighted as she stood on the tailgate.
She moved like a blade of grass, softly swaying in the fading sunlight. Her arms stretched upward, her head tilted back. She stiffened, just for a split second, and a shudder passed through her. Thunder cracked overhead, a flash of lightning sparked through the dark clouds…was it seconds later?
He stared at the sky. That wasn’t right. The order was wrong. Lightning came first. Thunder came from the shock wave from the heat, then cooled off the lightning bolt.
Before he could wonder about it any more, Storie jumped down from the tailgate and plowed headlong into the lake. Somewhere in the distance, a cat wailed, as if sounding the alarm. Shit. Reid jumped up, starting toward the water’s edge. “Christ, woman, what are you doing? You don’t swim during a lightning storm!”
She kept going, striding forward against the force of the water. He froze, waiting. Watching. She stalked through the muck, finally bringing her arms overhead and diving under the water.
A network of light broke through the clouds, a crash of thunder following. The right order this time. Maybe he’d imagined the reversal.
His breath clogged his throat as he counted to ten in his head, waiting for her to break the surface. Ten came and went. And then fifteen. He searched the dark water. Where the hell was she?
Something had to have really upset her for her to come up to the lake alone with a storm brewing, and what in the damnation had she been trying to do up there on the tailgate? Had she been drinking? Was she trying to get electrocuted? Could she even swim? Oh, Christ, if she were drowning…
Without another thought, he ripped off his shirt as he raced to the water’s edge.
He just hoped they both didn’t get electrocuted.
He dove under the water, but it was brown and murky and he couldn’t see. He swam, breaking the surface to get some air, then ducking down again to keep searching. Above him, the sky flashed with light. The boom of the thunder traveled through the water like a muffled drum.
For a brief moment, the lightning allowed him to see under the water, but there was no sign of her. Panic swarmed his cells until he could hardly think. He was too late.
But then his arm brushed something that recoiled from his touch. Storie!
He kicked off the soft, smooth bottom, pushing himself in the direction he thought she’d gone. He peered in front of him, frantically searching until he made contact again. This time, he shot upward, dragging in a ragged breath and getting his bearings.
The clouds had grown darker, but it was still light enough to see. Bubbles popped where he thought she was. So she’d come up for air. He lunged, but then stopped as her head appeared, breaking through the surface of the water. And then, just as he’d imagined it, she rose like a mermaid, water cascading off her dark hair, off her skin, off the T-shirt clinging to her body.
“You’re okay.” He exhaled, catching his breath and reorganizing his thoughts.
Wide-eyed, she gasped, turning to him. He wasn’t positive, but her eyes looked red-rimmed, as if she’d been crying. She blinked and sank back down so that only her shoulders and head were above water. Her eyebrows knitted together and she dipped her chin, peering at him. “Reid Malone? Is that you?” She didn’t wait for an answer before asking, “What in tarnation are you doing? You scared me half to death!”
And just like that, she’d turned the tables, making him feel guilty for trying to help her. “I thought you were drowning.”
“I wasn’t.” She’d reached the part of the lake where she could stand. This time when she rose from the water, she was like a phoenix, all fire and glory against the backdrop of the orange, yellow, and red streaking the horizon. She walked toward her truck, water dripping from her cutoffs, from the white T-shirt still knotted at her rib cage.
“Yeah, I can see that,” he said, coming out of the water behind her. He swallowed, stifling every bit of his physical reaction to seeing her. “Next time you’re not drowning,” he said with a low growl, “I’ll just leave you to it.”
She stopped at the tailgate, putting one hand on the edge of the beat-up truck, and then, like the damn siren he knew she was, she turned to face him. “You do that, Reid,” she said, real slow, her soft Southern accent as luscious as her body. Her gaze flicked to his chest—and below, before rising to his eyes again. “You take yourself a good long look, because this has been a crap day. I’m leaving Whiskey Creek in the morning, and this is the last you’ll ever see of me.”
He heard what she said. Crap day. Leaving Whiskey Creek. But all he could do was swallow and drink her in. Long legs, curvy hips in those low-rise shorts heavy with water, the corners of the pockets slipping down farther than the edge of the shorts themselves. And that T-shirt, sticking to her body, plastered against her curves.
Oh yeah, he took a good long look—every bit of her seared into his brain, from the light dusting of freckles across her nose to the beauty mark on her stomach.
And everything in between.
Storie Bell was a witch. Not the kind that lived in Harry Potter’s world. No, she was more like Glinda, the good witch of the North, minus the munchkins and Dorothy.
Only when she tapped her heels together three times, she didn’t suddenly fit in. Didn’t miraculously have the life she longed for. But things were about to change, no thanks to magic. She and Harper Patterson stood in front of 13 Houston Street, gazing up at their futures.
“You know,” Kathy Newcastle, the town’s premier—and only—real estate agent, said from beside her as Harper hurried off to meet a delivery truck, “now that you’re finally here and moving in, I can tell you. You almost lost this place.”
Storie turned to the agent. “How so?” Saying the dilapidated old gas station was a fixer-upper was a colossal understatement, but it had good bones and it was hers, left to her by her father. The idea of anybody else wanting it was just crazy, but to her, it was a treasure in the rough. A place she could make her own and settle into.
“Jiggs Malone did everything he could to make a deal with your daddy. He wanted this place, but bad.”
“Why?” Storie shot a wary glance at The Speakeasy, the bar right next to her new business. There wasn’t a chance in hell she’d let any Malone have a piece of anything belonging to her. Her father might have claimed to like Jiggs, but she knew better. There was bad blood there. Maybe not as vicious as the Hatfields and McCoys, but enough that she didn’t trust a Malone any farther than she could throw him. Well, given that she had her witchcraft and could hurl him halfway across town, she revised her sentiment. She didn’t trust a Malone any farther than her best friend, Harper, could throw one.
Kathy looked up and down the street, as if she were readying to reveal a big secret. She’d hit the half-century mark, but her sun-scorched skin, combined with the poufy style of her chestnut hair, aged her another ten years. Kathy, though, hadn’t shied away from Storie despite the whispers and murmurs of the townsfolk about Storie having unnatural powers.
“I can’t say for certain,” Kathy said, “but I do know it has something to do with the bigwigs who’ve been coming around to the bar for the last six months. Jiggs has some deal cooking. Maybe he thought he could buy the place, fix it up, then flip it real quick. His clock is ticking, if you know what I mean.”
Jiggs Malone had seemed ancient back when Storie was a senior in high school. She knew he was probably about sixty-five or so. Plenty of years left. Sounded suspect to her, which meant there was more to the situation than what Kathy knew. Her jaw tightened at the very idea that Jiggs had tried to buy the place from her father. More reason to steer clear of any and all Malones.
A couple came up the sidewalk toward them, slowing as their gazes met Storie’s. They whispered something to each other and kept walking, nodding curtly as they passed. No matter how many years had gone by, it was something Storie would never get used to.
“Don’t mind folks,” Kathy said, giving her arm a light squeeze. “People talk, but they’ll come around.”
Storie looked back at her new business. Before long, a sign would be hanging from the porte cochere and swinging in the breeze. The Storiebook Café, with the tagline, Where happy endings begin…
Mixed and matched pots would overflow with multicolored flowers. And inside? Coffee. Tea. The best food this side of the Brazos River. All with the added bonus of books.
“The Storiebook Café,” she said, her voice dreamy and far away. “It’ll be a novel experience.” She laughed at her own bad pun, but in truth, it was just what she was after. Something fun, quirky, different, and a place to call home. She could have relied on her vision and her magic…but she was determined to fit in this time. No more moving around because she couldn’t control her powers. She’d use a spell here and there, but they’d hired a good contractor because that was the only way to appear normal, and Storie was done being an outsider in her own life.
But maybe Kathy Newcastle was right. Maybe folks would come around, stop their whispering about her, and just let her settle down in the one town she’d called home, albeit briefly, during her childhood. “I hope so,” she said.
“It’s about as perfect as it’s going to get,” Harper said, coming back to join them, her Southern accent as thick as honey dripping from a hive.
“Thanks to the contractor,” she said. “Where’d you find that man?”
Kathy waved at a woman across the street. Behind her, a mangy stray dog trotted across the courthouse square, disappearing around the corner of the old limestone building. The woman lifted her hand, stopping for a minute, staring.
Would folks ever be able to just accept her?
A dark cloud suddenly pressed down on Storie and a chill spiraled slowly through her. She got this feeling more and more often, almost as if some darkness was seeping into her bones. If only she could hide her magic, she’d be okay, but she’d learned over the years that hiding her powers didn’t really work. Everywhere she’d lived, her magic surfaced in one way or another, and people talked.
“Mr. Garland? I’ve been in the business long enough to find the best people,” Kathy said. “Once everyone sees what you’ve turned this place into, and if they come to your grand opening, I’m sure they’ll love it.”
Storie and Harper both gaped at her. “What do you mean if?” Harper asked. “Why wouldn’t they come?”
Kathy snuck a look at Storie, sighing. “People around here have memories like elephants.”
Harper rolled her hand in the air, prompting Kathy to go on. “What does that mean?”
Storie’s skin pricked. She knew exactly what Kathy was talking about. More than anything, she wished she could erase the past, but she was stuck with it, like a shadow that followed her everywhere.
Kathy’s eyes flashed and suddenly seemed laced with suspicion. “It means rumors about Storie still run rampant around here.” She turned to face her. “You only lived here a year, but that’s long enough to make an impression.”
“What kind of impression?” Harper demanded, her accent barely softening the edge in her voice.
Kathy hesitated before finally turning to Storie. “Let’s just say that folks are still a little spooked when they think about the books all flying off the shelves in the high school library, or the water in the lake as hot as a bathtub. Now you and I know you had nothing to do with any of that, but when folks can’t explain something, they have to place the blame somewhere—”
Harper scoffed. “And they blame Storie? What, like she’s a witch, or something?”
“She happened to be nearby every time, so it’s easy to add one and one together.”
Harper threw a pointed glance at her before muttering, “Ridiculous,” under her breath as she turned and walked away. Harper was Storie’s only real friend. They’d met when Storie moved back to Somervell County, first settling in Clement, and then, finally, ready to stop letting her past and her powers dictate her choices, she’d come back to Whiskey Creek. Harper and Harper’s two daughters were as close to family as she’d ever get.
“What if folks don’t come?” Storie asked, half to herself, but loud enough that Kathy heard.
“They’ll come,” she said. “This town needs a bookstore, and it needs a coffee shop.”