Read a Sample of Storiebook Charm…
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 Creekin 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.