Home > Magic Uncorked : A Paranormal Women's Fiction Novel

Magic Uncorked : A Paranormal Women's Fiction Novel
Author: Annabel Chase

Chapter One



Hercules rescued Libbie Stark from a nightmare that involved her car careening off a cliff. She wasn’t sure why she bothered to set the alarm when the Irish Setter nudged her awake every morning at seven. Never mind that the dog could easily make his desire for the great outdoors known to Chris, who was undoubtedly already downstairs with a hot cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal. Libbie knew her boyfriend would’ve gladly slept until noon each day in the summer if his body clock would allow it. As a P.E. teacher at the local high school, though, he was too accustomed to early rising.

Libbie peeled off the covers and reluctantly left the comfort of her cocoon. “Just don’t pee on the carpet, I beg you.”

Hercules had far too much exuberance for a ten-year-old dog, as far as she was concerned. She made her way down the staircase, careful not to trip. Even at his age, the dog had a habit of zipping in front of her on the steps when she least expected it.

She arrived in the kitchen to find Chris hunched over a plate of scrambled eggs. Not cereal today, then. She glanced at the pan still on the stovetop, knowing perfectly well she’d find it empty. She was the professional chef in the house, which somehow meant that Chris only cooked for himself and not for her.

“Hey, sunshine,” she said when he failed to acknowledge her.

Chris grunted in response. He wasn’t a morning person—not an issue for Libbie most of the year because he was out the door first, followed by her kids leaving for school. Weather permitting, she’d sit outside with a cup of coffee, Hercules at her feet, and listen to the birds chirping before she headed to work. If she were lucky, she’d spot a red cardinal, her favorite. Interesting that, in the animal kingdom, beauty tended to be the hallmark of males, unlike the human world where women were prized for their looks. One of the things Chris had told her when they’d first met was that he liked that she didn’t try too hard like other women. Even now, Libbie wasn’t entirely sure what he’d meant. She’d smiled and nodded, as though she understood, and he’d bought her a funnel cake at the carnival. She’d eaten it, dusting powdered sugar down the front of her dress.

Libbie opened the door to the backyard, and the dog bolted past her into the summer sunshine.

“You might want to watch him,” Chris said. “There was another rabbit in your garden this morning.”

Libbie peered outside at her neglected herb garden. She knew she had to make more time for it, but it seemed to slide further and further down the list of priorities. At least the rabbits were enjoying it.

She poured a cup of coffee and was relieved to see there was enough for a full cup. Small mercies.

“Your kids are still asleep,” Chris said in an accusatory tone.

“I figured.”

“You should probably wake them.”

Libbie bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. Her kids worked all summer long, whereas Chris spent the summer fishing and doing whatever he pleased. It would be fine if they weren’t strapped for cash, but Chris was always on her about not wasting money to the point where Libbie worried they’d end up living paycheck-to-paycheck if they weren’t careful. She didn’t understand how money could’ve gotten so tight. She was a frugal shopper by nature, too afraid to spend unless there was a sale, and she’d been very conservative when she’d refinanced the mortgage after her divorce. Then again, two growing teenagers weren’t cheap.

“It’s Fourth of July weekend,” she said. “Let them sleep. They’ll be busy enough later.”

Sixteen-year-old Josh worked as a lifeguard at the lake for Club Cloverleaf. The lake and pools would be packed this weekend with seasonal renters, as well as the locals out in full force. Thirteen-year-old Courtney would be complaining of a sore arm after scooping ice cream all afternoon at Cone Hut, her father’s business. Libbie and Nick had divorced four years ago. Thankfully, the split had been amicable. Libbie avoided conflict as much as humanly possible; it made her too uncomfortable.

Chris slurped his coffee, a habit Libbie secretly hated. It reminded her of Josh when he was a little boy, sucking every drop of chocolate milk out of the carton. The comparison wasn’t flattering.

She grabbed a banana muffin from the plastic container on the counter. She and Courtney had baked them two days ago, and they’d retained their fresh taste.

“Are you going around the lake before work?” Chris asked.

Libbie joined him at the table. “Just the short route. I want to get there a little early today and try to talk to Joe again about my ideas.”

Libbie had been working up the nerve to broach the subject of menu changes with her boss for almost a year now. Business wasn’t exactly booming, and Libbie knew from town gossip that the menu was part of the problem. Unfortunately, Joe Romano was set in his ways. He liked his menu to reflect his personal taste in food and nothing else, which would be fine if his tastes weren’t so bland. Even the name of the restaurant was bland. Basecamp was for mountain climbers or astronauts, not foodies.

Chris sucked the remaining milk from the bowl. “If you’re serious about losing weight, you need to do more than paddle around the lake in a kayak. You should think about what you’re eating and drinking too. There’s a lot of sugar in those cocktails of yours.”

Libbie bristled at the jab. Chris disliked her Friday night cocktail club. He couldn’t understand why she chose to spend one night a week with her girlfriends when she could be home on the couch with him, watching whatever show he deemed worthy of their time and attention. Libbie had been a member of the cocktail club long before Chris Pennington had come around, however, and she had no intention of leaving it.

“I’m sure you’re right,” she said, unwilling to argue. Arguing created tension, and tension made Libbie anxious. She shouldn’t have mentioned the stubborn ten pounds she wanted to lose. Now he’d raise the topic at inopportune moments, like in the middle of a party or at a restaurant in front of the waiter. Are you sure you want dessert? he’d say, just as she was pointing to the chocolate mousse on the menu. Then he’d order a slice of pie for himself because, of course, he didn’t need to contend with hormonal changes in middle age. At least not the kind that created a spare tire. Chris was in good shape and he knew it.

Libbie finished her muffin and coffee and let the dog in before hurrying upstairs to change. Kayaking during the summer months was a little tricky because Lake Cloverleaf was more crowded, even in the mornings. Libbie had to be mindful of boats and Jet Skis as she made her way along the perimeter of the clover-shaped lake.

She sauntered across the street and through the neighbor’s yard to her kayak. Her house wasn’t lakefront but the Seymours’ was, and they’d been letting her use their property as a cut-through since she’d moved in fifteen years ago. Of course, she and Nick had been married then with a one-year-old, not that it mattered. June and Trent Seymour were the kind of neighbors everyone wanted and few were fortunate enough to have.

Libbie made her way past their blooming azaleas to the shaded spot where her kayak waited. The red paint was chipped in places, but it was in otherwise excellent condition, despite years of regular use. She hated when the weather changed and it became too cold to enjoy the lake. Kayaking was more than exercise for Libbie; it was her time to think without interruption. She used it the way other people used yoga, as a way to self-reflect and calm herself before facing the rest of her day. She dreaded the winter months when she was confined indoors most of the time.

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