All month long I will be celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the first publication of Countercharm! Yay! There will be giveaways on Goodreads, contests to win copies of Countercharm AND the sequel Countercharm 2: Of Stars and Dreams, the launch of the ebook edition of Countercharm on Kindle with a contest to design the cover for the 10th Anniversary ebook edition. So don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to find out when and where everything happens in the coming weeks.
Enjoy this free 1st chapter look.
Cherese A. Vines
Sydnie filled her lungs with the sweet scents of the ocean air. Since she’d moved to Seattle, Sydnie made a habit of taking walks around the neighborhood in the mornings and evenings. Across the street, she could see the moon glimmering through the trees and realized the sky was quickly becoming dark. Her aunt would be angry if she didn’t hurry. Sydnie quickened her pace as she checked her watch. With her head down, she didn’t see the young man standing a few feet in front of her and bumped into him.
As Sydnie regained her balance, she looked at the owner of the cold hand that’d shot out to steady her. Looking up at the attractive young man standing before her, Sydnie’s reality began to change. Their first encounter would leave her with an insistent feeling of impending danger.
“Oh! Excuse me,” she apologized for running into him, as she looked at the man standing before her, but quickly averted her eyes.
“It’s all right. I, ah, saw you walking the other day, and I wanted to say hello.” He smiled. “I live a couple of blocks up. By the way, I’m Ron Andres.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” She began walking, wrapping her arms across her chest, clasping her elbows.
“You mind if I walk with you?” he asked.
Sydnie paused momentarily. Something about him didn’t settle right with her. He wore all black. He’s got to be hot, Sydnie thought. He wore a long, black leather coat, combat boots, fatigues, and a black button-up shirt. She glanced up at the darkened Seattle sky.
“No, I don’t mind,” she said finally. “But do you mind walking fast? I was supposed to be home before dark.”
“Well, let’s hurry then. So, what’s your name?” he asked her.
Sydnie hesitated again. She looked up at him from her 5-foot-3-inch perspective. Besides the fact that he was dressed in all black, he looked harmless. The color made her notice his extremely attractive brown eyes. Even as the darkness began to surround them, his eyes stood out as something solid in the uncertainty of the advancing night.
“Sydnie…Knight,” she offered cautiously.
“So, Sydnie. I hadn’t seen you before the other day,” he continued, seemingly oblivious to her hesitation.
“I just moved here.”
“From where?” Ron asked.
“Down South,” Sydnie said simply.
She was not about to offer more than polite conversation to some guy who only seemed harmless. She began to walk faster. I’ve got to get home, and this nosy guy is following me. Why didn’t I just tell him no? Get out of my face. I don’t know you. I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. Something! Sydnie glanced again at Ron. He’s cute. That’s why, she thought and tried to subdue a smile.
Ron changed the subject. “How do you like it so far?”
“It’s all right.”
“Just all right?”
“Well, since school’s not in, there’s not much to do if you don’t know anybody,” Sydnie answered, concentrating on the lines in the sidewalk.
“You’re in high school?”
“Yeah, I’m going into my junior year,” Sydnie mumbled.
“I thought you were in college.” Ron leaned over slightly to look at her.
Sydnie smiled shyly and continued to stare at the ground passing beneath her feet. He straightened up, and they walked on quietly for a few moments. College. He’s just flirting, she reprimanded herself.
Suddenly feeling the lull in the conversation, she asked, “Why, are you in college?”
“Well, yeah. I’m just visiting my mom and trying to work and get some cash.”
He put his hands into the pockets of his jacket. Ron walked smoothly, with confidence—almost arrogantly. Sydnie stopped abruptly. She had almost passed her house because she was watching Ron’s walk.
“Um, thanks for walking me home,” she said softly.
“You’re quite welcome, Miss Knight.”
Sydnie started to get her keys out of her pocket.
“I don’t think you’ll be needing those,” Ron said.
“Why?” Sydnie asked suspiciously, looking at him directly for the first time, ready to run if she had to. He wasn’t looking at her, though, but toward her house.
“Isn’t that your mother at the door?”
Sydnie followed his gaze.
“No,” she said relieved. “That’s my auntie.” Why am I freaking out? she reproached herself.
“I’ll walk you up,” he said and began to walk up the driveway.
She pulled lightly on his arm. “Ron, she’s a bit strict, and I’m late. Please try not to say too much.”
Sydnie sighed as she saw her aunt put her fists on her hips.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be charming.” Ron grasped her hand, familiarly pulling it through the crook of his arm.
They approached the small beige, ranch-style house, that stood illuminated in the yellow of the porch light. Aunt Sandra bought the house when she retired from teaching and moved to the cooler climate. She was a tall woman who could appear menacingly strict one moment and just as comforting the next. Presently, her face took on a half-worried, half-strict mode, until the young man escorting her great-niece linked arms with her. Then Aunt Sandra began to frown.
“Auntie Sandra, this is Ron. Ron this is my auntie, Mrs. Marquis,” Sydnie managed, preparing for the worst. She then noticed her aunt staring at her and Ron’s linked arms. Carefully, but quickly, she untangled herself from Ron. She began to stare at the porch steps and clasped her elbows.
“Hello, Ron,” Aunt Sandra spoke politely, her voice stern.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Marquis.” Ron’s voice seemed deeper when he spoke as he extended his hand. Aunt Sandra appeared taken aback but extended her own thick, brown hand and gave a small, almost girlish smile.
“You’re a very polite young man,” was Aunt Sandra’s only reply. Sydnie’s head snapped up, and she stared at her aunt. The woman would usually have cut Ron down verbally before he had a chance to make a good impression, but Ron was definitely making a good impression on Aunt Sandra.
Wow, Sydnie thought.
“I play baseball, Ma’am. Our coach teaches us respect, for the game—for everything. But I may get into some other sports this year. Maybe football.” Ron smiled.
“Well, good luck, Sweetie.”
Sweetie?! Sydnie thought in disbelief.
Aunt Sandra turned her attention to Sydnie. She was smiling. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.” She walked into the house, closing the door behind her.
“So, can I walk with you tomorrow?” Ron asked in his mature, but not-as-deep voice.
“Did you see that?” Sydnie asked, staring at the closed door.
“What? Oh—your aunt seems nice.”
“She’s never that nice,” Sydnie protested, still looking at the door. Auntie Sandra would never leave me out on the porch alone with some guy—especially a guy! Sydnie was puzzled.
“Well, maybe the Seattle air has brought about a change in her.”
“I doubt that,” Sydnie scoffed under her breath.
“I’ll see you here same time tomorrow evening?” Ron asked, changing the subject back. He touched her chin gently, making her face him, and looked into her eyes. Sydnie suddenly felt nervous with his hand on her chin. Seeming to feel her apprehension, Ron let his hand drop to his side and watched as her eyes tentatively peruse his face in the light of the porch.
He’s not going to kiss you, Sydnie assured herself, trying not to show her uneasiness. Despite her efforts to look calm, a few lines were apparent in her forehead.
What did he ask me? Tomorrow. He wanted to walk with me.
“Tomorrow?” she asked slowly.
“Yes. Tomorrow.” Ron continued to watch her eyes, trying to catch her gaze, but her eyes fluttered everywhere but to his. She slowly examined his smooth dark forehead, his thick black eyebrows, his long jawbone and rounded chin. Her eyes paused on his full, sculptured lips.
Just say yes, she coached herself, finally raising her eyes to his.
“Gotcha,” Ron mouthed.
Sydnie’s body tensed. There was something in the dark swirls of his eyes—something alive, no longer solid. She felt herself floating toward that living something. Curiosity overpowered any fear of the dark thickness beginning to surround her. The something in the dark swirls began to take on a shape rather than just a moving mass. Sydnie wanted to reach out to it. Maybe if she touched it, she could tell what it was. She felt herself reaching out when a part of the mass shot out at her, causing an icy pain. Sydnie blinked and shook her head, feeling a chill leave her brain. When she looked back into Ron’s eyes, she only saw an expectant look in them—nothing moving. They were again solid.
“Tomorrow,” she repeated, feeling like she had just awakened. “Be on time.” Where did that come from? She had shocked herself. All you had to say was yes.
“I will,” Ron answered. He turned and quickly walked down the driveway.
Sydnie walked up the two steps and went into the house. Behind the closed door, she paused with her back against it. She puzzled at the answer she had given Ron. It was so direct, unplanned. She always thought out what she would say.
“Sydnie!” Aunt Sandra called from the kitchen.
“Coming.” She locked the door, slowly went to the kitchen, and stood in the doorway.
“I thought you were going to stay out there all night.” Aunt Sandra smiled at Sydnie. “But he seems like a nice young man.”
“I guess so,” Sydnie said, mystified by her aunt’s immediate liking of Ron.
“Come wash your hands,” her aunt directed as she began to set the table.
Ron was strange and mysterious. He had somehow charmed Aunt Sandra.
How? Sydnie sighed into the kitchen sink. Will he come back?
They sat at the kitchen table, occupying two of the six white chairs, and said grace. Sydnie only traced fork tracks in her mashed potatoes.
Why did I say that to him? “Be on time.” He probably thinks I’m one of those stuck-up girls. That sounded so high school.
“Girl. You better eat that and stop playing with it,” Aunt Sandra said suddenly. “I didn’t cook that for show.”
Sydnie quickly began to eat. Oh well, she thought. Whatever it was he did to Auntie Sandra, it’s gone now.
End Chapter 1
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Cherese A. Vines, Author