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Finding Charli

Chapter One

 

The screeching wind hurled the horizontal snow and freezing rain down the deserted street. Charlotte Bancroft, Charli to her friends, held her arm in front of her face while trudging toward her old Jeep. Ice pellets bit her cheeks and crusted her eyebrows and lashes. The crunch of the snow beneath her boots sounded eerie on the empty road. Tears pooled in her eyes. No, dammit, she wouldn’t cry and have her eyes freeze shut. She just needed to reach the car, turn on the heater and defroster and scrape the ice from the windshield. She pressed the key fob, opened the door, and slid into the driver’s seat. Turning the key in the ignition, she sighed in relief as the engine turned over. Blessed heat soon poured into the car and Charli sat for a few minutes, letting the feeling come back to her frozen limbs. Grabbing the scraper from the back, she climbed out and forced it across the windshield. The cracking of ice echoed from the surrounding storefronts. Finished, she climbed back into her car and threw the ice scraper into the rear. Stifling a sob, she clicked her seat belt in place, and prepared to drive away. Before putting the car in gear, the passenger door jerked open, and a man dressed in a hooded parka slid onto the passenger’s seat. He threw back the hood. Thick dark hair enveloped a pleasant face, adorned with horned rimmed glasses. Dark brown eyes gazed searchingly at Charli.

“Ben! You nearly scared me half to death!” Charli gasped as her hand flew to her heart.

“Sorry. I saw you were about to head out and wanted to catch you before you left,” he said grinning sheepishly.

“Well, you’re over an hour late, so I thought you weren’t coming,” she bristled as she turned off the motor.

“Give me a break. I only got your text this morning. I couldn’t get away from the office before now.”

“I’ve been calling and texting all week, but you didn’t bother to reply,” Charli sneered.

“I wanted some time to think about you… us. I don’t understand what the problem is. I love you and want to marry you. Is that so difficult to understand?” he said as he ran his fingers through his hair.

“No, but like I told you last week, what I don’t get is, why now?” Charli responded. “We’ve only been together… what? Two years? I thought we were doing great. I don’t want to change anything. I’m not ready.”

What had started out as a fun relationship now felt suffocating and her brain was screaming ‘no’. She did love him. He was funny, generous, kind – all qualities she admired in a man. But she wasn’t about to be pressured into a lifelong commitment when she wasn’t ready. She undid her seat belt and turned in her seat to face him, waiting for his reaction. He scowled.

“Is there a time limit as to when you’re supposed to fall in love? A couple of years is long enough for me to realize I love you and want to spend my life with you,” he said glancing sideways at her. “You love me as well, right?”

“Yeah…,” said Charli hesitation sounding in her voice.

“What? Now you’re not even sure you love me?”

“No… no… that’s not what I said. I… I.”

“Guess that answers my question,” fumed Ben. He sat for a moment, bouncing his knee, and scowling at the floor. Charli waited holding her breath. Finally, he lifted his head, eyes cold and hard. “If you’re not sure you love me, then waiting for you to make up your mind is a waste of time. Think I should be moving along. So long, Charli. See you ’round.” He stepped out of the car and slammed the door.

“Ben, wait. Wait,” cried Charli struggling to get out of the car. By the time she had, Ben had gone into the restaurant, and closed the door.

Charli climbed back into the Jeep and wearily put her head down on the steering wheel. A tear trickled down her cheek. She brushed it away and slammed her fist onto the wheel. “Jerk. I am not going to let some man manipulate me into getting married when I’m not ready. If he wants it that badly, let him find someone else.”

She put on her seatbelt and backed out of the parking space. With the wind screeching in fury, the jalopy fishtailed down the street onto Highway 12.

Ice pellets pinged the windshield. Her hands grasped the steering wheel as she chewed on her lip. The snow was falling more heavily now. Her stomach tightened until it felt like it was touching her backbone. Bile backed up in her throat. It was nearly impossible to see the side road to the ranch, through the blizzard. Creeping along, she finally spotted the cut-off, and turned right. Surrounded by forest, this was usually her favourite part of the drive, but not tonight. Leaning forward, she gripped the wheel harder following the road up and down hills for several kilometres.

In the forest to her left, she was distracted by a light shining through the darkening sky. Shaking her head to dispel the image, she peered at it again, but it had disappeared as quickly as it came. What was that? A shiver went through her. Shaking her head and focussing again on the road ahead, she spotted a clump of trees that marked the far edge of the ranch.

“Almost home,” she whispered. With adrenaline coursing through her body she pushed a little firmer on the accelerator. The tires found a patch of black ice. Charli yanked the steering wheel hard to the right as the car spun out of control. It skidded off the road, onto the shoulder, and into the woods, bouncing, and accelerating as it clipped trees and bushes.

Screaming, and clenching the steering wheel tighter, the scene around her went by in slow motion. The passenger’s side of the car slammed into a large tree. Front air bags exploded. Without side protection, her head whipped sideways and cracked on the driver’s side window sending shards of light exploding inside her skull. The car shuddered to a stop. It went silent and dark. Nothing could be heard but the shrieking wind.

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Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars A good, cozy murder mystery, with ghosties.

A cozy weekend adventure with mystery, history, mischief, murder, and ghosties. Loved it.

Rhys Davies

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