Title: WELCOME TO CHARM
Author: TONYA PENROSE
Genre: ROM/COM; INSPIRATION
A few unexplainable facts have left botanist ABBY DRAKE dazed and confused: why she can’t account for three lost hours, why a road detour she was traveling changed into a closed loop around a mountain town called Charm, why she can’t find the place on her map and a route home, and why way too handsome, MAYOR NASH WALKER has appeared offering an introduction to Charm’s uncommon ways.
Nash’s words hold Abby captive on a park bench. She’s stuck in Charm. Needing to discover why and agreeing to complete a series of lessons taught by sage, GITA GREENLEAF helps chart Abby’s course. Humorous encounters follow Abby. She tries to adapt to living in an enchanted village, where money isn’t needed, but acceptance of the impossible is required. Over the next couple of weeks, Abby comes to recognize the unique beauty of living a charmed life. Unable to resist her growing attraction to Nash, she questions her desire to return home, assuming the portal opens.
“I’d like a raspberry sorbet…in a cup, please.” Abby Drake’s honey-colored hair framed a face that many might say begged a magazine cover. Her unusual eyes, a shade of rich cognac, captured the breath upon first meeting and after, simply mesmerized the looker. This was the image presented to the man taking her order. The young professional woman didn’t yet know her summer afternoon was about to become one most curious.
“Here you go. One raspberry sorbet. Where you from?” A friendly Elbert wiped the counter with a towel, never taking his eyes off Abby. His wiry frame complemented the dairy bar’s narrow space.
A grinning Abby tasted the sorbet and noticed his name badge. “How’d you know I’m not from here?”
“Easy. No one’s from here.” Elbert offered a dismissive nod.
Abby frowned and stepped aside for the next customer. She took her puzzlement to a picnic table tucked under a massive oak tree. Glancing at her watch, Abby’s expression froze. “Two o’clock. That’s not possible. It has to be at least five.” Of course, she thought, there’s a logical explanation. Her watch must have stopped. Releasing a pent-up breath, Abby noticed a mom with her toddler walking past. “Excuse me. Do you have the time?”
The woman smiled. “It’s a few minutes past two o’clock.” She wiped the ice cream drip from the little boy’s chin and kept going.
Abby sat transfixed as the word impossible played in her head. Her travel day had been uneventful until now. What’d happened to the missing three hours? The time was off, way off.
Anxiety crept into her mind as she licked the sorbet from the spoon. Abby studied the scene around her. The dairy bar resided in the town’s square. People of all ages wore happy faces as they bustled up and down the sidewalks. The setting appeared typical, and yet, upon closer observation, Abby sensed a kind of peculiarity that defied description.
She’d never traveled through the quaint mountain village until a road detour brought her the introduction. Feeling more intrigued, Abby wondered about the town’s name and spied a routed wood sign a few yards away. It was painted in an iridescent gold shade that glowed the word, Charm. Pulling the state map from a straw tote, her frown returned. Charm didn’t exist on the map.
“Hello there.” An approaching older woman gentled a gaze on Abby. She moved with the grace born of finishing school. “May I encroach and share the picnic table?”
“Of course.” Abby admired the beautiful antique cloisonné barrette that held the woman’s silvery hair in a French twist. “I see you’re a fan of sorbets too.” Abby placed the napkin in her empty cup. She debated whether to ask the woman if she’d experienced any strangeness with time.
“Oh, I confess Elbert’s concoctions call to me almost every summer day. Are you new to Charm?” The woman scooped a spoonful and waited for Abby’s reply.
“Yes.” Abby attempted a friendly tone. “I was heading home from a long weekend visiting a friend from college. An unexpected road detour brought me here.”
“Ah, detours can become a powerful influencer.” The woman extended her hand. “Forgive me. My name is Gita Greenleaf, and yours?”
“Abby Drake.” She clasped Gita’s outstretched hand for a brief second. “You said a detour is—”
“A powerful influencer, yes.” Gita took another bite.
“Right now, I’m inclined to agree. Since you live here, maybe you can answer why Charm isn’t on my map. You’re probably going to think me a loon, but I’ve also managed to lose three hours since arriving here.” Abby elected to keep silent about Elbert proclaiming no one was from Charm. Surely, he misspoke.
Gita gave an imperceptible smile. “Welcome to Charm.”
Abby managed a nod and gathered her belongings. “I suppose I should head home.” She paused, considering her next words. “I’d like to return to Charm for a longer visit. The village has a unique vibe. Who knows? Maybe our paths will cross again.”
Gita waved to a passing couple. “Perhaps they will, Abby Drake, and soon.”
Sitting in her SUV, she felt a strange melancholy envelop her at the thought of leaving. Glancing at her cell phone resting in the console, she deliberated calling Edward but changed her mind. He was probably engrossed in a corporate strategy session. Abby thought how their romance of late seemed a bit off-center. She stole one final glance at Charm and steered toward home.
While driving, Abby noticed how the sunlight painted a shimmer on the trees. The passing scene, while beautiful, felt a tad disconcerting. Light can play tricks with the eyes, she told herself and flicked on a jazz music station. “Wait a second. Didn’t I pass that same red barn when I came into town?” She shook her head. “Nah, it’s a look-alike. Red barns live everywhere.”
Abby pulled off the road minutes later and stared out the windshield in disbelief. She was back in Charm.
“Could this day get any stranger?” Abby blew out an exasperated breath and decided to reverse direction and leave town the way she’d entered. Maybe there was a side road to take her around the crazy detour. She drove for twenty minutes and found no intersecting roads. Instead, she was looped back to Charm. The detour had morphed into what? She needed answers that made sense and directions out of this village.
Edward flashed in her mind. Yes, she’d try calling him.
“Edward Worth,” he answered, with a tone of impatience.
“It’s Abby. Sorry to intrude on your day, but I’m desperate for some guidance.”
“Now isn’t good,” he whispered. “I’m with clients.”
“Wait, don’t hang up. You have to help me. I got rerouted by a road detour and ended up in a town called Charm.”
Abby’s voice rose an octave. “No, it isn’t nice, Edward. I can’t seem to get out of here. The road keeps circling me back. It’s making me crazy. Can you please look at a map and see—?”
“Listen. As I recall, one of your college majors was geography. At twenty-nine years of age, if you can’t find your way to Crestview, then I’m with the wrong woman. Speaking of which, lately, I’ve been wondering if we could use a break from each other. Let’s talk about us tomorrow.” Edward clicked off.
Did her boyfriend just end things over the phone while she sat dazed and confused in some village called Charm? “Edward, you’re a big jerk. Whenever I get home, I’m telling that to your smug face and probably a whole lot more.” Now what? She needed directions and a current map she could interpret. Abby shifted the vehicle into drive.
Snagging a parking place next to a visitor’s kiosk, her face brightened. Help awaited.
Two grey-haired dapper gentlemen greeted Abby with friendly expressions. “Afternoon there, missy. Do you need some assistance?” asked the one wearing a navy ballcap.
“Hello, fellows. Do you happen to have a current map? Mine is a few years old, and for some unknown reason, Charm isn’t on it.”
“Bill, grab this young lady a map. Don’t you fret. Our maps show Charm.”
“Thanks, Bob,” replied Abby, seeing his name monogrammed on the polo shirt. She studied both men’s faces. “You’re twins, Bill and Bob. That’s neat, and you both live here too?”
“Yes. Things kind of worked out that way. Wouldn’t you say, Bill? He’s the quiet one,” said Bob, elbowing his brother.
“Don’t pay any attention to him. I only seem quiet because he never shuts his trap,” teased Bill.
Abby laughed. “Thanks for that dose of humor. After my last half hour, you two are a welcome diversion.” She unfolded the map on the counter and felt her frown return.
“Problem?” Bob peeked at the diagram.
“Uh, Bob and Bill, I don’t see any roads intersecting with Charm. That’s what I just experienced trying to drive home. I’m from Crestview over an hour away, and I—” She gulped. “Where has my highway gone?” Abby looked at the two sympathetic faces as panic swept through her body. Wooziness claimed her.
“Uh oh, she’s lost the color in those cheeks. Bob, get her a soda.” Bill came from behind the kiosk and led Abby to a bench. He fanned her with his red ballcap. “There now, lass. Everything is fine.” He took the can from his brother and popped the tab. “Take a swig.”
Abby nodded and drank. The carbonation seemed to revive her enough to speak. “Thank you. I’m so confused that I don’t even know what to ask first. Maybe—”
“That’s okay. Happens to most everyone arriving here. Just you relax a few minutes and drink the cola,” encouraged Bill.
Bob knelt at Abby’s feet. “The quiet one is right. You relax and take some deep breaths of our special mountain air.”
Abby gave a nod and inhaled. She filled her lungs and felt an unexpected peace envelop her within seconds. What did Bill mean that her type of reaction happened to nearly everyone arriving in Charm? She scrutinized both men’s faces. They appeared sincere and caring. Abby sought other explanations for the unfolding folly. Running quick scenarios, she chose the most logical. A dream…yes, this was all some type of vivid—or was it a lucid—dream? She closed her eyes, counted backward from ten, and pinched her arm. Now she’d wake up to another humdrum workday in the cosmeceutical lab. Abby opened her eyes to Bill and Bob’s concerned faces.
“Methinks she went with the most popular option of ‘it’s just a dream.’” Bob winked. “Didn’t you, gal?”
“How did you guess? Can someone please tell me what’s going on before I turn completely crackers?” Abby begged.
From the corner of her eye, she watched as a rakishly handsome man in his early thirties approached. Intelligent eyes, the color of Ireland’s Emerald Isle, studied her. He paused to assess the three with an expression of amusement but also something else— understanding. “Hey there, fellows. How about introducing me to our newest arrival?”
Abby repeated the words. “Newest arrival? What does he mean?” Her focus darted to Bill and then Bob.
Bill ignored Abby and her questions. “We can’t introduce you. We don’t know this young woman’s name.”
She’d pretend it was a typical day and apply her best manners. “Sorry. I’m Abby Drake, who desperately wants to go home. And I might add, is failing horribly in the pursuit.” She’d tried to present her sociable side, but the threatening tears and tremble in her voice squelched the attempt. Tranquility tried to reclaim her, but she dismissed the emotion. Staring at three strangers, her throat tightened. “I simply must return to Crestview. Surely you’ve heard of it?”
“Ah, a city dweller. Abby Drake, I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Nash Walker, and I’d like to help. Would that be okay?” He handed her a white handkerchief.
Abby bobbed her head. She liked how Nash’s voice sounded. It was a kind voice with a tone of empathy. Still, he wasn’t exactly forthcoming with a route out of town. Abby grabbed another cleansing breath. Maybe this Nash wanted to make certain her mental state had calmed. To leave, she must act collected. Her eyes crinkled at the corners. She’d show the men her best cool cucumber face and make another stab at escaping.
Nash’s eyes studied Abby. “Are you feeling better? Should we let these two Charm greeters get back to their kiosk?”
“Much better.” She turned to Bill and Bob. “I’m so sorry to have pulled you away, but thanks for the drink and—”
“No problem, Miss Abby. Nash excels at answering all manner of Charm questions. He’s our mayor. Anyway, you’re in the best hands when it comes to explaining how things behave around here. Isn’t that right?” Bob elbowed his twin. “This is the place where you say, ‘Right you are, Bob.’”
“Right you are, Bob,” parroted an amused Bill. “Come on, brother, it’s almost quitting time. We’ve got to close up the booth. Abby, maybe we’ll see you again soon.”
“Thanks again for everything. Please don’t feel offended if I say I hope we don’t see each other later.” Abby conjured a weak smile, along with her hope of being right. Keep acting calm, she admonished herself. The mayor had her ticket home, and all she had to do was cajole it from him.
Nash sat next to her on the bench. “I assume the detour brought you to Charm?”
“Yes, and ate up three hours which I can’t account for. At first, I thought my watch had stopped because I’d been driving for almost five hours. You see, I left Timon around noon, and that’s certainly not two hours from the northeastern part of Georgia. That’s where we are. Isn’t it?” Abby flailed her arms at the whole disorientation. “None of this makes a lick of sense.”
Nash’s expression grew more attentive. “You’re right about that. So, you arrived here and managed to lose three hours. Go on.” “You do believe me?” Abby hesitated.
“Without a single doubt, I believe you. Please finish your story.”
“Whew, that’s a relief. I’d hate to waste even more time trying to convince you I’m not some nutter.” Abby managed to find her grin. She studied Nash’s face. His hair was darker than coal and neatly trimmed, but it was his green eyes that drew her in. For some inexplicable reason, she trusted the guy. “Care to hear more of my saga?”
Nash chuckled. “I would.”
Abby grabbed a breath. “Next, the strangest thing happened when I took the road north out of town—”
“You ended up back here with us.” Nash watched a towheaded girl attempt to push her younger brother in a swing.
“Yes, right back here. I even tried reversing the route, thinking I could simply go south to where I picked up the detour, but no. The road had become a closed circle. Even the detour signs had disappeared. Vamoosed into the ether.” Abby snapped her fingers. “In fact, there weren’t many signs. All I saw was beautiful mountain topography. Homes and farms were bathed in this odd iridescent sunlight. I know this sounds implausible, but that’s my tale of woe and woo-woo.”
Nash hid his amusement with his hand and remained silent.
Abby sighed. “Right this minute, I only care about the answer to one question.
How can I leave Charm?”
Nash twisted to face Abby. His expression grew somber. “You can’t.”
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The story's theme offers a timely glimpse at today's world in comparison to the enchanted mountain village of Charm. In Charm the impossible is possible and the reader is invited to see life from a different perspective. The story is laced with plenty of humor and snappy dialogue. Charm offers a fresh and upbeat romance read with dashes of mystery, a twisty plot, and always the happily ever after.
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As an author, Tonya’s moved by the effect humor and narratives have on readers. That observation illuminates why her stories often convey messages inviting personal exploration. She is enthusiastic about crafting stories with beguiling characters, adding dashes of snappy humor, and engaging dialogue that leaves her fingerprint on each page.
When Tonya relocated to the mountains, she found fresh writing ideas waiting. From her favorite porch chair gazing at a tranquil lake, the nudge to scribe her first novel came calling. From her beach chair, she got the idea for a cozy series, Shell Isle Mysteries. Tonya confesses new respect for a chair’s ability to motivate writers. She chases her writing joy from the mountains to the seashore.
The Shell Isle Mystery Series introduces two novels: Baubles to Die For, Red, White, and Boom and Murder by Numbers (releases summer 2022). The characters of Page and Betsy keep chattering to Tonya, so expect future stories in this collection.
Tonya’s other books include Old Mountain Cassie: The Three Lessons and A Secret Gift.
Welcome to Charm is a new release.
Her fiction and non-fiction stories are published in numerous anthologies, e-magazines, local press, and literary magazines. She’s a member of Poets and Writers. Tonya Penrose is her fiction pen name.
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