Title: Trial By Charm
Series: The Charmed Trial Series
Genre: Young Adult Greek-Inspired Urban Fantasy
Author: Jolene Buchheit
As a substitute teacher, Jolene spends her days in high school classrooms harvesting material for her Young Adult novels. She also uses it as an outlet for fangirling by showing upcoming book-to-movie trailers at the end of class, or discussing vital issues like whether Katniss should have picked Gale or Peeta.
She is committed to helping Special Education teenagers become independent adults and helping them find a way to focus on the positive especially when life gets hard. At home, Jolene loves to cuddle with her husband, two kids, and three cats—sometimes all at once—while reading Young Adult books or repeatedly watching movies based on them.
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Title: Trial By Charm
Series: The Charmed Trial Series
Genre: Young Adult Greek-Inspired Urban Fantasy
Seventeen-year-old Julia Wright doesn’t understand her friends’ obsession with boys. She proudly maintains her composure no matter who is in her presence – though some annoying and rude boys still manage to grate her last nerve. Then she is blackmailed into being the manager of the men’s swim team, and finds herself face to face with the worst of them all.
Team Captain Vander Thelxinoe is the typical self-assured jock. He has the ability to change people’s minds at will, only his charms don’t work on Julia. Now he’s anxious to figure out why, and the closer he tries to get, the more desperate she is to stay away – especially when he somehow awakens a side of her she never knew existed.
Their unexpected friendship puts Julia in the middle of a quest she doesn’t quite understand. As her familiar world begins to unravel around her, Julia must partner with the one person who knows how to push her buttons – and, in doing so, discovers the unbelievable truth about who she really is.
Can Julia and Vander survive the trial set before them, or will they face the extreme consequences of failure?
The school looks different with no lights on, no cars in the parking lot, and no other people around. Much like an amusement park in winter, it feels desolate and a bit sad. We park on a side street in the neighborhood behind the school so we don’t draw attention to ourselves and walk stealthily up to the gym’s entrance. Lissy holds the exterior door’s key up in her fist. Before she places it in the lock, she looks into my eyes. I nod, and then she turns to Taylor for the same look of affirmation.
She slides the key in the lock and opens the door. Our bodies are pressed tightly to the wall as we soundlessly tiptoe down the hall. With the way my heart is pounding in my chest, I swear people can hear it from a mile away. We make it past the gym, and can see the door to the women’s locker room a few yards in front of us, when I hear voices.
“Toss it here!” a male voice whispers, and I can’t tell where it is coming from.
We rush the remaining few feet to the locker room door, open it, and file in. Then we all jockey for position to look out the window in the door to see if we can find whom the voice belongs to, as well as to whom he was speaking. After a few minutes of craning our necks to try to catch a glimpse of the culprits, we hear a low rumble of laughter coming from behind the privacy wall. My heart starts to beat wildly and my palms start to sweat at the thought of being caught, maybe even arrested.
I knew this was a bad idea.
We turn around to find it’s not security or any off-duty teacher, but the ab models in the flesh: Wesley and Vander, co-captains of the men’s swim team, standing there in black sweats and hoodies. They don’t look as surprised to see us in here as we are to see them. It’s obvious that Vander is the one who spoke because his hands are empty, and Wesley’s are hidden behind his back.
“What are you doing here?” we all ask at the same time, like some Scooby-Doo cartoon moment.
No one offers an answer. Wesley’s dad is a science teacher in the building, and my heart sinks when I realize they might actually have permission to be here. But before it dips too low, it occurs to me that nobody would give these boys permission to be in the women’s locker room. A grin breaks out across my face at the sudden realization.
“I think you should explain why you are in the ladies’ room before we say anything.”
Lissy looks at me, and seeing my determination gives her the confidence to put her hands on her hips and add, “Yeah, boys, what do you think you’re doing in here?”
“Aww, aren’t you ladies happy to see me or are you just in shock because my being here makes all of your dreams come true?” Vander must really think he’s something special. I mean seriously, could he be any more full of himself? The sly grin on his face reeks of smugness, and when he offers what I assume is supposed to be a playful wink, it makes my skin crawl. But one look at my girls, and I can see why he seems so confident: they are nodding, smiling, and—Santa, save me—they are even batting their eyelashes!
The whole scene makes me roll my eyes. “I think I’d rather see the dentist for a root canal, but I will ask you one more time before I lose my shit and call security. What. Are. You. Doing. Here?”
“The way I see it,” Vander starts in a low hiss-like whisper that sounds like a growl, running his hands through his straight, dark hair to sweep it out of his face. He tilts his head down, the move revealing a blue-eyed pendant around his neck, and peers at us from the top of his eyes. “None of us are supposed to be here. But we’ve got what we came here for, and we can leave now without you remembering that you even saw us.”
Taylor and Lissy both nod at him as if they are stuck in some weird trance, but I am above agreeing with doing whatever he says. Who does he think he is?
“What the hell are you talking about, Vander? Why would I forget I saw you here?” I ignore the shocked look on his face and turn to his partner in crime. “And what the hell are you hiding behind your back, Wesley?”
As if on auto-pilot, he starts to move his hands and I lean in for a better view.
“Don’t show her, Wes!” Vander shouts, but it’s too late. I’ve already seen the red, lacy bra, laying in his hands like an offering to me. I recognize it instantly as belonging to Maddie Tucker, the captain of our swim team.
“What do you think you’re going to do with that?” I reach for it, sure that whatever they plan to do will not be anything good.
Vander grabs it before I can, puts it behind his back, and locks his gaze with mine again. In the strange whisper he used before, he says, “You never saw anything. You never saw me, you never saw Wesley, and you certainly never saw Madeline’s bra.”
“I sure as hell did see you and Wesley with your paws all over Maddie’s bra! And if you don’t stop with that creepy growly voice shit, I’m going to kick you in the balls so hard, you will taste the scum on the bottom of my shoe!”
Vander’s blue-green eyes are now as wide as I have ever seen them. He seems thoroughly thrown off by my threat. I turn to see why the girls aren’t backing me up here, but they are both sitting on a bench with their heads together, whispering and giggling. This is no time to act so ridiculous! What are they thinking?
Vander reaches up, pushes Wesley’s dreadlocks out of the way, and covers his ears for him. Wesley’s dark eyes show confusion, but Vander nods at him reassuringly. Then Vander starts to sing, “Goodnight, ladies, goodnight, ladies—” like a scene straight out of a musical.
My first thought during this is that they must have been eavesdropping on us at Taylor’s house when we made plans to come here and somehow overheard my desire to break out in song. That is a totally ridiculous notion, though, so I let it go. My second thought is concerning how my knees are giving out from beneath me, and I am about to go down—hard. My eyelids get so heavy I have to blink and I struggle to open my eyes again, as my body starts to tip over. Suddenly, Vander stops singing, lets go of Wesley’s ears, and grabs me before he lays me down on the floor.
The tile feels cold and refreshing against my cheek. The floor of the locker room gives me a vantage point I’ve never seen before—how lovely everything looks from down here. The lockers are getting blurry and dancing around a bit.
Vander’s spinning face comes into my view. “You look tired, Julia.”
“Yeah, I’m just going to take a little nap.”
His smirk is the last thing I see before my eyes flutter closed.
I study his profile. His chiseled jaw and dark, floppy hair are like something out of a magazine advertisement. His eyes, too—they aren’t dark to match his hair, like mine—they are parts of green and blue, much like the painting of the sea in the other room.
“Who painted that piece above the couch in there?”
He shrugs, not answering me in any concrete way. Then he shifts his weight from one foot to the other and his awkwardness makes it clear to me.
“You did it, didn’t you? You’re a painter.”
He shrugs again. I hop down from my stool to go take another look at the painting. The artist must have signed it, and I will get my answer that way.
I go down the hall, past the bathroom, the stairs, and the front door until I’m standing in the parlor, looking at Vander, who is blocking the painting from my view. He must have gone through the dining room next to the kitchen to end up in here before me. He’s staring at me and chewing on his lip while flexing and balling his hands. He’s more nervous than I have ever seen him—not before a swim meet, not in class when he didn’t know an answer, not when he told me how he felt in the bathroom a little bit ago. This is where his heart lies, in this painting of this island.
I try to look around him, and he leans over.
“Don’t.” He is stern, but gentle. He clears his throat. “Please don’t touch it. You will want to, but don’t.”
He’s right. I do want to touch it; I want to climb inside of it. I’m seeing it, and somehow it’s seeing me, and it’s making me feel pulled apart. I want to dive into the waters, to swim to that far-off land, and I also want to turn the boat around and sail as far and as quickly as I can in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, the light from the sun is dimming, laughing at me for thinking I can have any control here.
I want in!
Vander grabs both of my arms, which are currently outstretched toward the painting. My knees are on the seat of the couch, and I don’t even remember moving forward. His voice startles me. “You can’t.”
I blink hard and turn to look him fully in the face. “I can’t what?”
“You can’t go there, and you can’t go away from there. It’s just a painting.” Was I talking out loud, or can he read my mind? How does he know what I was thinking? I let him lead me through the dining room, back into the kitchen, where the timer is going off. I shake my head to let loose the feelings that painting stirred in me.
“It’s more than that, and you know it. How?” I don’t even have to finish the sentence. He knows exactly what I’m asking.