Just a NumberBy: A. D. Ryan
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S
There are so many people to thank for this story, and it only seems right that I start with the readers who were fans when it was published online. So many of you tuned in every week and were so excited about these two characters and their taboo love affair. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all for your continued and unwavering support while I finished this story online, and then in print.
My editing team, as always, has gone above and beyond. Tiff and Lynda, your attention to detail as well as all the little things you contribute to this story are invaluable. I am so very fortunate to know you, and I am beyond grateful for all you do.
To my beta readers and street team, the ones who see it sometimes before my editors, your feedback is precious, as you are within the target audience, and it helps me figure out if what I want to write is even going to be enjoyed by anyone. Thankfully, you all seem pretty keen to want more, and that’s usually a good sign I’m on the right track.
Also, my wonderful friend and my voice of reason, Marny, you were with me when this story began as a contest entry, and you were always there to listen as I expanded it and turned it into what it is now. You’re always there for me when I need someone to vent to or laugh with, and I count myself lucky to have someone so amazing in my life.
Finally, thanks to my incredible family for being so patient while I pursue this dream of writing full-time. Each and every one of you inspire me in some way, and there’s a little bit of my real life thrown in to each one of my novels.
Again, thank you all for everything. Without you, none of this would be possible. I love you all.
1. Fever Dreams
It’s dark as I stumble up the four stairs leading to the house—though, being two in the morning, I suppose “dark” is to be expected. I shake my head and laugh quietly at myself. This is precisely why I should have stopped after my sixth beer and my...my...Shit! Just how many shots of tequila did I have? Should I go to the hospital to see if I have alcohol poisoning?
“Don’t be stupid, Amy,” I admonish myself aloud, fumbling in my purse for the keys to my dad’s house. After finding them, I try several times to slide the key into the lock. The double vision brought on by the mass amounts of alcohol clearly makes this simple task even harder. Finally, I bend my body into a ninety-degree angle to look at the lock dead on, and I succeed, turning the key slowly so I don’t wake Daddy.
He’s actually not expecting me until tomorrow—or is it today, now? What time is it, again?—but my friend, Liz Murphy, wanted to head home for Thanksgiving early, and since she was my ride, I decided to do the same. I tried calling to give Dad a heads up, but he’s one of those prehistoric guys who a) doesn’t have a cell phone—which is totally crazy—and b) doesn’t have an answering machine. You can imagine how it was growing up in a house with a phone that couldn’t go farther than the kitchen; he was privy to a lot of my phone conversations up until I got a job and could afford my own cell phone.
So, when we got to the house earlier, Dad was nowhere to be found. I figured he was at work still, so I left my bags upstairs next to my desk, and then accepted Liz’s offer to go to the bonfire that a few of our old high school friends were throwing just on the outskirts of town. One of the guys lived on an acreage, and his parents had given him permission to have a bunch of people over. Who could turn that down?
When we arrived, the party was in full swing, and we were each handed a beer before getting sucked into doing a few shots with Sarah and April... That’s when things begin to get a little hazy.
After closing the door as quietly as possible, I turn around and head up the stairs. Having grown up here, I know that the third step from the top has a squeak near the center, and to avoid being caught sneaking by Dad’s room, you have to basically hug the wall—of course, you could just skip that step, but in my current state of inebriation, I’d probably fall down the stairs, and then all of my stealth will have been in vain.
I make it to the top of the stairs, smiling and mentally high-fiving my teenage-self for still being able to sneak past my father’s bedroom door at two in the morning, undetected. It isn’t that I think I’ll get in trouble for getting in at this hour—or for being drunk, for that matter, as I am newly twenty-one—I just don’t want to wake him up thinking his house is being burglered...um...burgled? That’s a word, right?