The Wager

By: Rachel van Dyken

Acknowledgments


First and foremost I have to thank God for allowing me to live out my dream every single day of my life. I still wake up and pinch myself and I still fall to my knees in gratitude. Without Him—I am nothing.

Thank you so much to my editor Lauren Plude. Words cannot express how much fun it’s been working with you! Not only are you a kick-butt editor, but I know you care; it seeps out of everything that you do. I’m so incredibly blessed by your encouragement. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I’m making it weird. I freaking love you!

Grand Central Publishing… wow, what can I even say. I felt like the new kid on her first day of school. You guys far exceeded my expectations (and still are!). From your cover artists to your publicity team—I can’t thank you enough for how much you’ve welcomed me and made me feel at home. Thank you, thank you, for taking a chance on me and for providing me this amazing opportunity to write for you. It truly is an honor.

Husband—Nate—best friend—thank you for not taking my computer away from me when I’m typing at three a.m. Seriously. After you hid my e-reader, I have to be honest, I was concerned. But thankfully, you’ve been so awesome during this journey of deadlines and insane moments. You are my hero—always. You are the man I write in every story. Perfection. I love you with my whole heart. Thanks for not just being a husband but a partner, not just a lover but a best friend. I owe you everything because you’ve given me everything.

And finally to the rest of my family. Thanks for believing in me! Liza Tice, Laura Heritage, Kristin Van Dyken, Julie Sherwood, and Tiffany Davis. My beta readers and original people who read the start of this series and believed in it. I love you guys.





Prologue


Summer 2002

“Jake! Catch me, catch me!” Char yelled as she did the trust fall at Junior High camp. She’d had a crush on Jake for years. Now that she was leaving eighth grade and starting high school in the autumn, things were looking up. With her legs shaved, new pink lip gloss, and high ponytail, she knew she looked good and Jake was just about to know how good when she fell into his arms—literally.

“Um, sure,” Jake called from behind her. “I’m almost ready.”

“Okay.” Suddenly nervous, Char took a few deep breaths. “Falling!”

“Fall away!” Jake called.

The wind whipped at her back as Char planked and fell the few feet backward. But she kept falling; nothing was there to catch her. She hit the grass with a thud and looked up.

Amy Stevens was twirling her hair between her fingers and laughing at something Jake was saying. The guy had the attention span of an ant.

“You jerk!” Char hit the ground next to her with her fist. “Jake? We’re partners and it’s called a trust fall for a reason. You’re supposed to catch me!”

His eyes widened. “Oh crap, I’m sorry, Char. Amy here needed help with the directions and doesn’t have a partner so I told her she could join us.”

“Oh, but—”

“Wow, Jake, good thing I offered to be your partner. It’s going to take two of us to catch that girl. She’s like a swollen whale.” Amy laughed and nudged Jake, causing Char’s stomach to plummet to her feet. She knew she wasn’t as skinny as Amy or the other girls. She self-consciously licked her lips as the pain of rejection washed over her. Tears choked the back of her throat as the silence grew longer.

Char looked at Jake. His cheeks reddened a bit, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t defend her. He did nothing.

Maybe that was the worst part.

The nothingness.

He could have joined in and laughed, which at least would cause Char to get angry enough to punch him in the face. But instead he looked at her with pity—as if what Amy said was true.

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