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The Wager

By´╝ÜRachel Van Dyken

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.

As if he believed it, too, but didn’t know how to tell her.

Char looked down at the itchy grass as tears welled in her eyes.

“Hey, you guys ready for the trust fall?” Kacey, her best friend, walked up to them and smiled, making Char feel even more insecure. The only girl Jake ever confided in was Kacey. Char and Jake shared a best friend, which really sucked if you asked her; it meant she was always the third wheel, the awkward misfit toy that didn’t ever truly fit.

Jake pulled her in for a hug. “We were just warming up.”

“Cool.” Kacey looked down at Char. “Come on! Stop being so lazy and laying around.”

Amy burst out laughing. “Exercise, Char. Know what that is?”

Kacey glared at Amy and held out her hand to Char. “Ignore her. She’s just grumpy because your boobs are bigger than hers.”

Rolling her eyes, Char got to her feet and took one last look at Jake. She was done crushing on him. Absolutely finished. After all, what girl wants to fall in love with a boy who doesn’t come to her rescue when she needs it most?

She wanted a man, like the ones she saw in movies and on TV. A true hero would have saved her. Real men fought with guns and swords over the women they loved. Last year when the class had watched Romeo and Juliet—Char had had to hide the tears that streamed down her face over the ending scene. That’s what she wanted: a man who was so in love with her he’d follow her into the next life. When she’d said that exact thing out loud, Jake looked at her like she’d lost her mind. Well, the joke would be on him in the end. She would find her leading man and Jake Titus could just… die for all she cared.





Chapter One


Present day

“Grandma, what the hell are you doing?” Jake took in her two larger-than-life suitcases, giant pink Coach handbag, and what looked like a dead animal on her head, and cursed again.

“Language, Jake.” Grandma Nadine squared her shoulders and pushed past him to the ticket counter.

Oh no. Oh, hell no. Merciful God above. Jake looked around for Aileen, his latest conquest and plus one for the engagement party for his brother Travis.

“Yes, I need only a one-way ticket,” Grandma announced loudly to the Alaska Airlines clerk at the kiosk. Jake watched with a mixture of horror and panic as his grandmother bought a ticket on the same flight as him. Please let her credit card be declined; please, please.

“Here you go!” The evil lady handed over a boarding pass and smiled at Grandma. Jake glared at the woman and then at his grandmother.

“No.” He shook his head when she approached him, all smiles. “You aren’t coming.” He crossed his arms and stood his ground.

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