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Dedicated to my husband, Ed, for his love and sacrifice, and for believing in me enough to let me chase my dreams.

And to our two wonderful sons, Steven and Joshua. I love you both very much.

Chapter One

Kira glanced up at the silver eyehook screwed into the gym ceiling. Threaded through the two-inch hole was the other end of the rope she held in her trembling hands. She gave it a solid yank to test its strength. She could do this. It wasn’t like she was afraid of heights—she’d dance along the edge of a four-story building if it meant not having to climb this stupid rope. It had to be a mental thing, some unreasonable fear of—something—that kept her feet glued to the floor.

Coach Andrews stood a few feet away with her arms folded over her flat chest. “Today, Edwards!” She shifted her weight and tapped the toe of one worn out Sketcher on the wooden floor. “Before I lose my patience.”

“You can totally do this,” Lydia whispered from behind Kira.

Kira glanced over her shoulder to glare at her friend. “Easy for you to say. You can shimmy up this thing like a freakin’ monkey.”

“So can you, if you just try. Now go, before we both have to do laps.” Lydia flipped her long blonde braid behind her back and gave Kira a gentle shove. “Up.”

Kira wiped her sweaty hands on her shorts and gripped the rope with purpose. The entire class watched. Some girls sat on bleachers a few feet away, snickering, while others stood nearby, offering what seemed like genuine support, but was more than likely a morbid desire to see her colossal failure up close. Either way, she didn’t like the attention. She closed her eyes and pulled her body upward before clamping the rope’s slack between her feet, and pushed off with her leg muscles.

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