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Cipher

Cipher 1

by

Cindi Madsen

To the awesome girlfriends I've had in my life. Amanda, not everyone is lucky enough to still be friends with their best friend from high school. I'm glad we're the exception. To Christy and Ariane, thanks for all the laughs when I needed them most. And to the girls of HB 207, college was so much fun with you all.

Acknowledgements

These characters have always held a special place in my heart. For a long time, Kika MacFarlane was the only one who knew them besides me. Thanks, Kika, for loving them and reading all three books and telling me I should put them out already! I often think of Troy as Troy Boy because of you. Thanks to Anne Eliot, for also telling me (sometimes quite forcefully) that I needed to get this series out there. And thanks to Mackenzie Weller for being my other teen reader.

I’ve been blessed with some awesome girlfriends who I’ve dedicated this book to, but I just want to say again to Amanda, Christy, Ariane, Rozzie, Annie, Kelli, Jolene, and Dallas, you gals were amazing friends. Thanks for that.

Shout out to the people at Hot Damn Designs for a beautiful cover and for being so awesome to work with. Thanks to support from fabulous and funny authors Rachel Harris, Karen Erickson, and Lisa Burstein. Hugs to you all! Brandy Vallance, Bob Spiller, and Julia Allen, you’ve taught me so much about writing. You get hugs, too.

Michael Madsen, only a crazy person would support his wife in this line of work. I’m so glad you’re a crazy person. I also love that my kids get excited for my books and want to thank my extended family for their support. To my mom, dad, Randa, April, Tod, and Greg, just because.

Thanks to my editor Jeremy Leatham for catching all the little things. And for speculating about the Angel of Death’s love interests. Lol. Jennie, Marty, Deanna, Chris, Lana, and Michelle, thanks for the meet ups and pub talk. To my Time Zones Will Not Defeat Us girls, you all rock and keep me smiling! I’ve met so many cool people and know the best bloggers—seriously, THE BEST! I know I’ll probably forget someone, but I have to say an extra big thanks to book bloggers Andrea from the Bookish Babe, Autumn from Autumn Review, Valerie from Stuck in Books, Jenna from Shortie Says, Karen from For What It’s Worth, Jana, the Book Goddess, Jen & Amy from Fictitious Delicious, Amy from Book Loving Mom, and Jamie from Two Chicks on Books. When I asked for help you all were so awesome!

And finally, thanks to my readers!

The First Time

Nothing to worry about. I’m only going to remember this night for the rest of my life.

All of Summer’s hard work came down to these three minutes. Three minutes of everyone staring. Three minutes to forget the steps or fall on her face.

A wave of nausea hit her and she put her hands over her stomach, hoping the cheeseburger she’d had for lunch didn’t make a reappearance. A white bucket was near the stage’s entrance, just in case. The thought of having to use it—especially if someone already had—made her feel even more like throwing up.

She took a deep breath and tried to calm down. This always happened right before she stepped onstage. Tonight it was worse than normal, not only because of the huge crowd, but also because it was the first time she’d be performing a ballet solo.

You’re ready. You got this.

Earlier, she’d felt so confident. After all, she’d been working on the routine for months—years if you counted all the dance classes it took to get to this level. She’d taken her first class at age four, fell in love with dancing, and spent the next ten years taking everything from jazz to hip-hop.

Heart pounding, Summer toe-heel walked to the middle of the stage.

The familiar music started and her instincts took over. She pirouetted, nailed the grand jete in the middle, and finished off with a fouette en tournant.

The song struck its final note, and she held her pose.

For a couple of seconds, everything was quiet. Then the audience started clapping. When Summer heard whistling, she knew it was Mom—she did that two-fingers-in-the-mouth whistle that made people in close proximity plug their ears and scoot away. In a crowd of uptight mothers hoping their daughter would be the next prima ballerina, Mom stuck out.

Trying hard to maintain her composure, Summer kept the demure smile expected of a serious ballerina and curtsied. The spotlight glowed off the blond curls that had escaped her bun.

Heavy black curtains slid across the stage, narrowing her view of the audience. As soon as they met in the middle, she rushed offstage.

The other performers were buzzing with excitement, but Summer didn’t have time to chat or offer congratulations. She didn’t even have time to change out of her black-skirted leotard. She sat down on a wooden bench, exchanged her ballet shoes for her purple Converse sneakers, and headed to find Mom.

The second she stepped out of the dressing room, Mom pulled Summer into a huge hug. “You were so great up there! Absolutely amazing!”

“Yeah, I heard the whistling.” Summer pulled back and raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were going to take it down a notch.”

“That was taking it down a notch. I didn’t make any cat calls, or yell, ‘That’s my girl, who’s so much better than all of your daughters.’”

Smiling, Summer shook her head. “Well, I guess I should thank you for holding back then.”

“You definitely should.” Mom hooked her arm through Summer’s. “We better get going. I don’t want your dad thinking we abandoned him at the airport.” Her eyes got that dreamy look, and a smile touched her lips. “I can’t wait to give him a proper welcome home.”

“Ugh, you’re going to embarrass me, aren’t you? You and Dad are so mushy. I’m totally scarred for life, I hope you know.”

Mom’s smile widened. She pushed out the double doors of the auditorium, and they stepped outside. The sidewalks of downtown Chicago were packed tonight. Some of the people were out enjoying the warm evening, looking like they didn’t have a care in the world; others were all business, rushing around, wearing serious expressions.

“So, you want to keep doing the ballerina thing, or are you ready for something new?” Mom asked.

“Hmm.” As much as Summer loved being onstage tonight, she wasn’t sure prima ballerina was her ultimate goal. It was about time for a change. “We haven’t done Irish dancing yet.”

Mom’s brown eyes widened, excitement flickering through them. “Ooh, I’ve always wanted to try that. All that kicking and bouncing, and it sounds so cool, too. First thing tomorrow, I’ll see if I can find us a class.”

A man in a suit charged toward them, his eyes on his phone. Summer tried to move out of his way, but as he passed, his briefcase bumped her leg, and his arm brushed hers.

The man sits in the back of the taxi, talking on the phone. Through the window to his right, a car coming, not slowing down like the others. Tires screech. Glass shatters. Metal buckles, trapping the man in its folds. An awful choking noise comes from him as he struggles for air. Then everything goes quiet, and the light leaves his eyes.

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