Torn Online - Eric O'Rourke

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I have a terrible time remembering to turn off the coffeemaker when I leave the house, so the odds I will remember everyone who deserves to be mentioned here are slim. Bringing this book to life has been the work of many hands, and if I’ve forgotten you, I apologize.

My editor, Alicia Condon, and her team at K Teen have been supportive and enthusiastic. From the very beginning they have understood Mo and this story in a way that most authors dream about. I would never have believed that my life could change so much from one phone call. Thank you.

Joanna Volpe, Nancy Coffey, Sara Kendall, and the rest of the NCLMR family have been both champions and mentors. Without their sage advice this book would be a far lesser thing. I am grateful, every day, for the privilege of working with you.

The amazing members of Chicago-North RWA have provided information, good counsel, and chocolate at every turn. Marilyn Brant read the earliest version of this manuscript and offered advice; Karen Dale Harris gave me invaluable feedback and support; Ellen Wehle helped me see my characters more truly. Simone Elkeles, Heather Marshall, Sara Daniel, Erika Danou-Hasan, and June Sproat have kept me sane and made me laugh. Margaret Watson has bolstered me every step of the way and when I grow up, I want to be exactly like her.

K. C. Solano has been there from the very, very beginning, always ready to bounce ideas across the continent and discuss cute boys. Paula Forman has loaned me her kitchen and her dog when I needed a place to write. Genevieve O’Keefe, Lisa McKernan, Amy Hebbeln, Lexie Craig, and Amy Schneider have offered unflagging encouragement for as long as I can remember. Lisa Tonkery knows exactly what to say, every time.

Everyone should have an Eliza Evans in their life, but you will have to get your own, as I am not inclined to share. Truly, I couldn’t ask for a better friend, reader, or partner in crime. I am proud and privileged to know you.

I can’t imagine having written this book without my parents. The reader, the writer, the person I am today is a direct result of their love, patience, and unwavering support. My sister Kris has offered encouragement and first-aid tips and is my go-to girl for outstanding food.

My three daughters are strong, smart, independent girls who have cheered me on without fail. They’ve made it possible for me to achieve this dream, and I am proud to be their mom.

And then there is Danny, who deserves far greater thanks than I could ever express. For everything, for always, the boy of my heart.

CHAPTER 1

I woke up to the smell of Lysol and the end of the world. In my defense, I didn’t know it was the end of the world at the time. I didn’t know anything, and it was better that way. There’s a reason people say ignorance is bliss.

The room looked like every crappy emergency room I’d ever seen on TV, with the notable difference that I was in it—light blue curtains for walls and rolling supply carts labeled with black marker and masking tape, a ceiling of water-stained acoustic tiles and flickering fluorescent lights. The clock on the wall read 12:38 AM, and the ER was just gearing up for the night, the clatter and bustle clearly audible through the curtains surrounding me on three sides.

I struggled to sit up in the hospital bed, which turned out to be a bad idea, and slipped back with a gasp. The pain was everywhere, waves of it crashing through my body like Lake Michigan during a storm, and the room turned inky around the edges. I tried to draw a breath without whimpering, and failed.

Moving was out, and breathing seemed dicey, but I needed to find Verity. If I was here, she was, too, and worse off than me. That, at least, I remembered.

Swirling black descends like ravens, large enough to block the glow of streetlights and neon shop signs. A dull roar starts like a train on the “L,” a faraway rumbling that grows louder as it pulls closer, until it’s directly overhead and you feel it in your chest, except this doesn’t pass you by. Verity, white faced and eyes blazing, shoves me, shouting through the din, “Run, Mo! Run, damn it!” And then a scream, and when I wake, she is on the ground, the copper scent of blood and fear filling the air, my hands