Oh. My. Gods. Page 1

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Chapter 1

WHEN I’M RUNNING I can almost feel my dad at my side.

He’s been gone for nearly six years, but every time I lace up and slap sole to pavement I feel like he’s right there. I can feel him talking about my inner strength and how I will be a world-class athlete when I grow up. That’s part of why I love running—why I’m running right now, pushing myself a little harder than usual to win this race.

This isn’t just any race—it’s the final race of the USC cross-country summer camp. Every winner of this race for the last seven years has wound up with a full scholarship offer. Since USC is the only college I’ve ever considered attending, I plan on winning this race.

With the nearest runner almost fifty yards back, I’m not worried.

The finish line comes into sight. Dozens of people are waiting—coaches and trainers from the camp, campers who competed in the shorter races, parents, and friends. As I get closer I see Nola and Cesca—my two best friends—cheering like crazy. They’ve never missed one of my races.

I’m closing in on thirty yards.

Twenty yards.

Victory is guaranteed. I pull up a little bit, not really slowing down but relaxing enough to let my body begin its recovery.

That’s when I see Mom.

She’s standing with Nola and Cesca, smiling like I’ve never seen her smile—at least not in the last six years.

Why is she here?

It’s not that Mom doesn’t come to my races, but she wasn’t supposed to be at this race. She’s supposed to be in Greece, getting to know Dad’s extended family at a gigantic family reunion while I’m at cross-country camp. Trust me, the choice between running eight hours a day and spending a week with creepy cousin Bemus was not a hard decision. Meeting him once was more than enough.

I wonder why she’s home two days early.

Then, suddenly, I’m across the finish line and everyone surrounds me, cheering and congratulating me. Nola and Cesca push through the crowd and pull me into a group hug.

“You are such a superstar,” Cesca shouts.

Everyone is so loud I barely hear her.

“Is there anything you can’t do?” Nola asks. “You just beat the best in the country.”

“You are the best in the country!” Cesca adds.

I just smile. Could a girl ask for better best friends?

The next runner crosses the finish line, and some of the crowd goes to congratulate her. Now that I’m not fully surrounded I see Coach Jack waiting to talk to me. Since he’s my ticket to USC I pull out of our group hug.

“Hey, Coach,” I say, my breathing starting to return to normal.

“Congratulations, Phoebe,” he says in his gruff tone. “I’ve never seen anyone win so decisively. Or so easily.”

He shakes his head, like he can’t quite figure out how I did it.

“Thanks.”

My cheeks blush. Sure, I’ve been told my whole life that I have a special talent for running—from my dad, my mom, my friends—but it feels a lot more real coming from the head coach of the USC cross-country team. There’s a rumor that he’s going to coach the next Olympic team.

“I’m putting you at the top of the list for next year,” he says. “If you keep up with your classes and continue to perform well in races, the scholarship is yours.”

“Wow, I—” I shake my head, beyond excited to be within reach of everything I’ve ever wanted. “Thanks, Coach. I won’t let you down.”

Then he’s gone, off to talk to the other racers who are now piling across the finish line. Turning, I look for Mom. She’s right behind me, still smiling, and I dive into her arms.

“Mom,” I cry as she pulls me into a hug. “I thought you weren’t coming back until Tuesday.”

She squeezes me tight. “We decided to come back early.”

“We?” I ask, leaning back to look at her.

Mom blushes—actually blushes, with pink cheeks and everything—and releases me. She reaches out her hand to the side, like she’s grabbing for something.

I stare blankly as another, clearly male, hand meets hers.

“Phoebe,” she says, her voice full of girlish excitement, “there’s someone I want you to meet.”

My heart plummets. I suddenly have a very bad feeling about what she’s going to say. All the signs are there: blushes, smiles, and a male hand. But still, I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. I mean, Mom’s just not the type to date. She’s . . . Mom.

She spends her Friday nights either watching movies with me or poring over client files from her therapy practice. All she cares about are me and her work. In that order. She doesn’t have time for guys.

The guy connected to the male hand steps to Mom’s side.

“This is Damian.”

He’s not a bad looking guy, if you like the older type with dark hair that’s salt-and-peppering at the temples. His skin is tan, making his smile much brighter in contrast. In fact, he looks like a nice guy. So really, I would probably like him if not for the fact that he’s glued to my mom’s side.

“He and I are . . .” Mom giggles—actually giggles! “We’re going to be married.”

“What?” I demand.

“A pleasure to meet you, Phoebe,” Damian says with a subtle accent, releasing Mom’s hand and reaching out to shake mine.

I stare at his hand.

This can’t be happening. I mean, I want to see Mom happy and all, but how can she go off to Greece and come back six days later with a fiancé? How mature is that?

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