Numbers Game (#1)
Numbers Game (#1)
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She wants to win the game. He wants to break it.
Two mortal enemies must trust each other to survive.
It's a deadly game of numbers--and a dangerous romance. Experience the thrilling bestselling and award-winning near-future romance series with over 1000 5-star reviews!
For fans of Divergent, Hunger Games. Legend, Uglies, and The Girl Who Dared.
- Enemies to lovers
- Hardened hero
- Twist ending
SHE WANTS TO WIN THE GAME.
HE WANTS TO BREAK IT.
In NORA, every day is a competition. On Rating Day, Treena and the rest of her class will receive the number that brands her for life. Shouldn't be a problem since she's a top contender with nearly perfect scores.
But when her number is announced, it shocks everyone. Then she discovers that somebody wants her dead--and they're being far from subtle about it.
When Treena joins a secret military contingent to raise her score quickly, she soon discovers that NORA isn't what she thought. And neither is Vance, her mysterious trainer with a haunted past and plans of his own.
Can two enemies help one another in a desperate search for the truth? And if they manage to survive the deadly game of numbers, whose version of the future will win in the end?
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
The biggest event of my life was minutes away—thirty-nine minutes, to be exact—and my two best friends couldn’t stop fighting.
Dresden rode his custom-made, sleek, silver bicycle to my left. His clean white uniform was tailored tightly to his firm shoulders, and he moved with a certain ease, a confidence that seemed to draw the eyes of every student around us. Fates, he was beautiful. I still couldn’t believe he’d chosen me for his girlfriend. He glanced over his shoulder at me. “Come on, Treena. Pick up the pace.”
Tali, pedaling her dull black bike to my right, snickered. “Such a gentleman.”
We usually headed for work at the broadcasting center after school, but that was over now. Today the yellow lanes were clogged with Level Three graduates, all headed in the same direction—the city center. We would enter as kids and emerge officially Rated adults. My stomach twisted at the thought. I’d looked forward to this my entire life, and now that it was here I just wanted to be left alone. I checked my techband again. Thirty-eight minutes.
A wide-set guy with a black bike pedaled hard in front of me, taking up half the lane by himself. Traffic was especially bad today, but only in the yellow lane where we traveled. The green lanes were clear as could be.
“Look at that line,” Dresden said with a chuckle. “It’s disgusting how desperate people get.” I followed his gaze to the Appearance Sector. A long line of desperate, last-minute customers in purple watched us pass with closed expressions. Advertisements for plastic surgery—“Get Your Rating-Preferred Nose Here!”—vision correction, advanced-formula nutrition pills, and eye tattoos battled for attention on the storefronts and ad boards above their heads. Tomorrow was Rating Day for them. As graduates, we got our numbers a day before everyone else. Lucky us.
The traffic light flashed, and we dragged to a stop. Dresden loved this section of town, where the skyscrapers loomed high above us. The tallest one, a shiny copper edifice, stood at the corner to my right. I pointedly ignored it.
Dres shaded his eyes with one hand. “It doesn’t look eighty-two floors high from here, does it?”
“I’m sure it looks higher from the top,” Tali said.
It did, but I didn’t say so. That meant admitting I’d been up there. The tower housed the Olympus Credit Office, but it was better known for what happened there the night of Rating Day each year. The building’s guards would conveniently disappear, and some of the newest reds and yellows—the year’s “loser crop,” as Dresden called them—would climb the stairs to the top and jump. The morning road-cleaning crew swept up their broken bodies along with the dirt and trash.
The noblest decision they could have made, my stepdad often said.
“Some of the guys are coming to watch tonight,” Dresden said. “There were six jumpers last year and four the year before that. Maybe tonight there will be even more.”
I fought a sudden nausea and looked away. The light stopped blinking, and Dresden pushed off. He was halfway through the intersection before I managed to follow.
“I don’t get why you like him,” Tali said next to me. “Are you okay, Treen? You look pale.”
“I’m fine. Give Dresden a break, Tali. He’s a good guy. There’s a lot more to him than you think.”
“There better be.” She gave a loud sigh as we caught up to Dresden. “Fates, I can’t wait for the ceremony to be over. Then everyone will be halfway normal again, and we can just live our lives in peace for another year.”
“And that is exactly your problem,” Dresden said, glancing at us. “You don’t live in spite of your number but because of it. Ratings are the whole point. At least for those of us living in reality. Peak was a genius when he came up with the system.”
Tali rolled her eyes. “That’s stupid. The numbers shape themselves to fit us, not the other way around. Ratings are supposed to make order of chaos, make it easier to live our lives. Not become our lives.”
“Taliyah,” I warned. After my big speech about Dresden’s qualities, she had to bring up the one subject he wouldn’t back down on.
“You don’t get it,” Dresden said. “And you never will. It’s people like you who become yellows and reds. Treena, I can’t believe you call her your friend. I hope associating with her didn’t pull your score down.”
“If you dorks don’t stop fighting,” I said, “I’m throwing you both off the tower.”
Tali chuckled and leaned toward me. “Don’t worry about him, Treen. He doesn’t often surround himself with us lesser folk. When it comes to himself or others, he’ll always choose himself.” Her voice rose as if to make sure he could hear. “In fact, if you were lying in the street dying, he wouldn’t give you a second thought. Unless you were a green, of course. Not even that—no, you’d have to be a higher green, and he’d make sure everyone was watching before he helped.”
“Taliyah,” I broke in, my voice flat. “That’s enough.”
Her mouth snapped closed, but her cheeks flushed pink. Dresden glared at his bike handles, his knuckles white. For him to reply would only add truth to her words. Tali would just have to get used to this. Dresden had been in my life for months now, and if we scored within a hundred points of each other, he would be a major part of it. Forever. She’d have to keep her angry rants to herself.
“Taking the shortcut,” Tali grumbled as we approached Harbor Road. “See you there.”
“Wait!” I called after her and gave Dresden an apologetic look. “Let’s go with her. It’ll be faster.”
He exhaled hard, but his desire to get there quickly must have overridden his disdain for my friend, because he turned to follow. I felt like a mother juggling two toddlers, trying to keep them both within reach, trying not to choose one over the other. I guess I kept hoping they’d grow up instead of forcing me to make that choice.
Tali was already down the block, pedaling hard in the empty lane. We’d get there faster this way, but we also had to pass the Red District, which was one good reason we usually avoided this route.
“You could at least pretend to be nice to her,” I told him as we followed. She was riding faster now, probably because her attempt to escape Dresden hadn’t worked. “I’m nice to your friends, you know.”
“My friends come from high families, Treena. Tali lives in a different world than we do. You’re above her in every way. You’ll see that soon enough.” He gave me a sideways glance. “That’s the beauty of the numbers—it puts everyone where they’re supposed to be.”
“Shh. Not so loud.”
The road was rougher here, and so were the people. They filled the sidewalks, their red numbers glowing on their foreheads like blood. Beggars in worn uniforms lined the filthy street, watching us carefully, as if trying to decide if we carried nutrition pills. I didn’t, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they approached us to find out. An image of a mob attacking us as we rode past flashed through my mind. I shuddered and pedaled harder.
It felt like forever, but we finally emerged from the Red District and cut across an empty park. At first glance the city center looked like any other old-fashioned government building, little more than a six-story box with white marble and stately Roman columns. Transports were lined up in front, delivering important people like a giant anaconda giving birth to various shades of purple uniforms. These were the city’s elite, people like my stepdad. The side entrance was full of students in white clamoring to make their way inside.
Tali had already parked her bike. Well, thrown it to the ground, more like. She strode toward the doors like a determined soldier going to war. I could only hope she wasn’t too mad to save me a seat. We parked our bikes.
Dresden started toward the building, but I held back. “You ready for this?”
He chuckled. “Of course. I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. You have too, remember?”
“Yeah, but I can’t help thinking that there’s something I’ve missed—some little score I haven’t earned yet.”
He snapped his fingers. “I know! You forgot to organize your shoes by color and style this morning.”
“Look, I’ve never seen anyone align their life to the Standards as closely as you. You’re almost obsessive, Treena. If anyone doesn’t have cause to worry, it’s you. Now, what’s really going on?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. Have you ever wondered if you really want this? The Rating, the implant, everything?”
He cocked his head and examined me like a scientist would study a bug. “You’re joking, right? That doesn’t sound like the kick-butt Treena I know. Come here.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward a tree. A fir tree, I guessed by the needles, although it was plastic. Real trees hadn’t existed in NORA for decades.
When we were out of sight, I rested my head against his chest, feeling him exhale in a contented sigh. It was easy to pretend that nothing would ever change when we were together like this. It almost felt like tomorrow was just another school day. Like our first official steps into adulthood were years away instead of minutes.
“You’re just nervous,” he whispered. “Let me help you forget.” My pulse quickened as he lowered his head to mine, and I lifted my face willingly. Our lips met. He was a great kisser— passionate and hungry—and he didn’t hold back. I melted into his chest as the heat between us intensified. But all too soon he pulled away, gasping for breath. I groaned, and a goofy smile spread across his face. “And now, it’s time to go.” He released me and threw his arms wide. “Our destiny awaits!”
I threaded my fingers through his. Dres was right. We’d prepared for this since we could crawl. It was a celebration, not a sentence. I checked my techband. Twenty-two minutes. “Together, right?”
“Absolutely. No matter what.”