Dylan's Redemption

By: Jennifer Ryan



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Senior Prom . . .

HE COULD HAVE asked any girl, Jessie thought and gazed up at the night sky. She couldn’t believe Dylan McBride asked her to the dance. Based on all the whispers and backhanded comments, neither could anyone else.

The stars glimmered brightly overhead. Jessie stood out on the veranda. Rock and roll emanated from the elegant ballroom more suited to waltzes and string quartets than the sounds of rowdy teenagers and thrashing guitars.

If her father discovered her gone . . . Well, it didn’t bear thinking about. Hard to explain living with someone who’d rather drink himself to death than offer you a kind word. You learned to hate them as the love between you withered like autumn leaves and died.

Pushing aside her tormented thoughts, she focused on the stars above and the fact she was here, tonight, with Dylan. She’d give anything to kiss him again, feel his lips on hers, warm and urgent, making her heart slam so hard against her ribcage it just might burst out of her chest. Breathless when the kiss ended, the corners of his mouth would tilt with that cocky half grin of his and melt her heart. Even now, she felt the unfamiliar flutter in her belly that made her both excited and anxious to kiss him again.

“I thought you wanted to dance.” Dylan walked out the French doors and across the veranda to join her at the stone wall. “Might as well get your money’s worth out of that killer dress.” His eyes skimmed over her from head to foot, making her skin warm despite the slight breeze chilling the air.

“I needed a break from all the whispers and snide remarks. They’re taking bets on what I have on you. How in the world did the Queen of Geeks get the most popular everything to ask her out?” Her social-outcast status had reached monumental proportions freshman year and soared ever since.

“Don’t listen to them. No one knows you the way I do. They don’t see the real you,” he said, looking away, embarrassed by the words spilling from his lips. He gazed up at the night sky with her and brushed his hand down the back of her hair.

She cherished the light touch on her head. Normally, she didn’t let anyone get this close. Her father would rather hit than be gentle.

She smiled and turned to face him. “You know, there’s a little poetry mixed in with all that rough-and-tumble jock.” She recognized the gleam in his eye and inhaled sharply, aware of how close they stood together.

“I don’t have a single memory over the last ten years that doesn’t include you. I think you’ve been following me around since the day we moved here.” His husky voice drifted away on the wind.

She didn’t know what to say. He’d been the butt of many jokes because of her blatant interest. Maybe it was the dance, or her first real date with Dylan—tonight she felt older, wiser.

“You’re the only one who doesn’t look down on me.” Nervous, she smoothed an imaginary wrinkle on her dress.

Dylan was the only normalcy in her otherwise turbulent life, and he graduated in a few short days. She’d miss him come fall when he left for college. She didn’t want to face her junior year without any friends, without Dylan.

“You didn’t embarrass me. Well, sometimes,” he admitted with that half smile again. “Mostly I like the attention. You’re good for my ego.”

“Like your ego needs my help.”

Another part of his anatomy sure did. Dylan wanted to grab fistfuls of her chocolate brown hair and crush his mouth to hers. He loved touching her soft hair, did it whenever she came within reach. The sparkle in her more-green-than-hazel eyes and the sway of her black strapless gown as it ruffled slightly in the breeze made his body tighten and a small groan form deep in his throat.

Her hair never looked prettier, hanging free from its usual ponytail. For the first time, she wore makeup. Tonight she looked like a girl, not another construction worker on her dad’s jobsites. If nothing else, tonight he’d given her a chance to be Cinderella. She looked damn good as a girl.

He ached with wanting her and the hurt that in a few short days, he wouldn’t see her again for a long time. She didn’t know that. No one knew. He wondered if their friendship could survive the distance he was putting between himself and this town, his family’s demands, and, reluctantly, her. Maybe she’d wait for him to come back. A constant in his life, one he hesitated to give up. He needed to go, but all of a sudden he wished he could take her with him.

Something inside told him to take her along. A whisper from his heart, though insistent, he ignored. What could he do? She was still in high school.

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