The Dylan Dilemma
Patricia B. Tighe
Published by: Swoon Romance
Publication date: April 24th 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
High school senior Kenzie Harper-Shea has no time for dating, especially after the arrival of the basketball coach from hell. Now Kenzie has lost her confidence, is in a slump, and in danger of losing out on a scholarship to play college ball. The last thing she needs is her “vacation boyfriend,” Dylan McCoy, distracting her with warm smiles, inside jokes, and swoony kisses.
Dylan, however, is totally ready to date. He finally lives in the same town as Kenzie and is not about to lose the chance to let their relationship grow into something more. But for now, he’ll stay in the friend zone because he’s determined to find out what has her running scared. It can’t be just about basketball.
As Kenzie spends more time around Dylan, her feelings become a jumbled-up mess. It’s obvious they’re into each other. So, why does she panic whenever she thinks about dating him? Is it connected to basketball or to something deeper? She’s not sure. Does she have the courage to examine her heart, even if it means breaking Dylan’s?
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The mother of two grown sons, Patricia B. Tighe lives in West Texas with her husband and dog. She eats way too much pizza, drinks way too much coffee, and watches way too much NFL football. On the bright side, she also reads and writes teen fiction. She promises to include as much romance, angst, and adventure as possible in her books.
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Dinner with Dylan
On Friday night we sat around the dining room table using our company manners. I couldn’t do much else. The churning in my stomach at what I had to say to Dylan had become a cold dread settling in my chest and making it hard to breathe.
“Pass the rolls, please,” my mom said without looking at me. She was too busy enjoying the interaction between Dylan and Piper, who had been giggling all during dinner. Piper that is. Dylan just smiled a lot.
I passed the basket of bread to my mom, and refocused on my stew. Better that than staring across the candlelit table at Dylan, who looked completely edible. He wore a blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and his tortoise-shell glasses. Those glasses had always gotten to me. They made me want to get close enough to pull them off, slide my fingers into his thick honey-blond hair, and explore his mouth.
Sudden warmth rose in my chest, replacing the dread. I needed to stop this. Relationships had to be based on more than just physical attraction. Dylan and I had always excelled at the physical part—or at least flirting around it. But we’d never had the chance to experience the day to day give and take of being with somebody. And now he wanted that. I wanted to tell him yes, but I knew I couldn’t. I needed my head in my game, not longing for him. …
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Piper asked, gazing up at Dylan, her cheeks glowing pink.
He wiped his mouth with his napkin before answering. “I have an older brother. He’s in medical school in Boston.”
“Is he gonna be a doctor?”
“Yeah. Unless he changes his mind and runs away with the circus.”
Piper giggled. “He won’t do that.”
Dylan grinned. “No, he probably won’t.”
“How much older is he than you?”
Piper’s whole face lit up like Christmas. “We’re almost the same! Mackie is ten years older than me. That’s so old.”
Ugh. That nickname. Piper was the only one allowed to use it—mainly because she’d invented it. Mackenzie had been too much of a mouthful for a toddler. But using the name in front of Dylan? Not such a great idea. He looked at me, humor dancing in his green eyes. Yup. I’d be hearing that name again. “Yeah, really old,” he said, not breaking our gaze.
Prelude to a Kiss
Satisfaction settled over me. “That’s not true.” Oh, Kenzie was jealous all right. Now to get her to admit it.
“I don’t believe this. You’re usually so good at reading people and you’ve totally messed up where she’s concerned. That girl likes you. As more than just a friend.”
I shook my head. “We’ve always joked around. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“She kept touching you.”
I gave her my best “you’re being ridiculous” face. “Kenzie—”
“No.” She strode over to me. “She slid her hand down your arm like this.” Kenzie trailed her fingers along my forearm.
I forced myself to ignore the tickling sensation. “So?”
“She played with your hair.”
“What? She did not.”
“She reached up and stuck her hand in your hair.” Kenzie lifted a hand but paused, leaving it waiting in the air.
“You mean when she was pulling that leaf out of my hair?”
“Oh, good grief, Dylan. You did nothave a leaf in your hair! She just wanted to touch you. Why can’t you admit it?”
I turned away like I was tired of the conversation. “You’re overreacting.”
She grabbed my shoulder, twisting me back around. “I know what I saw.”
We stood really close now, her hazel eyes glaring. They were tinged with blue, almost a light aquamarine color, and their intensity made me freeze in place. I wanted to pull her against me, to feel her arms tighten around me, but something was about to happen. Good or bad. I knew it. So I waited, not sure if it was right or not, breathing in the clean soapy scent of her T-shirt and wondering why she didn’t stink of sweat after tennis.
Kenzie slid her hand down my forearm. “Lissa did this,” she whispered. She ran the other hand into my hair, holding my head. “And this. And she wanted to kiss you, but I don’t know if she did or not.” Her lips were seriously close. “Did she?”
I swallowed. “No,” I said through a breath.
At the school gym on Monday, I wiped sweat from under my eye with the collar of my T-shirt. Jana thumped me on the back before jogging back to her place in line.
“Keep moving,” she said under her breath.
Right. I threw the basketball to Carly, who jerked when she caught it and then passed it to the next girl. Tension filled the air like when you step outside and a thunder storm is about to hit. Coach Dunbar, gray hair flattened like a steel helmet, prowled among us, her whistle at the ready. We were all freaked about the changes. You could see it in the way my usually confident teammates stumbled over their feet or missed shots or flubbed passes.
This passing drill, normally something I could do in my sleep, was making me crazy. I’d already jammed my index finger on one catch, but after a scowl from Coach, I shook my hand and kept going. No one wanted to get on her bad side, which made us so nervous that we looked like amateurs.
Sneakers squeaked on the gym floor, exclamations rang out, and the girls beside me breathed so hard I could hear it. Holy crap.When would we all settle down? Things just didn’t feel right and last Friday hadn’t been any better. Halfway through, Coach sat us down and gave us a lecture on teamwork because she said she wasn’t happy about what she saw.
Well, neither was I. I missed Coach Shultz. I missed how her happiness gave all of us a lift—even when we were working hard.
“Kenzie!” Carly shouted.
I turned and a basketball hit me in the stomach. But miracle of miracles, I caught it. Coach blew her whistle in one long shrill sound.
“All right, girls!” she called. “This is pathetic. Time for laps.”
Laps? That wasn’t how practice was supposed to go. “But we never run until—”
Jana, who I hadn’t realized was beside me, squeezed my elbow, cutting off my words. What the heck was I doing? I should know by now the woman didn’t appreciate my helpful hints.
Coach Dunbar walked toward me through the crowd of my frozen teammates, favoring her right leg. Maybe Jana had been right and there was something wrong with the woman. “Mackenzie,” she said, her voice hard. “If you have a suggestion, you can raise your hand. Otherwise, if you don’t like the way I conduct practice, you can leave. There’s nothing stopping you.”
A girl with short brown curls walked toward us, a welcoming smile on her face. She looked like a woodland pixie who was cosplaying as a tennis player. She had it down perfectly—a red X-back top, a tiny white tennis skirt, and bright white sneakers that looked brand new. A light spray of freckles decorated her nose on top of her tan. Her arms and legs, though slim, were toned and muscular. She was, in a word, adorable.
I decided I hated her.
“Dylan!” she said, her eyes gleaming at him.
“Hey, Lissa, here we are,” he said stupidly. For a second it looked like he was about to hug her, but then stopped himself.
Her lips twitched, and she turned to the rest of us. “Hi, I’m Lissa.”
Dylan shook himself like he’d forgotten how to introduce people, which was so completely out of character that I frowned. Normally he was Mr. Politician, all friendly handshakes and banter. But here he seemed momentarily frozen. Was it because he really wasdating this girl?
“So guys,” he said. “This is Lissa Brooks. We were doubles tennis partners back in high school. She graduated a year before me and we reconnected at UT.”
A slow, icy sensation slid all the way to my toes. He had a past with this girl. A girl I’d never heard of before.
Dylan continued the introductions and when he was done, Lissa rubbed her hands together. “Okay. Ready to get started?”
“Sure,” Noah said, while Gabby and I nodded.
What the heck was I nodding for? I didn’t want to get started. I didn’t even want to be here. This was exactly one of the things I’d been worried about with Dylan. I knew he’d meet someone at college—someone interesting, someone prettier.
Lissa spun around and her skirt did a flirty flip. “This way.”
I switched my tote bag to my shoulder and followed behind the others. Dylan was in front walking beside Lissa who was laughing at something he said. Maybe I could just walk slower and slower until they were way ahead. Then I could say I got lost and hide out in the locker room.
Ha. Right. There was no way that would work, because even if no one else did, Gabby was sure to look for me. No. I needed to shrug this off. It didn’t matter that Dylan might be dating somebody else. That’s what I wanted for him, right? To be happy? I really didn’t have any right to be jealous.