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Dylan's Redemption

By:Jennifer Ryan

Dylan's Redemption
Jennifer Ryan

       BOOK THREE: THE MCBRIDES




Prologue



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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.                       
       
           



       

"Let's get out of here," he commanded, his voice rough.

"Fine by me. It's not like I'm friends with any of the girls. Can't  exactly invite anyone to my house and hang out, right? My dad's not  exactly the welcoming committee."

"In all the time I've known you, you've never complained about your old  man. In fact, whenever someone brings him up, you change the subject."

"What's to talk about? He's a drunk, everyone knows it, so there isn't  much to say. Between the kids at school and living with him, sometimes I  wish I could just disappear. Lord knows, no one would miss me."

"I would." An ache welled from his chest to the back of his throat. She wouldn't want him feeling sorry for her. But he did.

"Come on, Jess, let's go for a drive and look for shooting stars. There's something I need to tell you."

Jessie thrilled at the idea of being alone with him. He leaned in, took  her hands, and pulled her to him. His arms went around her, lips settled  over hers in a kiss so soft and sweet she ached with wanting to keep  this safe feeling forever. She only ever felt this way with him.

The kiss ended with a soft brush of his lips over hers. He stared down  at her and something inside her shifted and tipped. Her girlhood crush  turned into a full-fledged love, bursting from her heart and filling her  soul.

Dylan stepped back, grasped her hand, and took off for the exit. He  didn't stop until they were in the front seat of his car. Caught up in  the excitement, she giggled, and Dylan gave her another of those  lopsided smiles that made her insides flutter.

They drove away from the dance and all his friends and settled into the  cozy car, the music blaring, his hand holding hers, and the comfort of  just being together. The town lights faded behind them. Turning off onto  an old, dirt logging road, they rolled and bumped to a stop on a rise  overlooking the surrounding hills and trees. He killed the engine.

Jessie stared into the night, at the land, and the glorious  star-speckled sky, and sucked in a quick breath. "Dylan, this is  gorgeous. How did you find this place?"

"Since I got my wheels, I've been scouting out the back roads. I come here a lot. Day or night, you can't beat the view."

"No wonder no one uses this road. I don't know how we made it this far over all those ruts."

"My superior driving skills."

"There's something superior about you, but it's not your driving skills. More like your attitude."

"You think so, huh?" He poked her in the ribs to make her laugh.  Instead, she inhaled sharply, winced, and pressed her arm to her side  before she thought better to hide her response.

"What's wrong? Did I hurt you?"

His brow wrinkled as he studied her. She couldn't tell him the truth.  "It's nothing. I got hit with a board the other day at work and it left a  bruise. That's all."

His palms glided up her arms to her shoulders. He pulled her to him and  whispered in her ear, "Let me kiss you and make it better."

She thought he'd take her mouth again; instead his lips brushed a kiss  on her bare shoulder. His head dipped and his lips pressed to the swell  of her breast above her gown. The zipper on her dress slid down her  back, his fingertips following its progress over her skin. The silky  material swooshed and pooled around her waist. He came back to her mouth  and kissed her hungrily. Her hands seemed to have a mind of their own,  and she let them have their way with him. While his hands roamed her  body, she explored his, stripping away obstacles.

An unfamiliar shimmering kind of heat spread over her entire body like  hot waves rolling over a road in the dead of summer. She didn't know how  they ended up naked in the backseat together; she only remembered the  minute he'd locked eyes with her, his gaze one of pure emotion and need.  Nodding her head in agreement, she pulled him down to her again.

On a star-studded night, on a deserted stretch of road, and in the  backseat of a car, she gave herself to him with her whole heart.

If she'd known the love she felt that night would be eclipsed by the  agonizing pain she suffered after, she'd have done it anyway.

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