Tuesday, July 11, 2017

seriously romantic: the perfectly imperfect match by kendra c. highley


the suttonville sentinel series closes out perfectly with the perfectly imperfect matchdylan dennings has a plan. finish high school, get drafted, go to the minor leagues and end up in the majors. he's a machine when it comes to practicing. his singular focus is baseball. not girls, especially not after the debacle with alyssa. he's going to focus on training and on the summer camp that the suttonville sentinels are hosting for young kids interested in baseball.

he's not supposed to be distracted by one of his campers' older sister. and the fact that he keeps managing to piss her off without intending to is definitely not part of his plan. it's just around her it's like his brain and his mouth aren't on the same wavelength. there's just something about lucy foster that has him off-kilter.

lucy knows she's quirky. she doesn't run in the popular crowd at school. she's obsessed with chickens and her best friend's chicken farm. she loves a good protest. she's running a needlepoint business as a way to earn money toward college. her dad is currently deployed so she's had to pick up the slack in helping her mom out with her younger brother, otis. she doesn't trust people easily, and dylan seems like the last person she should ever trust.

except there's that spark. and when they do spend time together, she actually likes him. he's funny and kind and willing to give the unexpected a try. and that is exactly why they work. because both dylan and lucy are planners. they have goals and ideas about how to achieve them that don't include distractions like relationships with star pitchers or needlepoint ninjas. but when they are together, all bets are off. the unexpected happens. love happens. and it's worth fighting for.

i so enjoyed this series, i'm pretty sure this is the last one, but if some of those tertiary characters on the team decide to get their own stories, i wouldn't be mad. i've really enjoyed this series.

**the perfectly imperfect match published on july 10, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (entangled: crush) in exchange for my honest review. For more information about the book, including where to buy, keep reading...

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The Perfectly Imperfect Match
Series: Suttonville Sentinels #3
Author: Kendra C. Highley
Publication Date:  July 10, 2017
Publisher:  Entangled Teen Crush
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Pitcher Dylan Dennings has his future all mapped out: make the minors straight out of high school, work his way up the farm system, and get called up to the majors by the time he’s twenty-three. The Plan has been his sole focus for years, and if making his dreams come true means instituting a strict “no girls” policy, so be it. 

Lucy Foster, needlepoint ninja, big sister to an aspiring pitcher, and chicken advocate, likes a little mayhem. So what if she gets lost taking her brother to baseball camp…at her own high school? The pitching coach, some hotshot high school player, obviously thinks she’s a hot mess. Too bad he’s cute, because he’s so not her type. 

Problem is, they keep running into each other, and every interaction sparks hotter than the last. But with Dylan’s future on the line, he has to decide whether some rules are made to be broken…
Disclaimer: This book contains a crazy night of moonlit skinny-dipping, a combustible crush, and kisses swoony enough to unwind even the most Type A athlete.

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Excerpt

Lucy watched Dylan cut through the water with a precise breaststroke. Even his swimming was neat and tidy. She slumped against the bench as he pulled himself onboard and untied the boys’ boat. He stood there, dripping, while their friends cruised away. 
“Um…” He swallowed hard and wiped water out of his eyes. “Look—”

“Don’t bother.” She slumped as far as she could without falling off the bench. “I know what you meant. Just because our friends set us up doesn’t mean we have to do anything about it.”

“Hey.” He sounded irritated now. “You don’t understand, and that’s why I’m here. I’m not dating because I’m focused entirely on baseball right now. I have a shot at the minors next spring after we graduate, and I’m putting all my energy into that. It’s not you.” He rubbed his face, shifting his balance like he was going to jump out of the boat any second. “You’re…you’re…well, you’re someone I would definitely chat up under different circumstances.”

Lucy slowly sat up straighter, noticing how his ears had turned red. The little devil on her shoulder, the one that made her impulsive, talked her into pulling her shoulders back and pushing her chest out ever so slightly. Just to see what he’d do. When his eyes drifted, then snapped back to her face, she smirked a little. “Chat me up, huh? Even though you think I’m a hot mess?”

“Did I ever say that?” He crossed his arms over his life vest. “Maybe I questioned your ability to drive places, but I never said you were a mess.” “Uh huh.” She relaxed against the seat, unable to believe it. “You seemed really annoyed that I stayed for camp today. I could almost see the thought bubble over your head, ‘this one’s brought his crazy sister.’”

“I didn’t…” He squeezed his eyes shut and ground his jaw. After a deep breath, he tried again. “I just thought you were a little overprotective. Otis is nine, not two.”

“And who are you to decide that?” Lucy sat up straighter, daring him to look her over. “But, if you want, I’ll stay away from your precious camp. You better take good care of my brother, though, or we’ll have more than words, Coach Dylan.”

She sighed, furious that she’d taken the bait and engaged with this jackass. “You don’t have to stand there like you’re about to jump in the lake if I twitch in your direction. I wouldn’t touch you if you paid me.”

Dylan’s eyes narrowed. As if he was calling her bluff, he unbuckled his life vest and dropped it to the floor. Oh, shirtless boy alert.

Yep, she was right…he was cute. And cut. His blond hair was tinged gold by the setting sun, but her gaze kept straying somewhere else…somewhere tan and muscular. As she watched, his forearms tensed, showing off a pair of arms that demanded her attention. 

She met his eyes and found him smirking back at her. Right. “I appreciate the effort, but you’re not my type.”

He rolled his eyes. “You’re not exactly mine, either, Princess.”

She rose, standing with her feet wide apart to compensate for the rocking boat. “And what type is that? Bubble headed? Simpering? Compliant?”

He glared at her. “Disciplined. Smart. Driven.”

She laughed coldly. “I think that’s the wrong kind of girl for you. Too much like-knows-like. You need someone to shake you up, make you live for now instead of a year from now.”

“Oh, and you think you’re the person to do that?” 

For some reason, both their voices had risen, but she couldn’t back down. Mom would tell her the passion was getting the better of her, and if only she took a second to breathe, she’d see it. Too late for that now. “I might be, if you removed the stick from your ass.”

He took a step toward her. “Yeah, and you need someone to untangle your hot-mess self.”

She took a big step toward him, pointing a finger at his chest. “I knew you thought I was a hot mess!”

He took another step, but she wasn’t afraid of him. No, she didn’t think she’d ever felt so alive, honestly. Her heart pounded in her chest, and her fingertips tingled. Like she’d been in a dim room, and someone had turned on a floodlight.

“Fine! I did think it, and I’ll say it, too,” Dylan snapped. “You’re a hot mess, Lucy Foster. What are you going to do about it?”

Her mouth dropped open, and her whole body flushed with heat. The next step she took brought her an inch away from him. Close enough to see he was shaking. Rage? Fear? All she knew was that she was shaking, too, but it was from neither of those things. “You know what I think? I think you’re a jackass!”

Then, before she could decide whether this was the worst idea she’d ever had, she swayed closer, so that her chest brushed his just barely, and went up on tiptoe, stopping short of kissing him…waiting to see what would happen.

They stared each other down, each of them breathing hard. Lucy’s gaze dropped to his lips then back to his eyes, daring him to make a move.

He growled, this frustrated, almost anguished sound, before closing the distance. He pulled her close, his wet torso sliding slick against hers. Then his mouth was on hers, and she forgot everything—about being angry, about being stuck in the middle of the lake with a guy who pushed her buttons, about Dad being gone. Nothing mattered but his warm breath against her cheek and his strong arms holding her tight despite the rocking boat beneath them. Good thing, because she was lightheaded, but didn’t want to come up for air.

They clung together, the kiss frantic and disorganized. Somewhere in the back of her brain, she recognized this guy hadn’t let himself go for a long, long time…and that he’d been hurt recently. All of it was there in the depth of this kiss. His chest was warm, heaving against hers, and his fingers traced the line of her bare spine, sending shivers across her back.

She didn’t even hear the other boat approach. No, she didn’t notice a thing until Serena called, “Sweet baby Jesus! I said apologize, not act out a movie star kiss in the middle of my boat!”

******

When she pulled into the small lot, only one other car was there: a charcoal Porsche crossover. The tailgate was up, and Dylan was leaning into the back, his face hidden from hers. 

“Okay,” she breathed. “You can do this.”

Being nervous was so stupid. She was never nervous before meeting up with a guy. Excited maybe, but not palms-slick, knees-trembling, stomach-fluttering nervous.

But she was.

She made her way through the gate and onto the field. A catcher’s mitt, a chest guard, and a helmet with a mask were lying on the ground by the metal thing that kept pitches from hitting the spectators.
Just how seriously was he taking this? “Is all this stuff for me?”

The tailgate slammed closed. “Yeah, just a sec.”

Dylan, carrying a basket of baseballs with a glove resting on top, came striding in from the parking lot. He was dressed in his usual: Tight, dry-fit T-shirt and athletic shorts. When had she started thinking that was sexy? Maybe it was the way he moved in those clothes—confident and sure. Like nothing could touch him. Like he owned the ground he walked on, but was willing to share it with her.

Heat crept up her neck that nothing to do with the brutal sunshine.

He carried the basket to the pitcher’s mound, then turned to face her. “Overkill?”

She looked down at the catcher’s equipment, hoping he hadn’t caught her gawking. “Maybe a little. I was thinking more about tossing a ball back and forth.”

Dylan cocked his head. “Not for Otis. There are nets and things that will let him pitch on his own, but if you really want to catch for him, you’ll want to do it the right way.”

Lucy held in a sigh. He was in full instructor mode. She’d have to work around that if she wanted to crack his resolve. And she really wanted to try. “Maybe show me how to hold a baseball the right way, and we can work up from there?”

His eyes narrowed. “Otis could teach you that.”

“I want you to teach me.”

That hung in the air between them. Dylan looked away, but his shoulders were tense. Good, someone knew how she felt, too. “Lucy…”

She wasn’t going to hear any excuses. Serena was right—She needed to cut the crap. She marched over to the bucket of baseballs and pulled one out. She walked over to Dylan, stopping a foot away, and held up the ball. “Show me.”

His head snapped up. The heat in his gaze burned straight through her, and she had to bite back a smile of triumph. She had his attention now. And someone liked girls who took control.

A line knit between his eyebrows, and his shoulders were up around his ears, but he didn’t tear his eyes away from hers. “Okay, I’ll teach you, if that’s what you want.”

His voice was soft, not annoyed, as he moved around to stand behind her. His breath was warm on her neck and goose bumps raced down both her arms. His hands covered hers, helping her turn the ball, so it was in the right spot against her palm, before moving her fingers into the correct position.
Lucy hardly breathed.

“This is how you hold the ball—always hold it across the seams.” He gripped her hand in his larger one, and mimed throwing the ball, not like a pitch, but like one of the other players would. “This is how outfielders throw, but it’s all you need to send the ball back to Otis.”

He mimed the throw again, moving her arm overhead. “You’ll release it from the top. Think you’ve got it?”

Lucy wanted to say no, just so he’d keep holding her arm, but she nodded. “Let me try.”

He stepped back, and she took a deep breath. Her hands were shaking. You can do this. Maybe. She regripped the ball like he’d shown her, wound up, and threw.

The ball went about ten feet, bounced off the ground, and rolled.

Dylan couldn’t stifle his chuckle. “That was…uh, that was good for a first try.”

Lucy put her hands on her hips. “It was terrible. Let me try again.”

He dug three balls out of the basket and handed her one. She threw the first one farther, but way to the left. Grumbling, she held out her hand for another ball. This time, she managed to throw it mostly straight.

“You know?” Dylan still sounded amused. “This might be good for Otis. He’ll have to practice fielding balls that come off the bat on a hop anyway.”

“Is that a nice way of making lemonade out of my lemon of an arm?” Lucy asked.

Dylan winked at her and trotted into the field after the balls. Lucy watched as he bent to pick them up. She had to admit, the view was pretty spectacular.

She didn’t quit ogling him in time, and Dylan straightened up to find her staring at him, twirling a piece of hair around her finger. He strolled over, grinning. “What?”

She smiled back. “How do I catch a pitch?”

“You’ll have to put on the mask and guards, first.”
Lucy went for the gear and put it on. “Now what?”

“You squat.”

His voice was daring her to do it. Fine. She dropped into a crouch and punched the mitt a few times. “Like this?”

“Uh, yeah.”

His voice had cracked—now she was getting somewhere. She waggled a bit, crouching deeper, and grinned when he watched her, slack jawed. “Show me what you’ve got.”

A fresh smirk. “I throw pretty hard.”

What, did he think she was made of glass? “Prove it.”

Mumbling something she couldn’t hear, Dylan paced around the mound a minute, then settled down to wind up.

The pitch that came at her moved much faster than she expected. She caught it, barely, then pulled her hand out of the mitt and shook it. “Ow. You win.”

“Hey, you caught it. That’s something.” He was nodding in approval. “That’s good for the first time.”
“You’re a good coach. I see why Otis likes you so much.” She stood, stretching the kinks out of her back. “Speaking of which, I need to be honest. I wasn’t here just to learn to throw a ball. Truth is, I wanted to see you. I couldn’t think of a way to convince you unless Otis was involved somehow.”

Dylan took a few steps off the pitcher’s mound, inching closer. “I guess that’s fair.”
She took a more obvious step toward him and pulled off the helmet and chest plate. “I appreciate you worrying about Otis. I do. But…he’s old enough to understand, and I want to get to know you.”

“We’re totally different.” Dylan’s voice grew rough. “Opposites—”

“Opposites sometimes attract.” Lucy took another big step, closing the distance to about ten feet. “That’s part of the fun. I’m not saying I want a proposal or anything. Just coffee.”

“We already had coffee.” To her surprise, he came three steps closer. His fists clenched, unclenched. “Maybe…”

 She waited, watching an obvious war play out via the expression on his face. He wanted to try this thing out as much as she did, but his so-called “better nature” was holding him back. Feeling bold, she closed the distance, standing right in front of him. “Maybe, what?”

He took in a sharp breath, eyes fixed on hers. Dylan’s eyes weren’t as blue as she’d originally thought, but a stormy blue-gray. Intense and distant, kind of like how he could be sometimes. She hoped she could fix the “distant” part.

Finally, he reached for her hand. “How about lunch?”
Smiling, she gave his fingers a little squeeze. “Thought you’d never ask.”


About the Author
Kendra C. Highley lives in North Texas with her husband and two children. She also serves as staff to four self-important and high-powered cats. This, according to the cats, is her most important job. She believes in everyday magic, extraordinary love stories, and the restorative powers of dark chocolate.

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