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Cover Reveal: PLAYING FOR KEEPS by Jennifer Dugan

From the author of Some Girls Do comes another heartfelt YA sapphic romance—starring a baseball pitcher and a student umpire who are definitely not supposed to fall for one another. On shelves April 30, 2024!

June is the star pitcher of her elite club baseball team—with an ego to match—and she’s a shoo-in to be recruited at the college level, like her parents have always envisioned. That is, if she can play through an overuse injury that has recently gone from bad to worse.

Ivy isn’t just reffing to pay off her athletic fees or make some extra cash on the side. She wants to someday officiate at the professional level, even if her parents would rather she go to college instead. 

The first time they cross paths, Ivy throws June out of a game for grandstanding. Still, they quickly grow from enemies to begrudging friends . . . and then something more. But the rules state that players and umpires are prohibited from dating.

As June’s shoulder worsens, and a rival discovers the girls’ secret and threatens to expose them, everything the two have worked so hard for is at risk. Now both must choose: follow their dreams . . . or follow their hearts?

Scroll down to see the cover and read a sneak peek, and remember to preorder your copy here!

Cover art by Jeff Östberg; Cover design by Kelley Brady 

I expected the umpire uniform to suck a little extra with all the additional padding we have to wear. I expected the weight of the face mask to make my neck ache. I expected to be hot. I expected to get a headache from concentrating so hard to make sure I was an excellent ump. I even expected some of the guys on the team to be assholes about a girl officiating and the more experienced umps to be up my ass the whole time, worried I didn’t know what I was doing despite the fact that Harry recommended me.

Expecting it means I can prepare for it, plan for it, and figure out a way to keep my cool in its face.

What I didn’t expect, though, was for there to be an extremely attractive girl throwing balls at about seventy-five billion miles per hour, striking out dumb boys left and right, like some kind of varsity, all-star Black Widow. She’s got several inches on me, and if that didn’t kick-start the telltale someone’s-got-a-crush flutters in my belly, then her deep brown eyes and perfectly executed high ponytail did.

I practically trip over my feet as I step onto the field, trying not to notice the way her chestnut hair literally gleams in the sun as she warms up. Hell, I didn’t even know girls could play premier travel fall ball—my bad for missing that little regulation or lack thereof. But with this new information, and this athletic goddess in front of me, I think baseball just became my new favorite sport.

So yeah, maybe I smirk a little and chew my gum extra cute as I trot onto the field in pads that make me look like a giant bumpy rectangle, just to make sure she’s looking . . . but she’s not. One of the boys on her team, a Black kid with a tight fade narrows his eyes as I pass him, though. He gives me a little nod, which I return, and then elbows her. I realize he’s probably her boyfriend, and my heart sinks. I wonder if he picked up on my flirting.

Not that I was flirting! I was simply chewing gum with an amused and open expression on my face. Because that is one regulation I definitely didn’t miss. Players and officials can’t date. Talk about a conflict of interest. Harry even makes us sign a whole code of conduct about it in our new-hire paperwork, and this league had me sign something similar last week.

But still, a girl can lightly enjoy herself on her jog to home plate, can’t she?

I’m going to like this new job very, very much, I think, as I settle into position.

Unfortunately, that bright and hopeful feeling only lasts until the eighth inning. Then, I want to die. No, I want to murder. Specifically, I want to murder the extremely hot girl throwing balls at my face—well, not my face. She’s not quite that wild. But close enough. She throws a pitch that she thinks is a strike, and I call a ball. Right as her catcher—the maybe-boyfriend from earlier—jumps up to argue with me about it on her behalf, I feel another ball go whizzing by. This one hits the fence just about six inches from my head.

I turn back around, furious. She’s standing on the mound with a smug look on her face and a who, me? attitude in her eyes. Suddenly, I’m transported back to the U8 soccer championships, thinking of all the parents and players who don’t show us any respect and . . . No, nope, I’m not doing that. I shove my hand into where my pocket should be, fully intending to pull out a red card out of habit, only to realize too late that a) these pants don’t have pockets and b) even if they did, they don’t have red cards in baseball. Instead of being intimidating, I just look like I’m angrily rubbing my hip.

I shake my head to clear it and then stalk toward the mound, only to be met by the other official, an older Brazilian man I recognize from when he hangs out around the snack bar with Harry. Gabe, I think his name is. Gabe blocks my way, crossing his arms, and okay, it’s not like I was going to hit her or anything.

“She’s done,” I say, trying to step around him. I can see her behind him, chewing gum and blowing pink bubbles, with her eyebrows raised at me, as if I’m something suspicious, and maybe a little bit boring, not an actual honest-to-god officiating body she’ll have to answer to.

Penguin Teen