Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)
Kennedy Ryan

Prologue

I was there when the levees broke.

Though I was safe in my ward when the monster lost all restraint and unleashed watery havoc on New Orleans, I lived in the city.

I later saw the devastation left in the wake of the beastly storm. We frantically gathered our things, fled our home for higher ground. My family left to survive.

There were those who stayed too long. Remained when they should have fled.

They did not live to regret it.

Now, I’m making the same mistake. I’ve remained when I should have fled.

I witness the exact moment when this monster loses all restraint. His fury, his rage rush at me like a wall of water. Like a gale-force wind, he blows over me.

I am the devastation left in his wake.

As the world goes black, I see stars. A flash of brilliance. A light I should have acknowledged long ago. As the stars dim and the darkness encroaches, I understand I’m like those who stayed too long, blindly assuming their survival.

I fear that I, like them, will not live to regret it.

1

August

Tomorrow is my father’s birthday.

Or it would have been. He died fifteen years ago when I was six, but in the biggest moments, the ones that count the most, it feels like he’s with me. And on the eve of the biggest night of my life, I hope he can see me. I hope he’s proud.

Tomorrow’s the most monumental game of my life. By all rights, my ass should be safely tucked away in my hotel room, not out killing time at some dive. I toss back a handful of bar nuts and sip my ginger ale. At the table next to me, they just ordered another round of beers. God, what I wouldn’t give for something strong enough to unwind these pre-game jitters, but I never drink before a game. And tomorrow isn’t just any game.

I glance at my watch. Fifteen minutes late? That’s not Coach Kirby. He’s the promptest man I know. His name flashes across my screen just as I’m considering calling him. I push away the bowl of nuts and the niggling feeling that something must be wrong.

“Hey, Coach.”

“West, hey.” His voice carries a forced calm that only confirms something’s off. “I know I’m late. Sorry.”

“No, it’s cool. Everything okay?”

“It’s Delores.” His voice cracks over his wife’s name. Basketball is my high school coach’s second love. From the day I met him my freshman year at St. Joseph’s Prep, I knew Delores was his first.

“She okay?”

“She . . . well, we were at the hotel, and she started having chest pains and trouble breathing.” Coach’s worried sigh comes from the other end. “We’re here at the emergency room. They’re running all these damn tests, and—”

“Which hospital?” I’m already on my feet, digging out my wallet to pay the modest bill. “I’m on my way.”

“The hell you are.” The steel that worked all the laziness out of me for four years stiffens his tone. “You’re playing tomorrow night in the National Championship. The last place you need to be is in some hospital waiting room.”

“But, Delores—”

“Is my responsibility, and I’m handling it.”

“But, I can—”

“Your folks get into town yet?” He steamrolls over my protest to close the subject.

“No, sir.” I pause, checking my exasperation. “Matt had to work today. He and my mom are flying in tomorrow.”

“And your stepbrother?”

“He’s stuck in Germany. Some event for one of his clients.” My stepbrother and I may not share blood, but we share a love of sports. Me, on the court. Him, off, as an agent.

“Sorry he won’t be there,” Coach says. “I know how close you two are.”

“It’s alright.” I play off my disappointment. “I’ve got my mom and Matt. And you, of course.”

“Sorry I can’t make it to the bar, though why your ass wanted to go out the night before the big dance in the first place is beyond me.”

“I know, Coach. I just needed . . .” What do I need? I know the playbook inside and out and have watched so much film my eyes started crossing.

I’m restless tonight. Years of sacrifice, mine and my family’s, have gotten me here. And I couldn’t have done it without the man on the other end of the line. Coach has invested a lot in me over the last eight years, even after I graduated high school and moved on to college. When scouts and analysts urged me to go pro a year early, he convinced me to stay and finish my degree. To shore up my fundamentals and mature before going to the draft. But the man who passed his DNA on to me—his wingspan, his big hands, his long, lean body, and I guess even his love for the game—is the one I keep thinking about tonight.

My father.

I wasn’t sure who this moment should be shared with, but I knew it wasn’t my teammates trolling for girls in some rowdy bar. Even though they can only get so rowdy the night before a game, that didn’t appeal to me.

“Whatever you need, get it, and get out of there,” Coach says, snapping me back into the moment. “Get your ass back to the hotel. Mannard will bench you for breaking curfew, even before the National Championship. Don’t get too big for your breeches.”

“Yes, sir. I know.”

Between Coach’s take-no-shit leadership and my stepfather’s military background, the sirs and ma’ams come naturally. Discipline and respect were non-negotiable in both their regimes.

“I need to go,” Coach says. “Doctor’s coming.”

“Keep me posted.”

“I will.” He pauses for a moment before continuing. “You know I’ll be at the game tomorrow if there’s any way it’s humanly possible. I just need to make sure Delores is okay. She’s the only reason I would miss it. I’m proud of you, West.”

“I know. Thanks, Coach.” Emotion scorches my throat, and I struggle to hold my shit together. My dad’s birthday, the pressure of tomorrow’s game, and now Delores in the hospital—I’m staggering under the cumulative weight of this day, of all these things, but I make sure none of it makes it into my voice when I speak again. Coach’s got enough to worry about without thinking I’m not ready for tomorrow. “Do whatever you need to. Delores comes first.”

“I hope to see you tomorrow,” he continues gruffly. “You shoot the damn lights out of that place.”

“Yes, sir. I plan to. Call me when you know something.”

I don’t even bother finding the server or asking for the check. Instead, I leave a twenty on the table, more than enough to cover my tepid ginger ale. I have another few hours to kill before curfew, but if Coach isn’t coming to ease my nerves, then I may as well head back to the hotel. I’ll try to slip in without running into my teammates.

I’m almost at the door when an outburst from the far end of the bar stops me.

“Bullshit!” a husky, feminine voice booms. “You know good and damn well that’s a shit call.”

Just shy of the threshold, I turn to see the woman who’s cussing like a sailor. Curves punctuate her lean, tight body: the indentation of her waist in a fitted T-shirt, the rounded hips poured into her jeans. She jumps from her stool and leans forward, her body taut with outrage, her fists balled on the bar, and her eyes narrowed at the flat screen. She must be a good seven inches over five feet. A guy my height gets used to towering over everyone else, but I like a woman with a little height. Her hair, dark and dense as midnight, is an adventure, roaming wild and untamed around her face in every direction, drifting past her shoulders. She looks pissed, her wide, full mouth tight, and the sleek line of her jaw bunched.

The beautiful face paired with all that attitude has me intrigued. Even if I’m not getting laid tonight, I can at least get distracted from the pressure that’s been crushing me all day. Hell, crushing me for the last few weeks, if I’m honest. I want to shake off the melancholy thoughts my father’s death always wrap around me—thoughts of what we missed. What we lost. Seeing her all fired up and cussing at the television, swearing at the refs, lightens some of the load I’ve been carrying. I find myself walking straight toward the one thing that has penetrated the thick wall of tension surrounding me since we advanced to the NCAA championship a few days ago.

“Asshole,” she mutters, settling her denim-clad ass back onto the barstool. “No way that was a flagrant foul.”

I take the empty stool beside her, glancing up at the screen replaying the last sequence. “Actually, I’m pretty sure that was a flagrant foul.” I grab a fistful of nuts from the bowl between us.

“You’re either as blind and dumb as the ref,” she says, eyes never leaving the screen, “or you’re trying to pick me up. Either way, I’m not impressed.”

My handful of nuts freezes halfway to my mouth. I have a shot at college player of the year, have been big man on campus for four years, and was on ESPN’s Plays of the Week by tenth grade. No girl has shot me down since middle school, but I never shy away from a challenge.

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