Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(12)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(12)
Kennedy Ryan

“But none of the positions I’m in the running for are in the places you’ll probably go,” I say firmly. “There’s one in New York, and I had a great interview today with Richter Sports. I think they may offer me a job with their Chicago office.”

A cloud darkens his expression.

“Chicago!” He levels a glare at me, the blue of his eyes going almost black. “The odds of me being drafted by Chicago are next to zero, Iris. How could you even consider it?”

“I considered it because it’s a great opportunity.” I step away from him altogether, escaping the anger vibrating off his body. “One I should take before I have a family and obligations. This is the time for us to risk and explore, and figure things out.”

“What’s there to figure out?” he demands. “I love you. You love me.”

I just blink at him. We’ve said those words, yes, but this relationship isn’t the filter for all my decisions, just like it can’t be the filter for all of his. Why can’t he see that both things are true? That I can love him, but not be ready for this? Not be ready to hitch my entire future to him? That I’m not sure, and that I shouldn’t have to be yet.

“We’re having a baby. We should be together,” he continues, apparently not concerned by my silence. “And you and my child will go with me to the city that drafts me. It’s the only thing that makes any sense.”

“What about my dreams?” I watch his face for any sign that he would mourn my ambitions at all. That my hopes mean more to him than getting his way. “I don’t want the last four years of college, all my hard work, to go to waste.” I lick my lips nervously. “Let’s just weigh our options, Caleb. We have options.

“You don’t mean abortion?” Caleb goes still, and his eyes ice over. “Don’t even think about it.”

Would I? The space between theoretical and actual makes you consider things you never thought you would.

“No.” I shrug. “Not really. I don’t know, Caleb. This is just a lot.”

“I know.” He walks me to the bed, sitting down and pulling me onto his lap. “But this only accelerates the plan. You know I want to be with you, want to marry you. I want you with me when I’m drafted, and I want us to have a family. I’ve known this for a long time.”

How? How do you know?

The question rattles in my brain, my uncertainty butting up against his confidence. I care about Caleb. He wouldn’t have been my first, wouldn’t have gotten past the walls I used to protect myself if I didn’t care. But forever? Marriage? Children? Somehow, even as I stare into his dark blue eyes and lean into the gentle stroke of his hand in my hair, I have trouble seeing the rest of my life with him. And I shouldn’t have to see it right now.

“Caleb, I can have this baby even if we aren’t married. Even if we live in different states for a while. People do long-distance relationships all the time.”

“Are you not happy in our relationship?” Hurt creases his expression into a frown. “Am I missing something?”

I leave his lap to pace in front of the bed, fixing my eyes on the thin, cheap carpet. “It’s not that. I . . . we’re young. We have a lot of life ahead. We don’t have to chain ourselves—”

“Chain?” He expels the word on an outraged breath. “A lot of girls wouldn’t see marrying me as a punishment or a prison.”

“A lot of girls would see this baby as an opportunity, Caleb.” I look up to meet his eyes frankly. “I don’t. When and if I marry someone, I don’t want to feel trapped into it.”

“Trapped?” His disbelieving laugh fills the room. “Not to be arrogant, but I’m the one who has to worry about being trapped by a woman with a baby.”

“Not this woman, you don’t,” I fire back. “I’m not asking you to marry me. If you would listen, I’m telling you I’m not ready for that.”

“And our baby?” His tight lips barely let the words out. “I suppose you’re not ready for that either?”

At his question, Lotus’s concerns echo in my ears.

“How, um . . .” I swallow my reluctance and force myself to go on. “How did this happen? We were always so careful.”

I risk a glance at Caleb’s handsome face. “Weren’t we?” I ask softly.

Something flickers through his eyes so quickly there’s no time for me to read it. Guilt? Anger?

“I’m pretty sure you were there, too, Iris. Wouldn’t you know just as well as me if we were always careful?”

I don’t wear the condoms.

It screams through my head, but I can’t make myself say it. Anything close to an accusation would only worsen this already tense situation. Honestly, I can’t ever remember a time when we didn’t use protection. Does it really matter whose “fault” it is? Condoms aren’t fail-proof. Even though Caleb has been pressuring me to discard my plans and get in line with his, I can’t imagine him going to these lengths.

Besides, it’s like he said: men in his position are the ones worried about being trapped by a grasping female securing a bright future via uterus. Even though I’m being dragged into this situation kicking and screaming, people will assume that’s what I’ve done. That I’ve “trapped” Caleb. They’ll have no idea that I can barely breathe with this baby growing inside of me. That my palms practically drip sweat when I think of Caleb’s ring on my finger. That it’s not satisfaction I feel knowing I’m pregnant by an NBA draft shoo-in.

It’s claustrophobic.

6

August

I’ve been under bright lights a lot the last few years. I should be used to them by now, but squinting into blinding bulbs on the set of Twofer, the sports show hosting the Draft Class Special, I’m not so sure.

“Nervous?” Avery Hughes, one of the hosts of Twofer, asks.

Uh . . .” I glance around the set, taking in the huge cameras, the sleek furniture, and the crew scurrying around and preparing for the show. “Nah. What’s there to be nervous about?”

“Nothing at all.” Avery’s dark eyes and the smirk tilting her mouth convey amusement. “Thanks for coming on.”

“No problem.” I fill a Styrofoam cup with the dark roast coffee on the table. “Thanks for inviting me.”

Lloyd, the agent I just signed with, would have had a conniption if I’d refused to appear on Twofer, one of the most popular sports shows around. He thinks the higher my profile as we approach draft night, the better. I’m just ready to get it over with.

“You were first on my list of guests,” Avery says, drawing my attention back to our conversation. She’s a beautiful woman, but she’s best known as a tough journalist. A smart one, too. “You and Caleb Bradley.”

“Wait.” My hand pauses with the coffee halfway to my mouth. “Is Caleb on today’s show, too?”

Just the sound of that dude’s name scrapes my nerves. I’ve thought of Iris more times than I want to admit in the last three months. Unfortunately, that also means thinking about her punk-ass boyfriend. The media can’t seem to say my name without saying his, and vice versa, but thank God Caleb and I haven’t actually been in the same place at the same time.

“Yeah, Caleb’s on the show, too.” A frown crinkles Avery’s smooth skin. “Your agent didn’t tell you?”

My eyes lock with Lloyd’s as he walks on set with MacKenzie Decker, president of basketball operations for the San Diego Waves, the latest expansion team approaching their first season. My agent glances away almost immediately. He knows there’s no love lost between Caleb and me and probably assumed I would have declined this appearance had I known Caleb was booked, too.

My stepbrother, an agent himself, didn’t want to mix blood with business, or he would have repped me. Technically, he’s not blood, but most in the league don’t even know we’re connected. He recommended Lloyd with only a few reservations. Right now, facing an hour on camera pretending not to hate Caleb, I have even more reservations about my agent.

“Lloyd has a lot going on,” I reply, smoothing my expression into a blank slate as he and MacKenzie Decker approach. “He must have forgotten to mention it.”

Deck, as everyone calls him, ignores me and reaches for Avery immediately, pulling her close to kiss her cheek. She glances at me self-consciously, but a smile spreads over her face and affection warms her eyes when she looks way up at the basketball executive and former baller. I’ve heard rumors about them dating. It’s obviously true, because Deck looks like he might scandalize us all and bend her over the nearest couch any minute now.

“Ahem.” Avery puts a little space between her and Deck but doesn’t step completely from the crook of his arm. “August, have you met MacKenzie Decker?”

“I’m a huge fan, sir.” I extend my hand to one of the greatest point guards to ever lace up. “It’s truly an honor.”

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