Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(16)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(16)
Kennedy Ryan

“Ball sweat.”

Give me bags any day.

9

August

Life doesn’t always deliver on its promises, and some dreams taste sweetest before they come true.

Such is my NBA career so far. It’s February, halfway through my rookie season, and we have the sub-five hundred year you’d expect from an expansion team. No way we’ll win half our games at the rate we’re going. Kenan keeps reminding me we’re just starting out and to be patient.

Another thing that’s overrated? The all-you-can-fuck pussy buffet. I admit I’ve taken advantage of it. Had a threesome or six. Hell, I was with four girls at once a few weeks ago. I think one chick just sucked my thumb because the other three had all the vital bases covered. It’s a rite of passage for most professional athletes, the overindulged dick. Wilt Chamberlain claimed he slept with twenty thousand women. I just have to wonder did it get old this quickly? Did he lie in bed some nights, a woman on each side, and feel utterly alone? Did he think about one particular girl while he was fucking all the others?

’Cause that’s my present dilemma.

Caleb and I have only met on court once this season. It was my best individual performance so far because our mutual dislike brings out my best play. It’s a team sport, though, and his team, my hometown Stingers, had a better night and are the better team. We lost in overtime by two points.

Caleb and I barely spoke that night. I forced myself to shake his hand before leaving the court because Coach Kirby would ream my ass for bad sportsmanship if I didn’t, but I couldn’t look him in the eye. I would have lost my shit if I’d seen his smug satisfaction. He’s on the team I wanted to play for in my hometown. He’s got the girl I can’t get out of my head. News travels fast on the NBA circuit, and a few months ago, the golden boy having a baby was all anyone wanted to talk about.

Every time I think of them having a kid, building a life together, I want to punch a hole through the wall.

Or through Caleb’s face. Whatever’s closer.

It’s All-Star Weekend, and by some miracle, I was voted into Sunday’s All-Star game, albeit third string, but I hadn’t expected even that as a rookie. Of course, Caleb was voted in, too. I just can’t escape that guy. The media is carrying the “rivalry” on from high school and college, perpetuating it every chance they get. They’ve created this narrative of us being in a two-man race for Rookie of the Year. I don’t even want my name in the same sentence as his, and people can’t seem to talk about me without talking about him. At least he’s not in tonight’s three-point contest.

I have a couple hours before I need to show up for my next All-Star commitment, an appearance at a local homeless shelter. The league is big on players giving back. I love the city of San Diego and will definitely do some charitable work there, but I’ve already spoken with the league’s charity coordinators about doing a few things in the community where I grew up. Baltimore may be Caleb’s team, but it’s my town. My childhood was there. My family is there, my history, and my friends. That core group of people nurtured me to help me get where I am, and I want to contribute there and to the city that drafted me.

Right now, in the madness of All-Star Weekend, I just need a minute to myself. There will be cameras at the homeless shelter this afternoon. I’ve been signing autographs and taking pictures with fans all day. There will be interviews on court and off tonight at the three-point contest. Everywhere I go, I have to be on, and for just a minute, I don’t want to be. I rush down a back hall of the arena where the festivities are being held.

Glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one sees me, I try a few doors, all of which are locked. The knob on the last door turns easily, and the door swings open into a dim room, a lamp in the corner providing soft light.

Perfect. Maybe I can even grab a few winks. I sink gratefully into an overstuffed recliner, pushing the button to elevate my feet.

A soft sigh from a chair in the corner startles me. I squint, visually picking through the shadows and find the last person I expected to see.

“Iris?” I ask disbelievingly.

“Shhhh!” She raises an index finger to her lips.

God, her lips.

I’d forgotten how full they are, how wide and luscious. I’d forgotten that her eyes hold a dozen colors hostage and that her hair is a pitch-dark fall of silk. Maybe I didn’t forget as much as didn’t allow myself to remember—I blocked the memory of how this woman is exactly what I would wish for. My imagination, my memory, did her no justice.

She gestures to a blanket-covered lump at her chest.

“Sorry,” she whispers. “Didn’t mean to shush you. She just fell asleep, and I didn’t want to wake her.”

Her.

For the last few months, I’ve thought of the baby as Caleb’s spawn. Now that I’m in the same room with Iris feeding her baby, I can only think of the baby as . . . hers.

Feeding.

“Oh, shit,” I mutter, lowering the footrest. “I’m sorry. You’re . . .” I gesture to the baby on her chest. “And I’m just sitting here like—”

“It’s okay,” she interrupts, smiling. “I’m decent. She’s finally sleeping, and I could use a few minutes of adult company.” She licks her lips and then bites the corner of her mouth. “Stay.”

Even though she asks, I know I should leave. Not to preserve her modesty. She’s right. The blanket completely covers her chest and the sleeping baby. I should leave because I want to stay too badly. Because after more than a year of not seeing her, I have a million things to ask her and a million things I want to share. We’re different people than we were when we first met. I’ve signed a huge contract. I’m on a box of cereal out there somewhere and have been animated in a video game. My life is completely new. And Iris has a baby now, for God’s sake. There’s a part of me, though, that will always think of her as the gorgeous girl swearing at the television in a sports dive, sipping flat beer and pulling for her Lakers. We’re different, but I wonder if the quick, deep intimacy we shared that night is still there. If it’s still the same.

“So how’ve you been?” she asks.

I sit back, raising the recliner again, and grin. “How much time ya got?”

She glances down at the blanketed bundle. “She’ll be in a milk coma for a little while, so probably plenty of time to hear about all your rookie adventures.”

“It’s been a wild ride,” I say, hastily trying to fix the bad impression I probably gave. “I mean . . . I don’t mean wild like chicks or whatever. Not like that.”

One knowing eyebrow elevates.

“Okay.” I chuckle self-consciously. “Maybe a little like that.”

She rolls her eyes and twists her lips.

“Alright. You got me.” I allow myself a wolfish grin. “A lot like that.”

“It’s to be expected.” She shifts a little, tipping her head back against the cushion of the leather couch. “You’re rich, talented, handsome. Single. I wouldn’t believe you if you told me any different.”

“So you think I’m handsome?” I tease her.

She looks away and to the side, shaking her head and laughing softly under her breath. “Like you don’t know.” She pats the little bottom under the blanket. “I’m sure you had no trouble finding . . . companionship . . . before your fat contract. And I’m sure you have to fight ’em off now.”

My smile freezes on my lips. We can laugh a little here in this barely lit room. I have a few minutes with her in a year, but she’s going home with Caleb. She’ll be in his bed tonight. Even now, she’s feeding his child.

My good humor circles a drain until it’s gone, and all that’s left is my futile resentment.

“I’m certainly not fighting ‘em off,” I say pointedly, linking my fingers over my stomach.

She stiffens for an almost-imperceptible second, before resuming her smile and meeting my eyes directly. “I’d be surprised if you weren’t taking advantage of every perk the NBA has to offer.”

“Yeah, well, when you can’t have what you really want,” I say, locking our eyes together, willing her not to look away, “you settle for whatever’s available.”

She laughs, but it rings false before she glances away and adjusts the blanket around the baby. “A man like you should never have to settle, August.”

“Same goes for a woman like you, Iris.” I plow through my hesitation to ask her the question I hope she would ask me if she saw me compromising my ambitions. “Are you settling?”

She swallows, the muscles moving in her slender throat, and takes a deep breath before looking back to me. “I’m not settling. I’m doing the best I can with the hand I’ve been dealt.”

I don’t know everything that has transpired in the year since I last saw her, but it doesn’t matter. She got pregnant. I know she has to be responsible, but putting all of her eggs in Caleb’s basket is a mistake. It’s one I can’t allow her to make, at least without warning her again. We’ve only met twice, but she feels like my friend. A friend I’d probably enjoy kissing and fucking, but a friend nonetheless.

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