Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(17)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(17)
Kennedy Ryan

I get up and walk swiftly over to the couch, squatting and looking up at her. If you didn’t look closely, you’d assume she was as serene as any mother nursing and nurturing. But she’s not any mother. And when I look into the turbulence of her eyes, she’s certainly not serene.

“Iris, don’t lose sight of what you want.” I risk touching her, gripping the hand in her lap. “You got pregnant, but that’s not the end of your dreams. You’re too young and talented and amazing to abandon your ambitions running after Caleb while he pursues his.”

“I’m not running after him,” she says stiffly, snatching her hand away. “You don’t know the choices I had, the hard calls I had to make.”

“I’m sure you did what you had to do because that’s the kind of woman you are.” I recapture her eyes but don’t try to recapture her hand. “But you’re only proving my point. You did exactly what you had to for this baby. Now do what you have to do for yourself.”

She looks at me, her emotions naked and spread across her face, watering her eyes. Her lips part, but whatever she plans to say gets cut off when the little bundle on her chest squirms, shifting, and the blanket falls away.

And holy Shit. I’m looking at Iris’s breast.

The nipple is piqued and the color of fresh plums against the dark gold of her skin. A milky drop clings to the tip. I can’t swallow or breathe, but my mouth automatically opens, my body demanding I suck. I should look away. I’m probably creeping hard, but I can’t help it. My fingers fold into my palms, aching to trace the blue–green network of veins just under her skin.

When I finally look up, Iris is as paralyzed as I am, watching me watching her. Her mouth falls open, her breath coming hard, heaving her breasts, one covered and one exposed to my greedy eyes. The air thickens with all the urges I’ve been suppressing and drowning in meaningless sex with other women. This is the woman I want. Crazy as it may be, this is the one I want. I couldn’t move from this spot if the place were on fire.

“You are so fucking beautiful.” My voice is hoarse and urgent. “We barely know each other. I get it, but I can’t stop thinking about you, Iris.”

My words snap the thread tying us together, and she hastily, belatedly jerks up the bra, fastening a flap and pulling her blouse together.

“August, don’t.” She runs a hand over the back of her neck under the hair spilling past her shoulders.

I saw her nakedness, but I’m the one exposed. I can’t hide how much I want her. I’ve felt more connected to her in the little time we’ve spent together than I have to any of the women I fucked this last year.

“Do you think about me, too?” The question I promised myself I wouldn’t ask forces its way out.

“I can’t think about you.” She squeezes her eyes shut, clamping her teeth tightly on her bottom lip. “I’m with Caleb. We have a daughter, a future.”

“A future?” I snap. “With him? Gimme a break. He’s probably cheating on you already.”

A muscle clenches along the smooth line of her jaw. I’m on the road enough to know the married players get as much ass as the single ones. I’ve known Caleb a long time. That man always wants his cake and to eat it, too. No way he isn’t tapping anything he can pull when he’s away. If Iris were mine, I’d be faithful to her. There’s not a woman alive who could tempt me if I were hers. I want to confess it all to her, but she wouldn’t believe me.

“I have to try to make this work, August.” She rubs the downy hair of her daughter’s head. “There’s a lot at stake.”

“Your future is at stake.”

“August, we’ve met all of twice and—”

“Correction. Today makes three,” I say, adding a smile to show I know how ridiculous it sounds.

The tight lines around her mouth loosen some, too. Humor softens her eyes.

“I stand corrected. Today makes three,” she says, slowly sobering. “But you can’t expect me to walk away from the man I’ve been with for two years. For what? A feeling? An attraction?”

“So you are attracted to me?”

She aims an exasperated look at me, shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter. I can be . . . attracted to someone without acting on it. That doesn’t mean I’m walking away from my relationship, the father of my daughter who’s taking care of me and my baby.”

“I’d take care of you, if that’s what you wanted.” I force myself to stand, though I’d be content to sit at her feet all night. “But the girl I met in that bar didn’t want to be taken care of. I’d do everything in my power to help you follow your dreams so you could take care of yourself. And then we’d both know you were with me because you wanted to be, not because you had no other choice.”

I pause, letting my words linger in the air, letting her hear the truth behind what I’ve said. “Ask yourself if Caleb would do the same.”

I’m about to press my point a little more, take advantage of these few, rare moments as much as I can, but the baby chooses that moment to open her eyes.

I’m lost all over again.

Her complexion hovers between the lighter tan of her father and the deeper gold of Iris’s skin. Dark curls frame a tiny face with a button of a nose and a rosy bow of a mouth. The daughter captivates me at a glance, just like her mother did, and my heart falls right out of my chest and lands at this baby’s feet.

“She looks just like you,” I whisper, unable to look away from the little dusky-haired angel in Iris’s arms.

Caleb’s eyes stare back at me, though, a blue so dark they’re almost violet. “But she has her father’s eyes,” I say, my teeth gritted and my jaw clenched.

“Yeah, she does.” Iris stares down at the baby. Her expression doesn’t soften or hold that maternal adoration I’d expect.

For the first time, I see past how beautiful Iris looks, and I see something else. Or maybe I notice the absence of what I’ve seen before. A spark. Life. Vitality.

“Are you doing okay?” I ask softly. “I mean, really okay? What’s going on with you?”

Surprise flits across Iris’s face at my question before she blanks her expression. “I’m fine.”

“Not overjoyed? Deliriously happy?” I tweak one of the baby’s curls, grinning when she gurgles with something close to laughter. Caleb may be an asshole, but his daughter is gorgeous. Perfect

“I just . . .” She sighs and twists her lips into a grimace. “I don’t know, August.”

“Hey. You can talk to me.” I smirk and shrug. “After all, this is our third conversation. Surely we’re past keeping secrets by now.”

A husky laugh is her only answer. For a few seconds, I wait in the silence, unsure if she’s going to tell me anything. She presses her lips together, and blinks rapidly, but not before a few tears escape over her cheek.

“I don’t feel like a mother. I feel . . .” She pauses, maybe searching for the right words. Maybe she already has the right words and doesn’t want to say them.

“You talk about that girl you met in the bar,” she continues, brushing impatiently at her tears. “She’s gone. I was offered the job of my dreams, the opportunity I’ve been working toward for years, and I had to turn it down because of this pregnancy.”

“I’m sorry,” I say softly. “I know how badly you wanted to get into sports.”

“I still do.” She sniffs and lifts eyes liquid with disappointment. “But what if I never—”

“You will, Iris,” I cut in.

“I feel like I’m becoming everything I never wanted to be, and I’m not sure how to stop it. I didn’t want this pregnancy.” Her voice pitches low as if, even though her daughter couldn’t possibly understand yet, Iris doesn’t want her to hear. “I didn’t want . . .” She doesn’t say it, but she glances down at the baby snuggled into her chest, and the unspoken words come across loud and clear.

She didn’t want her. The baby. She didn’t want her.

“I’m an awful person,” she says, her words tortured and choked in sobs. “But I’m determined to take care of her. I want it to be enough, for her to be enough, but I resent everything all the time. It’s all I feel. Everything else seems . . . faded. One minute I’m completely numb, and the next I feel too much, and I’m a blubbering mess.”

An ironic smile quirks her lips, even as tears streak down her face. “See what I mean? I’m all over the place.”

“Maybe you should talk to someone.”

“You’re probably right, but Lo’s so busy with her own life, and my mother . . . God, she’s too happy I’ve ‘snagged’ myself a baller. She thinks I’m whining and complaining about nothing. Why would I need a job? Why would I want to work when this is the meal ticket most women would kill for? I can’t talk to her.”

“I was thinking more like talking to your doctor,” I say quietly. “I’m no expert, obviously, but maybe it’s depression or something. You’re not a bad person, and I don’t think you’re a bad mother. Maybe you’re someone who hates she had to put her dreams on hold and whose hormones are out of whack.”

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