Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(20)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(20)
Kennedy Ryan

I’ll never forget the bloodcurdling scream bellowing through the air at our family reunion. It wasn’t my name she called when that man was on top of her. In her panic, she yelled hopscotch, and I ran. Before I saw them, I heard his grunts. And I heard Lo saying one word over and over.

Hopscotch. Hopscotch. Hopscotch.

I swore then, no one would ever hurt Lo again, not if I could help it. MiMi protected her for years living on the bayou, but when she moved to Atlanta for college, I took up the protective mantle personally. We haven’t actually said the word “hopscotch” in a long time, so hearing it from Lo now, when I’m the one hurting her and she’s the one hurting me, I have no idea what to do.

I mumble goodbye and rush off the phone. Knowing that’s what she thinks about me, after all these years, after everything I’ve seen her go through—right now, I can’t say hopscotch. Lo would be the last one I’d call for help.

11

Iris

I faked an orgasm.

Between bed rest, pelvic rest, the mandatory post-baby abstinence, and Caleb’s hectic practice and travel schedule, I haven’t had sex with Caleb in months. And the first time we do, I fake an orgasm.

When I told August I had to try to make my relationship work, I meant it. I had every intention of making this work, but I can’t ignore the signs anymore. I don’t love Caleb. I know it now, and I have to tell him.

It would be so convenient if I did love him. Leaving him will upset the apple cart. Hell, it will toss the apples into the street. Things are simple if I stay with Caleb, if I pretend this is what I want. Sarai and I will keep a multi-million-dollar roof over our heads, I’ll have more money than I know what to do with, and custody remains simple. I’ll have a partner to help raise my child. Though, despite Caleb’s initial obsession with my pregnancy, he has been surprisingly laissez faire about actually parenting. Maybe it’s just all the travel and the demands of his first NBA season. Maybe this summer, when he’s off, he’ll come into his own as a father.

I struggled at first, too. It took therapy and a prescription for me to be all in, but I am now. And the worst thing I could do for my daughter is turn a bad relationship into an awful marriage. I’ve always been determined I wouldn’t settle for all the crap my mother took, and Sarai won’t ever see that in me. I just have to figure out when to tell Caleb and how.

“Damn, that was good, Iris,” Caleb mutters into my neck, still inside of me. “I needed that so bad, baby.”

I just nod, willing him to get up so I don’t have to ask him to. Caleb has never been a gentle lover, and I know it’s been a long time, but he was rough, and I’m sore.

“The stress of this first season has been more than I realized.” He lifts his head and peers down into my face in the dim light from the lamp by our bed. “I may be Rookie of the Year. Do you have any idea how my dad would feel? How proud he’d be if that happened? But with us losing the last few games, I’m so on edge. Fucking commentators speculating and criticizing.”

He pushes the hair out of my eyes, his touch gentle.

“You take the edge off like nothing else, Iris.”

He frowns, and I follow the direction of his stare. There’s already faint bruising on my breast. Probably on my thighs and hips where he gripped them too hard. “Did I hurt you?”

He did. I wasn’t ready for him, but he shoved into me. He never makes sure I’m satisfied. Never makes sure I’m pleased first, just . . . takes. He always takes and never looks for ways to give me what I need. I’m always the one yielding, compromising, left wanting. When did I start noticing it? Why didn’t I notice it before?

“It’s okay.” I squirm beneath his weight. “You’re a little heavy, though.”

He shifts off my sore body. I’ve heard women say they like it rough, that they like hard fucks, but I don’t see the appeal. I don’t get how these bruises and aches are sexy. But as Lotus was quick to remind me, I’ve only ever been with Caleb. I have no one else to compare him to.

Only I find myself comparing him to August all the time, which is unfair. I haven’t lived with August. If I spent more than a day with him, maybe he wouldn’t be solicitous, and kind, and gentle, and considerate, and easy to talk to.

And sexy as hell.

I can’t keep thinking of another man, of Caleb’s rival this way, and continue living here, continue in this relationship. Maybe I should wait until his rookie season is over. He just admitted how stressful it’s been. That’s the most Caleb’s revealed to me in a long time. We’ve been like satellites, just kind of in each other’s orbit but not close enough to touch. The distance between us—doesn’t he feel it? Does he even care?

“Hey, there’s something I want to ask you,” Caleb says from his side of the bed. He’s lying on his side, his chin propped in his hand.

“Okay.” I lick my lips nervously and pull the sheet more tightly around my nakedness. “Shoot.”

Mischief lights his eyes and widens his smile, and for a moment, he’s that guy who showed up at the bookstore every day, with coffee, wooing me to go on a date with him. He turns over and reaches into his nightstand. When he comes back, his eyes dart between my face and the ginormous diamond he’s holding. “Iris, will you marry me?”

I always dreamt that when those words were spoken to me, I’d be elated. There would be no hesitation. I would fling myself into that man’s arms and weep for joy. Only the weeping part is turning out to be true. I blink back tears of frustration and regret. We are obviously nowhere near being on the same page since I was just contemplating how to leave him. This will be more difficult than I thought.

“Caleb, I don’t know what to say,” I mumble, biting my lip until it matches my other aches. “I’m . . . well, are you sure about this?”

“What the hell do you mean am I sure?” The ring trembles between his fingers with the anger I see clearly on his face. “We live together. We have a baby together. Of course, I’m sure. What kind of question is that?”

I wish he was being rhetorical, and I didn’t have to respond, but he’s clearly waiting, not too patiently, for my reply. “I mean, things haven’t been the same, have they?” I ask, searching his face for some answering understanding. “There’s been this distance, and I—”

“We couldn’t have sex for months, Iris, while you were on pelvic rest or whatever. And then we had to wait another six weeks.” He rolls away, tossing the priceless diamond onto the nightstand as if it’s one of those candy ring pops. “I’ve been on the road. Hell, you were moping around here for weeks like you’d lost your best friend. You didn’t even want our baby. Of course, there’s been distance.”

“What did you say about Sarai?” I pick the most disturbing thing from his list of grievances. “Of course it was hard at first, and I was sorting through a lot, but—”

“Forget I mentioned it.” He stands and walks into the bathroom, turning on the light and illuminating his well-conditioned body. He’s an elite athlete. At six foot six, he’s as tall as August. With his classic blond hair and navy blue eyes, he’s just as handsome in a completely different way. But there’s no thrill when I look at him naked. I suddenly scan my mind, my heart, for the last time there was.

I slip on my robe and follow him into the bathroom, determined to hash this out so we can end this chapter of our relationship and move on to the next. Figure out custody and co-parenting and all the details that come with a separation I hope won’t be messy.

“Caleb, can we talk?” I ask softly.

He’s silent, his broad, tanned back turned away from me, his posture stiff. I touch his shoulder. He flings my hand off. I stumble back from the force of it, and my hip bumps painfully into the sharp edge of the counter.

“Ow.” I wince, squeezing my eyes shut against the brief, blinding pain. “Caleb, God. That hurt.”

I wait for an apology that doesn’t come. His eyes run dispassionately over me, his inspection starting at my bare feet and climbing over every inch until he meets my eyes. There’s a frigid possessiveness there, as if I’m a misbehaving pet he owns but isn’t too fond of. One he needs to make sure gets back in line.

I shiver under that icy stare. I still feel it when he looks away. The cold has set in.

“Hey, we’ve got time.” He tugs me into him, even though he must feel how stiff I am in his arms. “Let’s not talk about marriage again until the season is over. Can you just give me that? I have a string of tough games coming up, and I need to focus.”

Everything in me screams to get this settled, because it’s lingered long enough, but I nod. I can give him that, but he’s never fucking me again. I felt like an object tonight—like he was collecting rent money. It was a transaction between our bodies, one where I got nothing, and he took everything. As I look back over our relationship, I have to wonder.

Has it been that way all along?

12

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