Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(4)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(4)
Kennedy Ryan

She answers first with a little shake of her head. “He outstayed his welcome, I guess.” Her eyes drift to the screen, maybe an excuse to look away. Or maybe the game really has grabbed her attention. Lakers have the ball. “Someone else came along with more money. Mom traded up.”

“You ever see him, talk to him again?”

Her eyes abandon the screen, and for a few quiet moments, she studies the bar top. “No.”

The word comes low and husky. After a moment she looks back up, flashing me a half-teasing grin. “But I still like pizza and root beer when I watch the Lakers.”

“No pizza on the menu here?” I mumble around a handful of nuts.

“Beggars can’t be choosers.” The smile she shares with me morphs into a scowl when the final score displays onscreen. “Another one for the ‘L’ column. Shit calls all night, ref.”

“Really? Shit calls?” I glance from the game back to her face with skepticism. “Nothing to do with the fact that the team is aging and plagued by injuries the last few seasons? End of an era, if you ask me.”

“Bite your tongue,” she snaps, but there’s a playful glint in her eyes. “You could end up going to the Lakers. Have you thought of that?”

“Who knows where I’ll end up?” I slant my smile at her. “I’m hoping for the Stingers.”

“Baltimore?” A frown crinkles her eyebrows before clearing. “Oh! Your hometown, huh?”

“I mean, it happened for LeBron in Cleveland. He played where he grew up, for the Cavs.”

“True. Why do you want to stay close to home? You a mama’s boy?”

My laugh booms over the TV commentators analyzing the Lakers’ loss in the background. “My mom’s pretty awesome, but that wouldn’t keep me close to home.” I stare into my ginger ale instead of at her, a little uncomfortable to express my reasons. “I just want to do something for the place that did so much for me. I was in the Boys and Girls Club. I had amazing teachers, especially in middle school when a lot of my friends started going off the rails. The community center’s where I fell in love with basketball.”

Self-consciousness burns my face, and I shrug. “My whole childhood was there, and that community made it a good one.”

In the beat of silence after I finish, I glance up to find a slight smile on her face and warm eyes that meet mine easily.

“That’s cool,” she offers simply, and I’m glad she doesn’t make it a big deal even though it must be obvious it’s important to me. “So, you ready for the draft?”

I appreciate the shift of subject. It’s not likely I’ll go to Baltimore, and I don’t let many people know how much it would mean to me. “I am, but it’s all happening so fast.” A dry chuckle rattles in my throat. “The NBA was some distant fantasy when I was in the eighth grade. Now it’s right here, and unless something goes really wrong, it’s actually happening. I just hope . . .”

My words trail off, but my uncertainty remains. It’s not even about my ability to play at the next level. I know I’m prepared for that. It’s all that comes with it that I’m not sure I’m ready for.

“You’ll do great.” Her slim fingers close over my hand, gripping the glass. “You’ll be an amazing player.”

Just that light pressure, just seeing her hand with mine, feels good. Something about the sight levels the unevenness I’ve felt all day and unlocks words I haven’t said to anyone.

“I want to be more than just a player. I want to use my degree. I want a business. I want a family.” It feels like a confession. “To be a good husband. A good father. This world I’m entering in a few months, I’ve seen it devour guys. We work toward this all our lives, and an injury, age, a bad trade, whatever—can end it overnight. If the game has eaten up your priorities, turned you into someone you never wanted to be, what’s the point?” I laugh self-consciously. “I probably sound—”

“You sound too good to be true,” she interrupts, her hand still resting on mine. “Guys in your position, the night before the big game, right on the edge of the draft—these aren’t things most of them are thinking about.”

She props her chin in the palm of her free hand, a slow smile working its way to her mouth. “You’re special.” She bites her lip, lifting her hand away from my fingers, dropping her eyes to the bar top scarred by a million glasses and a million moments before ours. “I’m glad I met you.”

That sounds suspiciously like the beginning of goodbye. Like she’s ready to close the door on this surreal chapter.

I can’t let that happen. A night like this, a connection like this—it’s singular. After tomorrow’s game, my future will literally be a little ball bouncing around in the NBA Draft Lottery. I may end up playing for a team I don’t like, living in a place I won’t get to choose.

But tonight, I have control. I have choices, and I choose her. To get to know her. To woo her. To earn her trust. All I need is time.

But time seems to be the one thing we don’t have.

“Closing.” The bartender drags our empty glasses toward him and wipes down the surface in front of us. “You ain’t gotta go home, but you gotta get out of here.”

I hadn’t noticed the bar emptying around us, but we’re nearly the last ones left.

“Good luck tomorrow, West,” the bartender says, sliding two checks across the freshly-wiped bar.

“Thanks.” I stand and snatch both of them before she can even look at hers.

“Give me that.” She lunges toward me, but I hold the check over my head, completely out of her reach.

She stumbles into me, her soft breasts pressing against my chest. I want to wrap my arms around the stretch of sensuous lines and curves that make up her body. With her check still suspended over my head, I slide my other hand down her back, investigating her shape beneath the clingy cotton. I palm the dip at her waist, drawing her a few inches closer until her warmth, her clean scent, surrounds me.

She blinks up at me, bright eyes darkening and widening, the green and gold lost in sable. Desire starbursts her irises. We’ve barely acknowledged the current humming between our bodies, the electricity running under the surface of our easy conversation, until just now. Until I lured her into me with a little slip of paper.

“Let me buy your drinks.” I can’t remember ever wanting a woman the way I want her. I don’t just want to bury my hands in all that dark hair, or to discover for myself how sweet her lips taste, or to explore her body. I want more of her memories, her secrets—to accept an invitation she hasn’t extended to anyone else.

Her lashes lower, shielding her eyes from mine, but she can’t hide her body’s response—the way all the places she’s soft seem to seek out the places I’m hard and unyielding. How her breath stutters over her lips in little pants.

“Um, okay.” She steps back until we’re no longer touching, clearing some of the huskiness from her voice before going on. “Thanks. I could have . . . well, thanks.”

Neither of us speaks on our way to the door. I find myself slowing to match her shorter stride. We watch each other from the corners of our eyes, the silence between us pulsing with possibility. Once outside, we’re tucked away under an awning with the still-bustling city just beyond our patch of sidewalk. Inside, surrounded by people and noise and the action of the game, the conversation came so effortlessly. The confessions and admissions I’d never made to anyone else flowed right out of me. And now, it’s just us and I’m not sure what to say to keep her here, but I know what I’ve been feeling, what we’ve been doing, can’t end tonight.

There’s this part in Spanglish, one of Adam Sandler’s chick flicks. He and his kids’ nanny share dinner at his restaurant. It’s just one meal, a few hours. The narrator, the nanny’s daughter, says, “My mother has often referred to that evening at the restaurant as the conversation of her life.” I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes when I heard it and said, ‘That was some conversation.’

But now, with her, standing at the edge of goodbye, all I can think is . . . that was some conversation.

The streetlight and the moon illuminate things the dimness of the bar hid—the amber in her hair I thought was just black, the length of her lashes casting shadows on her cheeks while she studies the ground. We both seem to be searching for words. It’s as if we’ve crammed so much into the last few hours that there are no words left—none left for me, anyway. All I have is feeling. Need. I need to touch her, to kiss her—I need something physical to reassure me this encounter really happened. That this isn’t the end.

When you’re a foot taller than a girl, it’s hard to smoothly go in for a kiss, so I don’t try for smooth. I’m careful, though. I lift her chin with one finger, persuading her eyes up to meet mine. I cup her cheek and lower my head until I’m hovering over those lips that look so soft I have to hold myself back from devouring them; I have to control my need to taste her right away. My body revs, demands. My heart slams into my rib cage. My dick is hard. Want sizzles through every cell of my body.

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