Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(5)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(5)
Kennedy Ryan

“August.” She pulls her chin away and presses her hand to my chest, but not to explore. To gently push me back. I hold my breath, waiting to see what this means, this small space she’s put between us.

Her head drops forward until the dark cloud of hair eclipses her face, hides her expression. “I’m sorry.” She steps back, running a hand through her hair. “I-I can’t.”

I want to bring her close again. “It’s okay. I get it, of course. We just met.”

I link our fingers. Even that brief contact stirs my senses. I check the roar of my body, hoping my erection doesn’t betray me.

“We can just talk. We can go to your place, if you’re not far.” I lift her chin so I can see her eyes. So she can see that I mean it. Despite the absolute inferno raging under my skin, it’s enough. “We can do whatever you want.”

As little, as much—let’s just keep doing something. Let’s just not stop.

“I-I can’t. We can’t.” With a vigorous shake of her head, she takes another step back, dropping my hand, inserting space between us again. “I have a boyfriend, August.”

Shit.

I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s taken. A girl this gorgeous, this funny and smart and authentic—she’s all the adjectives I would use to describe the perfect girl for me. She’s even the things I didn’t know I wanted. But now I know, and I can’t have her.

A hole gapes open inside of me wider and deeper than it should be considering how little I know about her, but it’s there. And by the second, it fills with disappointment and lost possibilities.

“So . . . is it serious?” I wince internally. If there’s anything more douchey than trying to kiss another guy’s girl, it would be asking, in so many words, if she’s sure she wants to stay faithful to him.

“Yeah.” She sinks her teeth into her bottom lip. “We’ve been dating about a year.”

She finally looks up at me, and at least the battle in her expression, the struggle reflected back to me from her eyes, assures me I’m not imagining the pull between us.

“I should have told you, but that would have been weird.” She smiles ruefully. “I would have sounded like I was assuming you wanted more than . . .”

We stare at each other in a silence rich with things I shouldn’t say.

“I do want more than.” I manage a smile, though I’m frustrated and not just sexually. I’m downright devastated that some other guy got here before I did.

“I’m sorry.” She stuffs her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. “I was enjoying our conversation so much. I didn’t want to . . . I hope I didn’t mislead you.”

“You didn’t.” I stuff my hands in my pockets, too, to keep from touching her again. “At least I made a new friend.”

Friend.

It sounds hollow compared to what I thought we could be, but I can’t demand more. I can’t make her give me more. I’m on the eve of something most men only dream of, and this bright-eyed girl has made me feel helpless.

“Yeah.” Her face relaxes a little into a smile. “A friend.”

“And you helped take my mind off tomorrow’s game.”

As soon as I say it, both of our eyes go wide. I check my watch, dreading the time.

Fuck.

Curfew.

Was I so absorbed by this girl that I forgot curfew before the biggest game of my life?

Yeah, I was.

“Oh my God.” Her eyes are anxious, worried. “The game. You’ve missed curfew.”

The hunger, the heat, the rightness between us had made me shove every other thought aside, but they all intrude now. Curfew. The rest of the team, asleep and accounted for at the hotel. Tomorrow’s game.

"Will you get in trouble?" she asks, frowning.

“It won’t be the first time I’ve had to sneak in,” I tell her with more confidence than I actually feel. The biggest game of my life, and I lost track of time with a girl in a bar.

But what a girl.

Looking at her, replaying every moment, every joke, every memory we shared over the last few hours, I can’t regret it.

“Let me at least walk you home.” Curfew or not, there’s no way I’m letting her go alone.

“No. I’m really close.”

This part of the city is completely commercial as far as I can tell, not residential. “Your apartment is nearby? Or are you staying at a hotel?”

Does she live here? Is she visiting? A student? Is she in town for the game? Will she be there tomorrow? Does she want tickets to come see me play? All the things we did talk about are suddenly less important than all the things we never said. I don’t even know her damn name. “Gumbo” won’t get me very far after tonight. Panic tightens my body into a drawn bow. Even if it’s never more than what we had tonight—the honesty, humor, ease, empathy— I want to continue with her. I’ll even settle for the dreaded word—friendship.

“I’ll walk you home,” I insist.

“I’ll be fine.” She looks down at the ground and then back at me. The end is in her eyes. I see goodbye, and I want to stop it before it reaches her lips, but I don’t.

“Goodbye, August. Good luck tomorrow.” She turns and starts up the sidewalk.

I want to chase her. To follow and find out where she lives or where she’s staying. Even knowing some lucky bastard found her first, I can’t imagine having no idea how to find her again.

“Hey, wait,” I call after her, forcing my feet not to follow. “You should at least tell me your name. Do you really want me to think of you as Gumbo forever?”

She faces me but keeps walking backward, steadily putting more space between us. Between this night and the rest of our lives. Mischief lights her eyes, and the sly smile playing around her lips makes me think for a terrible moment that she won’t tell me.

“It’s Iris,” she calls back to me. “My name is Iris.”

I stay still, absorbing the sound of her name, absorbing the look on her face as she walks out of my life with as little fanfare as she entered it. Her smile dies off, and she’s staring at me like she wants to remember my face—like she won’t forget tonight either. Like maybe, unreasonably, undeniably, this night meant as much to her as it did to me. If she felt it, too, this connection, she can’t be walking away, but she is. I’ve only known her a few hours. It’s unreasonable that desperation bands my chest and panic shortens my breath, like I’m sprinting.

Except I’m standing still. And she’s still walking.

Walking and turning the corner, out of my sight.

She takes my hope for more with her when she goes.

2

Iris

Anticipation charges the arena, every breath I draw making my heart race that much faster. I’m sitting in the best seats money didn’t even have to buy at the NCAA Championship, yet the basketball game is the last thing on my mind.

“You’re as nervous as a live lobster in a boiling pot.” Lotus’s words are a splash of cold water across my face. Am I that obvious? I feel obvious, like there’s a huge neon sign flashing over my head. I keep telling myself that nothing happened with August last night. I have nothing to feel guilty about, but guilt gnaws through my rationale.

“It’s a big game for Caleb.” I shrug, hoping it looks more casual than I feel. “Of course I’m nervous for him.”

“I get that,” Lotus says. “But you’re downright agitated. Keep bouncing your knee like that and you’ll cause a quake in here.”

Even after she says it, my knee can’t stop hopping, my foot tapping out an erratic rhythm on the stadium floor.

“Bo, what the hell?” Lotus demands, shortening Gumbo as only she does. She presses her hand to my knee, forcing it still. “Seriously, I know this is a huge night for Caleb, but chill.”

I stare down at the court, searching for my boyfriend in the clusters of players shooting around and warming up for the biggest game of their lives. I didn’t want to distract him before the game by telling him I met August West, but what will I tell him after? A conversation at a bar during a Lakers game is no big deal, but somehow, I know Caleb won’t agree.

“Are you even hearing me?” The concern in Lotus’s dark eyes jars me out of my head.

“Yeah. Sorry.” I finally give her my full attention. “I’ll try to relax.”

She searches my face, and I force myself not to look away. Braids spill over her shoulders and arms. High, slanting cheekbones and a narrow chin lend her face an almost feline quality. She’s slim and emanates strength. I’m not sure if it’s the jut of her jaw, her obstinate chin, or her wise eyes. Or maybe it’s something beneath her skin, built into her bones.

We come from a long line of Louisiana’s famous high priestesses. Our great-grandmother MiMi was the last of them. Her daughter, our grandmother, had no desire to stay in the relative seclusion of a small bayou parish but wanted the excitement of New Orleans. A divide grew between MiMi and the other women of our family, and it seems the mystical power will die with her when she leaves this earth. But sometimes I swear I see traces of it in Lotus.

Recommended
» Rush Too Far (Rosemary Beach #4) read online
» Divergent (Divergent #1) read online
» Never Too Far (Rosemary Beach #2) read online
» The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) read online
» Allegiant (Divergent #3) read online
» Unseen Messages read online
» New Moon (Twilight #2) read online
» Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) read online
» Forever Too Far (Rosemary Beach #3) read online
» Twilight (Twilight #1) read online
» Easy (Contours of the Heart #1) read online
» The Darkest Seduction (Lords of the Underwo read online
» Eclipse (Twilight #3) read online
» Fallen Too Far (Rosemary Beach #1) read online
» Midnight Sun (Twilight #1.5) read online
» I Am Legend read online
» Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2) read online
» Breaking Dawn (Twilight #4) read online
» Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) read online
» Insurgent (Divergent #2) read online
» Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) read online