Home > Hook Shot (Hoops #3)(5)

Hook Shot (Hoops #3)(5)
Kennedy Ryan

That could be why I’m twitching. Bridget and I may have been on opposite sides of every issue, but we slept in the same bed, and shame on me, I fucked her long after I stopped loving her. But my vows were sacred, at least to me, and she was my only option. No sex was not an option.

And yet . . . here I stand with twitching fingers and pent-up energy. I could definitely use the summer fuck Banner suggested.

“Drink?” JP asks.

Not usually, but alcohol does help me smile when I feel like scowling. “Sure. Wine’s fine. Red.”

I avoid the hard stuff as much as possible, even in the off-season. Besides, if I plan to make it off this boat without Amanda taking advantage of me, I need a relatively clear head.

JP grabs a glass of red from one of the trays and introduces me to several more people. They may as well be the same person as much as their names and faces compute.

“It’s a lot,” a pretty redhead with green eyes says. “We’re a lot, but we mean well. I’m Billie, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Billie,” I say.

“The games will help you get to know everyone,” JP assures, as if that assures me.

“Games?” I ask. I play one game. Basketball. Anything else, I can’t be bothered.

“They always have games,” Billie says dryly, offering a commiserative glance. “You don’t have to play, but it usually turns out to be fun. We’ve played hide and seek.”

“Pin the tail,” JP adds jovially.

“Dodgeball,” Amanda laughs.

“We broke a twenty-thousand-dollar vase that night,” a male voice says from behind me. “Needless to say, no more dodgeball.”

I turn to face the voice, and immediately recognize the guy who goes with it. The dark-eyed, petite, sexy-as-fuck pixie I can’t stop thinking about was with this dude the last time I saw her.

“Chase, right?” I ask, making a conscious effort to un-bend my eyebrows because I can feel the scowl forming. “I think we met at a Christmas party a few months back. You’re a photographer?”

You were with Lotus is what I think, but don’t say.

“Yup, great memory.” He smiles, and I want to snatch the dirty blond man bun from his scalp hair by hair. I recognize it’s an extreme reaction, but that is the only way to describe how I feel when I’m around that woman. Extreme.

“Chase is the reason we found each other,” JP says, giving him a pleased smile.

“How so?” I ask. This alliance is looking less likely with every passing minute and each revelation.

“Your arms.” Chase nods to my forearms, exposed by my short-sleeve shirt. “Remember at the party I said you had great arms?”

He says it like that should explain everything, but I raise both brows meaningfully, silently encouraging him to elaborate.

“When JP told me he was looking for a watch spokesperson,” Chase continues, “I thought of you.”

My mind latches on to a vague improbability. “Do you know Lotus, too?” I ask JP directly.

“Know her?” JP laughs heartily, shaking his little paunch and straining the buttons on his silk shirt. “She works in my atelier.”

Note for later: Google atelier.

I’m not one to believe in fate, but my first week in a city this big, I have a six-degrees-of-separation with the one woman I‘d summer fling and summer fuck. When fate knocks, you answer.

“So is she . . .” I clear my throat. “She’s not here, is she? On the boat?”

“Why?” Chase asks, suspicion lacing his voice now, the easy friendliness from minutes ago gone.

None of your damn business, is what I want to say, but Banner’s still in my ear.

“We have mutual friends,” I say, eyeing him as closely as he’s eyeing me.

“I didn’t realize that,” JP says. “I wonder why she didn’t mention you know each other?”

“Know each other is a stretch,” I tell him with a humorless grin. “Like I said, we have mutual friends. One of my teammates is married to her cousin. We’ve met a few times before.”

“She’s here somewhere,” JP says, scanning the deck.

Considering that at the Christmas party, she basically fled the scene as soon as she realized I was there, I wouldn’t lay odds on actually getting to speak to her. She’ll probably jump overboard. Knowing she’s here, though, shouldn’t make me feel this way. I barely know the woman. Correction. I do not know the woman, and she has made it clear she doesn’t want to know me. Amanda wants to know me. Bridget claims to want me back. I could find a dozen, no, more, women tonight who want me.

And perversely, I’m drawn to the one who doesn’t.

“I’ll find her,” JP interrupts my inner monologue, “and call her over.”

“That’s not necessary.” I say it half-heartedly because I don’t plan to stop him.

“Yari,” JP calls across the deck. “Where’s Lo?”

An attractive Latina woman—maybe Puerto Rican, Dominican—turns her head from the person she’s talking to. Her eyes drift from JP to me and back again.

“Upper deck maybe?” Yari answers with a shrug.

“Be a doll,” JP says drolly, “and go get her for me?”

She says something to the person standing with her and then disappears up a set of stairs.

JP, Chase, and Amanda continue talking, moving on in the conversation. I’m tuned into the discussion with half an ear and a quarter of my attention. I’m starting to believe Lotus really did abandon ship rather than see me when her friend Yari returns.

And Lotus follows.

Somehow she looks different every time I see her, but there is something about her that never seems to change. I’ve seen her with platinum braids and hair cut so short it framed her face, but I should have known better than to think I could predict her.

The petite woman who descends the stairs is another incarnation of the one who fascinated me from the first look we shared in a hospital room two years ago. August, my teammate, her cousin Iris’s husband, had a concussion. She came to visit while I was there, and it felt like a horse kicked me in the stomach when she walked in. It knocked the air out of me, out of the room. Such a small woman completely commanded a space doing no more than stepping through the door.

She does that again now, but this time there are no braids. Her hair isn’t cropped, nor is it platinum. It’s a halo of textured curls, her natural hair, layered in shades of honey and wheat and gold, contrasting with her skin. She’s a little darker than the last time I saw her, like she caught the summer sun and trapped its warmth inside her skin until she glowed. Her wide mouth, though unsmiling, is still soft; the curves lush and tempting. There’s something feline about Lotus. The careless grace of her movements. The heart-shaped face with its pointed chin, flared cheekbones, and tipped-up eyes. She pushes her hair back, and I see a trail of gold studs dotting the fragile shell of her ear. In the other ear she wears one oversized gold hoop. A sleeveless blood orange sundress flows over her slim curves like fire and water. She looks like a sun-kissed gypsy.

She doesn’t look away. I’ve been rude as hell when we’ve met in the past, staring at her like I had no home training. Most women would clear their throats, roll their eyes, snap their fingers in my face. Something to indicate what the hell, man, but not Lotus. She’s stared back every time. Not like she was studying me as closely as I studied her, but more like she was allowing me to look my fill.

And I do.

By the time she makes it to JP’s side, I’m braced and ready to maintain my cool and not make an ass of myself . . . again. We’ve only seen each other a few times and never for very long. Up close with time to study her, I see new details I missed before. The thin straps of her sundress bare more of her than I’ve seen in the past, and several colorful, intricate tattoos decorate her burnished skin. Script kisses her collarbone, but I’m not close enough to read. Moons adorn three fingers of her right hand—a crescent on the ring finger, half on the middle finger, and full on the index.

She’s wearing flat sandals tonight instead of heels, and her head doesn’t quite reach my shoulder. God, as big as I am, I could crush her if I wasn’t careful. Not that I’ll ever get the chance to be careless with her. The look on her face says it; that long-suffering unyieldingness; that eloquent silence tells me in no uncertain terms my interest is duly noted and not reciprocated.

“You needed me, JP?” she asks, the warmth of her voice chilled to room temperature, probably for my benefit.

“You didn’t tell me you knew Kenan when I mentioned him in the meeting today,” he says with gentle accusation. It’s obvious he’s fond of Lotus.

Long lashes drop to cover her eyes before she lifts them to boldly meet mine. “We don’t really know each other,” she says with a little lift of her slim shoulders. “His teammate is married to my cousin. Good to see you again, Kenan.”

It’s the first time I’ve heard her say my name. It’s quiet for a few seconds while the various people in the tight circle slide looks between Lotus and me, no doubt trying to figure out what’s really up.

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