Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(16)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(16)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

“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.”

Her eyes widen, and she glances down at her daughter, biting her lip.

“Maybe,” she finally mutters. “No one’s suggested that before. Not that I’ve talked to anyone about it.”

“Might help. What’s her name, by the way?” My voice is practically polite, not giving away a hint of how seeing this beautiful baby affects me, of how her mother affects me.

“Sarai,” Iris replies, a small frown crinkling between her eyebrows. “It means princess.”

“She looks like one.” I quirk my lips when Sarai seems to smile at me. I don’t know if babies actually smile at this stage, but warmth washes over me just the same.

“August.” Iris’s pause is loaded with hesitation and resolve. “I meant what I said. Caleb is taking care of us. He has to until I’m in a position to get back on my feet. I need to try to make it work. You understand that, right? I can’t . . . we can’t . . .”

Her lashes drop, and she shakes her head. She doesn’t need to say anymore. Her gorgeous face is so earnest.

She’s too good for him. I knew that right away. She wouldn’t be the girl I can’t stop thinking about if she were disloyal. If she were a cheat. Still it’s only a matter of time before Caleb shows his true colors.

After I walk out this door, Iris and I will keep living our lives, going about our business as if these few moments didn’t shake my foundations, but one day she’ll walk away from him. She’s too smart and too good not to.

And when that happens, I’ll be there.



There have been days I’ve wanted to hurt myself. Maybe even hurt my baby. I’m an awful person, but an honest one. All I can do is hope these feelings aren’t who I really am. I hope this isn’t the mother I will be forever, but this is who I am today.

I read the lines I wrote weeks ago. My counselor recommended I write my unfiltered thoughts down in a journal. That advice came with a prescription that had me feeling better about life in general relatively quickly.

All-Star Weekend was a turning point in so many ways. I was feeling low that day in the room designated for nursing mothers. My conversation with August, his suggestion about post-partum depression, opened me to the possibility that maybe there was more to what I was feeling than just my own selfishness. Than just resenting my circumstances. It prompted the conversation with my doctor that has led me out of that dark, desolate place.

I close the journal and lock it in the nightstand on my side of the bed. I’m not that woman anymore. It has only been a few weeks, but Sarai, my princess, has shifted to her rightful place—the center of my world.

“You’re mommy’s princess, aren’t you?” I coo down to her, going through the motions of changing her diaper. I nuzzle the soft pads of her tiny feet, eliciting a little snicker from the gorgeous baby on my bed. Maybe I’m a biased mama, but I think she’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen.

But August thought so, too.

When August walked in, I was shocked but also so pleased to see him. So pleased I haven’t been able to get him out of my mind. Those charged moments when the blanket fell from my breast and I gaped at him like a hussy instead of immediately covering myself. I was frozen with shock, and if I’m honest . . . God, I hate admitting this even to myself. The way he looked at me, so hungry and reverent, I just wanted more of it.

When I saw August, I was still carrying fifteen pounds of baby weight. My hair hadn’t had a good condition and trim in weeks. The bare minimum makeup I’d forced myself to apply was long gone, but he’d looked at me like I was a goddess. Like he’d eat me whole if he got close enough.

And I’d wanted him close enough. So much closer. My nipples stiffen under my T-shirt, recalling the heat simmering between us for those electric seconds.

This is not good.

I have to get these thoughts under control.

I’ve deliberately avoided the sports sites I usually stalk and have tuned out the basketball world as much as I can. I don’t want to know about August—don’t want to hear about who he’s dating or how well he’s playing or how his life is just perfect.

Because mine isn’t.

Besides my daughter, whom I don’t think I could love any more than I do now, my life is in shambles. I’m living in a city with no friends or family, completely dependent on my baby’s daddy, whom I’m not sure I love.

There. I said it. At least in my head I’ve said it.

I don’t think I love Caleb.

How could I feel what I did with August in that room—how could I think about him so often—and love Caleb? I mean really be in love with Caleb? I refused to believe my heart is that fickle.

I’m not sure Caleb loves me either. I’m pretty sure he’s cheating on me, but I can’t make myself care, much less ask. Even though my new OBGYN found a birth control that works with my body, I didn’t tell Caleb. If he’s out there cheating on me, he’ll wear condoms. Further evidence that I cannot be in love with him.

A snippet of gossip penetrated my social media boycott the other day. Apparently, August has been seen with tennis star Pippa Kim on more than one occasion, and everyone’s speculating that they’re dating. It’s unreasonable, but I resent that. It makes me . . . angry is the wrong word. I don’t have a right to anger, but I don’t like it. Whatever this feeling is, it burns in the bottom of my belly all day like a smoldering coal.

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