Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(9)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(9)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

“I wanted to see the Lakers game,” she says with measured patience, “and the hotel wasn’t carrying it. So, I went to the bar around the corner to watch.”

“We ran into each other there,” I finish for her. “Just talked for a little while. No big deal.”

“Right. No big deal.” Her eyes meet mine for a charged second before swinging back to Caleb. “I hadn’t had a chance to tell you.”

“Well, you won the game, West.” There’s a phony lightness to Caleb’s voice while his eyes remain flinty. “Next thing you know, you’ll be trying to win my girl, too.”

“Oh, you’re not that insecure, are you, Bradley?” I deliberately relax my posture, sliding my hands into my pockets and rocking back on my heels, laying a wide winner’s smile on him. “If she doesn’t want to be won, she won’t be.”

“She doesn’t want to be.” He strips all the lightness from his voice, and if his eyes were stony before, now his whole face is granite. The arm around her waist stiffens to steel.

“Both of you, please stop.” Iris exhales sharply, her words, soft but firm, refereeing the tension snarling between Caleb and me. “Caleb, we just talked.”

His face broadcasts his displeasure. Seeing his hand spread over Iris’s waist, mine might, too. Asshole.

I’ve known him since the eighth grade. Most guys don’t just stumble into an NBA career. They pursue it relentlessly for years. We started attending the same preparatory camps and tournaments years ago, and though everyone’s fawned all over him, he and I have never clicked. Dirty plays when he thought no one was looking, jockeying for positions, whining when he lost and boasting when he won—those are things that have kept us from being friends. Even though the press constantly compares us and pits us against each other, the hostility has never been open . . . until now.

Until her.

“I guess I won’t see you again until the draft, huh, West?” Caleb’s tone stays smooth, but he can’t hide the lumps from me—the frustration in his eyes, the anger bunching his jaw, the tight fists at his sides.

“Probably not.” My eyes stray to Iris. As tall as she is, the two of us dwarf her. I give in to temptation and rake my eyes deliberately over her body again. “I’d wish you luck, but you’re obviously a very lucky man.”

She draws a deep breath that lifts her breasts under the cropped top. Caleb’s narrowed eyes shift between the two of us, like he suspects there’s a silent, secret message we’re passing between each other under his nose. I wish there was a way for me to telegraph to her what I’m thinking: to ask why she’d fall for the act he dupes everyone else with. And why, knowing the well-documented rivalry between us, did she not tell me who she was last night? For the first time since I saw her at that bar, I wish I hadn’t. It would have been better to never know there was a girl out there who could make me feel this way after only one night than to know she chose a guy like him.

“Congratulations, again, August.” Iris’s smile is starched and stiff, but I know she’s sincere. “Caleb, we should get back to the party. Your father’s probably looking for you.”

Iris tugs his arm, but he doesn’t budge for a second, watching me. Silently warning me. I grin at him, so he knows I don’t give a fuck and that he doesn’t intimidate me.

After another second, he nods at Iris and they head toward their box. They’re absorbed into the press of people, and I’m left standing alone. The sense of loss I felt when she walked away the night before is nothing compared to what I feel now. Now it’s not just that I can’t have Iris. It’s that I can’t have her because he does. And the girl I met last night, she deserves better than Caleb.

My teammates, Coach Mannard, the boosters—everybody’s celebrating, and I’m determined to join the party. This is everything I’ve worked for, and I refuse to allow Caleb and his girlfriend to spoil it for me. A few of the cheerleaders have thrown clear signals they’d love to find themselves under a national champ tonight. Or on top. Or on their knees. I’m not picky, and I could use the distraction.

After half a bottle of champagne, I’m game for whatever. Who needs Caleb’s leftovers when I can have something hot and fresh right here? I’m at the bar in our box still convincing myself when Iris joins me.

“What’s a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?” She stares straight ahead at the bottles lining the wall behind the bar for a moment before she turns to me.

“Where’s your boyfriend?” I tip the half-empty champagne bottle up to my lips. “I’m surprised he let his consolation prize out of his sight.”

“Wow.” She shakes her head, a humorless smile resting on her lips. “I probably deserve that, but . . . wow. To answer your question, Caleb and his dad are talking with a potential agent.”

“And you decided to sneak over here to check on me?” I slide her a glance as cold and hard as glass. “To make sure I’ve recovered from the shock of seeing you with the golden boy?”

Iris rests her elbow on the bar, watching my profile for a moment before speaking. “No. I came back to say I’m sorry, August.” Her voice holds genuine remorse. “I should have told you about Caleb.”

“Yeah.” I turn toward her, hoping she feels at least an aftershock from the irritation rumbling inside me. “You should have.”

I’m being an asshole. I know it, but I can’t seem to stop even when I see the hurt accumulating in her eyes. I’m too drunk. Drunk on disappointment. On frustration. On anger. The half-empty bottle is merely my excuse to show it.

“When you first sat down at the bar last night, I thought maybe you were just a jerk.” Her eyes tease me from under her lashes.

I bark a laugh and take another swig from my bottle. “Thanks for that.”

“You know what I mean,” she says, loosening into a small smile. “Then once we started talking, there didn’t seem to be a good place to say, ‘Hey, I’m Caleb Bradley’s girlfriend.’” She traces a pattern on the bar, dipping her head until a fall of hair conceals much of her face. “After a while, it didn’t seem to matter anymore.”

If I had known she was Caleb’s girl, I wouldn’t have sat down. I would have kept walking out that door and made curfew in plenty of time. But she’s right. Even just a few minutes into our conversation, knowing about Caleb wouldn’t have made me leave. Not once we started. Not once I knew her.

“So . . . it’s serious?” I carefully set down my bottle of champagne. “I mean with him. You said it was serious. Like are you guys talking marriage or what?”

Knowing that she was serious about “some guy” was one thing. Knowing she’s serious about him is quite another. Caleb and I will move in the same circles, play in the same league, attend the same events. I may see her from time to time, wearing his ring and raising his kids. Maybe I’ve just had too much to drink, but my stomach turns.

She shrugs, dropping her eyes to the floor and shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “He wants to marry me, yeah. Someday.”

“And what do you want?” I ask, watching her closely.

“The same things I told you I wanted last night.” A frown crinkles her expression. “I want my career. I want the chance to prove myself.”

“Good.” I pick up my champagne. I need it. “Remember how I said guys

lose themselves in that world? The one Caleb and I enter in a few months?”

I wait for her to nod, to acknowledge that she remembers. “So do girls,” I say softly. “I would hate to see that happen to you, Iris.”

“Thank you.” She pushes her hair behind her ear, her lashes lowered. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

I hope she does. A girl with that much spirit shouldn’t be crushed. A girl with that much character shouldn’t be swayed. I’m afraid a man like Caleb could do both.

Regret tinges her smile when she looks at me. I don’t know if it’s regret for not telling me about Caleb last night or if it’s regret for what we’ve lost before it has even begun. Whatever it is, she tucks it away behind her eyes and steps close to me.

“You’re a great player, August.” She tips up on her toes until her lips are at my ear. “But I think you’ll be an even greater man.”

Her words zip like an arrow to the very heart of everything I’ve wrestled with tonight, soothing my uncertainty about how I’ll handle the future. My hand slips to the small of her back, to the silky skin above her skirt. I want to pull her closer so badly, but she steps back until my hand falls away. Clearing her throat, she flashes me one last heart-stopping smile. “Bye, August.”

And with that, she turns and leaves the bar, retracing her steps from my box back to Caleb’s. My fingers seize around the gold-foiled bottle of champagne in unreasonable frustration. I met this girl last night. I shouldn’t feel this intensely so quickly. I shouldn’t feel like Caleb stole something that was never mine. I out-shot him tonight. I out-rebounded him. I flat out outplayed him. I’m the one who raised the trophy over my head. I won.

So why in God’s name do I feel like the loser?



When I FaceTimed with Lotus last night, showing her my outfit options for this interview, we agreed this pencil skirt was perfect. Now it feels too tight, like it’s highlighting all the assets on my body and overshadowing the ones on my resumé. And did this blouse cling to my breasts like this before? Did they grow overnight? I check the pins securing my hair into a knot at my neck. A light dusting of powder and a few touches of color are my only concessions to makeup. Anxiety knots the muscles of my stomach.

“You’ve got this,” I mutter under my breath. My GPA is high. Armed with several semesters’ worth of training and experience, plus letters of recommendation from all my professors, I should feel confident. This is the one, though. The opportunity on my list that I want more than all the rest.

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