Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(10)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(10)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

I did my homework. Richter Sports is up and coming, and Jared Foster is one of their hungriest agents. Seeing his name on the interview list only ratcheted my nervousness.

I match the number on my interview guide to the one on the door. Today is a sports market job fair of sorts, and everyone who is anyone in the business is here looking for fresh, cheap talent. That’s me. I’ll work for nearly nothing. Just give me a chance, and I’ll make the most of it.

I knock, tensing while I wait for a response.

“Come in,” a deep voice calls beyond the door.

Inside, a broad-shouldered man, maybe in his early thirties, sits behind the too-clean desk taking up so much of the borrowed space. Something about his shock of blond hair and his ruggedly handsome face tug at my memory, but I can’t place him. I can’t think where we would have met.

“Hey.” His eyes slowly slide over me from top to toes, masculine appreciation quickly replaced with professional indifference. “On-air talent is up the hall, I believe.” He returns his attention to the papers in front of him, offering me a dismissive nod. “Close the door on your way out if you don’t mind.”

Gritting my teeth, I tighten my fingers around the folder holding my resumé. “I’m . . .” I clear my throat and start again. “I’m not here to audition for television. I’m here about the sports marketing internship.”

He lifts his head, assessing me with new eyes, and I hope seeing past the things on which men always seem to place a premium.

“Is that right?” The seat creaks when he tips it back. “My apologies. I’m Jared Foster, resident chauvinist douchebag.”

An involuntary smile quirks my lips at his roundabout apology for the presumption.

“And you are?” he asks, his firm lips yielding to a smile of his own.

“Iris DuPree.”

“Well, Iris DuPree.” He nods to the straight-backed chair across from him. “Let’s get started and see what you got.”

With every minute that passes and each question he poses, my nerves dissolve into the calm that comes with competence—with knowing you are fully capable of meeting the challenge ahead. I haven’t wasted the last four years. When I wasn’t working at the bookstore, I was studying the industry, working for free when need be, to learn the ropes and practice what the sports market experts preached. His demeanor goes from indulgent but skeptical, to shrewd and speculative. And finally, to impressed.

“So, Iris,” he says, meeting my eyes with more respect than when he assumed I was only good for a close-up, “I always end my interviews with this question. What’s a moment in sports that inspired you?”

I don’t even have to think about it. I’ve had to familiarize myself with most sports, but basketball is my first love.

“Ninety-seven NBA Finals,” I answer, relaxing my shoulders and unknotting my fingers. “Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls.”

“Game five,” we say together, sharing a smile because he knows exactly where I’m going.

“Jordan was sick as a dog,” I say, “but somehow, he dug deep into reserves that most people don’t even have and willed that game into the win column. It was Herculean.”

“Good one.” Jared nods approvingly. “And what did that say to you?”

“Let nothing hold you back or keep you down.” Conviction rings in my voice because those are lessons I had to learn growing up, a child of the Ninth Ward. A Katrina refugee from a city that had to reincarnate itself more than once. “Even when you think you’re defeated, dig deeper. Go harder. Press, because there is something worth it on the other side.”

“Good lesson.” Jared glances down at my resumé, lifting his eyebrows and nodding. “You’ve been busy. This all looks good.”

“Thank you.” I fight back a premature smile.

“If offered the opportunity,” Jared continues, “you realize it pays next to nothing, will take over your entire life, and requires you to relocate to Chicago.”

The money, or lack of, doesn’t matter. I’ve learned to live with less than most. Hard work has never scared me.

Caleb’s face flashes through my mind, creased with disappointment if I make a decision before we know where he’ll be drafted. And for some reason, August’s face follows soon after. And his words, cautioning me not to lose myself in the world he and Caleb will enter soon. It’s been two weeks since the championship, but I’ve thought of him more than once, and his advice in my head is exactly what I need to hear.

“I’m willing to do what it takes for this chance.” I infuse the words with confidence and meet his eyes without hesitation.

“Good.” He stands and walks around the desk, prompting me to stand, too. “We have a few more of these job fairs to do, and we won’t make selections for the next couple of months, but you definitely impressed me, Iris. I’ll be in touch.”

“Thank you.” I force myself to breathe evenly, but my heart is sprinting. A job like this is exactly the kind of opportunity I need to launch my career in the business of sports.

Jared grabs my hand for a firm shake. “And, hey. I’m sorry again for starting on the wrong foot. Assuming you were on-air talent—”

“Nothing wrong with on-air talent,” I interject with a forgiving smile. “Some of the smartest people I know sit in front of the camera. I just don’t happen to be one of them.”

He releases my hand and walks over to the door. I’m following him when my stomach roils like an angry ocean. Nausea washes over me, so strong it takes my breath, makes my mouth water and dots perspiration across my skin. My eyes stretch when I feel my breakfast reversing, making its way up my throat. I part my lips, prepared to give a quick goodbye and make a hasty departure, but it’s too late. It’s sudden and inevitable. Everything in my stomach ejects from my mouth in a putrid stream.

And splatters all over Jared Foster.

5

Iris

“I can’t be.”

The words tumble past my numb lips. I stare at the urine-stained stick, predicting that in a few months I’ll be the last thing I want to be at this stage of my life—a mother.

“Yeah, well four positive pregnancy tests say you are,” Lotus replies from the screen turned to face me, her concern evident even over FaceTime. We live in the same city, but we’re on different campuses. With our hectic schedules, we FaceTime like we live in different countries.

“How’d this happen, Bo?”

“What do you mean?” With wobbly knees, I sit on the bed, careful not to disturb the laptop displaying Lo’s face, the only reassuring thing in this unexpected shit storm. “It happened the usual way.”

“I know, but the usual way for people with a shred of common sense involves condoms or shots or pills that keep this from happening.”

“The pills made me sick. The shots made my hair fall out, so Caleb used condoms.”

“Apparently not every time,” Lo mutters, eyebrows sky high.

“Yes, every time, Lo.” I swallow another wave of nausea, this one less to do with my pregnancy and more to do with the tough choices ahead of me. “We were always careful. We didn’t want to jeopardize our future plans.”

“You didn’t want to jeopardize your future plans,” Lotus says, doubt leaking into her voice. “This pregnancy means you might have to depend on Caleb more. It makes it harder for you to be independent and live apart from him. Maybe he was less careful than you thought.”

“No.” I shake my head in adamant denial. “And don’t you think I would have noticed if he skipped the condom? Caleb wouldn’t do that. He didn’t want me living somewhere else and working in another state, but he would never do this on purpose.”

“He wrapped it up?” Lo lifts a skeptical brow. “Every time?”

“Every time,” I say with confidence, because to even entertain what she’s suggesting would make Caleb a stranger to me—a manipulative person willing to sacrifice my future, my dreams for his wishes. And I can’t believe I’d be intimate with someone like that and never know. I can’t have been that wrong about him. It’s just not possible.

“What’re you gonna do about it?” Lo rests her chin in the heel of her hand and watches me steadily.

“I’ll talk to him, of course,” I tell Lo, glancing at my phone on the bed to check the time. “He’s coming over. We’ll talk and decide what to do together. I’ll figure it all out. This pregnancy won’t slow me down.”

The words ring hollow. It will change things. It has to impact my plans, of course, but I know I can make it work. I have to.

I sign off, promising to call Lotus once Caleb and I finish talking. We’ve both always been afraid of ending up like our mothers—depending on a man for everything, taking his scraps. This isn’t that. I know it, and I hope Lotus knows, but she still wants to make sure. And when I face Caleb on my doorstep, so do I.

When I tell him, his laugh booms in my small room. A wide smile crinkles his eyes and creases his lean cheeks.

“This is awesome.” He grabs me by the shoulders and dusts kisses all over my face. “Baby, this is the beginning of our future together.”

Or the end of the one I envisioned for myself, if I’m not careful.

I press my hands to his chest, carving out a small space of breathing room.

“It’s not awesome, Caleb,” I say softly, firmly. “It’s a problem. I’m about to start my career. I’ve been interviewing for positions and feel really good about my prospects. This is a major wrench.”

“Baby, you don’t have to work anymore.” Arrogance stamps his face. “You never really needed to. Even without an NBA contract, I can take care of you. You don’t need to worry about anything. Just move with me, and you and the baby will be taken care of.”

Taken care of.

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