Home > Block Shot (Hoops #2)(10)

Block Shot (Hoops #2)(10)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

“You want to forget tonight?” Jared asks softly.

Forget the best sex of my life? Forget intimacy, closeness I didn’t think was possible? Set aside what I thought was true friendship between Jared and me? Dismiss the possibility of what this could have been had it been real?

“Yes.” My tone is final, cutting him out for good. “Leave my coat and my clients’ laundry. Mr. Harden, those are my things. Don’t let him take them.”

“Really, Banner?” Jared asks, doing an Oscar-worthy job of sounding not only angry but hurt.

“Really, Jared.”

“You can’t just erase a whole semester. At least not our friendship. You can’t just spit on it.”

“Why not? You did.” The words slide out, coating my tongue with bitterness.

“So that’s it?” he asks after a brief pause. “You’re just gonna let Prescott win?”

“Prescott won’t win.” I seize any vestiges of pride I have left. “I will.”

6

Banner

I’m not from a small town by any means. I grew up in San Diego, where my mother moved from Mexico when she was a child. The city sprawls and covers a lot of ground, but it can’t be bothered to bustle. The small college town in Maryland where Kerrington is situated doesn’t bustle either. New York bustles. It hustles. It truly never sleeps and is ever-grinding. It took a while to get used to the noise and the pace and the smell of urgency in the air.

Okay. I’m still not used to it, but I love it. There’s an obstinacy to this place. A grit and determination that hovers over the city like dense fog. I may not have ever lived in a city this large, but I’ve always been obstinate, always been driven. There’s no doubt in my mind I’m in the right place.

“Daydreaming?”

I glance up from my laptop to find Mitch Sanderson, a fellow intern, standing at my desk.

“Uh, no.” I close my laptop because he’s always in my business and looking over my shoulder. “Just pulling together some analysis for Cal.”

Cal Bagley is Bagley & Associates’ founding partner. He’s also the best friend of Prescott’s father. Or maybe he’s in that Pride thing Jared was joining.

Ugh. I promised myself I wouldn’t think about Jared Foster, but that doesn’t always work. When I’m awake, I can tame my thoughts. When I’m sleep? A different matter entirely. My brain and my heart believe he’s disgusting and cruel and a phony. My body, though? Ain’t buying it. More than once I’ve awakened from dreams of that night, of how he made me feel. Not just the incredible sex, but the closeness. And not just of that night, but that entire semester. We were genuinely friends or so I thought.

“You can’t tell me you aren’t daydreaming,” Mitch says, “and then zone out in the middle of our conversation.”

“Sorry.” I laugh and open my laptop. “I should get back to work.”

“What’re you working on?”

“Not as much working as catching up on this Quinn Barrow story.”

“The runner who lost her leg?” Mitch rubs his chin, his mark of concentration I’ve come to learn. “It was a freak thing, right?”

“Yeah,” I say, swallowing the emotion that scalds my throat every time I read her story. “She dislocated her knee and it cut an artery. No blood to the leg for hours and they had to amputate.”

I glance at the side-by-side pictures accompanying the article. In the first photo Quinn is running, chest pushed forward, smile blazing white, auburn hair whipping behind her like a fiery pennant as she crashes through the finish line. The second photo is of a ghost with no smile, lines of beginning bitterness settling around her mouth. A solemn figure staring vacantly into the camera from a hospital bed.

“You do know we’re in the business of signing performing athletes, right?” Mitch asks. “Not has-beens.”

I should be surprised by his harshness, but I’m not. Not anymore. Most agents see these athletes as commodities. So do the teams they play for. And I get it. Sports is a business, and if I’ve chosen this as my career, I gotta play the game.

In the two months I’ve been here, I’ve learned a few things. Darwin wasn’t all wrong, and neither was my advisor. This industry is survival of the fittest. It’s a fast machine with nonstop gears that can grind your soul to dust. It’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve seen ruthlessness at its finest here. The competition for talent is fierce and requires constant vigilance in scouting, recruiting, pursuing, signing. Elite athletes have earning potential most people can’t even wrap their minds around. When you find extraordinary talent, convincing them you will represent them best is crucial. Every other agent thinks the same thing, so distinguishing yourself often and early is the name of the game.

I don’t just want to be at the top of the food chain, though. Achieving has always been a driving force for me, but so has contributing and being a part of something bigger than myself.

Killer with a heart.

I hate that Jared’s words, his encouragement, give me perspective as I figure out my place in this jungle. Was that part of his fuck the fat girl act? The things he said and did that night? I don’t know what was real, what I can trust, but his words keep coming back to me.

“She’s not a has-been,” I finally reply, deliberately turning my attention back to the screen, hoping Mitch will read it as the dismissal it is. “Maybe she just needs some help getting back on her feet.”

“Don’t you mean foot?”

I cut a disgusted glance up at him. Men are essentially boys. Just boys whose penises kept growing . . . some more than others. That’s what I’ve come to realize being the only girl in the room most of the time. Their sophomoric humor and crude jokes turn racist or sexist as soon as they forget a Hispanic woman is in their midst. Add in the fact that I’m overweight, and I’m basically a piece of furniture to them within five minutes.

But this sofa still has ears, and a heart, which is more than I can say for guys like Mitch.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbles when I stare at him with silent censure. “That was in bad taste.”

“I should be used to it by now,” I say, hoping I didn’t disguise the insult in the words so well that he doesn’t feel it. “But you guys continue to surprise me with your insensitivity.”

“Sensitivity won’t get you paid,” Mitch returns flatly. “Go ahead and waste your time crying over an amputee who wouldn’t clock one commission. I’m going after a fish I can actually fry.”

“Which fish?” I stuff down my outrage and school my face into fewer fucks.

“Alonzo Vidale,” Mitch preens. “Cal’s meeting with him today.”

Alonzo Vidale is one of the most promising international players poised for this summer’s NBA Draft. A definite first-rounder.

“And you think Cal will bring you into the meeting?” I ask. “A lowly intern?”

“He hasn’t said it in so many words,” Mitch says, wearing a smug expression, “but I’m becoming pretty much indispensable around here.”

“In your two months of fetching coffee and making copies? Yeah, where would we be without you?”

His smile dissolves into a sneer.

“At least Bagley knows I’m alive.”

“Just because my lips aren’t permanently puckered to kiss his ass doesn’t mean my good work goes overlooked.”

I hope.

It’s no secret Cal Bagley has a group of guys he takes under his wing. Under his wing means drinks after work, “special parties” fully stocked with strippers and any manner of “dick tricks” in which I have no interest. Mitch is definitely in that group. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure Mitch’s father is one of Cal’s best friends, too. Probably another Pride connection.

“A little pucker goes a long way.” He tilts his head and his eyes wander from my face and over my body in the shapeless dress I put on this morning. “You know, Morales, with a little effort, you might not be half bad.”

“And with a little effort you might evolve into a homo sapien.”

“Jokes.” A tight smile plays around his weak mouth. “Keep making them when I land Vidale or someone else from this next crop.”

“You know you can’t actually sign anyone,” I remind him. “We technically don’t have our degrees yet and haven’t taken the agent’s exam.”

“We’re only months away from graduation and that exam’ll be a breeze.” Mitch picks invisible lint from the shoulder of his suit. “It’s open book, and you get to take in notes. How hard can it be?”

“Maybe, but I’m still studying my ass off. I need to make sure I’m up to speed on the intricacies of the collective bargaining agreement.”

“Yeah, okay. You do that.” Mitch rolls his eyes and picks up the photo of my family from my cubicle desk and replaces it quickly. “Meanwhile I get to meet Vidale.”

“I’m kind of surprised he’s ready for this process already.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Um, because his entire family was just killed in a car accident last month?”

I swear these guys have their feelings surgically removed before they enter this field.

“Ahhh, yeah.” Mitch nods, scrunching his face into what he probably thinks passes for sympathy. “Real men move on. He knows he’s gotta strike while the iron is hot. With the draft coming up, he needs to get his shit settled. Sign with an agent who can start scoping endorsements and talking to executives, getting him workouts with teams. The whole nine.”

“We need to scope a good grief counselor,” I mumble, looking under my desk for the Tupperware containing my lunch. I’m so hungry it’s hard to focus on what Mitch is saying.

As if that struggle wasn’t real enough already.

   
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