Home > Block Shot (Hoops #2)(15)

Block Shot (Hoops #2)(15)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

“Thank you,” my sister-in-law replies, sliding me a cautious glance before going on. “I’m really looking forward to hearing you speak at the convention next week.”

“In Denver?” Banner asks, her expression surprised. “You’re an agent?”

“No, sports marketing,” Iris says.

“Well, I look forward to seeing you there.” Banner glances at me. “I’m just putting it all together now. Sister-in-law, so you’re married to August?”

“Yes.” Iris beams, and only the most hardened cynic would doubt she’s with my famous brother for any reason but love.

“Now I recognize you,” Banner says. “You haven’t been married long, right? Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“Oh.” Banner sends her friend an apologetic look. “Sorry! This is my friend Quinn Barrow.”

“I love your app. I was lucky enough to get in the beta group,” Iris says, accepting Quinn’s outstretched hand. “This morning it told me to put my wide ride in gear.”

Is this a good thing? My confusion must show because Banner chuckles and explains.

“Quinn developed a fitness app called Girl, You Better. It’s still in beta,” she says, pride shining from every pore. “It gives you messages like a Garmin would, but sassier.”

“It’s affectionately known as the ghetto Garmin,” Quinn pipes in with a laugh.

She, Iris, and Banner are chatting more about the app and Quinn’s line of workout gear when I leave to get the nachos.

Quinn really is a beautiful woman. Beyond her red hair and creamy skin, there’s a strength and power on the inside. It comes across. She has talked more than once about how Banner pursued her when she was depressed, suicidal in the hospital after she lost her leg. She wouldn’t be a multimillion-dollar empire if Banner hadn’t seen her potential.

Good for you, Banner.

She’s not like the rest of us. I knew she wouldn’t be, but I’m not allowing myself feelings. Elevation is at a crucial place in our development. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. And Banner is definitely not with us.

When I return with Sarai’s nachos, Iris is screaming at the refs as usual. August may have found a girl who loves basketball as much as he does. I sit . . . finally. Damn, I’m exhausted and still have to drive back to LA tonight. If I hadn’t promised August I’d stay with the girls until the game is over, I’d leave early. I’m also not used to being this close to Banner for any amount of time.

She’s fully engaged with the game when I return to our seats with Sarai’s nachos—or doing a great imitation of it and just ignoring me.

Probably that last one.

“How are you liking LA, Jared?” Quinn leans forward to ask. “Iris was just telling us you’ve only been there a few months.”

“Yeah. I’m getting settled.” I’ll stick to the personal stuff since Banner and my business should not mix. “Whole Foods and Starbucks are the marks of any great civilization. Long as I have those, I can figure out the rest. I’m looking for a gym, if you know of a good one.”

“Come to my gym!” Quinn clasps her hands under her chin. “It’s called Titanium.”

Banner almost imperceptibly shakes her head, widening her eyes at Quinn, a subtle signal to shut the hell up.

“Oh, I’ve heard of that,” I say, injecting my voice with more enthusiasm just to bother Banner. “I’d love to come.”

“I have guest passes,” Quinn says absently, squinting at Banner like she’s trying to decode the message her friend is sending. “I can leave them up front in your name.”

“Excellent.” I catch Banner’s eye and wink. “Then it’s settled.”

Exasperation skids across her face before she smooths it over.

“You’ll love it,” she says neutrally. “Seems like you’ll be everywhere I turn. My city. My gym.”

“It’ll be like old times,” I murmur, allowing just enough suggestiveness in my voice to maybe make her blush. Laundromat Banner’s cheeks would be flushed pink by now. This new Banner doesn’t even blink but stares at me like she’s waiting for me to come harder.

Come harder? I need to check my thoughts because coming harder shouldn’t be in the same zip code as this woman.

We retreat to our corners for the next three quarters, her talking and laughing with Quinn; me answering Sarai’s one million and one questions and helping Iris keep her entertained. How could someone so small be so much work? By the fourth quarter I’m convinced August deserves a gold medal. Even though we don’t exchange two words, I’m acutely aware of Banner beside me. I surreptitiously take in the changes she’s undergone. I never really paid attention to Banner’s weight before, ironic since that was ultimately what sabotaged whatever we might have had, but even I can tell she’s lost a significant amount. I glimpse flashes of toned thighs in the fashionably holey jeans. She’s wearing makeup, which conceals the seven freckles I know march across her nose.

At a break in her conversation with Quinn and mine with Iris, I lean toward her.

“So who you got?” I ask.

She does a double take, like she had forgotten I was even here.

Flattering.

“Oh, sorry.” She spares me a quick glance before turning her attention back to the court. “What did you say?”

“Who are you pulling for?”

“My client,” she replies cagily, full lips tweaking.

Of course, she has a client on each team. Kenan on the Waves and Zo on the Vancouver Titans.

“So, you and Vidale, huh?”

I didn’t mean to ask that question. I usually exercise more control over the space between what I think and what I say.

“Excuse me?” Her voice is imperiously chilly when she turns to look me in the eye.

“I heard you were dating your client,” I say, hoping it makes her uncomfortable because what the hell? I thought she was smarter than that. “I thought you were smarter than that.”

So much for controlling what comes out of my mouth.

“And I thought you were better at minding your own damn business,” she snaps, eyes pinched at the corners. “There is nothing unethical about my relationship, business or personal, with Zo.”

“Then why are you defensive?”

“Why are you prying?”

“I’m not,” I say, my own tone icing over. “The question isn’t is it ethical. The better question may be: is it wise?”

“And maybe an even better question is why do you care?”

“Hey.” I twist my lips and shrug. “Just trying to help a friend.”

“I’ve seen your idea of ‘friendship,’ Jared,” she says stiffly. “I’ll take my chances.”

Before I can address those fighting words, Mitch Sanderson approaches with a tall young man in tow. Sanderson is such a waste of space. He’s an awful negotiator and a shit agent. He wouldn’t know a good deal if it sucked his dick under the table. How he’s still at Bagley, I have no idea. Actually, I do know how. The Pride. The same way he got there in the first place.

“Banner, I want you to meet someone,” he says, stopping in front of Banner and Quinn. “This is Lamont Christopher.”

“Very nice to meet you, Lamont,” Banner says, smiling warmly and shaking the kid’s hand. “I hope Mitch is taking good care of you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he answers with a hint of a southern drawl.

“Enjoying the game?” Banner asks.

“We have been,” Sanderson replies before Lamont can. “But we’re gonna head out to beat the traffic.”

You gotta be kidding me. Banner is letting Sanderson handle the presumptive overall number one draft pick? I assumed she was handling discussions with Christopher since she is known around the league as The Rookie Whisperer. Setting up rookies to succeed in their finances, performance, and general well-being is her MO. Her rookies are notorious for keeping clean noses and full bank accounts even post-ball.

She basically babies them into stellar careers.

But if she’s trusting such a prize to Sanderson’s ineptitude, blocking this shot will be like taking candy from a baby.

“Good to see you again, Lamont,” I interject since neither Banner nor Sanderson seem inclined to introduce him to the “enemy.” Smart. Well, Banner’s smart. I won’t make assumptions about Sanderson.

“Mr. Foster.” Lamont’s eyes light with recognition. “Good to see you, too.”

I visited a few of his college games, but he got into some trouble near the end of his freshman year. His on-court abilities make him a hot commodity, but his off-court antics make him a possible liability. I had decided he wasn’t worth the trouble, but now that I know Bagley’s after him, I may change my mind. If I’m recalling correctly, he likes strip clubs. Of course, he does. Pigs love slop. It’s self-evident. He’s a red-blooded male. It’s tits, ass, and lots of cash floating around—an unholy trinity few men can resist.

Sanderson and Lamont exit the arena, and Banner resumes conversation with Quinn, studiously ignoring me for the rest of the game and not revisiting our budding argument from before, which disappoints me. There are few things more arousing than Banner on a warpath.

She stands as the final buzzer sounds and would probably leave without another word to me if not for Quinn’s manners.

“It was nice meeting you, Jared,” Quinn says, her friendly smile determinedly in place, even though her friend’s glare must be burning a hole in the side of her face. “Don’t forget, I’ll leave the guest pass at the Titanium front desk for you.”

“Thanks. That’s really sweet,” I say and mean it. Quinn seems like a genuinely kind person, an endangered species in LA.

“It was great meeting you, too, Iris,” Banner says, reaching around me to touch my sister-in-law’s shoulder and brush a hand over a sleeping Sarai’s curls.

   
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