Home > Block Shot (Hoops #2)(4)

Block Shot (Hoops #2)(4)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

And then there’s me.

I never felt as nice as the rest of my family. It wasn’t until I started here at Kerrington that I realized it’s not that I’m not as nice, I just see people more clearly. I spy their twisted motives and ill intentions. The entitled brats here only honed that sense, only deepened my conviction that, by and large, people look out for themselves. If they’re gonna suck, I’m gonna manipulate them to my own ends. Thus . . . my choice of profession.

“I’m made for this job,” I tell her.

“So am I,” she fires back, her voice defensive. “My advisor says survival of the fittest, but I don’t think about life in terms of Darwin.”

“You mean science? Facts? Truth?”

“No, I mean in terms of the last man . . . person . . . standing . . . in terms of having to eliminate everyone else so that you come out on top. A food chain culture that thrives on atavism.”

That sounds like life to me, but I let her keep talking.

“I think less Darwin, more . . .” her eyes search the room as if the answer might be painted on the laundromat’s Pepto-pink walls “. . . Maslow.”

“Maslow?” I ask. “Two completely different schools of thought.”

“Yes, but both predictive of human behavior.” She leans toward me, warming to the subject. “Darwin used evolution, our most base biology, and Maslow used psychology, but both sought to understand why humans do what they do and how we end up with the best of the best.”

“And you think Maslow has it right?” I ask skeptically. “Convince me.”

She quirks her lips at my continued nod to Professor Albright.

“I think Maslow is at least another way to approach it. Darwin’s approach considers us no better than animals.”

“We are animals.”

“We are human,” she asserts pointedly. “We’re higher functioning, not only intellectually, but emotionally. Darwin assumes evolutionary competition leads to survival. Maslow believes that survival is a need, and if that need is met, we have the emotional margin for compassion and cooperation to meet the needs of others too. With Darwin, there is a last man standing. With Maslow, we could all be left standing.”

She tucks her hair behind an ear again, sliding her eyes away. “Guess this is why my advisor thinks I don’t have that killer instinct.”

“Maybe you’re the killer with a heart.” I lift her chin with one finger. “Maybe you’ll take all that caring shit and use it to win clients over. Leave the heartless, ruthless stuff to people like me.”

When she glances up, her dark eyes, fringed by thick lashes, snare me with the sincerity, the earnestness there. Still holding her chin, I stroke the powder-fine texture of her jaw. Confusion wrinkles her expression for a second before she pulls away from my touch.

“Um . . . maybe.” She runs her hands over her face and slumps her shoulders. Tugging out the pencils anchoring her hair, she tosses them on the table. Sable waves fall over her shoulders and across her chest. I can’t look away. Don’t want to. She’s usually so pulled together. Seeing her literally let her hair down is a privilege I’ve only had a few times this semester.

“Well, at least today showed him I can do something right,” she says sardonically, laughing without much humor. “In spite of my ovaries.”

“What happened today?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you.” A smile lights her face. “I got the Bagley internship.”

“No way.” I shake my head, genuinely impressed. “I didn’t know you were still in the running. I got knocked out in round two.”

“It’s not a big deal.” That faint flush rises over her cheeks, and she waves her hand. “I just didn’t want to jinx it. I honestly thought I had no chance. I figured Prescott had it on lock.”

Hearing Banner say that asshole’s name, I go still. Has he ever approached her with the kind of crazy shit he proposed to me tonight? I’d break him in half.

“Prescott?” I reach for a water from the neat rows of bottles she always keeps at hand when we study. “I didn’t think you even knew him.”

“I don’t.” She shrugs. “But I found out his dad is like best friends or fraternity brothers or something with Cal Bagley. I assumed it was Prescott’s to lose. I know he did, too.”

Damn. All the pieces fall into place, and I understand why he wanted to humiliate her. Payback is a whiny, entitled, selfish bitch named William Prescott.

“Wow,” I say even while the wheels keep turning in my head. “Congratulations. That’s amazing.”

“It is,” she says, her grin wide and proud. “They decided late, though, so now I’m scrambling to find a place in New York and to get my schedule adjusted for next semester.”

She stands and heads out to the main room where a load just finished drying.

New York.

I clench my fists on my knees, absorbing the information. She’s transferring a load from the dryer to a plastic basket when I venture back out there.

“So, New York, huh?” I ask, digging into the stack of white T-shirts and starting to fold.

“You don’t have to do that.” She aims a frown at the diminishing pile of laundry we’re plowing our way through. I quirk a challenging brow, and she rolls her eyes.

“Thanks.” She resumes folding. “Yeah, remember it’s a practicum, so my advisor wanted to talk through adjustments for my last semester and me working in New York.”

Dammit.

I’m happy for her. It’s the most prestigious internship in our department. Bagley & Associates is a powerhouse sports agency, and landing a job with them post-graduation would catapult anyone’s career. But New York? We take our exams in just a few days and then go home for holiday break. I thought I’d have all of next semester to win Banner over.

I may only have tonight.

And right then I come to a decision. Darwin. Maslow. Tomato. Tomah-toe. I’ve been taking the scenic route instead of the shortest path from me to what I want. That shit’s about to end.

“Congrats again,” I say, placing the last of the T-shirts into the basket. “Like I said, you’re good at everything.”

“Thank you, but I think we already established I don’t do everything well.”

“Yeah, so you tell bad jokes. Big deal.” I pause, taking the reins of this conversation carefully in hand. “What about kissing? Are you a good kisser?”

Her hands are suspended, frozen midair over the warm laundry. Wide eyes collide with mine, and her mouth drops open.

Oh, yeah. Keep your mouth open like that, Banner. I have just the thing to put between those lips.

“What did you say?” she asks on a startled breath.

“I said are you a good kisser?” I cross my arms over my chest and wait for her to breathe deeply enough to answer me.

“Um, I guess.” She bends her head and reaches to scoop up all that glorious hair back into whatever knot she had it imprisoned in before. I stop her, taking her wrist in my hand. I wait for her to look at me, to really, maybe for the first time all semester, see me.

“If you’re a good kisser,” I say softly, not releasing her eyes and leaning one last time on our professor, “convince me.”

3

Banner

“Convince me.”

The challenge lands at my feet like a gauntlet. Jared and I consider each other, unblinking. Confidence and questions darken his eyes to blackest-blue. What is even happening right now? Did he . . . is he asking me to . . . does he want . . .

Nooooooo.

Guys like Jared Foster don’t proposition girls like me in laundromats. Don’t get me wrong, I think he likes me. A lot. We laugh every time we’re together. Our conversations are stimulating. No one challenges me more in a debate. He’s the smartest guy I know, but he also looks like a handsome ski instructor who traded in the slopes for an Ivy League campus.

As for how I feel . . . it’s more how I’ve been feeling for the last three years, ever since freshman orientation when Jared asked to borrow a pencil. That day his hair, now a sun-colored buzz, hung to the angled line of his jaw, the darker and brighter blond strands twisting into shampoo-commercial perfection. He was beautiful then, but he was barely out of high school. He’s filled out the last four years. His features have hardened, the sharp incline of bone at his cheeks rising under taut, tanned skin. I could barely concentrate during orientation because he was so close, and many a night here in the laundromat I’ve read the same page five times trying not to stare.

It was an added bonus when his brain proved to be as alluring as his face. And I’ve never laughed as much as I have studying with him this semester. Knowing he was out of my league, I’ve been forcibly content as just friends, and the possibility that he wants more, leaves me thoroughly thrilled and confused.

“I’m sorry,” I finally say, barely hearing my voice over the heartbeat pounding in my ears. “I don’t know what you mean.”

He tilts his head, the tuft of blond hair capturing the harsh fluorescent lights overhead. He quirks that wide mouth. Jared can say more with the corner of his mouth than most people do with a hundred words. Turned down, canted up, twisted. Humor, disdain, skepticism. Those lips say it all without uttering a sound, but I have no idea what they are saying now.

“I said convince me you’re a good kisser,” he speaks slowly, like I might have a processing disorder, which could be the case because . . . huh?

Dark blond brows elevate over a simmering stare while he waits.

“And how would I convince you?” I ask, my words coming out on thin air. The longer he looks at me like this, like I’m a meal and he hasn’t eaten, the breathier I sound.

He steps forward, eliminating the sanity-giving space between us. He’s so close I have to tip my head back to keep our eyes connected.

“You could kiss me,” he offers, so close now his breath feathers over my skin. Steamy, yet minty. So close the rumble of his deep voice reverberates in my own chest.

   
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