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Hook Shot (Hoops #3)
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A deeply emotional standalone romance set in the worlds of professional basketball and high fashion.
Divorced. Single dad. Traded to a losing squad.
A warrior. A baller. The one they call Gladiator.
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I grew up believing the sky spoke to me. The booming voice of thunder. The sharp retort of lightning. Every storm, a conversation. A volatile exchange. But today, there’s a rainbow. Skittle-colored stripes airbrushed overhead in a rain-washed sky.
“You remember what the rainbow means?” MiMi, my great-grandmother, asks.
Like so many things she has taught me, the answer is ingrained, woven into my fibers. I don’t even have to think about it.
“A rainbow is the bridge between Heaven and Earth,” I reply, my voice coming strong even though my insides quake.
“Hmmm. Somebody’s trying to get into Heaven.” She considers the sky, eyes wise beyond her eighty-some-odd years. “Not today.”
We stand shadowed by one of New Orleans’ famous oaks in the cemetery, watching the few assembled mourners disperse. There are no tears for the dead. There weren’t many who loved Ron Clemmons. He was a man only a mother could love.
His mother and mine.
My pulse stutters at the sight of Mama. I last saw her when I was twelve, four years ago. She is today, as she was then, standing by Ron, but this time he lies in an open grave. I snap my lips tight against the word screaming in my head, determined not to speak.
Even though I don’t say her name, she looks up as if I have. Her eyes widen through the short black veil that looks like something fashionable women wore years ago when burying their lovers. “Vintage,” Mama used to say, instead of “thrift store.” Classic, not second-hand. She always wanted the finer things and clung to any man who promised them. Except Ron never promised her much, and Mama still clung like it was a habit she didn’t know how to break.
The fine arches of her brows snap together, and her gaze ricochets between me and MiMi, then darts to the open grave. There are few cemeteries in New Orleans where they bury folks underground. This is one of them. For the poor and unloved, unclaimed. That’s what this is. That’s what Ron is.
She touches the black silky chignon pleated at the back of her head and takes a few steps in our direction, but freezes mid-stride. I glance at MiMi, who shakes her head gravely, telling Mama not to come any closer. It’s acceptance, not shock, on Mama’s face as she turns away and follows the trickle of mourners leaving the cemetery. It’s not the first time she has thought to see me, but MiMi knows I don’t want to see her.
If anyone knows, MiMi does.
Gravediggers take the place of the few who’d stood around while the clergyman read from his little book of ceremonial prayers. Weddings, baptisms, funerals. A verse for everything.
“It’s time,” MiMi says, her mouth grim.
We make our way across the grass to reach the men shoveling dirt. One of them glances up, catching sight of MiMi, and elbows the other. They pause in the shoveling.
“Madam DuPree,” one of them drawls, his Louisiana accent thick as swamp water. “What can we do for you?”
“Leave.” MiMi waves a hand at the grave. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to go too far or wait too long. We just need a bit of privacy. Then you can do whatever you want with his body.”
Her eyes drift to the open mouth of the ground swallowing Ron whole, and she smiles. “It’s his soul I’m here to discuss.”
You’ve never seen men scurry like these two at her words. Their shovels drop. They take off. It was a two-hour bus ride from St. Martine, our small parish town, to the city, but even here, folks know MiMi. In a world full of phonies, she’s the genuine article. And when she says leave, you go.
We stand over the grave, and though the casket is closed and splattered with the first clumps of dirt, I shiver like Ron might sit up and climb out.
“There’s nothing to fear,” MiMi assures me, her face aged and eyes ageless. “Take my hand.”
She extends her arm to the side for me, but trains her eyes on the coffin.
“Feel my words in your mouth,” she says, and I do. The syllables she utters vibrate on my lips, tremble on my tongue. “Feel my power in your veins.”
She squeezes my hand, and the lightning that split the sky hours ago strikes through my blood. She spares me a quick glance and a smile of satisfaction from what she must see on my face.
“It’s the power of the unbroken line,” she says with a gentle smile. “Two women from our lineage together. There’s power in that.”
She turns her attention back ahead and glances up at the sky, now quiet and awaiting her wishes.
“You know who I am,” she says, her words, her voice, bold, confident. “I’m here to make my judgment known. This man’s soul hangs in the balance.”