There are sports romances and then… there’s Long Shot. Unflinching, challenging and powerful, Long Shot transports readers from the highest highs to the lowest, most harrowing lows. I had vague ideas this book was more than it purported to be (a basketball romance) and it absolutely was. Yes, it features basketball, but it’s so much more than your usual brand of sports romance. Friends, this book will wreck you and then restore you. Kennedy Ryan, a new-to-me author, writes with confidence and skill, capably guiding this difficult, complicated novel to its terrific, hard-earned happily ever after. It will make you uncomfortable. You’ll swoon, cry, laugh, and it will absolutely break your heart before it’s done. Long Shot is one of the best contemporary romances of the year.
Augustus West is the starting point guard for Piermont College. It’s the night before the NCAA Championships and Augustus knows that after the game, his life will never be the same. As a standout college player, he’s experienced the good and bad of fame - but he knows the money and exposure attached to a career in the NBA will be even more intense. He’s spent the evening at a local bar trying to calm his nerves and keeping a low profile, deciding to call it a night when his mentor calls and says he can’t join him. Augustus is making his way out of the bar when an outburst in the back of the bar catches his attention. A beautiful woman is watching the LA Lakers game and shouting - loudly - at the TV referees. Curvy, sexy, intriguing and tiny, Augustus can’t look away.
Iris DuPree is in town to watch her college boyfriend play in the National Championship; she left her hotel to watch the Lakers game at a local bar. When Augustus West approaches her, she makes it clear she knows who he is and what she thinks of his skills as a player (damn!), and that she isn’t interested in his game - on or off the court. But Augustus isn’t deterred by her trash talk - in fact, he seems to enjoy it. When he asks for her name, she surprises herself and gives him the nickname given to her by her best friend and cousin Lotus - “Gumbo.” Augustus is curious so she explains its origins - she’s a Creole girl, born and raised in the bayous of Louisiana. Her father, whom she’s never had a relationship with, was German and Irish, and after Katrina, her family moved to Atlanta. She’s a little bit of everything - just like a pot of gumbo. Her confession sparks Augustus to tell her more about his own origins. With an African American father and white mother, Augustus has never quite fit in either. They find a common bond in their ‘otherness,’ and conversation is easy and effortless. Hours go by as they tell each other about their friends and families, and the events that shaped their lives.
As the hours go by, and despite the spark of attraction between them, Iris can’t seem to confess she’s in a relationship. When the bartender announces it’s closing time, the pair awkwardly collide trying to grab the bill - and end up staring into each other’s eyes, until Iris steps away. Augustus is hopeful the night won’t end when they exit the bar, and outside, he tries to pull her close and kiss her. Iris is tempted, but pushes him away - finally confessing she’s dating someone (but not saying who). Augustus is disappointed - overwhelmed by his attraction and connection to her - but accepts her rejection even as he admits he wants her anyway. Iris refuses his offer to walk her home, but confesses her name as she departs.
Iris’s decision not to kiss Augustus reverberates through the rest of the story. Although he doesn’t know it, she’s in a relationship with Caleb Bradley, Augustus’s biggest rival, and everyone - except Iris - expects her to eventually marry him. But she has dreams and goals and doubts... and Caleb doesn’t seem to care. Her connection with Augustus - the spark she felt with him - shakes her confidence in her feelings for Caleb. Her mind often drifts back to the bar, wondering what might have happened if she’d given in to the temptation to kiss Augustus... until a surprise twist entwines her future with Caleb’s, and leaves a future relationship with Augustus nothing more than a long shot.
Long Shot is told in dual PoVs over the course of the two years that follow the National Championship. When Iris walks away from Augustus, he vows to pursue her - even after he discovers she’s involved with Caleb, a guy he’s always hated. He knows it’s pointless to keep pining for her, but he can’t forget her. Iris...well, I won’t tell you all of what happens after the National Championship, but the twist limits her options and binds her to Caleb, despite her doubts about the relationship. As the story unfolds, Ms. Kennedy alternates the PoV between the pair, detailing their lives after that first fateful night - and destroying her readers whenever their paths unexpectedly cross. Oh my gosh - these encounters. I was absolutely riveted by the intense connection between them. Let’s just say Iris is surviving and Augustus is thriving. He loves her and wants her, but with every surprise meeting, Iris seems to slip further and further out of reach; Iris longs for Augustus, but life and her relationship with Caleb put him - and her happiness - further and further out of reach.
I loved the use of dual PoVs to tell this story, and the way Ms. Kennedy circles Long Shot back to that fateful first meeting, and their conversation that night. It’s a complicated tapestry of experiences, and the author deftly weaves this pair in and out of each other’s lives, slowly but surely ratcheting up the tension between them. I can’t tell you more without spoiling the story, but take it from me, you will not be able to put this book down even as you flinch from the words on the page. Augustus is a lovely beta-hero who falls hard for a woman who challenges his mind and heart; Iris is a fighter who never gives up - on herself, on Augustus, on life. She’s amazing and strong and supremely well realized. The significant secondary characters - especially Caleb and Lotus - elevate every devastating scene in which they appear, adding tremendous depth to the narrative. You’ll root hard for Iris and Augustus - and you’ll never be able to hear the word ‘hopscotch,’ without tearing up and thinking of the bond between Lotus and Iris.
You’re nervous about this one aren’t you? Don’t worry - there is a love story here! It’s swoony and sexy and lovely and romantic and totally worth the journey. But yes, Long Shot makes readers work hard for that HEA. It’s harrowing and awful before it’s lovely and wonderful, and all those bits in between will rock your world. Everything about Long Shot - from the characters, to the plot, to the happily ever after - is utterly absorbing, and the story will stay with you long after you finish it. Sports fans, romance fans... read this book. It’s tremendously well done.
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