Home > The Baller's Secret Baby (Barnes Family #1)(9)

The Baller's Secret Baby (Barnes Family #1)(9)
Author: Normandie Alleman


“No, but I’ll bet you have.”

I grinned. “I’m not going to take you somewhere I don’t know firsthand. Not on our first date.”

“That’s nice. So what’s good here—everything?” She laughed.

“Probably, but I usually go with the catch of the day or the steak. I eat a lot of protein.”

“You’d have to. Fish sounds good.”

I ordered for us both and we settled into an easy conversation. I didn’t know about her, but for me being with her felt like slipping into an old pair of comfortable shoes—if those shoes were the hottest ones ever, and they made your stomach do a flip when you wore them.

The champagne arrived, and I made a toast. “To old friends.”

“To old friends,” she repeated and clinked her glass against mine. “I probably shouldn’t be drinking this.”

“Why is that?”

Then she told me about the scrutiny she was under from the cheerleading director of the Scorpions.

“I hear you. I don’t drink much during the season myself, but tonight seems like a special occasion.”

“Oh, it is. I agree with you! And I am having the fish.”

“You are. What a good girl.” I wanted to offer to help her work off some of the calories later, but I behaved myself and only thought it.

She giggled. “Okay, so I have a question.”

“Shoot.”

She smiled before continuing. “I heard these girls talking about how you have bunnies… What does that mean?”

It was my turn to smile. “It’s like saying someone has hops—like they can jump.”

Her face lit up. “Oh, so it’s like how Charles Barkley calls you Air Apparent because you can dunk so well.”

“Yes, exactly like that.”

“How do you do it—dunk I mean?”

I shrugged. “Practice. Lots of practice.”

“Well, that’s a relief. I was afraid they were talking about Playboy bunnies.”

We both laughed.

“Not quite. I steer clear of that place.”

“The Playboy Mansion?”

“Yeah. That scene is a trap for guys like me.”

“In what way? Seems like guys like you would love that sort of, ahem, environment.”

“Nah. Maybe if we could stay incognito, but once people recognize you, know you’ve got money, they all want one thing from you.”

“And I’m guessing it’s not your hops?”

“Nope. Everybody wants a payday, a piece of you. When you’ve got money you can’t trust anyone.”

She shook her head. “Especially if you’re famous. I do well with my medical business, but it’s not the same.”

I stood corrected. Damn, I needed this girl. She brought me back down to Earth. “You’re right. I’ve lived in the public eye too long. I don’t know if I’ve ever been out of it. You know, you owe your mom a lot, bringing you back to Texas and raising you here. I’ll bet you had a pretty normal childhood, at least your high school years.”

She looked wistful. “I guess. The weird thing for me was graduating early. I wasn’t like most kids. I started medical school around the time most of my friends were starting college.”

I shook my head. “That’s right. You’re amazing. You know that?”

“Thanks. I could say the same thing about you.”

I took her hand across the table and held it, the warmth of her skin felt so good in my hand that for a moment I forgot all the outside pressures, the untrustworthy people and the users in the world. Everything else melted away and it was just me and Eden, who’d known me when I was a boy. The girl who was my friend before I became a household name or signed my first contract for millions. When it was just us blowing bubbles during the hot summer days and chasing fireflies at night.

Holding hands with her like this—it felt like home.

In fact, I was so comfortable with her that I brought up something I’d never even asked my siblings.

“Have you ever thought of what it would have been like if they hadn’t died—our fathers? Like, what our lives would have all been like if they’d never gotten on that plane?”

“No, have you?” She pulled her hand away and took a sip of water.

“All the time.”

She stared at me, then finally said, “What do you think it would be like?”

“I don’t know if I would be a basketball player. I don’t know if my siblings would do what they do.”

Her jaw dropped. “Really? Why not?”

“Because I’m not sure there’s room in a family for more stars when you’ve already got Ziggy Barnes.”

She nodded. “I can see that. He was larger than life.”

“Your dad too.”

She shook her head. “He was a great guitarist, but he wasn’t Ziggy.”

“Yeah, I don’t think my mom would have had the energy to put so much into building our careers if she’d still been managing my dad’s.”

“That makes sense, but you’d still be good at basketball. Dynassy would still be gorgeous, and the twins would still have his musical talent. You might all have found your way to where you are now. Maybe you’d have traveled a different path to get there, but you’re all pretty amazing.”

“Thanks, Eden. That means a lot coming from you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Why me? Who cares what I think?”

“I do. You’re just about the smartest, most amazing girl I’ve ever known. Or course I care what you think.”

She flushed, and I couldn’t help thinking I’d like to see more of her creamy pink skin.

“What do you think would have happened with us?” she asked, her pink cheeks turning red.

“Us? Well I guess we’d have spent more time together over the years. That would have been great, but I have to admit you would have distracted me.”

“In what way?” she teased.

“C’mon, Eden. Look at you. I love what I do, but if I had you around I’m not sure I would have been as committed to training as I was.”

“You’re sweet. I probably wouldn’t have been able to focus on my studies with you around either.”

I nodded. “So what about your mom?” I asked. “How has she been?”

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