Neil Josten is out of time. He knew when he came to PSU he wouldn’t survive the year, but with his death right around the corner he’s got more reasons than ever to live.
Befriending the Foxes was inadvisable. Kissing one is unthinkable. Neil should know better than to get involved with anyone this close to the end, but Andrew’s never been the easiest person to walk away from. If they both say it doesn’t mean anything, maybe Neil won’t regret losing it, but the one person Neil can’t lie to is himself.
He’s got promises to keep and a team to get to championships if he can just outrun Riko a little longer, but Riko’s not the only monster in Neil’s life. The truth might get them all killed"or be Neil’s one shot at getting out of this alive.Books in Series:All for the Game Series by Nora SakavicBooks by Author:Nora Sakavic Books
Even after a semester at Palmetto State University and a couple weeks practicing on the largest Exy stadium in the United States, Neil was still struck breathless by the Foxhole Court. He lay flat on his back on the half-court line and soaked it in. He counted rows of alternating orange and white seats until they blurred into an indistinct mess near the rafters, then studied the spring championship banners hanging in numerical order around the stadium. There was one for each of the Foxes, including the late Seth Gordon. They hadn’t been there before the Foxes split up for Christmas and Neil wondered what Allison would say when she saw them.
“You forget how to stand up, Josten"”
Neil lolled his head to one side to look at his coach. He’d left the court door open behind him, and now David Wymack stood in the doorway. Neil didn’t think they’d been here long enough for Wymack to finish his paperwork. Either Wymack didn’t trust Neil to keep his promise not to practice until he was fully healed or Neil had lost track of time again. Neil hoped it was the former, but the knot in his stomach predicted otherwise.
He’d agreed to spend Christmas break at Edgar Allan, but the Ravens operated on sixteen-hour days during their holidays. What should have been two weeks passed like three, and Neil’s internal clock was going haywire even after two days back in South Carolina. Classes were supposed to start Thursday though, and the spring season kicked off the following week. Wymack was sure having a normal routine again would help. Neil could only hope he was right.
“It’s time to go,” Wymack said.
That was enough to make Neil get up, though his battered body protested. He ignored the pain with the ease of long familiarity and resisted the urge to work at the ache in his shoulder as he crossed the court to Wymack. He didn’t miss the critical once-over Wymack gave him but chose not to acknowledge it.
“They landed"” Neil asked when he was close enough.
“You’d know if you were answering your phone.”
Neil pulled his phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. He pressed a couple buttons, then tilted the dark screen toward Wymack. “I must have forgotten to charge it.”
“Must have,” Wymack said, not at all fooled.
He was right to be suspicious; Neil had let his phone die on purpose. Before going to bed on New Year’s he’d shut his phone off and left it unplugged. He still hadn’t read the messages his teammates sent him over the break. He couldn’t avoid them forever, but Neil hadn’t figured out how to explain his actions. The ugly injuries he sported were an expected consequence of facing Riko. The tattoo on his cheek would take a little more work to justify, but it was doable. What Neil couldn’t get around was what Riko had done to his appearance.
After nine years of colored contacts and hair dye Neil finally had his natural coloring back. With auburn hair and bright blue eyes he was a spitting image of the murderous father he’d spent half his life outrunning. He hadn’t looked in a mirror in two days. Denial wouldn’t change his appearance back but he’d throw up if he saw his reflection again. If he could at least dye his hair a couple shades darker he might breathe a little easier, but Riko made it clear what he’d do to the Foxes if Neil changed his looks.
“They’re at baggage claim,” Wymack said. “We need to talk.”
Neil bolted the court door behind him and followed Wymack up to the locker room. Wymack cut the stadium lights behind them and Neil looked back as the Foxhole Court was swallowed by darkness. The sudden absence of light sent a chill down his spine. For a moment he was back at Evermore being smothered by the Ravens’ malevolence and the court’s forbidding color scheme. He’d never been claustrophobic but the weight of so much hatred had almost crushed every bone in his body.
The jangle of keys brought him back from that dangerous edge and Neil turned, startled. Wymack had gone into the locker room ahead of him and was unlocking his office door. Although they were the only two here"except for the security guard making obligatory rounds somewhere"Wymack had locked the office in his short absence.
Neil had been in there enough times to know Wymack didn’t keep anything particularly valuable on his shelves. The only thing of any import was Neil’s duffel, which he’d tucked into the office corner before heading to the court. On Neil’s first day in South Carolina he had asked Wymack to protect his things, and seven months later Wymack was still keeping that promise. It was almost enough to make Neil forget all about Riko.
Wymack stepped aside and gestured for Neil to help himself. In the short time it took Neil to pick up his bag and sling the strap over his shoulder, Wymack disappeared. Neil found him in the lounge, sitting on the entertainment center to one side of the TV. Neil held onto his bag’s strap for courage and went to stand in front of him.
“Kevin called me yesterday morning when he couldn’t get a hold of you,” Wymack said. “He wanted to make sure you were okay. Apparently he knew all along where you were.”
There was no point in lying, so Neil said, “Yes.”
“I made him tell the others,” Wymack said, and Neil’s heart stopped. He opened his mouth to protest, but Wymack held his hand up and kept going. “They needed to know what they’re coming back to"for your sake. Think for a moment how they’d react if they came back to this with no warning. You flounder when they call you ‘friend’; you’d probably have a psychotic break when they freaked out over you.”
Neil wanted to argue with that. The best he managed was an unconvincing, “I was figuring something out.”
“You were stalling,” Wymack accused him, “so I did it for you. I told them you look like you’ve gone six rounds with a Sasquatch and said you probably wouldn’t want to talk about it. They promised not to smother you, but I don’t know if they’ll keep that promise when they see you up close. This, though, I didn’t tell them about.” He gestured vaguely at his own face.