The Grumpy Player Next Door Page 1


Tillie Jean Rock, aka a woman who should probably get her eyes checked

There’s a fine art to revenge, and today, I am arting the hell out of it. I’m talking cackles of glee, evil cartoon overlord-style, rubbing my hands together while bouncing on my toes. Reminding myself to shut up because my brother will be home from his morning workout any minute now, and I don’t want to tip my hand when he doesn’t know I’m waiting for him here in his house up on the mountainside.

You would think he would’ve learned to engage his security system more often by now.

But he hasn’t, which means I’m here, armed and dangerous and ready, and I’m cackling with glee all over again.

I know, I know. Is this really how you want to pay him back for having a box labeled “dildos” delivered to you at your parents’ house in the midst of all the pre-wedding activities for your other brother last week?

Yes, actually.

Yes, it is.

It’s payback time.


I have zero doubt Cooper will have mad respect that I’m doing this.

Sort of like while I was pissed when he replaced my coffee beans with roasted goat poop before he left for spring training nine months ago, I very much respected that he pulled it off, even if I wasn’t pleased at having to admit that that was the prank that took him over the top to win in our annual off-season prank war.

But this winter?

This winter, my brother Cooper “Stinky Booty” Rock is going down.

The universe told me so. Why else would it have hand-delivered that video into my social media stream to inspire me right after I finished figuring out where to donate an unopened box of dildos?

I cackle again.

And then I slap my hand over my mouth.

He’s home.

There’s his dark head, bent toward the knob, beyond the tempered glass panel beside his front door. He’s dressed in Fireballs red, which is more orange than it is red, and he’s probably worn out from lifting at the gym.

Yesterday was cardio day.

I know, because he ran past Crusty Nut, our dad’s restaurant where I’m the manager five days a week, at least two dozen times without stopping in once to say hi.

I haven’t seen him since the wedding several days ago, which either means he’s avoiding me and the revenge he knows I owe him, or he has a stick up his butt and has forgotten the little people.

Or, possibly, he’s distracted, in which case, he needs this.

I squat into position at the top of the stairs, as hidden as I can be while still seeing my target, Nerf blaster locked and loaded, waiting while he fumbles with his keys.

For the record?

It’s not easy to hide at the top of a curved staircase. I’m on my belly now, half-angled behind the wall of the hallway to his guest bedrooms, peering between the slats of the banister, hoping all my target practice pays off.

Steady, TJ. This is what you trained for.

The lock clicks.

I flatten myself lower and take aim.

The door swings open.

Dark hair in the foyer. Go go go.

I squeeze the trigger, sending a rapid blast of modified foam darts at the six balloons floating in the space above the door.

The needle sticking out barely an eighth of an inch in the tip of the first dart connects. One helium balloon pops. Then two more, followed by the fourth and fifth. The sixth shifts after getting hit, like it’s a tough guy balloon. It’s the ninja of balloons, and it doesn’t want to participate in my dastardly plans today, but that’s okay. The other balloons are bursting in a sparkly, shiny, beautiful pink glitter spray that’s splattering on the walls, exploding from its nylon shell and raining down like a spring shower, coating the walls, making the air sparkle, and dusting all that dark hair as Cooper’s lifting his head. “What the—”

And in the span of a heartbeat, before he can finish that sentence, I realize my mistake.

My terrible, horrible, very bad miscalculation.

If I were a superhero, I’d be sucking all that glitter into my lungs and redirecting it into my brother’s bedroom, which is likely what I should’ve done in the first place—hindsight, right?—but I didn’t. This was so much more dramatic and didn’t risk me having to find out which local he’s screwing around with in his spare time, as she’d be coated in glitter too after rolling around in his sheets, except my prank has failed.

It has failed spectacularly.

“Oh my god,” I gasp.

That’s not Cooper.

That is so not Cooper.

Yeah, Cooper has dark hair. But he also has an easy smile, blue eyes, a quick sense of humor, appreciation for a well-executed revenge plot, and a tall, lanky body.

The man staring at me is tall. And dark-haired.

But he’s also thickly muscled. Growling without making a noise. Aiming dark eyes at me. And I have no idea if he has any respect for pranks.

Harmless pranks.

The ones where no one gets hurt.

Even if it means he’s gonna look like a pink vampire in the daylight for the next three weeks.

Or, you know, forever. Because it’s glitter.

I swallow hard while those brown eyes silently bore into me from a face that’s as chiseled and manly as they come, and which also looks like it was decorated at a birthday slumber party for a fourteen-year-old.

What’s he even doing here? He’s not supposed to be here.

This isn’t where he’s staying this winter.

But he is here, and this isn’t good.

This isn’t good at all.

“Hi, Max.” I lift a hand and wave, realize I’m still holding the Nerf blaster, and toss it down the hallway.

It hits the corner of the wall instead and clatters to the wood floor.

Stupid thing doesn’t even have the decency to land quietly on the hall runner.

Max Cole, right-handed starting pitcher for the Copper Valley Fireballs, is six feet, four inches, and two hundred twenty-five pounds of steely baseball perfection. He’s been with the team four full seasons, two of which were record-setting years.

And not in the good way.

Any guy who wasn’t begging his agent to be traded away from the Fireballs during their sucky years is okay in my book—professionally speaking, of course—and Max stuck around to help pull them from the worst team to ever exist in professional sports to the underdogs who took the playoffs by storm this past season, even if they didn’t make it all the way.

Not that Max is ever willing to do anything beyond glare, twitch, and ignore me when I’m around him.

Possibly spending four years incessantly flirting with him to annoy Cooper—and Max, if I’m being honest—wasn’t the best build-up to this moment.

But possibly him ratting me out to Cooper after—you know what? I don’t want to talk about it.

Let’s just say Max and I started our acquaintance on the wrong foot and haven’t ever recovered.

He lifts a hand too, but instead of waving back, he swipes at the glitter coating his face.

“That was supposed to be for Cooper. Obviously. I didn’t expect you. How could I have expected you here?” I’m not gulping.

I’m not shrinking into myself.

I’m not quivering in my belly.

And also possibly my lady bits.