Best Player by Jaqueline Snowe
General Release Date: 16th November 2021
Word Count: 77,372
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Kenzie Hill needs a place to stay the summer before college, so when a spot opens up at her brother Aaron’s ‘baseball’ house, she accepts. Living with a bunch of dudes who walk around shirtless won’t distract her—she has plans and nothing will get in her way. Not even her brother’s best friend.
Tanner Johnson has one thing on his mind—his future in the MLB. After choosing to wait another year before entering the draft, he now dedicates every second to getting better on the field, or letting loose. His best friend’s sister shouldn’t even register on his radar.
The first kiss is an accident and the second leads to more. They agree it’ll just be a fling and that Aaron can never know. Kenzie’s just starting her future, while Tanner’s is already planned.
Falling for her brother’s best friend was never an option—but what happens when suddenly, it is?
Reader advisory: This book was previously released by Finch Books.
Leaving the home I’d grown up in—the house packed with every memory I had—hurt more than I’d anticipated. My throat burned each time I held back emotion, but it wouldn’t do any of us good to mention the overwhelming worry and sadness. We couldn’t afford wasted sentiments when every second of every day we worried about our dad—fighting cancer wasn’t a single person’s battle. It took all our efforts.
“I can’t believe our baby girl is going away to college,” my dad said from the front seat of the old navy mini-van that smelled like used sports gear. He craned his neck and gave me a weak smile. I returned the gesture, hoping I hid the bubbling anxiety growing in my chest, and raised my fists in the air.
He coughed, the sound better than it used to be, but I still tensed every time I heard it. Each breath he took was a struggle. “While I’m not thrilled you’re going to be living with Aaron and two of his teammates for the summer, they seem to be decent young men. They’re better now than they were his freshman year. Good lord, they were hellions. But he promised he’d take care of you for us.”
“Dad,” I mumbled. “Come on.”
“I mean it. Your mom and I are going to be hours away trying out different treatment facilities. Someone needs to look out for you, K-Bug.”
I will not cry. Nope. I will not. “I’ll be fine. Really. I’ve been looking forward to college for years.”
“But not everyone goes two months early…” My mom let the words hang and our eyes met in the rearview mirror. Hers were tired and gray. My heart hurt for her and how strong she’d been for all of us. She’d been our family rock forever and while the thought of being away from them was freeing, it also left a hole.
“It’s better like this, I promise. It’ll be a good way for me to get acclimated to the campus and I signed up for two classes already. Introduction to Film and Online Biology. Both sound awful, but it’ll help me get ready for my hard schedule this fall.”
“K-Bug, you’ve never had to worry about grades. You’re our smart girl,” my dad said, not hiding his pride. Another wave of gratitude went through me. Despite Aaron’s insane athletic abilities, my parents had never once made me feel less important or talented. Not once. The world needed more of them and the gratitude switched to anger at the injustice of my dad getting sick.
It wasn’t fair.
But showing my internal battle would do none of us any good on the already emotional day. I swallowed down the grief and worry, plastered a smile on my face and spoke with a practiced enthusiasm that I’d mastered with all the hospital visits. “I’m just excited for the newness. New friends, new experiences, new things to learn and new mistakes to make. I’ve always heard about how college is this life-changing experience of fun, embarrassing stories and the place where you meet lifelong friends. I want that. I’m ready for it.”
“Then that’s what you’re going to do.” My dad’s voice held a finality to it and we all remained quiet for the rest of the drive. The campus was about two hours away from our childhood home—the house my parents had sold—and the moment we left the driveway that morning was the last time I’d set foot there. It was an odd combination to experience—utter excitement about what was next, and longing for what used to be. My constant battle was defining myself. I had always been Aaron’s younger sister. The daughter. The girlfriend.
I wanted to be me.
College was my answer.
“Honey, we’re going to stop and get some shakes. Would you like anything?” my mom inquired as she pulled into a fast-food place. My dad had a softness for milkshakes and we’d made an unspoken agreement that when he wanted one, he got one.
“Yeah, I’ll get a coffee. Want me to run in and buy one?”
“That’d be great, K-Bug.”
They handed me a twenty-dollar bill and I grabbed my phone before heading inside the diner. The humid air was hard to swallow, but it was a brief escape from the confines of the car. My dad got cold real fast, so we couldn’t have the air on too high. I fanned myself, moving the end of my old jersey-shirt to get air on my midriff. Sweat dripped down my muscles and a cold milkshake sounded perfect. I ordered—my mom preferred chocolate, my dad mint-cookie and I always got banana.
My phone went off and I almost ignored it, since my ex-boyfriend had thought it a great time to reconcile after our disastrous prom weekend. No thanks, Sean. That ship sailed. But it wasn’t him. It was Aaron, my ridiculous, awesome and obnoxious older brother.
Aaron: Yo, you almost here?
Kenzie: Stopped for milkshakes. Maybe fifteen minutes out.
Aaron: Coach just called and wants to meet me at the field—Tanner is here though. He’ll help you unpack. That cool?
Kenzie: That’s fine. Mom and Dad will be pissed if they don’t see you though.
Aaron: I’ll try and be back in an hour. Coach knows they’re here but said this is important.
Kenzie: Okay, see you soon.
Aaron: No backing out now, kid. You absolutely sure about living here?
Kenzie: There’s no home to go back to. Yeah, I’m sure.
I didn’t expect a response from him, and the few minutes I had to wait for the shakes were spent thinking about my future roommates. Sure, it was only two months, but these guys had the personalities of celebrities.
Aaron—my brother who’d slept with countless ladies the past two years and suffered a sex scandal. Zade Willows—the all-star pitcher who had a fan club named after him. Tanner Johnson—the giant center fielder who could make girls faint with a wink. Yeah. It was going to be an adventure living with them until their fourth roommate, Jeff, got back from playing baseball overseas.
Me, the awkward kid without an ounce of athletic ability, was living in the baseball house in the center of Jockville. Life was funny sometimes.
I thanked the hostess and carried the drinks back to the car. Too soon, we were pulling into the chipped driveway of my new temporary digs. White house, large porch that had seen better days, overgrown trees in the front and backyard and the door wide open. I pulled my long dark-blonde hair into a high messy bun and took one final breath.
“What’s up, Hill family?” Tanner’s voice boomed from him. He leaned against the front railing, his height almost putting his head on the roof of the house. His hair was midnight black and it spilled from his head in messy curls, but his light brown eyes were killer. Yeah, I had a little bitty crush on him after having met him a couple times over the past three years, but it was hard not to. He was my kryptonite—long eyelashes, mischievous grin, the perfect dimples and real tall with broad shoulders. I gave him a little wave, hoping I didn’t blush too much.
I was going to be living with him, so it didn’t bode well for anyone to know about my crush. “Hey, TJ.”
“Roomie, let me grab your stuff. Aaron had to head to the field, but he’ll be back. Good to see you, Mr. and Mrs. Hill.” He swaggered—it was the only way to describe it—to the car and gave both my parents a hug. It pleased me to see how good he was to my family. The warmth on the back of my neck had nothing to do with his fitted shirt and workout shorts that showcased how much time he spent in the gym.
“You’re too kind, Tanner. Really,” my mom gushed and I had to roll my eyes. Even she succumbed to his charm. She had to know how much he got around… I mean, he was one of two single guys who lived in the baseball house. I snorted into my fist and Tanner slid me a look.
“Laying it on thick there, TJ.”
“What? I can’t hug my second-favorite set of parents?” He dared to raise one beautiful dark eyebrow, challenging me to call him out. I did.
“They brought you all beer and homemade casserole for at least a week. You don’t need to suck up.”
His grin widened and, after patting my dad on the back, he walked to the trunk of the car to help get my five bags. It was sad that, moving into college, I only had five bags’ worth of stuff. That was one lesson learned after seeing my dad go through his struggle—material things didn’t matter all that much. Life was more about the experience.
He walked past me, smirking, and picked up two of the bags. “Come on, Kenny. Let me show you to your room.”
He didn’t lower his voice or do anything weird, but those words coming from his mouth sent a shiver down my body. I cleared my throat and picked up the final load. “After you, Johnson.”
My parents took their time bringing food into the small kitchen while I followed Tanner into the house and up the stairs. I had been there before, but only for a small amount of time where they could hide their craziness. Now, they’d let it all hang out. The mess, the dirty bathroom, the pile of useless things stacked in the corner. Why did they have a stack of empty boxes? And empty cups? They had a kitchen…why didn’t they use it?
He led me down the upstairs hallway. There were two rooms on each side, two with their own bathrooms, but I wasn’t that lucky. While Zade and Aaron across the hall had one each, Jeff and Tanner shared theirs. And Jeff’s was the room I was using…meaning I had to share a bathroom with Tanner Johnson.
Two months was going to be a long time.
“Okay, Kenny. Here’s Jeff’s room.” He opened the door and gave me a bemused look. “He’s the neatest out of all of us. I saw you scowl on the way up. We’re not total pigs.”
“I’ll just have to do some cleaning, that’s all.” Thank God I brought supplies.
He chuckled and dropped my large duffel bags on the beige carpet. I took a hesitant step inside the room and sniffed. Nothing smelled off and there weren’t any weird stains on the carpet.
“Did you just smell the room?”
“Yes, I did.” I jutted my chin out at him. “I’ve lived with Aaron. I know how smelly boys can be. It seems fine so far.”
“God, this is going to be fun.”
“I’m bursting with excitement,” I deadpanned.
It earned me another grin, showcasing his impressive dimples, and I scanned the rest of the room. The walls had various baseball posters of the team and MLB teams. The sheets had been stripped from the queen-sized bed and the dresser drawers opened and emptied. I placed my bag on the desk and spun around. Tanner watched me with a curious expression and I did not look at his mouth when his lips quirked up on one side.
“We need to talk about some ground rules.”
Shit. Butterflies formed in my gut and I felt foolish. I wasn’t sure what I’d thought he was going to say, but it wasn’t that. Crossing my arms, I scrunched my nose and asked, “About what?”
“Living here.” He stepped farther into the room and with that small action, the walls seemed to close around us. He took up so much space and his warmth crowded me. “I know you’re pretty chill from everything Hilly’s told us, but I want to get it all out in the open, you know?”
I bit my lip to prevent myself from smiling. Was he going to give me the talk? Holy shit. I hoped he was because I wasn’t going to make it easy for him. “Okay. I’m listening. Should I write this down?” I moved toward my backpack, but he shook his head.
“We share a wall and a bathroom. The foundation here isn’t great and I don’t plan on being a saint just because you’re here.” He winced and moved his hand to his neck, stress lines forming around his eyes. “I mean, I’ll be more discreet about it. I won’t…you don’t have to see anything.”
“Tanner, what are you talking about?” I asked, successfully keeping my face blank. He had to know what my life had been like with Aaron. Hell, everyone knew the baseball house was notorious for hooking up. I wasn’t dumb or naïve. But watching him struggle through this was worth it. “What do you mean by saint?”
“Christ,” he said, then rubbed his hand over his face. Gone was the playful expression—uneasiness replaced it. “I don’t want you uncomfortable, but you might run into girls who…spend the night.”
“Ohhh, you have a girlfriend?” I whistled, getting another worried look. “Do I get to meet her?”
“Kenzie.” His cheeks turned just a little bit red and I pressed my lips together to prevent breaking character. “You might hear…stuff. I don’t want you to… Shit. I don’t know how to do this. I didn’t think it through.”
“Okay, enough. I’ll stop.” I laughed and enjoyed the myriad expressions crossing his face. They ended in curiosity and I closed the distance between us so we stood a foot apart. “I know you’ll have hook-ups. That’s fine. All I ask is that she doesn’t hog the bathroom the morning after and that you don’t fuck too loud.”
He blinked. It was slow and telling, and I bit my lip, but it did no good. I burst out laughing at how uncomfortable he was and I hit his shoulder without real force. “I was messing with you before, but I appreciate you trying to warn me.”
“I thought—Aaron said… Never mind. I didn’t want to shock or upset you.”
His comment warmed me, but his use of my brother’s name did not. “Whatever warning Aaron gave you, forget it, okay? I’m not this naïve, innocent kid.”
“Your tone doesn’t agree with your word.” I pursed my lips and gave him my best leveling stare. “Mean it.”
He gave me his signature crooked grin, narrowed those baby browns just a smidge and lowered his voice like a soccer coach. “Okay.”
We stood, not in a face-off or battle, but in a weird bubble of not really knowing the other person. He was the playboy with a bright future. I was the innocent younger sister of his best friend. Two months living with him, good or bad, would be an adventure, and my excitement for something new overshadowed the awkwardness. I held out my hand, grinning, and broke the tension that had formed in the last two minutes. “Thanks for letting me live here, roomie. I think we’re going to have a hell of a time.”
He placed his large hand against mine and shook, a slow smile forming on his too-handsome face. “I already regret agreeing to this.”
About the Author
Jaqueline Snowe lives in Arizona where the ‘dry heat’ really isn’t that bad. She enjoys making lists with colorful Post-it notes and sipping coffee all day. She has been a custodian, a waitress, a landscaper, a coach and a teacher. Her life revolves around binge-watching Netflix, her two dogs who don’t realize they aren’t humans and her wonderful baseball-loving husband.
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