Home > Pompous Player (Cocky Hero Club)

Pompous Player (Cocky Hero Club)
Author: Brenda Rothert





Pompous Player is a standalone story inspired by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward’s Cocky Bastard. It's published as part of the Cocky Hero Club world, a series of original works, written by various authors, and inspired by Keeland and Ward's New York Times bestselling series.



Chapter One






I lunge at the coins I find hiding beneath my couch cushions, mentally tallying the amount as I pick them up. Eighty-six cents. Not as much as I need, but it’s progress.

After adding the change to the pile on my coffee table, I replace the cushions and sit down. The couch coils squeak as the cushions shift beneath me. I’d sell it, but no one would want the worn green velvet sofa that stopped being vintage chic about three holes ago.

Sighing heavily, I glance over at Avery, sleeping soundly on the blanket I spread out on the floor for her. My heart swells as I take in her chubby cheeks and tiny pink lips, set in a peaceful line. She exhausted herself crying for more than an hour, only stopping to drink her bottle and burp a few times after.

Actually, she exhausted both of us. I’m broke as a joke, but if I had to choose between eight continuous hours of sleep and a hundred bucks cash right now, it’d seriously be a tough call. I’d probably ugly cry, complete with splotchy cheeks and snot all over, as I grabbed for the money as fast as I could.

Mallory would know just what to do. Avery would probably fall asleep in minutes for her mother, but I’m her only option now. I don’t have Mal’s natural maternal instincts or her calm this-too-shall-pass attitude. Hell, I don’t even have ten bucks to buy diapers.

Burying my face in my hands, I give myself a few minutes to feel sorry for myself. Then, with a bit of hope, I pick up my phone and check the Facebook hairstylist group I’m part of to see if anyone commented about buying my old curling and flat irons.


I groan with disappointment, and Avery stirs, raising both arms in the air as she stretches in her sleep. I hold my breath, not moving a muscle for fear of waking her up. She yawns and lowers her arms to the floor beside her head. As her face settles back into a neutral sleeping expression, I slowly inhale again.

I’ve only got two diapers left. Avery could go through those in the next hour. I’ve already sold pretty much everything—my car, all my handbags except the one I’m using right now, and most of my shoes.

Don’t let anyone tell you babies aren’t expensive. Not only will Avery need more diapers, and soon, she’ll also need formula in a couple days and I have to find a way to get to our appointment at an attorney’s office in downtown Chicago this afternoon.

I lean back against the couch, trying to think of an answer. I’ve never been flat broke before. I’m responsible. I’ve been working since I got my first paper route when I was thirteen.

But I can’t work while being the sole caregiver for a newborn baby. And when Mal got really sick, I couldn’t work much then, either—I was all she had.

The hole I’m in feels a little smaller as I drift asleep. Maybe a ten-minute nap will bring more clarity.

A loud booming noise jolts me awake from a deep sleep. My mind feels hazy and it takes me a little while to realize someone is banging on the front door of my apartment. Immediately, I look around for Avery. She’s still resting on the blanket, but her expression is twisting in a windup for the mother of all screams.

I mentally stab whoever is beating on my door. Who the hell could it be? I don’t have many friends in Chicago—Mal and I hit it off as soon as she moved here three years ago and I spent most of my time hanging out with her.

“Winter! Open the goddamn door!”

I close my eyes as I recognize the sound of my landlord’s voice. Mick is—rightfully—pissed.

At that moment, Avery unleashes her fury, crying hard and loud over the interruption of her sleep. I’d rather cry with her than answer my door, but I can’t because, well, adulthood.

“Hang on, Mick,” I call, wiping the drool from the corner of my mouth and standing from the couch to go pick up Avery.

“I’m sorry, sweet girl,” I croon, cradling her close to me. “Shh, it’s okay.”

When I have her tucked into the crook of my arm, still wailing, I walk over to unlock the front door and pull it open. Mick points at a neon yellow-colored paper stuck to the surface of the steel door. The word EVICTION screams at me even louder than Avery, the bold red letters making my stomach churn.

“Mick, please don’t,” I plead, rocking Avery in my arms.

He shakes his Mr. Clean–bald head. “You’re out of time, Winter. I let you slide last month ‘cause your friend was dying.”

The mention of Mallory’s death brings angry tears to my eyes. “She just died three weeks ago, and she left me her newborn daughter. She has no family that can care for Avery except a grandma, who lives in a nursing home. I’m in a huge bind here.”

Mick gives zero fucks—his expression makes that clear. “And you’re three weeks late on this month’s rent. I ain’t runnin’ a charity.”

“I know that. I do. But if I could just have a little more time—”

“You’re not working, so how is more time gonna help?”

I hold his gaze imploringly. “I’m working on getting legal custody of Avery, and when I do—”

Mick puts up a hand. “Time’s up, Winter. I’m sorry.”

A spark of fury ignites inside me at his complete disregard for my situation. I’m a good tenant. “I’ve lived here for four years, and I’ve never once been late on rent.”

Mick hikes his brows up. “Yeah, ‘til you just stopped paying it altogether.”

“I just need some time.” My heart pounds as the gravity of actually being evicted from my apartment sets in. “I’ll give you free…I mean, your girlfriend or wife or mom, or whoever, free hair services. Color, cut, anything.”

“I don’t need a fucking haircut, Winter. I need cash, now. Twenty-four hundred bucks.” He shakes his head, brow furrowed with frustration. “I’ll take off the late fees if you can get me two grand by tomorrow.”

It’s official—I’m about to break down in front of my landlord, further proving that I definitely don’t have that much money. I can barely afford food right now. Two grand is an impossible dream.

His expression softens. “I’ve got a mortgage on this place, okay? I can’t afford to let you slide any longer. Do us both a favor and get your stuff out in the next couple weeks so I don’t have to get the cops involved.”

“Jesus, Mick.” I shift my approach. “Have a heart, will you? You’re gonna put a baby out on the street? She’s only five weeks old, you cold bastard.”

“There’s a homeless shelter a couple blocks over.”

“I am not homeless.”

Mick points at the notice on my door. “Get the fuck out, Winter. Sorry it had to come to this.”

He turns and leaves. I close and lock the door, still absentmindedly swaying Avery gently to soothe her. My heart is still hammering wildly from that interaction.

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