The Player Next Door

            Mike Giamaria jerked in alarm, his only thought: WTF?

            He’d been out for his third run of the day, enjoying himself as he zipped through Evanston, IL without being followed by the paparazzi. It was a pretty place as suburbia went, and he liked seeing chalk drawings on the sidewalk, a couple fat family dogs snoozing in the shade, and a woman dangling upside down from her roof.

            That was when he jerked to a stop.

            A woman–blonde and slender–dangled upside down from the roof. One foot was caught in the gutter, but the rest of her was hanging upside down by a thin nylon rope tied to the chimney. She’d looped the cord through the belt loops of her jean cut offs. Her tee shirt had drifted up to her nose, and while he watched, she stripped the thing off and let it drop lazily to the ground–another good ten feet below her.

            He immediately started cataloguing thoughts. First the assets: creamy white skin, pink bra with a dangling piece of lace, and a nice slender torso. Nice cleavage, he thought, even as his mind was racing through the cons. A too thin nylon rope pulled taut, a ten-plus foot drop, and soft dirt that would still break her neck when she fell.

            Holy shit, she was going to die.

            That’s when his feet started moving again. He easily cleared the package of roofing tiles on the ground. Had she been roofing? Then he leaped over the sickly looking hedge to reach her side.

            “Stay calm. I’m here,” he said as he made the side of the house.

            Damn, she was too quiet. No hysterics, no screams. Had she fainted? He came up right underneath her, accidentally stepping on her dropped tee. Her head was tilted and her eyes widened in surprise when he came into view.

            “Oh hello,” she said, her voice surprisingly cheerful. “I didn’t see you there.”

            “Too busy taking a header?” he asked.

            But she just frowned as she popped earbuds out of her ears. He could hear the rapid beat of drums, loud and clear. “Sorry. What did you say?”

            “Just stay calm,” he repeated, though she seemed bizarrely casual. He reached out to steady her, his hands settling on her shoulders even though they practically itched to slide over to her generous tits. The thought wasn’t appropriate, but he was a guy after all and he wanted to keep things calm. Slow. Steady. Creamy mounds right next to his hands.

He waited a beat to refocus his thoughts. Besides, it was best to get over the sudden recognition and starstruck gibbering now. After all, he was a superstar athlete for the Knicks, recognizable even here in Chicagoland. After she’d calmed down, they could move on to deal with the situation.

            But nothing happened. He’d flipped his hoodie back so she was staring full at his face. She just looked at him, her expression bizarrely serene.

            Okay. So maybe she didn’t recognize people upside down. Or maybe she was a little more freaked out than she let on. Her jaw was rigid in the way of someone holding back fear while remaining outwardly calm. Either way, he had to get her down from there.

            “Where’s the ladder?” he asked. Even with his busted shoulder, he could probably haul her up. But he had to get on top of the roof first.

            “My car’s a Prius.”

            “What?”

            She frowned at him, then explained with a slow patient voice. “No ladder. It was too big for my car.”

            Ah. Right. He’d seen the powder blue thing in the driveway. But… “How’d you get up there?”

            She gestured with her arm, the motion making her sway such that her strawberry blonde ponytail seemed to spin as she twisted. “Tree.”

            He looked into the backyard where a dying locust tree had overgrown the roof. Sure it would be an easy climb for a kid, but he wouldn’t want to carry roofing tiles up there. Those things were damned heavy. And sure enough, there was another spilled package of tiles on the ground.

            Jesus. “Okay. I’ll climb the tree.”

            She twisted back to look at him. Bright blue eyes the color of her car caught his gaze. “Okay. But there’s no need.”

            “You’re about to plunge to your death.” He wouldn’t usually say something like that. One mention of falling and his sisters would have descended into hysterics, but this woman seemed practically blasé. Maybe she’d hit her head and was concussed. That would explain a lot.     

She smiled, and he was momentarily startled by the charming sight of her slightly crooked teeth. “Don’t be silly. I have everything under control.” Then she winked at him. “And if I fall, you can be heroic and catch me.”

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