Aric Christian looked up, but not fast enough.
A bullet of pain shot between his eyebrows, and his hands flew to his head. He didn't catch his fall; instead his body crumpled, his vision blurring, white pages raining down on him. Grumbling under his breath, he found himself on the ground, his ears ringing and his sunglasses half twisted off his face.
As his vision cleared, a blond Apollo came into view holding a...football?
“Hey, are you okay?” A broad hand pressed against his forehead.
Aric looked up, ready to complain, but gaped instead, his mouth flapping like a fish tail. He leaned back on his elbows and groaned.
The god hovering over him pushed down on his shoulder. “Hey, you better lay there for a sec. You really got pinged.”
Pinged? What kind of word is that?
Yet the guy was even more good-looking up close, and he smelled nice
. Blond bangs fringed china blue eyes, and his lashes were made even more golden by the sunlight. Concern was evident in the downturn of his well-shaped mouth, a kind expression that made him seem generous.
“Hey, do you know your name? Where you are?”
Aric forced himself to look away from those startling blue eyes. By the look of this guy's powerfully built physique, he had to be a jock. And even with Aric's limited experience, he knew jocks weren't the sharpest pencils in the pack. He liked a guy who had some brains, and this one's vocabulary told Aric he didn't have too much going on upstairs. Aric swatted the dude's hand away, then ripped off his damaged sunglasses and waved them in the guy's face. Showing anger was better than showing any kind of attraction. That would be too humiliating. “These cost a fortune.”
That generous mouth now quirked up into a smile, making him appear not the least bit regretful. “Sorry, but you walked right between us.”
“You hit me with your fucking football, and you say it's my fault?” Aric snapped. Then he gasped, eyeing his lab notes sailing across the glade. His stomach plummeted at the sight of all his hard work flying into oblivion. All his sexual attraction hurtled from his mind as he scrambled to his knees. “My papers!”
Another powerful shove on his shoulder and Aric plopped back down onto the grass.
“Stay put; I'll get them.”
Aric watched in fascination as the god dodged flying Frisbees and leaped around barking dogs and students reading on the lawn, scooping the papers into his hands. His graceful movements reminded Aric of someone; he'd seen those moves before... Oh fuck
! That jock happened to be the big man on campus and a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Stu Hamilton, the university football team's wide receiver, certainly could move.
Aric stared at the rounded ass flexing so deliciously in snug jeans. A faded black T-shirt barely held in straining biceps and a well-defined chest. All lean, mean, and muscular. His mouth watered at the sight, and a spasm rippled across his groin.
He had one hell of a hard-on.
Not good. No, not good at all.
It had been too long since he had a guy in his bed, and this was too damn embarrassing. Besides, he had enough on his mind without thinking about sex. He pulled out his half-rumpled shirt and covered his bulge.
Aric half crawled toward the grassy area shaded by the overhead palm fronds. He rose and, still wobbly, leaned against the trunk for support. He took in a few deep breaths and tugged down the hem of his shirt. Stu Hamilton would consider him to be on the lowest level of the food chain--most likely a cockroach. The dude was straight and a magnet for every available bimbo on campus. His reputation with girls was as widespread as his sterling reputation as a football player.
Stu approached, all smiles, holding the pile of Aric's hard-earned work. Once Stu got close, the heat radiating off that sculpted body enhanced his true scent. Aric's acute sense of smell dissected the layers of crisp notes: musk and vanilla with undertones of aromatic spice, all hidden beneath a layer of pure male sweat. It bothered him how much detail he could discern with just his nose, something he wouldn't have been able to do just a few months ago.
“Here you go. I think that's all of them.”
Aric blinked back to reality.
Stu handed him the unruly pile with a blinding smile. “I'm really sorry. I hope you didn't lose anything.”
“Just a few brain cells,” Aric grumbled, rubbing the swelling on his forehead, the lump growing bigger by the second.
Stu scratched his head and pointed to the papers. “From the looks of what's written there, I'd say you can afford to lose a few.” Then he laughed, a clear rumble deep within his chest.
Aric's cheeks flushed at the sight of that nice, solid chest.
Stu reached out to touch Aric's forehead. “Wow, looks like you're going to have one big goose egg.”
Aric flinched. “Don't... I don't like to be touched.”
Pulling his hand away, Stu narrowed his eyes but kept his winning smile plastered on his face. “Sorry.” He shrugged but didn't move away. “I'm Stu, by the way.”
Aric lowered his lashes, avoiding that probing gaze. He tugged at the end of his braid, flipping the tail back and forth. Jocks made him nervous and jumpy and stupid. He'd been bullied enough in high school. The memories of being pinned against his locker by their large, hard bodies, his body reacting to all that muscle and heated anger, came rushing back to him.
“Yeah, I know who you are,” he replied, his voice tight.
Aric tried to sidestep away, but Stu stepped into his space, effectively blocking his way. He held his breath while staring into those too-blue eyes, willing his heart to slow down. But sparks of tension blew apart all thoughts in his head. This guy was standing too close, his size too imposing. Feeling trapped like an animal, he didn't move a muscle.
“From the tone of your voice, it seems you don't like me. That's funny because we don't even know each other.”
“I know your type,” Aric muttered, looking down at his feet.
“You always stereotype people?” Stu touched his arm before stepping back.
That single touch from the hunky Apollo was just too much. Aric pushed past Stu and rushed across the glade, not daring to look back.
Stu yelled, his powerful voice booming across the lawn. “Hey, your glasses.”
Aric broke into a trot, the sunlight hurting his eyes. Hugging his papers to his chest, he hurried toward the lab, his sanctuary. His breath gushed from his lungs, and he shivered. Fear nudged a warning deep in his gut. Not that he'd always had intuition worth heeding. As the months had passed, he'd discovered he had new abilities. Abilities that were a poor reward for what he was about to become. His secret was deadly serious and deadly inconvenient for making friends or, for that matter, ever thinking of taking a lover.
He skipped up the steps to the entrance of the Life Sciences Building and stopped to catch his breath. He rubbed the bump on his forehead, finding it to be larger than he expected. Despite his cloudy head, everything around him seemed brighter, sharper, clearer, and he felt as exhilarated as he did when drinking blood.
Surely this heighted awareness couldn't be because of Stu Hamilton. That encounter couldn't have been why he felt so excited. He'd far more important worries than satisfying his dick with fantasies over that jock. Real problems--problems a hot football player could never imagine.
But then a twinge of regret squeezed his heart, startling him.
It's not like he had a chance with someone like Stu. The guy was straight. Or if he did sleep with guys, then he was bi. Both red flags in Aric's rule book of dating. He'd learned his lesson with his last boyfriend, a straight guy who went back to his girlfriend after months spent fucking Aric silly.
Shaking his head, Aric erased all thoughts of Stu from his mind. What was important was tonight. Thankfully his professors left him alone in the lab, trusting him to seek their opinions when he needed it. His teaching duties took him into the classroom twice a week but left plenty of hours for his research.
The answers were somewhere in the formulas scribbled across the pages he cradled protectively in his hands. He just had to unscramble, rearrange, think outside the box, and see the truth in his mind's eye. All scientists used their power of intuition.
A smile played along his lips. He was so close to a breakthrough. He sensed it in every cell of his body. Tonight he would begin the first test on a subject. Not a rat or guinea pig or any other creature, but a living human being. Himself. All he needed was to get the correct combination of the cell vector and the cell mutation.
Aric looked up at the sky, the faint outline of the ghost moon visible on the fabric of blue expanse. He had one week until he'd be completely transformed. One week to perfect the formula. If he didn't, Aric the Human would cease to exist.