The costume resembled nothing more than an adult-size onesie.
Kyle accepted the hideous red-and-gray animal print—red-and-gray animal print for God’s sake!—from the perky blonde in the university sweatshirt and tight little shorts that showed her assets to anyone who cared to look. Kyle didn’t care. Now the assets of the other pep-squad volunteer were quite another story. The little cutie with the chestnut curls and big brown eyes and a package to make a porn star weep with envy, that was another matter entirely.
Why couldn’t he have gotten in that little hottie’s line instead?
It didn’t matter. He was not here at mascot tryouts to make friends, influence people, or get dick. He was here because he intended to get the full scholarship the university was offering to the student willing to don an adult-size onesie and the head of a cartoon snow leopard and perform all manner of antics on the athletic field during games. In other words, a team mascot.
God help him!
And Blondie was talking.
“Hello? Earth to you?”
“Yeah, what? Excuse me?” Better to be polite. She might be somebody important’s daughter or girlfriend or whatever.
“I said, you can go over there and pick up your head from Jaden.”
She pointed to the chestnut-haired cutie.
Oh, if only he could get head from that dreamboat. No. Right. Not what he was here for.
“Thanks. What did you say your name was?” Kyle gave Blondie his best look-what-a-good-snow-leopard-I-could-be smile.
“I didn’t, but it’s Felicia.” She returned his smile, and it took her face to a new level of prettiness. Wasted on him, but clearly her gaydar wasn’t tuned to his frequency.
Kyle took his onesie and sashayed over to where Jaden was explaining the mechanics of the head to one of the other mascot hopefuls.
“It just straps on like a helmet. See?”
Oh, strap it on for me, baby!
The other auditionee took her head and moved over to one of the mirrors on the opposite wall, leaving little hottie free for Kyle’s charms.
After turning up the wattage of his smile, a real one this time, he stepped up to Jaden’s table.
“Hey, I’m Kyle. You got head for me?”
Jaden flushed an adorable shade of pink, mumbled something, and bent down to retrieve another head from the box behind him.
Mmm, lovely rear view as well.
He turned back to Kyle and held out a snow leopard head.
“You just strap it on like a helmet, see?”
“Would you strap it on for me?” Kyle asked.
Jaden widened his eyes, and a smile flirted with the corners of his lips. “Uh…”
“The helmet, sweetie. Though, if you want, we can talk after tryouts.” Kyle fluttered his lashes.
“I have a girlfriend.”
“Hmm, too bad for me.” Too bad for her, too, when Jaden finally figured out he might prefer what Kyle had to offer. Ah well. Plenty of other fish, as his mama liked to say.
Kyle took the helmet thingie and was about to move off toward the wall of mirrors when Jaden spoke again.
“Are you new?”
“No, but I clean up well,” Kyle said, and this time he got a real smile in return.
“I just meant I haven’t seen you before, and it’s usually the same cast of characters who try out for pep squad stuff.”
“Ah.” Kyle debated the wisdom of telling Cutie Pie he was just in this for the scholarship. What the hell. It was nothing but the truth. “My financial aid got cut, so…”
“So you’re in it for the scholarship.” Jaden nodded. “Me too.”
“Excuse me,” the girl standing behind Kyle interrupted. “But I’d like to get through this line sometime today, if y’all don’t mind.”
“I’ll catch you later,” Kyle said as he stepped out of line. He glanced back in time to see Jaden thrust a mascot head at Little-Miss-Hurry-It-Up.
“Go over there and strap it on,” Jaden said. The “beotch” remained unspoken, but Kyle heard it loud and clear anyway.
Kyle positioned himself in front of one of the full-length mirrors and put the snow leopard head over his own head. Instantly the world closed in around him.
It was indeed like a helmet, one of those super safe king-of-motorcycle helmets that resembled something an astronaut might wear.
Don’t freak. Don’t freak. Don’t freak.
Kyle recited the words like a mantra, even as his throat narrowed and the breath began to whistle through his tightening airway. These heads were so not designed for those with even mild claustrophobia.
“Aww, don’t you look cute.”
Kyle spun around. His best friend, Josie, was there, standing off to the side and grinning at him.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “But I guess it hasn’t really got started yet.”
“Okay, mascots,” someone called from the opposite end of the long room. “Everybody get your costumes on and get in your places. We’ll be starting in five.”
“Want me to hold your head while you put on your… What the heck is that, anyway?”
Kyle sighed and unzipped the onesie. “Don’t you know a snow leopard when you see one, Joes?”
“I know adult footy pajamas when I see them.”
“I don’t know if I can do this.” Kyle stepped into the costume and stuck his arms through the sleeves.
“Just think of the money, Ky. You get this gig, and it’s a free ride till graduation.”
And if he didn’t get this gig, he was going to have to transfer to God knew where. Maybe even somewhere without a proper dance program, and without Josie. He couldn’t let that happen.
He took several deep breaths to calm the racing of his heart before he strapped the helmet over his head and went to join the other mascots.
* * * *
Seven… Eight… Nine…
Dave Masterson fought to get the bar up for that last and final rep. His arm muscles trembled. Sweat dripped in his eyes. It stung, and he blinked it away. With a final heave he raised the bar the last few inches.
The bar slammed down, and Masterson blew out a long breath.
Holy shit! That was too much. He made a mental note to cut back the weight a bit for his next workout.
He sat up, grabbed his towel, and wiped the sweat from his face and neck. His T-shirt was drenched and clung clammily to his torso. And Christ, he could smell himself. He was ripe. Time to hit the shower.
Music blared from the cheerleaders’—cheer squad’s, he reminded himself—workout room down the hall. It was that totally annoying piece-of-shit song you heard at every single sporting event played anywhere with a loudspeaker through which music could be blasted. He hated that fucking song.
What he did not hate was the sight of the cheerleaders—cheer squad—practicing their routines, or sweating in aerobics class, or lifting their girly weights, or doing just about anything. He hadn’t realized they had a workout scheduled today. But the fact that they were there and he was there, well, it was pure kismet.
Masterson draped his towel around his neck and left the players’ weight room for a casual stroll down the hall. Just to check on the cheer squad’s progress.
He wouldn’t let them see him or, worse, smell him.
The hallway was deserted, so he had no problem getting close enough to see but not be seen. But what he saw was not a perky blonde or brunette or even redhead sweating in her spandex. No, what he saw was a half dozen people in snow leopard costumes dancing and generally acting like asses to that annoying song. Except…
Over at the far end of the workout room, one mascot-wannabe was slinking around in a manner that managed to appear utterly feline and compelling, despite the ridiculous costume and the obnoxious music. As he watched, this particular snow-leopard hopeful executed a handstand that turned into a somersault and some other gymnastic move Masterson didn’t know the name of. This was followed by a series of cartwheels down the middle of the room. The rest of the mascots scattered so as not to be bowled over. One screamed, breaking the sacrosanct mascot rule of silence.
“Little show-off,” Masterson said to no one in particular.
“Hey, that one’s pretty good.”
A hand landed on Masterson’s shoulder. He jumped, then swung around.
Jimmy Renaldi stood behind him, also ogling the mascots, not that there was much to ogle, and what there was was completely covered in gray-and-red leopard print and faux fur.
Jimmy grinned. “Enjoying the sights, man?”
Masterson shrugged. “I was lifting and I heard the music.”
“Hmm, thought the cheerleaders were in here, huh? Me too.”
They stood together, watching in silence as the group part of the audition came to an end and the improv stage began.
“I heard Rachel Walsh was going to try out. Which one do you think she is?” Jimmy took several steps closer to the doorway, drawn by his well-known fascination with one of the leggiest of the cheerleaders who had yet to give him even the time of day. But still, who could blame him?
Masterson hooked a hand in the waistband of Jimmy’s shorts and jerked him backward.
“No ogling, remember?”
“You ogled first.”
Masterson sighed. “I did indeed.”
They grinned at each other. Ogling was coach’s word. Apparently one of the cheerleaders—cheer squad—had gone to the athletic director and complained that the football players were hanging around and watching their workouts and it made her uncomfortable and threw off the synchronicity of the squad. After her complaint, Coach had called the whole team together and established what they jokingly referred to as Coach’s anti-ogling rule. It was a rule everyone obeyed in principle but not in practice. They were college guys. Hello?
The sexy little snow leopard continued to steal the show from all the other wannabes, who all stood around like a bunch of doofuses wagging their stupid tails and turning their heads from side to side like they were watching a tennis match.
That head thing they had to wear must restrict their peripheral vision like crazy, but his little snow leopard looked perfectly comfortable in the silly red-and-gray leopard-print getup. That little kitten even managed to make the tail work with the rest of the package.
Masterson’s lips curved. Oh, he was so getting to know that kitty, and soon.