Carol Scott crossed the campus green, backpack slung over her shoulder, face raised to the warm sun. She both loved and hated this time of year. The cool, crisp breeze combined with clear skies, lots of sunshine, and chilly temperatures made it wonderful to be outside. In contrast, it was a pain to be indoors, closed inside stifling hot buildings with the overwhelming scents of perfume, chemicals, and body odor.
Sometimes it was rough being a shifter.
Right now wasn't one of those times.
She stopped, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Nothing but pine, dirt, and sunshine. It was great. So wonderful, she did it again. This time, along with the cleansing aroma of nature, another scent came to her. One that had her senses humming. She turned, trying to pinpoint where the luscious smell was coming from.
There, in the center part of the bowl-shaped green, a group of men were playing football. Not that she could blame them. This was the perfect weather for it. Somewhere in that group of players was where the scent emanated from.
Carol shook her head and forced her feet to keep moving. Those men were human. Ignoring the slight disappointment she felt, she reminded herself that she wasn't here to find a mate. She only had a couple more semesters of school and then her internship before she got her degree. That was her primary objective. Everything else would have to wait.
Instinctively turning, Carol reached out and caught the football spiraling toward her head with one arm. Adjusting her grip, she shot it back to the guy running at her, then kept going.
Sighing deeply, she stopped to see what he wanted.
"That's quite an arm you have," he said as he jogged up. "You snatched that ball right out of the air."
Carol shrugged. "Years of playing ball with my pa--cousins." Crap, she'd almost said 'pack.' Time to go. She pivoted and made to move on.
"Don't leave." He placed a hand on her arm.
When she stared down at it, he hastily removed it. "We're one man short. We could use you on our team."
She was already shaking her head. "I don't think so." Playing with the pack was one thing. These guys? Something else.
"Come on," he appealed. "We really could use the help. We're getting slaughtered." He gave her an engaging grin that showed a lot of teeth.
Carol bit her lip in indecision. She loved football, and it had been a while since she'd played. While she debated, another guy came running over.
"What's the holdup?"
"I'm trying to get her--what's your name?--to play on our team."
"Name's Carol," she answered.
"I'm Otis, and this joker here is Brad. So what do you say?" Otis asked.
"You're sure the other guys won't mind?"
Brad laughed. "It can't hurt. Might even help."
Otis still had a pleading look on his face.
Carol shot a quick glance at her watch. "Okay, fine. But only for a little while." She'd just have to be careful not to do anything suspicious.
Otis gave her a huge, pleased grin. "Great. Come on. I'll introduce you to the rest of the guys."
As they rejoined the group, Otis made introductions. "Guys, this is Carol. Carol"--he pointed to each one as he said their names--"Kevin, Jose, Pete, and Mike. She's agreed to help us out. Carol, what position do you play?"
She arched an eyebrow. "What do you need?"
"Ooooo, I like her," Brad said, and one of the other guys--Jose?--shoved him.
"You like every female," Jose told him.
Ignoring their byplay, Otis continued, "Fine, we really need a quarter. Kevin's okay, but I think you have a better arm. Brad, you and Jose receive. Pete and Mike will block. Kevin, you center, and I'll run interference. Okay?"
"How much are we down by?" Carol asked.
"Twelve points," Kevin said. "We've been running the ball because they pick it off whenever I throw."
"I'll keep that in mind."
When they got into formation, the opposing team heckled them. "What a bunch of pansies. You had to get a girl to come help you out?"
Another made kissing noises. "You sure you want to play, chica? We don't want you getting hurt. This ain't no sissy flag game."
Carol rolled her eyes and concentrated on the snap. "One, two, three, hut!"
She caught the ball and danced back, eyes focused on her two receivers running down the field under heavy coverage. Using shifter reflexes, she dodged the airborne body that made it past her blockers, danced around another, and, seeing no one open, tucked the ball in close and took off running for the end-zone markers.
Reminding herself she was supposed to be human, she kept her speed within the realm of believability but still quickly outdistanced everyone chasing her and crossed into the end zone with yards to spare between her and her closest pursuer. Carol spiked the ball and allowed herself a small victory dance as her teammates caught up with her.
"Dang, woman, you're fast," Otis breathed out.
"I ran track in high school," Carol told them. It wasn't true, but it would explain her quickness.
"All right, all right. You got some skills," one of the guys who'd taunted her earlier conceded.
After that, things moved quickly. Carol lost track of time as she got caught up in the competitiveness of the sport. With her help, her team found new energy and drive, forcing the opposing team to step up their game as well. Soon the score was tied in a gridlock neither team seemed able to break.
Carol's team had the ball. In a bold move, she sent five of the guys running downfield, leaving only Kevin to block for her. She darted back, eyes grimly focused on her men, waiting for an opening.
Kevin went down, and she had to scramble. Right when she thought she'd have to run the ball herself, she noticed Mike was wide open. Aiming for his chest, she drew back her arm and released the ball like a bullet shooting from the chamber of a gun. Seconds later, a hard body slammed into her, knocking her to the ground.
Carol didn't know which stunned her more: the hit or the luscious scent of the sweaty, large male body pinning her smaller one to the earth. No nonshifter male should smell this good. He smelled like a true mate, but that was impossible. Shifters couldn't mate with humans, not anymore. They were incompatible with her species, and she wanted children someday.
She could feel her beast stirring, roused no doubt by his tantalizing scent. Carol shoved at his shoulders, trying to get him off her before she did something stupid, like lick him from head to toe.
"Are you all right? I didn't mean to hit you that hard," he said.
"I'm fine. Or I will be as soon as you move. You're kind of heavy." Actually she was enjoying the weight of his body a little too much. It would be even better if they were naked. She bit back a moan as she got a visual.
"Oh, sorry." He sprang to his feet and held out a meaty hand to help her up.
Carol pretended not to notice. Instead she rolled over onto her knees and slowly pushed to her feet.
"Are you sure you're not hurt?"
"Yes, just stiff," she assured him. She might be a little sore later. He may only be human, but he hit like one of her kind.
Before he could say anything else, her teammates surrounded her. Once they were assured she was okay, they regaled her with a replay of the touchdown she'd missed. She congratulated them and, with a glance at her watch, announced she had to leave. "I've got tons of studying to do tonight, and now I'm behind schedule."
With her departure, the game broke up, with calls for a rematch soon sounding in the air. She grabbed her backpack, tossed it over her shoulder, and headed once more for student parking.
Halfway to her destination, she heard a voice calling out, "Carol, wait."
Oh damn. It was Mr. Luscious Smelling. Not only did he smell good, but he was one fine, attractive brother. As dark as a milk chocolate bar, he was handsome enough to give Blair Underwood a run for his money. In other words, he was trouble, and she was too interested. She tucked in her chin and pretended not to hear him as she subtly picked up the pace.
He came jogging up beside her and held out a familiar-looking navy blue piece of clothing. "You forgot your hoodie."
She chanced a quick glance at his face as she reached for it. "Thanks. I would have been looking for it later."
"My name's Mark Johnson," he said as he fell in step with her. She couldn't help noticing he was a perfect match for her own five-eleven stature. Where she was slender, he had the body of a shifter--big with lots of muscle.
"Carol Scott," she automatically replied, then wanted to smack herself. He already knew her name. To cover her embarrassment, she swung her bag around and pulled her keys out of the front pocket.
"Say, you want to get a cup of coffee sometime or maybe see a movie together--my treat?" he asked.
He stopped. "No?"
She kept walking, fighting a smile.
He quickly caught up to her again. "You're seeing someone?"
"So what's the problem?" he asked, as though unable to believe she'd turned him down. Hmm, much too cocky for his own good.
Carol finally stopped and looked at him. "I'm here to get an education, not find a boyfriend or a husband."
"What about a friend? Can you manage one of those?"
"With you?" Starting at his feet, clad in high-priced if a little beat-up tennis shoes, she worked her gaze up his body: long legs and thick, muscular thighs stuffed in faded denims that were white at the seams; trim waist and flat stomach that revealed a hint of muscle in the tight black T-shirt he wore; massive chest with clearly defined pecs; broad shoulders; corded neck and face that looked better the longer she gazed at it.
Some of the attraction she was feeling must have reflected in her expression, because he straightened and took a small, determined step forward. "No," she stated firmly, answering both his question and the sexual intent of a prime male on the prowl she could see on his face.
With that, she pivoted and walked off, but not before she saw the small, sexy smile creeping across his face...