The elevator doors parted and—
Whoa. A sea of nerds.
I took a step into the hotel lobby, dodging a flow of people, most at least a head shorter than me, sporting khakis, plaid shirts, Star Wars and Marvel T-shirts, glasses… Jesus, there was even a Darth Vader costume. They carried books, tablets, and every variety of super-tech phone invented, and all of them surged in one direction—exactly where I needed to go. To the final Quiz Bowl matchup between Harvard and U of W, Madison. My team. Well, sort of.
One guy in a blue knit beanie, who automatically made me tense because he reminded me of my least favorite person, sported a T-shirt that said, I could explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you. He glanced up at me like I came from another planet. That about summed it up. Rand Charles, jock stranger in a strange geek land.
Taking a breath, I plunged into the flow of humans and let the river take me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t understand or appreciate intelligence. Hell, I hadn’t made Dean’s List and Summa Cum Laude on my looks, plus some of my fraternity brothers, the Alpha Lambda Alphas, were damned smart. It was just that we also happened to be athletic and didn’t wear our brains on the outside. In addition, we tended to hang out together. Did that mean I’d been living in a bubble? The immediate evidence suggested yes.
I scooted out of the crush and slid into the back door of the room where the finals were happening in time to hear somebody at a head table saying, “This mathematician names a homology sphere which results from +1 surgery on the right-handed trefoil knot.”
Holy crap. Total immersion.
I pressed back against the wall, squeezing between two guys clutching phones. The huge room was filled with people gripping their pens and gazing at the two teams seated at the tables up front as if they could transmit the answer to the question telepathically. As if getting it right would result in world peace and the salvation of baby seals.
My belly clenched with tension, which was clearly catching. Hell, I liked seals.
I caught my breath as Dobbs, the head of “my” team, slammed a hand on the buzzer and said, “Jules Henri Poincaré.”
An official at the head table said, “Correct.”
And I yelled with half the people in the room, “Yes!”
I didn’t know much about Quiz Bowl, but I did get that we just scored a point in a super-tight match in the finals. I clapped loudly. Even more important, I knew that winning this championship would not only fulfill the agreement of my fraternity with Dean Robberts to cooperate with our rivals, the Sigma Mu Taus, it would also mean we won the bet that half the school was invested in. The bet was that our two ALA frat brothers, who’d been placed on the Quiz Bowl team, were just as smart as the SMT nerds and would be able to help them win the finals. Booyah. Sweetest of all, it would also prove, once, for all, and evermore that Jax Johnson, president of the SMTs was a big-mouthed, untrustworthy Poindexter who thought he was god’s gift and couldn’t lead his fraternity to lunch.
Winning sounded damned good.
But we hadn’t won yet.
I focused on the four UW Madison guys at the table, three SMTs plus one awesome ALA jock, aka Jesse Knox, who I was there to support. Jesse was not only my fraternity brother, he was also my friend, to the extent that the super-private Jesse ever made close friends.
Of course, he had one other close friend now. Jesse’s arm snaked around Dobbs’s shoulders and gave a squeeze as the team leaned their heads together for what I was figuring out were the bonus questions. Other people watching might assume that Jesse’s gesture was just an “attaboy” from a teammate, but Jesse and Dobbs were newly minted boyfriends, lovers, sex slaves, whatever. It still surprised the shit out of me. Maybe it shouldn’t have since I was also gay, but those two seemed like such opposites. Honestly, though, not as different as another of my frat bros, Bubba, who was now dating one of Dobbs’s Sigma Mu Tau housemates, Sean. While I had to admit, the Poins had a certain brainy appeal, the trend was still highly disturbing.
Our team answered their first bonus question for ten points, and people around me said “Yes” and “Good” under their breath. It was something about the Republic of Imagination, which I’d heard of but couldn’t answer the question about.
Another bonus question. They got that one too. And then the third bonus question was up. I caught my breath. Getting this one right would put Madison ahead.
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