His father wanted him to be a CEO because he had the smarts. His mother wanted him to be a doctor because he was strong enough to hold life and death in his hands. And his sister wanted him to quit being a pain in the ass know-it-all.

The only way high school could have been any easier for him is if all the hot people had attended naked, so he wouldn't have had to bother being careful when he was ripping designer clothes off the quarterback, the tight little uniform off the head cheerleader, or scraps of denim and leather off the D&D wizards. He had a letterman jacket in his closet, a valedictorian pin on his gown, and pornographic cartoons drawn on his mortarboard as he strode across the stage.

*

Okay, so Stanford was a bit of a surprise.

It wasn't a little fish kind of problem. He'd been more than a big fish back home; he'd been the fucking shark in an ocean of minnows. College was just . . . sprawling in a way he hadn't anticipated, too big for any one person to be at the top of every hill.

Fine. He'd figure out what was really important, put on his cleats, and run his way up the mountain.

*

What was important was not losing sight of who he was. He was Bryce Fucking Larkin, and he could be anything he damn well wanted. Right now, that included being buried in the wet heat of Melody Ritter's clever mouth, and he looked down, watching Melody sucking him eagerly. It did not include a draft of cold air blowing across his bare ass and the new guy's mortified voice, climbing higher and higher as he scrambled to string a simple sentence together. "Oh! Oh my . . . oh, I'm so . . . sorry, sorry, I didn't . . . pardon me." Bryce was going to have to teach the kid some basic etiquette. Just as soon as he and Melody were done.

The new kid, it turned out, was a guy named Chuck, who stood half a head taller than him but was fiddling nervously with the drawstrings on his sweatshirt like a puppy expecting a newspaper thwack on the nose. Bryce was trying to remember what he knew about Chuck that could help here. So maybe he didn't have a lot of friends, or a lot of experience in how to set someone else at ease. But Chuck apparently had plenty of experience in apologizing, because he got going as soon as he realized his puppy routine had an audience. "Oh, man, Bryce - it's Bryce, right? - you have to believe that I had no idea you were in there with that, that lady - who, you know, funny story, looks exactly like my Chemistry professor - because if I had known, you know, I would never have come . . . come in. I'm really sorry."

And Bryce found himself shrugging instead of laying down the law; he reached into the fridge and pulled out two beers, handing one to the kid. "Don't worry about it, Chuck." He waited until Chuck had taken a healthy swig before commenting lightly, "And revenge is a beautiful thing." He laughed when Chuck spit beer clear across the room.

*

"You okay, man?" Chuck asked. "Did Fleming ream you out or something?"

"Or something," he could have said, because that might have covered the whiplash shock of having his most unimpressive professor drop the fa├žade of a burned out, underpaid academic and recruit him for the CIA. "No," he finally said, shaking his head.

"Come on," Chuck said, crossing the room and nudging him with his hip. "Whatever it is, you'll feel better with some pizza inside you." Bryce didn't even want to think about how comforting Chuck's warm hand on his shoulder was, or why he felt himself smiling when he saw that Chuck had gotten him green peppers and sausage.

"You're such a good mom," he joked, and saw Chuck's familiar lopsided grin shine through, bright as ever. The pizza was already cool by the time he wolfed it down, and maybe his eyes strayed to Chuck, working diligently at his computer, a little more than usual; he needed to keep his observational skills sharp if he was going to live up to the vision Fleming had painted for him, and a roommate made the ideal subject.

*

He knew damn well that Chuck hadn't been asking for any kind of demo as hands-on as the one he was getting, but . . . too bad, because Chuck had been driving him crazy for weeks now, with his dopey smiles and his absences and the way he'd turn back up smelling of her perfume. He buried his fingers in Chuck's soft hair and kept kissing him, marveling at the way his own pulse picked up speed when Chuck let out another artless little moan.

He was acing the training Fleming's CIA buddies were putting him through, and it all led to this, to knowing that Chuck was giving him the green light, even if he wasn't quite aware of that yet.

The way Chuck was trembling beneath him made Bryce crazy, and he dragged his mouth away from Chuck's so that he could bite at the vulnerable line of Chuck's jaw. And Chuck's arms were coming up to pull him closer, encouraging him silently, and Bryce shut his brain right off and followed Chuck in this, let his body be his guide.

*

His brain clicked back on when he woke up, tangled with and half on top of Chuck, who was snoring blissfully away. He held his breath while he cleaned Chuck's warm body with cool water, not yet ready to face him.

It was ridiculous. He was trained in hand-to-hand combat and was scarily proficient with any number of weapons, but a look or a word from Chuck could crumble him to dust.

He put on his cleats and headed out, looking for a new mountain to climb, just so he could get to the top.