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Excerpt Day: By Degrees by J.B. McDonald

By Degrees by J.B. McDonald
Release Date: Mar 25, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60370-410-6
ISBN (10): 1-60370-410-8
Publisher: Torquere Press
Publisher Link: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1864

Blurb: Orphaned at eleven and bounced around the foster system, Tim learned young that the only thing he could control was himself. It was a lesson he took seriously, and it's the only thing that keeps him safe from more heartbreak. Conner doesn't understand this desire to control things, but he doesn't need to. He loves everything about his control-freak friend, even the way he quirks just one eyebrow. He has for years. With Con's arrival, everything starts unraveling in Tim's life. He's questioning his sexual orientation, wrangling with emotions from his past, and fending off questions from Con's well-meaning family. Drowning in a world out of his control, his one hope is to let go and trust that love will save him. But after so many years of burying his feelings, he's not sure it's possible.

Excerpt:

Con was sitting on the couch, his legs crossed under him, trying not to think about his earlier conversation and reading the label on the massage oil when Tim came home. "Oh, hey." He glanced up, then turned back to the bottle. He stared at it sightlessly for a moment, processing what he'd seen, then glanced up again. "Scrubs?" He knew Tim hadn't been wearing them when he'd left that morning.

They looked really sexy. God, he could look at Tim in scrubs all day. The little V-neck shirt with the drawstring pants that tied around his hips...

"...What?" Tim paused in the entryway, backpack halfway to its corner on the floor.

Con just shook his head, smiling slightly. He uncapped the brown glass bottle and sniffed it, then held it out. "Tell me what you think of this scent."

Tim wandered closer, leaning over the coffee table to sniff. He shrugged. "It's all right."

"It's supposed to be de-stressing."

"You mean relaxing?" Tim asked wryly before bending to sniff again. He straightened. "I suppose."

"And on the back they actually had to write, 'Not for use as a personal lubricant or for sexual activities.'" Con smirked. "And, really, isn't saying one of those enough? I mean, what else do you use a personal lubricant for?"

The quip pulled a tired smile from Tim, who was still standing on the other side of the coffee table.

"Here, sit." Con scooted over slightly and patted the couch. "I want to try this."

Tim straightened, crossing his arms over his chest. "That's oily."

"I know. Sit down."

"That's gross."

Con snorted. "Well, you'll notice I'm not suggesting you shower first, since I know you'll want to shower after..."

"You want to put that on me? I could put it on you." Tim looked at the bottle doubtfully, nose wrinkled.

"Would you just sit your ass down? It's not like I'm asking you to strip and lie face-down on the floor." Con's tone was laced with both laughter and impatience; this was pretty much the reaction he'd expected.

Slowly, Tim came around the coffee table and perched on the edge of the couch, looking at the oil as if it might bite. His arms were still crossed, hands tucked under his biceps. Con reached over and tugged one arm free, hanging on to Tim's fingers while he fumbled the bottle with his other hand, trying to get oil out. The movement could have been seductive, he supposed, but it completely fell short. It didn't matter; Tim was chuckling by the time Con had massage oil on his fingers. Con grinned in response, sliding his fingers over the base of Tim's thumb, rubbing at knots of muscle. "So, Grams said she went to see you today? Everything go all right?"

Tim watched Con's fingers on his hand narrowly. "Yeah. She apologized for the interrogation earlier."

Con smiled, chuckling. "Well, that's good. She's just worried." He frowned, wondering if his grandparents actually were going to move to California. It would be nice, but at the same time, he hoped they didn't. Not if Tim and Grams were constantly going to be at odds. He distracted himself, pressing his fingertips up the joints on Tim's hands, rubbing the palm.

Tim slowly started to relax. His gaze remained fixed on what Con was doing, watching the manipulation of muscle and fingers, Tim's hand swallowed in both of Con's.

"Did you have a good day?" Con asked quietly, letting the silence soak in.

"Normal day." The murmur was absent, lilting.

"What happened to your clothes?"

That brought a dark scowl. "I don't want to talk about it."

Con laughed. "Well, you look good in scrubs."

"I know."

He lifted one dark eyebrow, amused.

Tim's ears turned pink, and he glanced up from under black hair falling over his face. "I mean--"

"You meant, you know." Con grinned.

Tim's ears got a little bit darker. "Well. Yeah."

Leaning in, Con kissed Tim slowly. Tim responded, lips parting, tongue brushing against Con's mouth. For a long moment Con debated deepening things, moving closer and pulling Tim in. But it was only recently that they'd gotten back to this point...

He sat back reluctantly and focused on the hand massage, moving up to Tim's wrist as well. "Why a doctor?"

"Huh? Oh." Tim shrugged. "It's interesting. I like the puzzle."

"Not the helping people?"

Tim smiled, eyes trained on Con's hands as they shifted to his forearm, one of them leaving to get more oil. "That, too. You don't need that much oil."

Con quirked an eyebrow. "Okay." He poured it back into the bottle ineffectually -- it didn't want to leave his hand -- and kept massaging.

"I'm going to have to take a shower."

"You were going to have to take a shower anyway," Con countered, keeping his tone light. Tim didn't sound particularly upset at the thought anymore, his gaze still on the massage. Con couldn't decide if Tim was studying or fascinated. Either way, he'd finally relaxed. The strong muscles were soft, tension draining out of them. The tendons in Tim's throat, standing out a moment before, had vanished. His head looked almost wobbly on the graceful stalk of his neck. "Take off your shirt," Con said softly, as if he weren't expecting Tim to say no.

Tim took his hand back, twisting both arms into his shirt before pulling it up over his head. The muscles over his torso rippled and flexed.

Con tried not to ogle. "And turn around."

This time Tim was a little more hesitant, nose wrinkling.

"You can shower later." Con poured more oil on his hands. He didn't look at Tim, just paid attention to what he was doing and gave an inward sigh of relief when Tim finally turned. He started on the upper arms, edging over the cap of shoulder muscle and back down, waiting for Tim to stop glancing back at him. "You're jumpy." His smile was wry.

"I don't like massages."

"I don't know anyone who doesn't like a massage."

Tim was silent a beat. "Well, now you do."

Still, despite his words, he was beginning to calm down again. When Con's hands slid up over his shoulders and fingers pressed into his neck, Tim let his head fall forward slightly, giving Con better access. The scent of the oil filled the air between them, a little too sweet but fading quickly. Tim's skin warmed under Con's hands, his muscles growing pliable. Con leaned in and kissed the nape of Tim's pale neck, breathing in the smell of mint and shampoo and oil.

Tim shifted and looked back. "Con, what if... I mean, I might not be able to -- to, uh..."

Con placed another kiss on the skin where neck and shoulder joined, brushing his lips over the smooth flesh. "It's okay. We're in no hurry. And I'm not trying to seduce you, honest. You just looked really kissable there..."

The tips of Tim's ears went pink. He turned away again. "But what if I can't ever--"

"We'll figure it out. Stop borrowing trouble." Con slid his hands down the muscles in Tim's back, feeling the dips and hollows where each muscle met.

Tim fell silent. The clock ticked in the corner, marking the time. The sound of a television babbled through the wall, canned laughter declaring it a sitcom. Con could hear Tim's breathing, slow and even, feel the thump of his heartbeat in his neck. He could see the black eyelashes against Tim's cheekbones. The lines of Tim's face softened. Con couldn't help himself. He pressed his lips to Tim's shoulder, murmuring, "I love you," against skin.

"Hm?" Tim turned his head sleepily.

"Nothing," Con answered, his strong fingers working along hard muscles, thumbs rubbing circles. "Nothing at all."
Tags: author: j.b. mcdonald, excerpt
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