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Excerpt Day: By Degrees by JB McDonald

By Degrees by JB McDonald
Release Date: August 12, 2009
Publisher: Torquere Books
ISBN: 978-1-60370-410-6
1-60370-410-8
Publisher Link: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=2113

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:

"Oh, God, Tim!" Con wrapped his hands around the safety bar of the Ferris wheel and swung their box. "We're gonna fall!"

"Jesus fucking Christ, you asshole," Tim snarled through gritted teeth, his grip white, one hand on the side of the enclosure and the other on Con's arm, his feet braced against the floorboard. "If you get us kicked out, I'm going to..." He let the sentence hang in the air, unfinished.

"Is that a threat?" Con laughed.

"It's a promise." Tim's eyes hadn't left his knees.

Con cackled and stopped rocking, sitting back and stretching an arm out over the back of the seat. "Aw. Don't worry, Timmy, I'll save you," he said patronizingly.

Tim let go of Con's arm to punch him in the chest, a quick little pop that left Con's skin stinging.

He chuckled, rubbing the spot, and looked up and out at the ocean. From this high, it looked like it stretched forever. "This is nothing like the Great Lakes." He sighed happily as the sun warmed his face, chasing off the chill that the breeze brought up. "People said the Lakes were similar, but they're not."

"That's because it's an ocean." Tim kept staring at his knees. "Whereas the Lakes are lakes."

Con looked at him, amused. "You could have said you were afraid of heights before we got on, you know."

"Then you would have just wheedled until I got on anyway, and I'd still be sitting here thinking about how badly we'll be hurt if we fall and somehow survive the drop, the rails, and the ground."

Con laughed again, sliding his arm from the seat back to Tim's shoulders. "We won't fall." The muscles under his arm were strong, if tense. Tim was so busy concentrating on his little list of doom that he wasn't being bothered by public displays of affection. That was nice. Maybe they needed to ride more Ferris wheels. "You must just be a blast on roller coasters."

"Do you know what kind of whiplash roller coasters can cause?" Tim shot back. "If you're going to do something for thrills, go skydiving. At least then you either die or you're fine."

Con grinned, flashing straight teeth. "Timmy, if I went skydiving, would you go with me?"

"Only if you promise to stop calling me 'Timmy.'"

"Done."

Tim blinked and pulled his gaze from his knees to fasten it on Con's face. "Wait. What?"

"We're going skydiving." Con smiled benignly.

"Let me think about it."

"You think too much." Con leaned back and the box began to rock slightly. Tim tensed again. "We are not going to fall." Con's words were firm and quiet as he closed his eyes to enjoy the sun. "Here, lean back."

Tim didn't budge.

Con smiled, wrapped his hand around Tim's far bicep, and tugged until Tim edged cautiously back. One hand clamped on Con's knee, the other hand grabbed his fingers in a vise.

"Okay," Tim breathed. "Okay."

Con tugged Tim more snugly against him, part of him trying to comfort, but another part of him just enjoying the feel of the small body pressed up tight, neither skittish nor wary. The wind off the ocean picked up, setting them swaying, and Tim stiffened. Con tightened his hold around Tim's shoulders, squeezing the fingers holding his. "Just relax. Lean back. There you go. Close your eyes. Imagine we're on a porch, one of those big bench swings." His voice was calm and soothing, the same one he'd used to talk people away from their burning houses, or out of wrecked cars. "It's a wooden swing, and you can hear the creak of the chains holding it up. A little push with your feet against the ground makes it move, just swaying back and forth over the floorboards." He could feel Tim relax marginally and kept talking, turning his head until the black hair tickled his nose. After a while he stopped, enjoying the view and the man against him. "I didn't mean to scare you," he said softly.

Tim snorted, completely unromantic. "Yes, you did."

Con grinned broadly before placing a kiss on the temple so tantalizingly close. "Yeah. I did. But I didn't mean to scare you that badly."

He could feel the shift and play of muscle under Tim shirt. "I wasn't that scared." The words were a grudgingly-spoken mutter.

Con didn't laugh at him, tempting as it was.

The ocean crashed below, a distant roar that faded into the background. Seagulls cried, pinwheeling overhead. The sun sparkled on the water like glitter on satin, flashing and ever-moving. Look at one sparkle, and it was already gone. "When we get down," Con said after a long while, "we should get ice cream."

"You just had ice cream." Tim sounded amused.

"Like, two hours ago!" Con protested, though he smiled as he did so.

"Like, thirty minutes ago!" Tim mimicked.

"Well, still, I need more."

Silence fell again. The wheel circled, bringing them closer to the ground, closer to the laughter of the crowds. Then it went back up, carrying them over the sea and into the sky.

"What are you thinking about?" Tension crept slowly back into Tim's muscles as they rose.

Con turned his head slightly, brushing his cheek over soft, straight hair. Tim had said it was getting shaggy, but Con couldn't tell. He liked it mussed, anyway.

"Hey." Tim shifted to nudge him with an elbow. "What are you thinking about?"

For a moment, Con tried to think up a lie. Then he stopped, keeping his voice soft and low, calming. "I like having you here. On an honest-to-God date."

Tim chuckled, a single huff of air out of his narrow chest.

"I was thinking," Con added, "that I'd really like to kiss you, but I didn't want to freak you out."

Tim shifted -- not away, Con noticed -- and the box rocked. He jerked, hands clamping down once more on the side and Con's knee. "Jesus! No kissing if it's going to cause that!" His eyes opened, staring wide at the view spread out before them.

Somehow, Con doubted that Tim thought it was pretty. He laughed, tightening his hold. "Kissing didn't cause that, doofus, you moving around did."

"And kissing would cause more moving around!" Tim bit off. "No kissing!"

Con grinned, nuzzling into Tim's hair again. "Does that mean I can kiss you on solid ground?" His voice dropped to rumble along Tim's skin.

He felt Tim shiver, and nearly crowed. Anti-touch, his ass.

"Only if you don't rock the box anymore." Tim enunciated through gritted teeth.

"Deal." Con gloated, happy in the sun with his gorgeous best friend. "Know what I'm thinking about now?" The wheel began the start-and-stop motion that signaled people unloading.

"What?"

"Kissing you." He could almost feel the mental eye-roll, but Tim didn't tense. Suddenly, Con couldn't wait to get off. It seemed like the longest time of his life, but finally they were both out, the ground firmly under their feet.

Tim started away. "Ice cream's this way."

Con caught his hand and pulled him aside, so other people could flee the Ferris wheel. "You promised me a kiss." He tugged until Tim came closer.

Tim gave him a narrow-eyed look. "I didn't promise anything."

Con started to object, then paused. "You agreed to a kiss." He was half prepared for some kind of excuse and was already getting annoyed at the thought.

For a moment, Tim looked like he was going to argue. Then something in his posture softened, and he stepped forward. "Yeah." He gave a faint smile. "I did." Another step brought him closer, his hands sliding up Con's arms, stopping just short of lifting up onto tip-toe. "You have to bend down, though." He looked vaguely aggravated. "I am not standing on my toes for you."

Con laughed and leaned in, brushing his mouth softly against Tim's. When Tim didn't pull back, didn't hesitate, he circled a hand around the back of the slim neck to bring Tim in. Con nipped at his soft bottom lip, keeping the kisses mostly light -- they were in public, and he never really wanted to see tongue from other people -- but thorough.

Tim didn't pull away until Con did, though the tips of his ears had gone pink and his breathing was shallow. "People are staring." Tim ducked his head and stepped away, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Blue eyes glowered around.

"Let 'em." Con pulled one of Tim's hands out and threaded their fingers together. "San Diego has one of the largest gay populations in North America. If they're not used to it by now..." Then he grinned wickedly. "Besides, they're all just looking at you."

"Oh, thanks." The words dripped with sarcasm, and Tim shoved hard into Con to send him staggering.
Tags: author: j.b. mcdonald, excerpt
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