So, I bobbled this a bit. The wonderful folks at Top2Bottom Reviews were supposed to host my cover reveal for Book Two and a special Halloween-themed excerpt. Which they did! But while they posted what was a very fun interview and a lovely review by Gabbi (thank you Gabbi!) there was some last-minute confusion and changes to the cover art so the version they have posted there isn’t the final version, and also the excerpt I sent them apparently wasn’t formatted properly so it’s a bit hard to read.
SO! I am going to put the cover art and excerpt here as well, with TONS of love to T2B for hosting me yesterday!
Special Excerpt from Chapter Seven of Acceleration
(ARC-quality excerpt; this has not received a final proof-reading)
“… I’m dressing as what now?”
Gavin grinned, stroking his hand down the velvet collar of a black coat. He’d already showered and had begun to get ready for the party by the time Derrick got home from coaching football practice.
“A Regency gentleman.” The grin persisted even as Derrick looked at him blankly. “Come on. It’ll be sexy. A little touch of Heathcliff or Mr. Darcy…?”
Derrick blinked. “You had movie night with Andi recently, didn’t you?”
“Nope.” Gavin shook his head. “Got this one from you. Way back when you said you didn’t talk much and weren’t a lot of fun at parties. So I figured you could pull off the brooding gentleman.”
“Interesting thought, but I think I’m fresh out of brood.”
“You did say conservative.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Well, what could be more conservative than….”
“… than looking like something off the cover of a million romance novels?” Derrick’s voice rose incredulously.
“No, babe, that would be my costume.” Gavin’s grin widened as he pulled another garment bag out of the closet and spread it open on the bed.
“… Those are ruffles.”
“Mm-hm.” Gavin bounced on his heels. “I’m going to be a pirate.”
“Not the unwashed, green-toothed, scurvy kind, I take it.”
“No, more along the lines of Fabio, minus all the bulky beefcake. The bare-chested, rip-your-clothes-off-and-ravish-you kind.” Gavin slipped his arms around Derrick’s waist, kissing the point of his chin. “You’ve got better hair to pull off the look, truth be told, but I didn’t think you’d go for it.”
“What, ripping your clothes off and ravishing you?” Derrick chuckled, clasping his hands behind Gavin’s shoulders. “Just what sort of Halloween party is this supposed to be, anyway?”
“Not that kind.” Gavin laughed, tugging on Derrick’s hips. “Intriguing as the notion might be. I meant I didn’t think you’d go for wearing the open shirt and leather pants.”
“Leather pants. Were pirates known for those?”
“Only the really hot ones on the covers of romance novels.”
Derrick chuckled, peeling off his t-shirt and heading toward the shower. “We’re not going for authenticity here, I take it?”
Gavin’s laughter followed him. “Wait until you see Andi’s costume and ask me that!”
He and Gavin were still trying to figure out how to tie the neck cloth when Andi arrived at Gavin’s apartment. They might have been done already, if not for the fact that Gavin’s costume kept distracting Derrick.
Or at least, it kept distracting Derrick’s hands.
He hung back, fidgeting with his high collar as Gavin answered the door. He remembered too well the concerned texts from Andi Gavin had answered their first weekend together. Derrick had walked out on him the week before after Gavin revealed Lukas may have left him HIV positive. He wasn’t proud of running away, nor could he make any excuse when he’d come back. Gavin had forgiven him, but from the way Andi had kept texting him that weekend, Derrick got the impression she was concerned, either about Derrick leaving Gavin in the first place, or coming back afterward.
He might not have dated in over a decade, but he wasn’t unaware of the importance of the best friend as a sort of romantic gatekeeper. He had to be prepared for Andi’s scrutiny.
Before a greeting had even left Gavin’s lips, however, a short figure in a tricorn and colonial-era naval uniform had grabbed his wrists and clapped shackles on them, declaring him under arrest for acts of piracy.
Derrick’s eyebrows crept upward. Leading Gavin by the chain between his wrists, the grinning, androgynous figure stepped around him and approached Derrick. She seemed ridiculously slim in the narrow-cut white breeches and naval coat gleaming with brass buttons. Her dark hair was pulled back in a club at the base of her skull, making her cheekbones appear impossibly high and sharp. Her dark green eyes twinkled and she extended a hand to Derrick.
“Hi. I’m Andi. I’m glad to finally have a chance to meet you.”
With an uncertain smile, he shook her hand. “Hi, I’m Derrick.” He looked over her head at Gavin, who played up his captivity with delight. “I thought you said this wasn’t that sort of party.”
“BYOB,” Gavin said with a careless shrug. “Bring Your Own Bondage.”
A round of helpless laughter and groans later, Andi fixed the mess they’d made of Derrick’s neck cloth. Which, she informed them with a stern look, was called a cravat, thankyouverymuch.
“It’s a bit anachronistic with our theme, isn’t it?” she asked Gavin as her hands worked at Derrick’s throat.
“I know.” Gavin said, playing with his manacles. The long, pale line of his chest attracted Derrick’s helpless gaze again. His open shirt, tucked in and bloused out from leather pants that laced up the sides, did more to draw attention to his body than cover it.
“Andi’s a librarian,” he explained. “She takes her historical costumes very serious—oof!” He grunted as Andi’s elbow caught him in his exposed midriff, chuckling. “None of the colonial gentlemen’s costumes were the right size. So I went for the next best thing. Besides, it’s like Derrick said, we’re not going for authenticity here.”
Gavin’s car was a two-seater and Andi’s, it turned out, was full of books. Derrick ended up driving to the party, Gavin scrunched into the half-seat in the back of the cab of his truck. Andi, grinning all the while, had insisted upon her “prisoner” being seated in the back, even though her legs were far shorter. As Derrick drove, Gavin regaled him with stories of the years he and Andi had roomed together in college, including one memorable incident where he caught a guy doing the walk of shame out of Andi’s room one morning… whom Andi had caught slinking out of Gavin’s room just a few weeks before.
However much Gavin teased her about it, it was obvious Andi did intend to act out the role that came with her costume. She led Gavin into the party by his shackles and made a point of playing the jailer. Derrick followed behind them, amused by the interplay, and grateful it took some of the pressure off him to be outgoing. Gavin introduced Derrick to his friend Jason and a number of coworkers, and poured drinks for them all before he took Andi for a spin on the dance floor with Derrick’s blessing.
Gavin hadn’t been lying when he’d spoken about his experience as a dancer, Derrick realized, blinking at the two of them. They moved well together, and Derrick realized they’d probably been dancing together at parties and clubs since college. It was interesting to see Gavin among his friends, laughing and joking. He was at ease in a crowd, a trait Derrick envied. Sipping his whiskey, Derrick could only admire Gavin’s confidence and surety.
It wasn’t long before the press of people became too much, and Derrick slipped away to a quiet corner where it felt a little easier to breathe. It was there Andi found him.
“You, too, huh?” she asked with a soft smile, sitting on the sofa beside him.
“Sorry, me too, what?”
“You’re not good with crowds.” She smiled, sipping her wine. “Me, either.”
“Really?” Derrick lifted an eyebrow at her. “The way you’ve been hamming it up tonight?”
She nodded. “It’s the costume. I do it every year. I find it’s a lot easier to be outgoing in a crush of people when I’m not me. So, I role-play a bit at these parties. Also, I just like being theatrical.”
Derrick smiled, his eyes seeking out Gavin, where he was engaged in conversation with some of his coworkers. His gaze met Derrick’s past their shoulders, his eyes warm and promising. He stopped staring when he realized Andi was watching him watch Gavin.
“You’re not jealous at all that he’s not stuck to your side, are you? That he spent time dancing with me.”
Derrick gave her a confused look. “Why should I be?”
“This time last year, it would have been a problem.” Her mouth tightened. “You know, when you walked out on Gavin and then came back, on the heels of all he’s been through, I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to like you, even seeing how happy he’s been the past couple months. I wanted to give you a fair shot, but I was nervous.”
“I can’t blame you,” Derrick said with a small smile, pleased by her candor. “If it’d been my best friend, I probably would’ve had reservations, too. I was nervous, too. I know how much you mean to Gav, and I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot. I’m not even going to begin to make excuses for what I did.”
“Gavin seems to think you must have your reasons.”
“Yeah, but they don’t really matter. It was a shitty thing to do, and I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t.” Derrick bit the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. “So. The costumes. The role-playing, in a way that made it a thing just between the two of you. How much of it was you staking claim to your place, trying to send a signal that you weren’t going to tolerate someone getting between you again?”
Andi’s eyes widened in astonishment and her mouth dropped open. She seemed to struggle with a reflexive denial before she caught herself. Then she settled back down, frowning.
“Probably more than I’m comfortable admitting, even to myself,” she sighed after a moment. “But it wasn’t intentional, I promise. I hope I didn’t make you feel alienated.”
“Don’t worry, you didn’t.” Derrick sipped his whiskey, his eyes returning to Gavin. He felt Andi’s hand on his shoulder and turned back to her.
“You should tell him why you walked out,” she murmured, rising. “Maybe you don’t think it matters, but it might to him.”
Andi smiled and called out a greeting as the woman Gavin had introduced as Jason’s wife caught sight of her and pulled her to the dance floor. Derrick sat nursing his drink until Gavin excused himself from his friends and prowled across the room. His wrists were still shackled, a length of plastic chain pulling across his body each time his arms moved. The leather pants clung to his thighs and hips above his thigh-high boots, the laces up the hips and on either side of the codpiece drawing Derrick’s gaze. He was ogling Gavin publicly, and didn’t seem to be able to stop himself.
The pants were gorgeous, but the shirt made Derrick’s fingers twitch. It hung open as though beckoning his hands to slip inside and glide over Gavin’s freckled skin, over the swallow tattoo that curved around his ribs on the left side.
“Having fun?” Gavin asked, flopping onto the sofa next to him, a glass of whiskey dangling from his own fingers.
“Yeah,” Derrick said with a smile, laying his arm over the back of the sofa, not quite around Gavin’s shoulders.
“You and Andi getting along?”
He didn’t think he imagined the cautious note in Gavin’s seemingly unconcerned question.
“Yeah, I think we are.” Derrick let his fingers ghost up and down the fabric between Gavin’s shoulder blades. “We both think you’re great, so we have that in common.”
“Good.” Gavin turned toward him, dropping his voice to a murmur. “Have I mentioned how gorgeous you look tonight?”
“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you.” The high collar of Derrick’s shirt brushed his chin as he turned his head, looking Gavin up and down in a slow, pointed perusal.
“I really want to make out with you right now, but it would be rude. You know, seeing as how this isn’t that sort of party.”
The corners of Derrick’s mouth curled up in a small smile. “That is a dilemma.”
“Want to step out for some air?”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
He wasn’t sure how he managed to keep his hands off Gavin as they slipped out the door and down to the parking garage, but in the private nook between Derrick’s truck and the SUV parked beside it, the need to have his hands on Gavin broke free of his restraint. He swept the chain trailing between Gavin’s wrists up over Gavin’s head to keep it from getting between them, his other hand finally, finally touched the tempting expanse of torso so tantalizingly exposed.
Gavin groaned as Derrick’s mouth crashed down on his, hungry, demanding, deprived. He pressed Gavin against the truck, pinning the chain against the roof. Gavin fought against its limitations, seeking to touch Derrick’s hair and shoulders, before he gave up the struggle. He let his hands hang captive beside his head as Derrick’s tongue invaded his mouth. Derrick’s other hand crawled inside his shirt and up his ribs, his thumb brushing Gavin’s nipple.
Gavin tasted like whiskey and need. His upper lip was damp with sweat from the warm crush of people at the party. The scent of his cologne was seasoned with a hint of the clove cigarettes he’d ordered online back in September, so that he could smoke when the craving became too much to resist without feeling self-conscious about the way he smelled. His body moved restlessly, caught between Derrick and the truck, and his mouth ground against the insistent onslaught of Derrick’s, greedy and urgent.
“Fuck,” Derrick panted, trailing kisses along Gavin’s jaw down to his neck. His fingers caught Gavin’s nipple, pinching. The needy, mewling sound Gavin made prompted him to repeat the act. “Fuck.”
Gavin’s hands moved again, reaching for him. Derrick found he enjoyed Gavin’s desperation too much to let him have his way. He pulled the chain higher, forcing Gavin’s hands up, away from him. Gavin moaned, his body giving a discontented wriggle. A plaintive note crept into his voice. “Derrick, please….”
“Hm?” His teeth scraped Gavin’s neck, and his hand slipped deeper inside Gavin’s shirt. His blunted fingers dragged down Gavin’s back. “What is it you say to me all the time? You sound so sexy when you beg? I think I see what you mean.”
“Oh, God….” Gavin groaned as Derrick’s tongue dipped into the hollow above his collarbone, tasting salt. His head fell back against the trunk, his body sagging against the support of the chain suspending his wrists.
“You taste so damn good,” Derrick muttered against his skin, finally releasing the chain to reach down, rubbing his palm roughly along the bulging codpiece of Gavin’s leather pants, bumping over the uneven laces. The bare skin of Gavin’s chest drew him downward. He couldn’t wait until he got home to taste more of that skin, to see Gavin bare before him, to feel Gavin in his hand, his mouth. His lips passed over flat nipples, down to the lean, subtly defined muscles of his waist. The scent of cologne gave way to the oily, pungent smell of leather, filling Derrick’s senses as he sank to his knees. His fingers tugged at Gavin’s laces before stopped himself, panting.
“Did you bring condoms?”
“Huh?” Gavin’s voice sounded dazed, lost, distant for a moment. Then he muttered a curse and his hand came down, pushing Derrick away from his cock. “No. No pockets.”
“Shit.” Derrick pulled his hand away from Gavin’s codpiece, clenching his fist on his thighs against the urge to keep tugging. He hadn’t considered the potential need for condoms when he’d gotten dressed. It had never entered his mind that he’d be ready to go down on Gavin in a parking garage.
He leaned forward, resting his forehead against Gavin’s stomach as he tried to wrestle his impulses back under control. It shouldn’t be a big deal. He could just jerk Gavin off. But that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted the taste and texture of Gavin’s cock on his tongue. His senses kept taunting him with the scent of leather and Gavin, and his mind kept taunting him with statistics, telling him the risk of transmission via oral sex was minute. The only danger would be if he had a cut in his mouth.
A cold sore. Biting his tongue. Someplace where the dental floss dug in too hard. That was all it could take.
He dragged himself away from that dangerous precipice, from the moment of stark realization of just how much he’d be willing to risk.
“I’m sorry,” he heard Gavin mutter, and he felt Gavin’s hand fall on his head. Limp. Defeated. His voice was full of remorse. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t.” Derrick looked up sharply, meeting Gavin’s regret-filled eyes. He shoved away the resentment of frustrated denial. “Don’t be. This isn’t your fault.”
“Isn’t it?” Gavin’s mouth twisted.
“No.” Derrick pushed himself up off his knees, wrapping himself around Gavin. He demanded nothing with the embrace, holding Gavin, offering him comfort. His hands stroked Gavin’s back in soothing circles. “You didn’t have a choice. At least not much of one.”
“I could have stood firmer, not let Lukas get me drunk, meant it when I refused rather than give in.”
“You didn’t know.”
“I should have.”
He held Gavin silently, unable to come up with any convincing argument that would absolve him of his lapse into self-blame. Finally Gavin drew back with a sigh and a resigned smile. “We should get back to the party.”
“You sure you don’t want to go home? I could go upstairs and get Andi real quick.”
Gavin pursed his lips for a moment, considering. “No,” he said at last with a shake of his head. “Not until I’ve found my good mood again. Next time we drag each other out of there, I want us to remember we’re supposed to be having fun.”
Derrick grinned, giving Gavin a quick, hard kiss. “Sounds like a good plan. Let’s go, then.”
He caught Gavin by the chain between his wrists, tugging him toward the elevator heading up from the parking garage. Gavin followed gamely.
“Besides,” Gavin added as the elevator shut behind them. “I haven’t gotten you to dance yet.”