Stronger, Better, Faster, More – superheroing excerpt
Thanks so much for having us here at Pants Off today! We’ve brought along a special excerpt that’s not up on our site—the very beginning of the book. Our heroes, Beau and Vel, are of the super variety. And sometimes, that means running into burning buildings… and finding old friends there. Totally on accident. Whoops.
So without further ado, here we are! The very first bit from Stronger, Better, Faster, More. Hope you enjoy—and be sure to scroll all the way down for our giveaway, too!
Beau barely felt the oppressive heat and smoke. Or, well, no, he felt it; he was conscious of the temperature rising as he got closer to the flames, the smoke in his lungs making it harder to breathe, but there was no pain, not like there would’ve been a year ago.
He heard someone crying—shit, that was a kid, wasn’t it?—and squinted to make out the door. He needed to figure out some eye protection, since apparently this was getting to be a regular thing. The goggles had been a terrible idea—that had hurt. He’d gotten them off his eyes fast enough, but some had melted onto his hand. He’d healed; there wasn’t even a scar. But the pain of healing had been agonizing.
There was another cry, this one upstairs, and he didn’t know what to do. He had to get the child—of course he did—but he couldn’t do both. There wasn’t time. The bottom dropped out of his stomach, but he continued, his heart breaking.
Suddenly something whipped past him. He couldn’t see what it was, but he could see the way the gust altered the flames, moved the smoke. He cracked a grin and pushed through harder as he realized. A speedster had showed up; he didn’t know any personally, but he’d seen them on TV, and he knew the signs. Together they’d be enough to finish what Beau had started, and maybe they wouldn’t have any casualties.
He burst through the door and scooped up the child, then covered her face with a wet cloth. As he started toward the exit, she was still coughing, still breathing, but going limp, and his previous optimism faded. He got out the door he’d kicked down earlier and called out “Hey, speedster! I need you to get this one to the EMTs!”
And then there he was, standing in front of Beau, carefully taking the girl out of his arms. Beau started to say thank you as he moved her, but their eyes locked and—“Vel?”
The speedster clutched the girl to his chest, dark eyes wide through the holes in his small mask. “What? How do you…?”
“Relax,” Beau said, hands open and palms up. It was stupid; he knew how scary it was, the risk of being made. He’d have been more careful if he hadn’t been so shocked. “It’s Warren. From high school. I, uh, I look different now.” Which was understating it. Even before he bulked up, he’d spent high school pretending he fit in the body that’d been chosen for him, with its breasts, feminine curves, and long blonde hair that his mama wouldn’t let him cut short but was never out of a ponytail anyway. He didn’t look like that anymore. It’d cost him a lot of time and money not to look like that anymore. “Go, get her to medical, but…find me after we get the other guy out? If you want?”
“Dude.” Yeah, that definitely sounded like Vel. There was some flutter-fast blinking. “You got huge.”
It was so inappropriate next to a burning building, but Beau couldn’t help the hard, shocked laugh that came out of him. “Yeah. I…yeah.”
Vel grinned. “Coffee shop, two blocks down. I’ll grab the other one too, then meet you there.” And in a gust of wind, dragging smoke in his wake, he was gone.
Beau nodded, even if Vel was gone before he could see it. He ducked away—everyone was still paying attention to the fire and the victims, so he was able to get away unnoticed. The police and fire department were pretty okay with them helping out, but he didn’t want to risk it. He’d make his way to his duffel and then down to the shop.
* * * *
Vel was already there when Beau arrived. Vel had ditched the Under Armour gear he’d been rocking at the fire, not to mention the small mask that had done very little to hide his identity. Instead he sported a Star Wars T-shirt that was about two sizes too small and a pair of expensively battered jeans. He sprawled in the coffee-shop chair, that same cocky smile he’d had in high school in full force. “Well, well, well. It is you.”
Beau grinned back, a big, shy grin up through his eyelashes. Instantly he was hit by déjà vu; how many times had he given that exact look to Vel in high school? “Yeah.” He pulled out the chair and set his ice tea and two muffins—so expensive, but he had to eat—in front of him before sitting carefully. He really hated to break things. “I, uh, I go by Beau now, though.” Going by his last name had been a way to avoid using the decidedly gendered name he’d been given at birth and all the dysphoria that came with it. Fortunately, the one thing everyone knew about him in high school had been that soccer was his life, which had made it not seem strange, since half the team went by their last names.
“Nice.” Vel plucked up a cold glass of something tea-looking and sucked on the straw. “So, apart from the obvious, what have you been up to? Last I heard, we were both off to school on soccer scholarships.”
Beau couldn’t help but grin a little wider at how much of a nonissue it was for Vel. So many people made a big deal out of it. “Uh, not soccer, actually. They kicked me off the team after I started taking T. Unfair advantage, apparently.” He lifted a shoulder as if it hadn’t hurt or screwed up his life as much as it had. “I’m coaching youth soccer now and going to school over at NRCC.” Going from one of the best universities in the state to community college stung, but it was better than the alternative. “You?”
Vel’s nose was wrinkled up. “Well, their loss. I’m kinda-same-but-very-different. Lost my scholarship after I got put on academic probation. Dishonor on me, on my family, on our cow. You know how it is.” Vel’s smile went crooked and wry. “Whatever, though. I finished up an associate’s. Doing web design now. I mean, day-job-wise.”
Beau gave a half smile as he sipped his drink and tried not to sigh at the cool relief. Just because the smoke inhalation hadn’t hurt him didn’t mean his throat didn’t feel like a desert.
“Don’t worry about the dishonor thing. I’ve seen that movie; it turns out all right in the end.” He flushed and focused on the muffin. Well, he’d never been cool in high school; at least Vel wouldn’t think that had changed.
Vel chuckled and slouched comfortably, long legs brushing past Beau’s jeans to sprawl under the table. “Here’s hoping.”
It took Beau a long moment to respond, distracted by a fluttering feeling at those legs touching his and the way Vel looked, all relaxed like that. Dammit, that was something he should have left in high school too. “I thought about doing something with computers, but I’ve never been much for them.” He gave a little smile, then added, “I’m, uh, I’m doing my associate’s in pastry arts at the moment. I’m hoping I can open a bakery one day.” He was shy when he said it, and carefully started to take off the wrapper of one of his muffins.
“Oh my God.” Vel’s pouty lips formed a little O and let loose a low whistle. “Epic. Are you in the market for a new best friend? Because if you’re gonna be a baker, we should totally be best friends.”
Beau felt a flush spread over his cheeks, and he wet his lips before taking another sip. “I can always use more friends. But, uh, do you need a roommate? Or know anyone who needs a place?” He laughed, mostly kidding. “My roommate moved in with his girlfriend without any notice, and I’m kind of screwed if I don’t find anyone before the end of the month.” He could just afford his bills, even though he had two jobs, with how much he had to eat. There was no way he could afford the other half of the rent too.
“Seriously?” Vel’s face lit up. “Because I am stuck at my sister’s house right now, and I love her, but I am so very over living like the baby brother twenty-four seven.”
Beau’s eyebrows went up, “I…seriously? Because you would save my skin. You don’t even know. It’s only a few months, so if we’re not a good match, you’re not stuck. I’m pretty easy to live with, though. And I cook.”
“Sold.” Vel smacked the table like an auctioneer with a gavel. “I, on the other hand, am a neat-freak pain in the ass who never stops talking. But considering our, uh, common interests go beyond soccer these days, it shouldn’t be too bad. For a few months.”
Beau nodded in agreement, not bothering to hide how relieved he was. “Rent’s due in a week, and you can move in whenever you want.” This could be a horrible idea, but how badly could a few months go?
Stronger, Better, Faster, More
When he gets super-endurance powers out of nowhere, being a culinary student and kids’ soccer coach isn’t enough for Beau Warren--he has to be a superhero too. A sweet, hardworking trans man from a close knit family, it’s important to Beau to use his new abilities to stand up for people who can’t protect themselves. When he runs into a speedster at a fire rescue, he doesn’t expect it to be his high school crush, Vel Chandrasekhar. Turns out Vel got superspeed when Beau go his endurance, so they decide to make their single supe act into a duo.
With their immediate attraction and superpowered libidos, it’s not long before Beau and Vel are roommates-with-benefits. That’s the idea, anyhow, if only Beau can keep from falling back into his old crush hard, since Vel’s self-esteem issues have left him skittish about relationships. Just when things are at boiling point between them, though, their search for their own superhero origin story leads them and their families into mortal danger. The only way to survive the truth is to depend on each other--and admit they’re a lot more than friends.
Author bio and social media links:
Carlin Grant is a queer writer who likes to put the focus on LGBTQIA+ characters and has a sweet tooth for romance. Growing up in backwoods North Carolina left them with a love for the characters, culture, and folklore that is common in the rural South, and these themes often show up in their stories. When they're not writing, Carlin enjoys reading, video games, superheroes, mixtapes, and visiting the beach. They currently reside in coastal NC, where they spend most of their time chasing after their toddler.
Katey Hawthorne is an avid reader and writer of superpowered romance, even though the only degree she holds is in the history of art. (Or, possibly, because the only degree she holds is in the history of art.) Originally from the Appalachian foothills of West Virginia, she currently lives in Ohio. In her spare time she enjoys comic books, B-movies, loud music, Epiphones, and Bushmills.