By Degrees is an ensemble character series with multiple points of view.
New York City FBI team leader Samuel Shaughnessy lives for his immediate family and his job. After a marriage gone wrong, he has stuck to a firm rule when it comes to relationships: he doesn't have them. Sexually active and emotionally unavailable keeps him satisfied, especially now that he is in hot pursuit of a serial killer targeting gay men.
Former firefighter Machlan O'Bannon now manages a successful sports bar in Houston, and after years of waiting, he’s ready to stand up and be the man he always wanted to be: out, proud and drama-free. His politically-aligned family wants to keep him locked in the closet, but Mac just wants to meet the man of his dreams.
One man is as high strung as the other is laid back. A chance meeting brings them together, and one night of passion ignites a fire neither can fight. Their lives are not only miles apart, but as different as day and night. They don't want to get involved, but they might not be able to keep apart.
First Edition published by MLR Press, December 2011.
I've had (the first edition of) Six Degrees of Lust on my Kindle for about a year and a half, and I always intended to read it, but I just never seemed to get to it. Well, it's being republished by Dreamspinner, so when the second edition came up on the ARC list, I decided that now is the time to finally give it a shot! I'm so glad I did. I really loved it.
Before I get into the meat of my review, do be aware that Six Degrees of Lust is the beginning of a serial and it ends on a cliffhanger. Book 2 (Six Degrees of Separation) is available, now, but we are still waiting on book 3 (and I do not know if that will be the last book or not). Hopefully we won't have to wait much longer for Six Degrees of Agony (please!!!!!).
There's a suspense plot, that I'm finding to be pretty obvious (well, I assume, because it isn't anywhere near done, yet, so no reveals have been made) but it doesn't take over the romance. It's definitely a major happening and a catalyst, for the story, but I didn't find it too overpowering. And the characters' lives intersect not only socially, but through the suspense part of the plot. I found the way that was done was interesting without seeming too contrived. And I did have to take some notes, though, I do admit. There are a lot of characters to keep up with and how their lives intersect with each other and also with the path of the killer.
The suspense plot revolves around a serial killer who is killing young gay men, who fit a particular description. They're all slightly built and blond and maybe a bit femme. The killings are brutal and have a religious theme. *shudder*
The romance plot revolves around Mac and Sam and their chemistry is scorching. So hot! And I loved how the number 515 was significant, not only to each of them, individually, but how that number became significant to them as a couple (oh, stop it, Sam, you're definitely a couple!).
Machlan "Mac" Sean O'Bannon is 31 and closeted. He isn't closeted by his own choice, though. When he was a bit younger, he still had hopes that if he played by his family's rules for a while, they would learn to accept him. That hasn't actually worked out very well, however. His family is vile. They've guilted and shamed him into staying in the closet because of his father's political career and the "damage" having a gay son could do to their social reputation. See? Vile. But he's nearly done playing by their rules. We don't learn all the details in this book, but there is a reason he doesn't break his agreement with them, and intends to ride it out. But because of that circumstance, Mac doesn't feel free to actually pursue a real relationship. The problem is, he's a relationship kind of guy and he's ready to settle down. It's an awful situation to be in, for sure.
Mac is a former firefighter. He loved that job, but the homophobia became too much for him, so he quit. Now he manages a gay friendly sports bar called "The Five Alarm" that a gay friend owns (and oh, how the family hates that career choice). Mac isn't even out to his friends and coworkers, many of whom are gay or bisexual, themselves. That agreement with his family was far-reaching and though he loathes living the lie, he's a man of his word.
Samuel "Sam" Shaughnessy is a Special Agent with the FBI. He's 33, openly bisexual and ten years divorced. He doesn't do relationships, or even repeats with his sexual partners. In fact, he's kind of an asshole, but I came to learn, through the course of the book that it is mostly a defense mechanism, not only to keep him from getting too close to anyone, but to keep anyone from getting to close to him. He's terrified to care about another person or feel responsible for them or their emotional well-being. His marriage ended very badly, and although we do not know all the details, there, Sam blames himself for all of it. So he keeps his distance when it comes to sex and relationships are a firm no.
In every other part of his life, though, you can really see that Sam is caring and a stand-up guy. And even with Mac you tell that, in spite of his insistence that it's all just sex, it's much more. Mac is the first person since his wife, that Sam would do just about anything to keep seeing - he would run at the first uttering of "boyfriend", though. But for Sam to feel safe in his "relationship" with Mac, there have to be rules to make sure that Mac knows that they are not boyfriends. Rules like, 'they will only meet for sex', and 'Sam only tops', and 'there will be no meeting of the families', and 'no talking about personal stuff', etc. Mac accepted most of the rules, but put his foot down on the 'no talking' rule and insisted that Sam at least consider bottoming. Mac clearly knew what he was doing and how to navigate Sam's walls.
Mac and Sam live in different parts of the country. Mac lives in Houston, TX (and has that sexy Texas drawl) and Sam lives in New York City. They encounter each other by chance, but their chemistry is so strong, neither can help but come back for more. And while Sam's rules are pretty stifling, he's constantly breaking them, because he just can't help it. He still hides behind those rules, though, anytime he starts to feel out of control, or when he suspect that Mac can see through his walls, which is pretty frequently, actually. Mac is a perceptive guy. He's also got plenty of backbone and doesn't actually let Sam walk all over him, though you'd think that wouldn't be the case considering Mac agreed to the rules, in the first place. But Mac agreed because it was already clear to him that Sam was lying to himself. What I found extra awesome was Sam's tendency to get really growly when any other guy so much as looked at Mac (but sure, it's all just sex and nothing else). Yeah, whatever helps you sleep, big guy.
Through the story, we see Mac's group of friends and Sam's intersect in ways that have nothing to do with them. Gabi, Sam's ex-wife, is the best friend of Christian, whom Mac knows through other mutual friends. Neither of them figure that connection out, though, so it will be interesting to see how that all plays out. And Sam's FBI team encounters Christian, Gabi and another person that Christian knows, through the case, so there is a lot of criss-crossing.
I certainly cannot go into most of the characters, even though many do play a major role in the story. You really need to read it to get the flavor of it all. Plus, this review is already longer than I would want to read, so just know that there is a large cast of characters that intersect each other's lives and I can't wait to see how it all plays out.
I would definitely recommend Six Degrees of Lust to those that don't mind cliffies, since the series is not yet complete. For me -- I loved it, and can't wait to read more!
ARC of Six Degrees of Lust was generously provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
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