Falling for his brother’s boyfriend broke his heart. Now he’s back home and falls in love all over again.
One birthday kiss and Kieran realizes he is in danger of falling for his brother’s boyfriend, Jordan. Leaving for college, then moving to another country is the only way to ease the ache in his heart.
But, when his father becomes ill and his sister begs him to come home, Kieran returns for good. He finds the family business nearly bankrupt and Jordan, the man he ran from, beaten down by despair and guilt.
Friendship is what they promise each other as they work to repair the business, but it could never be enough for Kieran. When secrets spill, and there are vital decisions to be made, Kieran realizes two things; he’s back home, and he wants to stay with Jordan for good.
Now he just needs to convince Jordan.
Joyfully Jay – 5/5 – “….I absolutely adore Back Home. In fact, it’s a book I’d recommend to just about anyone. It’s heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. The story that Scott tells is a hard one of love lost and love found. It’s a bittersweet and poignant story, but it’s also beautiful, sweet, and perfect. I highly, highly recommend Back Home by R.J. Scott….”
Dark Diva Reviews – 4/5 – “….Back Home by is a delightfully engaging novel. Strong family ties and flawed characters provide added depth and authenticity to this well-plotted story. RJ Scott has once again written a powerful and passionate romance that will resonate with her readers….”
Sid Love – 4.5/5 – “….This story reads easily and you find yourself involved pretty fast and you become enthralled with the lives of the characters running the book.
A good, solid story with a nice plot and a connection with one or more of the characters. What more could you want as a reader?….”
Wilde Oats – 4.5/5 – “….Back Home is not just a damn good read; it’s a damn good book….”
“Jordan, are you finishing now?”
Ben’s voice made Jordan Salter jump, and he glanced up from his work, refocusing tired eyes that had been intent on delicate handwork on a three-by-three post of kiln-dried walnut. He widened his eyes fractionally in the gathering evening gloom, blinking and attempting to make sense of the new focus of his concentration. The ache behind them was the icing on the cake—a by-product of a nagging headache that had tracked him all day and the need to concentrate on creating the intricate detail work that he was determined to finish. He closed his eyes briefly, gritty exhaustion in them, and he let out an almost incoherent, “Wha…?”
“You said you’d be finishing early today.”
“Sorry?” What is it with people interrupting my work?
The overhead light flicked on, and Jordan winced.
“Jesus, Jordan, it’s past eight, and you’re still here?”
Jordan blinked steadily—if it was eight o’clock then why the hell was Ben standing in the house? He should have gone home two hours ago. Come to think of it, why was Ben dressed to the nines in his Sunday jeans and a clean shirt? Jordan remembered last seeing his friend and colleague in overalls, working on wiring. Ben Craig was the only subcontractor they called on and then only in an emergency.
“You said to come back for you. To remind you about the party.” Ben was clearly and deliberately speaking in words containing minimal syllables, and he spoke slowly enough so Jordan could absorb the words. Tension stiffened the older man’s stance, and his expression schooled itself into a frown. What was he supposed to remember? Suddenly, through the fatigue, the memory clicked into place. The party. Hayley’s party. She was twenty-two today, and he’d been invited to join the Addisons and associated friends at The Olive Garden for dinner.
“In it, big time,” Ben muttered, walking across the kitchen and, almost as if he couldn’t help it, sliding the palm of his right hand over the unwaxed, still-dull brown wood that Jordan had chosen for the newel post. Fingertips barely touching the surface, Ben traced the grain and nodded. Jordan looked from the wood to Ben and back again, mind working feverishly to keep his focus on the fact that he’d promised to be at the party.
“She’ll be pretty,” Jordan offered, wondering if he was coming across as defensive even as he dismissed the thought and focused on the beauty of the wood.
“She’ll polish up well,” Ben agreed. “Walnut was a good choice.”
“I just get…” Involved, he finished in his mind. Engrossed to the point that he felt no weariness until his attention was broken. From intricate carved details on newels to the hand-turning and intricate inlay work for chair backs, Jordan had always been mesmerized by the forms he could create. The patterns and the curves under his fingers had always been inside the wood, as far as he knew. Able to find the faintest of grains, he would sand and shape and polish, thinking of nothing except the beautiful wood beneath his touch. Once he saw the purpose of each piece of wood, and had paid attention to the shapes buried in each piece, he laid out the finished product in his head. Giving his thought to the raw potential in front of him, he focused on having the wood’s final shape match the completed mental image. He often didn’t know where to start, but when he was in the zone, when each tiny cut made the beauty of the wood show in striations of pale brown and gold, he couldn’t snap himself out of it.
Tonight wasn’t the first time over the last few months that he’d forgotten something, nor would it be the last. Jordan was tired, and he felt years older than his twenty-nine. He commonly put in eighteen-hour days. First had come the hard physical work on the larger aspects of renovation, then the labor-intensive, detailed finishing woodwork on Mistral House had consumed him.
The recession had hit the construction industry hard, and he was the sole remaining staff member of Addison Construction. AC had no choice—people had had to be let go, and he was finishing this contract on his own, with just Ben in and out for things he couldn’t do, electrical being one of them. When Jordan was working on the final touches of a renovation, he sank into the process, the carving and staining and completing his only reality. Intensely involved and completely cut off from the rest of the world, such things as birthday parties and promises to attend them didn’t exist.
AC needed to flip Mistral House as soon as they could—the very existence of Phil Addison’s company depended on the cash flow realized from the sale of the home. Added to the stress of the need to finish, Jordan had little more than three hours sleep last night, and he was into his nineteenth hour working today.
He glanced back down at the smooth wood, the texture of the newel, satiny and solid beneath his fingertips, judging that he only had a quarter hour, maybe half, and this part of the detailed, intricate work would be finished.
The kitchen cabinets, each custom made, were solid walnut, generations of growth in the sturdy wood. Jordan’s elaborate detailing accentuated the highlights and luster of the wood’s deep honey tones. Jordan had created a pedestal, circular-topped kitchen table, and four chairs as well, and the rails complemented the other wood in the room. The kitchen was the crowning glory of the carpentry in this house renovation and a source of great pride for Jordan.
He had, after all, done most of the work single-handedly, since Phil had become too ill to work alongside him. The kitchen was his baby, and he just needed to finish the detailing— tonight. Ben stood, waiting for an answer if his subtle shifting from foot to foot was anything to go by.
“I’ll be there before they cut the birthday cake,” Jordan compromised softly. Softly, because he half hoped that Ben wouldn’t hear and, if Jordan seemed to ignore him, would just give up of his own accord and leave. Jordan didn’t need the inevitable lecture as to why he should be with the Addisons, that it was important he was there for Hayley, because he was all she had left in the way of a brother.
Lady Luck, however, was not smiling down on Jordan Salter. Ben heard him and started to work up a good head of steam.
“You go nowhere. You have no social life. You work all hours God sends us. Do you have a freaking death wish, son?” It was that single word—son—that broke through Jordan’s barriers. There was affection in Ben’s voice—affection and concern. Maybe he should stop working. Maybe Ben had a point.
“Ben…” He turned slightly, determined to talk, and then had to jerk to catch a hammer he had knocked with his arm.
“God damn fool. You’re an accident waiting to happen.” Ben’s eyes narrowed as he sized up Jordan from that new perspective. And he clearly didn’t like what he saw.
“I’m not far off finishing.” There was steel in his voice, even he could hear it, and he winced inwardly. Ben didn’t deserve his disrespect. However tired he felt, he should at least try to be polite.
“You’re not far off killing yourself.” Ben’s usually calm voice held something new. A level of panic had replaced a little of the anger. Jordan dealt with Ben the only way he knew how, by dismissing Ben’s concerns out of hand, not giving the electrician any room to carry on the conversation.
“For God’s sake, Ben, I’ll be along in an hour.”
“Half an hour,” Ben snapped back at him. Temper coiled in Jordan, but how could he lose it with Ben, when the older man did have reason to worry? And Jordan knew it.
He didn’t think he’d ever felt so low on reserves, so damn drained, but Ben didn’t know the full extent of the shit that Addison Construction was in. He wasn’t aware of the debt that sat at the bank, the check that Mistral House was just about to cut for them only just covering the deficit. The timing had to be perfect. They were coming to inspect in two days, and he had so little to do to finish. Jordan let Ben keep talking, ignoring it mostly for his sanity, until Ben reached his peak then just as suddenly stopped.
Jordan frowned at the sudden silence. Silence with Ben was always a bad thing.
“Brad wouldn’t want you working yourself to death just to get to see him sooner.” Ben’s words were weighted with sadness, and he said them so firmly, not backing off one inch from his opinion.
Guilt, anger, temper—all three churned in Jordan’s gut, then came a sudden maelstrom of grief. The overwhelming feelings he felt when he thought about the man he had loved and lost were something he ruthlessly pushed down. He locked them away, behind walls of stone. Fuck. Exhaustion was allowing the hidden emotions through. Ben should leave well enough alone. Why did he even have to mention Brad, tonight of all nights? Couldn’t he see that Jordan was busy trying to save the company from going bust?
Ben looked at him with such mute understanding in his lined and weathered face that Jordan felt the temper in him begin to dissipate. He banked the fire of his anger as much as he could, channeling it to fuel his stubbornness. He didn’t have any response to Ben’s statement. All he wanted to say was that, yes, maybe he did want to join Brad, that somehow dying would make everything easier. Maybe if something did happen to him, it would be for the best. He was insured big time, and his will specified everything would go to his surrogate family, the Addisons, and that would clear all the debt and then some. He turned on the small jigsaw he’d been using earlier to do more shaping on the newel post. The high whine of the machinery made talking impossible, and it was the only way he could stop himself from giving in to anything other than the determination to finish this damn house. His throat was thick with emotion, and his thoughts writhed—tangled and tied in all manner of what-ifs in his head.
Ben should never be forced to bear the brunt of that horror. Deliberately, Jordan turned his back on Ben. In no uncertain terms, he declared the conversation over and returned to concentrating on finishing the work. He caught a glimpse of the worried expression on Ben’s face, but ignored it.
“This is getting too dangerous,” Ben muttered to himself as he left, but Jordan ignored that too. In fact, Jordan only relaxed when he sensed that he was alone in the room and glanced over his shoulder to confirm that the door no longer framed his friend. Gone with Ben was the air of disappointment and growing concern that had surrounded the older man.
With a hefty exhalation of relief, he turned back to the work at hand, trying to find his balance, desperately attempting to connect to the skill that was inside him, not wanting to ruin everything now. Working with his hands, creating beauty out of the wood, comforted him and centered him. Kieran had once called him an artist.
Jesus. Where had that thought come from? First Brad and now Kieran? This was one hell of a night for ghosts and memories to choose to haunt him.
Trying to calm his anger and the roiling misery inside him, he was able to push through the complete exhaustion, the last, stuttering pulse of adrenaline forcing him towards the finish line. The bone-deep tiredness verged on paralysis and was causing his eyes to half close. His muscles, operating with an overload of lactic acid, howled with pain. Jordan knew that he’d pay dearly for the abuse in the morning. At least the pain would be eased a bit by the satisfaction of creating the final invoice for the two hundred thousand they were owed.
Ben’s words rattled in his head—Jordan was too far past exhaustion to be able to block them. Damn him for talking to Jordan now about Brad. Hayley’s birthday meant that the anniversary of Brad’s death was only days away, the dark anniversary of a nightmare that had yet to lift.
His concentration slipped, and he caught himself just in time to stop the wickedly sharp blade from carving a hole in his hand. Through the fog of weariness, one lashing flicker of reality shot through. Jordan felt rather than heard his frustrated sigh. That had been too close, much too close. He was an ass. Insurance money or not, he wasn’t suicidal, and he would be no good to the Addisons or himself if he managed to destroy his most valuable tools—his hands. It was way past time to stop.
Jordan stretched up and took a step backward, his legs cramping, sore and tight from being in the same position for so long. The pain and a momentary weakness in his left leg caused him to stumble. Attempting to catch himself, he somehow managed to tangle his foot with the cable to the saw. As he fell, his hand slid up against the thin blade. The pain was instant, and the power cut off just as quickly.
He’d managed to yank back as the blade had touched his skin. But the damage was done. The blade had sliced into his wrist and the fleshy part of his hand. The injury was so deep he could see bone. The first shock of pain was so intense it sent him stumbling backward until he crashed into the stool he’d been using.
Something in the back of his mind screamed, Stop the bleeding! Get help! But he didn’t know how to do either. Shock rendered him mindless. Blindly he lurched to rest his forearm on the stool and tried desperately to get the gaping wound closed using his uninjured hand.
Blood surged between his fingers and down his forearm, slithered across the seat of the stool, and ran down the nearest leg before it combined with the sawdust on the floor into a horror of reddish wood paste. Jordan, head light with the deeper onset of shock, pain making it almost impossible to think, knew with absolute certainty that losing blood as fast as he was meant he could die. He released his hold on the wound, scrabbling for his cell phone, which he’d left lying on the side of the saw table. He cursed as it slithered away from his blood-wet hand.
“Son of a bitch. Fuckin’ son of a bitch,” he muttered over and over, the smell of blood— his blood—was overpowering He grabbed again for the cell, managed to reach it and flipped it open.
His vision graying and his eyes closing, somehow, from somewhere, he remembered that he needed to put pressure on the injury. Hitting redial was all he had managed before the cell dropped to the floor as red with blood as his hand. The floor rose to meet him in a haze of wood and gray, and he collapsed to the ground, his injured hand mashed into his shirt. He rolled, his arm under his body, and figured he would soon lose consciousness in a twisted maze of blood and wires. He watched the scarlet spread more slowly but still relentlessly from under him as the blood, his life, saturated sanded wood floors and seeped between smooth bare floorboards.
In the swirling gray-black, Jordan’s thoughts became dazed. Maybe this is okay. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
It wasn’t going to be long, then. If he was lucky, he would have the chance to tell Brad how sorry he was. How sorry…
And the world disappeared into dark.
“Kieran, there’s a call for you on line three,” Tamsin called across from her desk. He had been concentrating on a whole raft of t-crossing and i-dotting for documents on his desk. Kieran didn’t receive calls at work. He had yet to reach the lofty position of full architect, and an encroaching social life was frowned upon. He was biding his time as a junior, albeit a junior with five years’ experience and a degree from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London. His job at Drewitt-Nate was to file papers, check figures, speak to land registry and make coffee, while being paid a pittance to learn at the feet of the partners.
“Who is it?” he replied, reaching for the phone.
“Someone with an accent,” Tamsin said offhandedly with an exaggerated shrug.
An accent could mean anything. It could be Austin from the art department, or Emily from the council’s building control department, both of whom had fairly broad Scottish burrs. It could even be his best friend, Evan, with his Vermont vowels, but then he typically texted or Snap Chatted. Shuffling the papers on his desk to one side, Kieran pulled out a notepad and a pen, and clearing his throat, pressed the button for line three.
“Kieran Addison,” he said. The line was quiet, no words, just an empty silence. “Drewitt-Nate Architects, Kieran Addison speaking. How may I help you?” There was a burst of noise on the line, and the distance from which the call had traveled caused a faint echo.
“It’s me.” His sister’s voice suddenly spilled over the line. “There’s been an accident. It’s Jordan.”
“I don’t know what to do, and Dad is so ill. They didn’t want me to tell you but— Kieran, please come back home.” His sister’s voice broke as she sobbed, and fear gripped him as hysteria and desperation peppered every word. “We need you here! Please, please come back home…”
Kieran Addison hadn’t exactly been expecting a call from Hayley. They hadn’t talked much on the phone, if at all, in the last few years, especially not since the funeral. They still emailed occasionally, jokes and stories mostly, but the important thing was that they kept in touch. They still knew each other. She was his sister, after all, and they were still close.
There was too much pain for both of them. When they started talking, they also began thinking all over again that where there had once been three, only two remained. Gradually, almost as if they had an unspoken agreement, they had allowed the weekly calls to drift away into no calls at all.
Email was safer. Texting was safer. They hadn’t actually physically talked since Kieran had returned home two years earlier to be with the family as they’d buried Brad. Brad’s death had cast a shadowy, grief-filled chasm between them, and they had not recovered to the point where they could share their thoughts.
A few minutes later, Kieran replaced the handset, his head spinning. He had agreed to go home. After six years, he was going back to Cooper’s Bay, and to the family he had left behind. Back to all those memories, all those mistakes, all that grief. He bent his head, faintly aware that Tamsin hovered at his side like a fox on the hunt, asking him what was wrong.
He said nothing. The news he’d been given snarled in knots and tangles in his mind. The decision to go home had not been one he’d wanted to have to make this quickly, least of all without a lot of thinking. Bracing his hands on the desk, he pushed himself to his feet, the chair rolling away until it thunked to a dead stop against the half wall of the next cubicle.
Blinking, he looked at Tamsin. For once she seemed slightly concerned about someone other than herself. Or she might have sensed a good bit of gossip in the air and readied herself to pounce on it. She even patted Kieran’s forearm, a peck of a pat, as if he might respond with too much emotion. It was disconcerting to have her hand on him, and he brushed her off with a murmured, “I’m okay.”
She didn’t give up, tagging after him down the side corridor that led to the canteen and the restrooms. Tamsin may have viewed the limits on personal space as fluid, but even she wouldn’t follow him into the men’s bathroom. Kieran slipped into one of the stalls rather than standing at a urinal, and at last, he had a few moments peace to try to understand what he’d been told.
His dad had a heart condition, Jordan had been in an accident, and Addison Construction was on the edge. What the fuck? When he’d left Vermont, the company had been going strong. What the hell had Jordan done to cause it to, apparently, suddenly fail? For a few more minutes he sat where he was, mind shifting quickly through the things that needed to be done in London before he could get on an airplane and head for home. Then, still stunned, he left the stall and made his way to one of the small sinks.
Kieran splashed water on his face, the icy cold tingling on his shaven skin, and, without consciously deciding to do so, he slipped off his suit jacket and dumped it in the next sink over. When his tie joined the inexpensive jacket, and he stood only in shirt and pants, he was more Kieran Addison, son and brother, than Kieran Addison, rabbit hutch paper pusher.
He needed to speak to the partners. His review last week had been more than good, excellent in fact. They had suggested it might be time for him to contribute to some of the smaller design projects, a slowly opening door that promised him what he had always wanted. With his entire being, Kieran wanted to be able to design and build structures that would last as long as the building he could see from the window near his desk. The city’s network of medieval streets proudly displayed a stunning variety of both old and new buildings. Old solid brick houses sat next door to the glass banks of modern finance headquarters, a stone’s throw from the Square Mile, a minute’s walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral.
He would be giving everything up if he had to go home. Had to go home? He didn’t have to go home. Going home was the right, the only thing, to do, regardless of his reservations. It was an easy decision to make in the end. Knotting his tie and slipping his jacket back on, he approached the partners to request a break to attend to family business; for two weeks, maybe three, four at the most.
They deliberated, offered him two weeks with the expectation that he would return. He thanked them, thought inwardly that two weeks was fine, that it was actually pretty generous.
There was no way he needed to be away longer.
* * * * *
Kieran had booked a ticket to the incongruously named Burlington International Airport, and packed his entire life in two suitcases and a carry-on.
Evan McAllister, the reason he’d moved to London in the first place, had driven him to Gatwick, and they’d been sitting for a long time in the outside concourse waiting for the flight to be called.
“I have a month left on this contract with the design company.” Evan ran a hand through his spiky red hair, wrinkling his nose as an indication of exactly what he thought of the company he worked for. “I’ll be heading back home for a visit.”
“You won’t need to. I’ll be back here soon,” Kieran offered immediately.
Evan shook his head, elaborating on what he’d said. “If you get there and you decide you need to stay there, then I’ll be home in a month. Let me know.”
Kieran eyed Evan, who had been his best friend since they were five, and, not for the first time, felt enormous love and affection well up inside him.
He buried himself inside Evan’s comforting, completely encircling hug. “It’s okay. You won’t need to come after me. As soon as I sort this, I’m coming back to London,” Kieran said, although he realized he’d said it without much conviction. At those words, Evan pulled back, his expression thoughtful as he touched Kieran gently on the cheek. His friend was wearing the most serious expression Kieran had seen in a long time.
“You won’t be coming back to London.” Evan didn’t sound disappointed; more adamant.
“I need to,” Kieran protested quickly. “My job—”
“Your job—your career—are nothing you can’t have in Vermont.”
“I can’t stay there…” He couldn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t have to. Evan knew him well enough to know what was unspoken.
“With what happened with Jordan, you left so you wouldn’t see him every day. But, really, you should never have left with me in the first place.”
Back then, when the world had held so many possibilities, when his brother had still been alive, when he’d needed to avoid Jordan like the plague for fear of letting his feelings for his brother’s lover become known, London had glowed a bright shining hope. Evan had had his own reasons for leaving Cooper’s Bay—he had a controlling father who didn’t want a writer son with a gay best friend, and the chance of a place at a prestigious college was a way for Evan to escape. Kieran had applied to the same college with its highly regarded architecture program—a solid place at a good college, following his best friend to a new city. It was a brand new start and a place to meet guys—men, not boys, and anyone that wasn’t Jordan. He’d had a chance to wash away everything that had gone wrong. So, Evan had ended up studying his creative writing, and Kieran, architecture, at the same college, an institution that was prestigious and respected in both their specialties. They had shared a small apartment, split the costs, partied hard and studied harder. It had been perfect.
“I needed it.” Kieran was firm in what he was saying. Hell, he had needed more than anything to get away from the temptation that was his brother’s lover. Evan nodded in agreement—he knew the whole story. Then he pulled him in for a backslapping hug.
“Evan—” I’m going to miss you. How am I going to do this without you having my back?
“Hey,” Evan said low and even in his ear, “I think it’s time for us both to go back home.”